Monday, June 10, 2013

Queen of the B movies

Before she became "Lucy" and 'the queen of comedy', Lucille Ball was the queen of the B movies.

Lucy made more than 60 movies. 
Not every rising starlet would agree to play second fiddle to the Marx Brothers, but Ball didn`t mind. Along with Ann Miller, she supported Groucho, Harpo and Chico in ``Room Service.``

"No wonder she knew so much about this business, she did everything in it." says Steve Allen.

After some success working as a model in New York, Lucy moved to Los Angeles in 1933 to do what she really wanted to do: make movies. "She was a (extreme) beautiful" blond girl and appeared in more than a dozen films, usually in walk- on roles. 
She even appeared in "Three Little Pigskins" alongside the Three Stooges. She bounced from being a Goldwyn Girl to the Columbia studio and finally to RKO in 1935, landing a part alongside Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in "Top Hat"
Later that same year, she made ``I Dream Too Much,`` which starred Henry Fonda. Ball may have had only a small role, but she was making big friends.
Lucy said in a interview from 1986: "I watched, listened and learned. I would do absolutely anything asked of me, and I never said `Why?` like actors do today. I just did it. Hank (Fonda) was so natural. Ginger (Rogers) and I would double-date in those days. She went with Jimmy Stewart, and I went with Hank. You know, Hank used to say, "Lucy, imagine, if it had worked out with us, it would have been Henrylu instead of Desilu.""
She got her biggest break up to then in 1937, at age 26, when director Gregory LaCava cast a brown-haired Ball to play Rogers` dancing partner in
"Stage Door," which starred Katharine Hepburn and relative newcomers Ann Miller and Eve Arden. The movie was RKO`s big effort of the year, and it was a hit at the box office.
"Eve Arden and I had the same parts for years, the best friend or the lady executive," recalls Lucy: " We`d walk into a room, drop a smart remark and exit. We were the drop-gag girls."

Dick Cavett recalled in a recent interview that Groucho once said:
"Lucille`s always been a great actress. She can do comedy with the best, but she could also do Chekhov or anything else."
By 1986, Ball`s most vivid memory of making "Room Service" was meeting Harpo. The two struck up a lifelong friendship. "He was an adorable, sweet man. I loved working with him and knowing him," she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
Certainly, most actresses only dreamed of the success Lucy had managed by 1938. However, Lucy wanted to do more than play the girl next door or the lead in a fluffy, second-rate picture. Along with at least a dozen Hollywood stars, including Bette Davis and Paulette Goddard, she auditioned for the role of Scarlett O`Hara in ``Gone with the Wind.``
Though still working, she was bitterly disappointed about being miscast by RKO and not getting the part of Scarlett, which went to Vivien Leigh. Ball felt her film career was stalled.
In 1940, RKO signed a young Cuban band leader to costar with Lucy in "Too Many Girls." Lucy was working on the set of another film, ``Dance, Girl, Dance`` the first time she met Desi. When Desi had meet Lucy, he was impressed. "I thought, `My God, that girl will do anything," Desi said in a TV interview years later.

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