Artist in Spotlight: Lucille Ball

I’ve been on a Lucille Ball kick – I’ve been watching DVD’s of her sitcomes and have been reading books on her work. Of course, she’s most well-known for I Love Lucy, and for good reason – the classic sitcom was Ball at her best – however, some of her follow-up sitcoms as well as some of her film work has been good.

Speaking of her film work, Ball is an interesting example of a brilliant actress whose film career never really took off – like Candice Bergen and Cybill Shepherd, Ball was a former model and b-list leading lady who looked to television sitcoms to revitalize her career.

Lucille Ball’s reputation as the greatest comedienne of the 20th Century is well-deserved. Her alter-ego, Lucy Ricardo, is a wonderful creation on par with Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp – a mixture of riotious hilarity and heart-stopping vulnerability. Ball was a brave comic, ready to do almost anything for a laugh – whether it’s stomping on grapes, being, trapped in a glass tank full of water, dealing with candy on a conveyer belt – Ball’s physicality was awesome – she had a ballet-like grace, and was able to do everything that her writers thought up for her. Unlike a lot of TV or film clowns, another aspect of Ball’s appeal was her stunning beauty. She wasn’t vain and allowed her tall, leggy, model-like body to be thrown around and twisted about in impossible situations; her beautiful face was contorted and covered in face-putty, pie, makeup.

Feel free to include your suggestions:

DuBarry Was a Lady (1943) – a decent MGM musical with Ball getting good support from Gene Kelly and fellow comic genius Red Skelton. The musical is nice and the Cole Porter score is wonderful.

The Fuller Brush Girl (1950) – arguably Ball’s best pre-I Love Lucy work, this slapstick comedy seems to predict Ball’s path in comedy. She stars as a woman who lost her job as a switchboard operator, who tries to get a job as a Fuller Brush salesperson.

I Love Lucy (1951-1957) – This is arguably the greatest sitcom on television history. Ball’s performance as scatterbrained housewife Lucy Ricardo in brilliant – there’s an interesting, contrasting combination of nuance and broadness. Lucy was a frustrated would-be performer, who felt confined by the four walls of her New York apartment. As brilliant as Ball was, she was ably supported by a fantastic cast including Desi Arnaz as her husband, Ricky and William Frawley and Vivan Vance as the Ricardos’ best friend, Fred and Ethel Mertz. The show aged beautifully, and the classic moments are as recognizable: Lucy starring in a commercial and getting soused, Lucy and Ethel trying to compete with a conver belt pushing candy, Lucy stomping on grapes, Lucy being attacked by a giant loaf of bread, Lucy giving birth to little Ricky, Lucy and Ricky doing the tango with dozens of eggs in her blouse. Ball and company did other work, but nothing came close to thie brilliant genius of this show.

The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1957-1960) – After I Love Lucy went off the air, Ball and company returned to television with monthly, hour-long installments of the adventures of the Ricardos and the Mertzes. While the show wasn’t as good as its predecessor, there were some great moments – the best being the episode with Tallulah Bankhead.

The Facts of Life (1960) – this was an agreeable, somewhat surprisingly sophisticated comedy pairing Ball with Bob Hope. The somewhat spicy comedy had Ball and Hope playing a couple of married people who were cheating on their respective spouses with each other.

The Lucy Show (1962-1968) – Ball’s second sitcom was a huge hit (never falling below the top 5 in the ratings during its six-year run), and the first few years, it was a worthy successor. I Love Lucy co-star Vivan Vance is back as the sidekick. This time Ball plays Lucy Carmichael, a widow living with her best friend Viv (Vance) and their children. The show was a bit more topical, and some of the humor hasn’t aged as well. Later on, it fell into a gimmick of stunt guest-casting – still, when at its best, The Lucy Show provided viewers with some great moments of humor.

Yours, Mine and Ours (1968) – This is arguably Ball’s best motion picture – it’s a cute film about a blended family – a precursor to The Brady Bunch. Ball’s great as is her costar, Henry Fonda. Ball is gifted with a fantastic drunk scene.

Here’s Lucy (1968 -1974) – Ball’s last hit show, the first two seasons were decent, with some solitary moments of inspiration, but overall, it’s a pretty mediocre affair. Still anything with Ball is worth watching, and the episodes with Vivan Vance were quite enjoyable. Ball’s real-life kids, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr. play her onscreen kids, and while they’re not as magnetic as their mom, they do okay.


1 Comment

Filed under Artist in Spotlight, Celeb, Comedy, DVD, Television

One response to “Artist in Spotlight: Lucille Ball

  1. V.E.G.

    People would have said, “Who kissed Bob Hope?” And they would have said, “The Old General’s (George Washington) cousin, Lucille Ball!”

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