“I Love Lucy” star Lucille Ball tried out a lot of different stage names, including Montana Ball and Diane Belmont, while she was auditioning for roles in Times Square. She was a young, unknown actress, and adopting a stage name was a common practice at the time.
Luckily, Ball ultimately settled on her given name after exhausting other possibilities. But her early years were hard. Ball had always known she wanted to be a performer, but breaking into the business proved difficult for the determined future comedienne.
According to a new book, “Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz: They Weren’t Lucy and Ricky Ricardo,” while she was trying to get her start in New York, Ball was at times nearly destitute. She would eat leftover food in local cafes, and she reportedly brought a handbag with plastic lining on dates so she could bring home half-eaten meals.
And Ball’s early years in the business were a series of failed launches. She studied dance under Martha Graham only to be told to leave because “you’re like a quarterback taking up ballet.” She got a part in the popular revue “The Ziegfeld Follies,” but was fired because of her body type and lack of dancing ability.
Lucy and Desi: A Tumultuous Marriage
They may not have been like Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in real life, but Ball and Arnaz basically fell in love at first sight. It was what followed that was so problematic.
The couple met in 1940 on the RKO movie “Too Many Girls,” according to Biography.com. They fell for each other so fast that co-stars reportedly placed bets on how long it would take for the romance to fizzle out. But by the end of the year, they had gotten married.
The new marriage soon ran into problems. Arnaz was touring constantly, and his lifestyle on the road also included plenty of womanizing and drinking. Even when he was home, he’d be out until the early hours of the morning performing. By the time he got back, Ball had to get ready to head out to the studio.
In 1944, Ball filed for divorce. But the couple reconciled and decided to work things out. One way they tried to do that was to find projects they could tackle together. That eventually led to “I Love Lucy.”
‘I Love Lucy’ Stars Finally Divorced
In 1960, their marriage finally broke up for good. By then the couple had two children, Lucie and Desi Jr.
Their divorce was hard on the kids, Lucie Arnaz told Closer Weekly in 2018. But their marriage wasn’t exactly a walk in the park, either.
“They were fighting all the time when we were growing up. There was a lot of anger and screaming,” Arnaz said. “Their divorce was horrible. And then there was the alcoholism. I had preferred those things had never been there. We didn’t have any abuse, but we did go through some pretty hard stuff and that’s why my parents didn’t stay together.”
Still, many people continued to hold Lucy and Ricky Ricardo up as an idealized couple, and Ball was aware she was disappointing “millions of people” by splitting from her husband. The two remained good friends until Desi died of lung cancer in 1986. His last words to Ball were reportedly, “I love you too, honey. Good luck with your show.”