Saturday, January 18, 2014

Was Lucille Ball a bitch or though to work with?

It’s been said that Lucille Ball was tough to work with as she got older, especially after her divorce from Desi Arnaz following the incredible run of I Love Lucy, when she found herself alone and basically took control of her next two successful series, The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy. But more often than not, you hear Lucy’s peers say that while she could be tough on set, she was inevitably right about what she wanted for her show. Joan Rivers, for example, worked with Ball on Here’s Lucyin 1973, and noted on a recent PBS documentary, Pioneers of Television: Funny Ladies, that at one point Lucy told the director that a camera was off two-and-a-half inches from getting the right shot. The director responded, “No, Lucy, it’s fine,” but Ball insisted it be moved. Rivers added, “Lucy was right.” Ball pal Carol Burnett tells one of my favorite (and apocryphal) Lucy stories: One day on set, Lucy had to chastise the script writers: "She told them in no uncertain terms how they had to fix the script, and that it better be done by tomorrow morning. 'Or you're outta here.' I mean, she was strong. [Burnett laughs.] Then she took a sip of her drink and said to me, 'And kid, that's when they put the "s" on the end of my name.'" Tony Randall, who met her in 1970 said: "A lot of people found her very tough to work with. She bosses everybody around and didn't spare anybody's feelings. But I didn't mind that because she knew what she was doing. If someone just says, "do this!," it's awful if they are wrong. If they're right, it just saves a lot of time. And she was always right." 

Garry Marshall, writing in his 2012 book, My Happy Days in Hollywood. said that he enjoyed writing for Lucy [he co-wrote 11 Lucy Showepisodes from 1964-’66; one of them, "Lucy and the Monsters," is pictured at left], and recalled, “We [he and Jerry Belson, his co-writer] quickly learned the key to writing for Lucy: start with a funny situation and then build the whole script toward it. We wrote the episode in which Lucy ended up at a fancy banquet wearing a ball gown with roller skates. As the story went, her feet were swollen and she couldn’t get the roller skates off. The script called for her to go through a reception line with the roller skates on. During rehearsals she crashed into a row of writers. The sight of this threw Jerry and me into a complete panic. He said, “Do you think we’ve killed Lucy?” But she quickly got up and dusted herself off as we ran over to apologize. “No. No. I’m fine,” she said. “It was my fault. Keep writing this kind of script and I’ll keep going at it.” She was brave and strong, and she could tell what was funny and what would fail. She didn’t care so much about plot; she wanted that big comedy scene that fans would remember, so that’s what we gave her.” Writing about an Odd Couple episode from several years later, “The Odd Monks,” which eliminated most of the dialogue for the show when Felix and Oscar take a vow of silence, Marshall reaffirmed, “The entire script was based on physical and visual humor, which I had learned from the scripts I wrote for Lucille Ball.” 

Wanda Clark, Lucy personal secretary for more that 25 years, says on the question:What was "the real" Lucille Ball like? "She was warm and wonderful and generous, Wanda says, to all of us that worked with her, and her family, of course. And she was loyal - that's why we were all so loyal to her.

I guess the point is, take every story about Lucy being a terror on set with a grain of salt. If she respected your talent, she gave you all the leeway you needed (and if not, all the rope you needed to hang yourself). ("there also jealous people spreading fake lies and stories about Lucy, because she was/ is famous and powerful") She had to be a strong, powerful woman in the face of running her own shows and being president of Desilu, one of the top money-making studios in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s. It was expected that a man of that era would be strong and do whatever he need to do for success in a similar position. But for a woman…well, it just wasn’t done back then. Women were supposed to know their place. 
But Ball was a pioneer; she had to be strong to protect her assets and her career, and if the people—male or female—that she dealt didn’t like it, well, so be it. The show went on, and, per Ball, it was invariably a success thanks to her business and performing acumen. 

This are must see interview of Carol Burnett about this subject:

In 1967, Lucy Sold Desilu Studios to Paramount for $17 million, netting some $10 million.
It was a job she never claimed to like. In fact, just the opposite: Lucy was never comfortable with all that responsibility and power that came withbeing president of Desilu Studios, which she gained in 1962 after ex-husband Desi Arnaz sold his shares in the studio in 1962 (Desilu was created in 1950). She especially hated firing anyone. And when she took control of Desilu, the company was losing in excess of $650,000 a year. But by July 1967, when this article (pic at left) appeared in TV Guide—headlined “The President Wore a Dress to the Stockholders Meeting” —the “wacky” redhead had turned around the studio’s finances, and it was showing a profit in excess of $830,000. Not bad for those who had pooh-poohed the idea of a woman, especially Lucy, running a major Hollywood studio. 
Still, Lucy fretted over the interest payments on the $3 million she borrowed to buy out Desi’s shares, and worried about her new nickname whispered in the corridors of Tinseltown: LucilleBalls, because she had to make the tough decisions any studio exec had to make. Reporter Dwight Whitney noted the company was “doing a gross annual business of $30 million.” Not to mention Lucy was starring in the fifth season of her second hit sitcom, The Lucy Show. The article’s headline makes a point in itself, how rare it was for a woman to head a Hollywood studio (in fact, Lucy was the first, and only one, at that time, a true pioneer). Lucy was fraught with the responsibility of dealing with her attorney Micky Rudin’s ideology about running a studio: “A company in TV alone cannot survive today’s market. You have to make 20 pilots to get three [aired]. How do you amortize that? Diversify, Lucy, diversify.” 

At the time this article was published, no one had a clue as to what Lucy would do, and financier Charles Bludhorn had followed Ball to Miami, where she was supposedly trying to interest Jackie Gleason in a movie deal, but in reality was probably trying to escape making a decision. The good news: the decision was made, and Ball sold her baby, Desilu, to Paramount for a reputed $17 million , shortly after this article was published, but not before green-lighting two of the most successful shows in TV history: Mission Impossible and Star Trek…thus proving to everyone that it wasn’t wise to underestimate Lucille Ball, whether as actress, comedian, or television executive. 


  1. I've heard stories about Lucy's legendary blow jobs. She first started giving them to the Three Stooges back in the early 30s. If you ever watch early episodes of the Three Stooges, you'll see a very young Lucy in one of their short films. I believe she was with them on a train or something. Moe Howard said Lucy could suck the chrome off a trailer hitch and then swallow!!!! That's what I'm talking about. Way to go Lucy!!!!!

    1. I hear Cesar Romero gave Desi great blow jobs better than Lucy.

  2. You are sick stupid and need to get a life

  3. I hate to admit it but my great grandfather was a prop master for Columbia Studios back in the 30s and 40s. He said Lucy would be in her dressing room (not trailers back then) and Moe Howard would go in there, come out 20 minutes later, then Larry Fine, same thing. But Curly, Pops said Curly and Lucy had something special. Pops said Curly kind of fell for Lucy but the other Stooges talked him out of anything because she was just a "gentile whore" and their Jewish family would never understand or accept Lucy.

  4. Wow- sickos demeaning the life and legend of a pioneering woman in the entertainment business....and the sicko posters don't have to put their name or pictures or have facts.......isn't it fun being a sicko in the age of the anonymous Internet?? GO AWAY!

  5. I've got a feeling that this is all made up, that we're only hearing it was the Stooges because, as the Stooges were bigger stars in the 60s than they'd ever been, they're the only vintage stars these posters have heard of besides Lucy!

  6. Even if she did what you claim, still doesn't take away that the woman was a comedic genius.