‘I Love Lucy’: Lucille Ball Chased Childhood Dream Directly After Show’s End, Divorce

by Jennifer Shea
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Lucille Ball’s mother sent her to New York City at a young age. To sabotage Ball’s relationship with a 21-year-old, her mother saved up enough money to send the 14-year-old to the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in Manhattan. 

Lucille Ball Went from New York to Hollywood

In New York, Ball went on to get the modeling work that would later launch her Hollywood career, per Closer Weekly. It was in New York that she bumped into an agent on the street who recognized her from her ads as a Chesterfield cigarette girl and invited her out to Hollywood.

Ball’s first credited movie is the 1933 film Roman Scandals. But she went on to appear in films like Stage Door with Katharine Hepburn and Dance, Girl with Maureen O’Hara.

Before “I Love Lucy,” Ball also appeared in the play “Dream Girl.” She reportedly realized from the experience that she did better in front of a live audience, getting feedback on her performance in real time. 

It wasn’t until 1940 that Ball met Desi Arnaz while working on the movie Too Many Girls. The future couple co-starred in the film. But despite their appearing together in that film, CBS didn’t want Arnaz to play Ball’s husband when “I Love Lucy” was in development.

To prove that they worked together as a showbiz pair, the couple toured the country in a Vaudeville show that performed before movies began. Their act was a hit, and CBS relented and let Arnaz onto “I Love Lucy.”

Ball’s Brief Dalliance With Broadway

The TV series would last for six years, from 1951 to 1957, producing 180 half-hour episodes. But Arnaz was known as a womanizer, and the stories were true; his and Ball’s marriage, like the show, eventually ended.

Ball would go on to star in “The Lucy Show” for six years, then “Here’s Lucy” for another six. But before her return to television, Ball had a brief dalliance with Broadway back in New York.

The musical was called “Wildcat,” and it required Ball to memorize a lengthy script, sing and dance. According to the New York Times, Ball had gone to see a play starring Vivien Leigh, and it inspired her to find a vehicle for herself to star in onstage.

After Ball picked “Wildcat,” the musical underwent significant changes from its writer’s original vision. Still, it proved too much for Ball, who reportedly took to ad-libbing and cracking jokes onstage. 

The New York papers pronounced the show a failure. And Ball suffered multiple health issues, from breaking two fingers and spraining her ankle three times to fainting onstage.

Yet Ball would go on to win the Kennedy Center Honors, which recognize individuals who have made lifetime contributions to culture through the performing arts, in 1986. She accepted the award roughly three years before her death in 1989. 

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