‘I Love Lucy’: What Did Lucille Ball Do Before the Iconic Hit Show

by Matthew Wilson

Lucille Ball’s name will forever be intertwined with her seminal sitcom “I Love Lucy” during the 1950s. But the actor had a long career before that.

Ball dreamed about breaking into the entertainment industry since she was a kid. At 15, the late sitcom actor convinced her mother to send her to a drama school in New York City. There, Ball learned the ins and outs of becoming an actor. But at the time, she suffered a bout of stage fright. She was too nervous to be a leading lady like some of her peers.

Ball stayed in New York after school where she began a career as a model. In the late 1920s, Ball would find steady work in the city. She went under the stage name Diane Belmont, drawing the attention of designer Hattie Carnegie. She worked as a model for Carnegie before later doing shoots for Chesterfield cigarettes.

The ‘I Love Lucy’ Star and Acting

Ball dyed her hair a chestnut blonde and hit Hollywood in the 1930s. Overcoming her fear of acting, she wanted to make it big in motion pictures. The first opportunity came for the young model when she became one of the Goldwyn Girls. There were 12 in total. Ball worked promotion for the film “Roman Scandals,” which released in 1933.

A little later, she landed a role in “The Three Musketeers” as an extra. But Ball’s first speaking role came in 1937. She played opposite Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers in the film “Stage Door,” an adaptation of a Broadway play.

That role opened up Ball’s career to a number of movies. During the 1940s, Ball became known as “The Queen of B Movies” for her numerous roles in smaller budget flicks. In fact, she ended up meeting her future husband during one of those flicks. Ball and Desi Arnaz met on the set “Dance, Girl, Dance” before appearing in another film “Too Many Girls” together.

Ball’s marriage to Arnaz forever changed the trajectory of her career. He was the one to urge Ball to abandon her cinematic goals and turn her attention to radio instead. As a result, Ball got the lead role in the sitcom radio comedy “My Favorite Husband” on CBS. That radio show explored the relationship between a husband and wife and was the building block for “I Love Lucy.”

As a result, some executives asked Ball to turn the radio broadcast into a TV show. But they didn’t want to cast Arnaz in the role, so Ball walked away. Partnering with Arnaz, the two put together their own sitcom with the same premise. They later sold it to the network where it became a classic.