Love, Lucy

Love, Lucy

by Lucille Ball
Love, Lucy

Love, Lucy

by Lucille Ball

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Overview

Originally published: New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, c1996.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593548387
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/15/2022
Series: Berkley Boulevard Celebrity Autobiography
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 81,999
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Lucille Ball (1911–1989) was a beloved actress, comedienne, and Hollywood icon. Best known for her eponymous role in the hit 1950s TV sitcom I Love Lucy, she also starred in radio shows and appeared in dozens of films and television shows throughout her career, winning numerous awards, including multiple Emmy Awards, the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, and in 1987 the Lifetime Achievement Award in Comedy from the American Comedy Awards.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I'm a Leo. I was born on a Sunday, August 6, 1911. Unfortunately, everybody knows my birth date because I told the truth when I first came to Hollywood.

I grew up not on the sidewalks of New York City, as some people think, but in the beautiful resort area of Lake Chautauqua, New York, near the green, wooded Allegheny wilderness.

I used to say I was born in Butte, Montana-I thought it sounded more glamorous than western New York. I was conceived in Montana when my father was working for his father as a lineman at Independent Telephone Company in Anaconda. But I was born in my grandparents' apartment on Stewart Street in Jamestown, New York, where I was delivered by my grandmother Flora Belle Hunt.

My mother, DesirŽe Hunt-or DeDe, as we call her-was of French-English descent, with a touch of Irish from her father's side that showed in her porcelain-fine English complexion and auburn hair. DeDe was so talented musically that she could have been a fine concert pianist, but at seventeen she met and married a local Jamestown boy, my father, Henry Durrell Ball. As soon after my birth as my mother could travel, she insisted we return to Montana and Henry.

Henry was tall, with intense, penetrating blue eyes. He was a wonderful guy, according to everyone who knew him: full of fun, with a good comic sense. DeDe says I got my sense of humor from him.

People are always asking me if Ball is my real name. As a young model, I tried being Diane Belmont for a while, but that kind of phony elegance wasn't for me. All I know about the Ball side of my family is that they are descended from an English family that owned houses and lands in Herefordshire in some early period. There were Ball mariners, hunters, priests, and barons, but, it appears, no actors. As for the American branch of the family, there was some Ball blood in George Washington; his mother's maiden name was Mary Ball. Ball family records place them in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Massachusetts, and I found gravestones of several Balls on Arthur Godfrey's farm in Virginia when we visited him last spring.

For almost four years I was an only child. My young parents showered me with affection. I was at the center of the stage; life was a lark. DeDe tried dressing me in ribbons and bows, but I rebelled, never being the prissy doll type. My father roughhoused with me as he might with a boy, tossing me to the ceiling and catching me a few feet from the floor, and giving me piggybacks. I screamed with delight while DeDe worried about the tomboy she was raising.

I'm known among comediennes as a stunt girl who will do anything. Red Skelton flatters me by saying I have the courage of a tiger. I don't think it's a matter of bravery; it's just doing what comes naturally. I do know that if an actress has the slightest aversion to pie in the face or pratfalls, the camera will pick it up instantly. The audience won't laugh; they'll suffer in sympathy. Perhaps my willingness to be knocked off a twenty-foot pedestal or shot down a steamship funnel goes back to my earliest, happiest days with my father. I knew he was going to catch me; I wasn't going to get hurt.

DeDe says that I adored my young father. When I was about three, she got tired of the 40-below Montana winters and homesick for the gentle green hills of home, so eastward we went, to Wyandotte, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, where my father became foreman of a telephone line crew.

Late one day the following January, my father caught the grippe and went to bed. Several days later a whopper of a sleet storm hit Detroit. Being a highly conscientious guy, my father bundled up to get the crews and payroll out. Despite his bad cough and fever, he climbed up poles in the sleet and snow, trying to secure the tangled fallen wires. He kept going until the emergency was over, only to return to bed, this time with his fever raging.

My young mother was five months pregnant when my father fell ill. To keep me under control, she tied me to a dog leash, which she then hitched to the clothesline in our backyard. Every time somebody would pass by on the sidewalk, I'd beg to be released. I must have been pretty convincing, because I was set free a lot. Then poor DeDe would have to frantically search the neighborhood for me.

My mother finally made arrangements with our kindly corner grocery store owner, Mr. Flower. He let me prance up and down his counter, reciting little pieces my parents had taught me. My favorite was apparently a frog routine where I hopped up and down harrumphing. Then I'd gleefully accept the pennies or candy Mr. Flower's customers would give me-my first professional appearance!

My father's condition never improved. His grippe turned into typhoid fever. He died not long after that storm. He was only twenty-eight and my mother was almost twenty-three. I was not yet four, but I remember vividly the moment she told me Daddy was gone. I could tell you where the tables were, where the windows were, what they looked out on, where the bed was. And I remember at that very moment, a picture suddenly fell from the wall. And I noticed on the kitchen windowsill some little gray sparrows feeding.

I've been superstitious about birds ever since. I've heard that birds flying in the window are supposed to bring bad luck. I don't have a thing about live birds, but pictures of birds get me. I won't buy anything with a print of a bird, and I won't stay in a hotel room with bird pictures or bird wallpaper.

From Wyandotte, on a cold March morning, we returned to Jamestown with my father's coffin, and DeDe says I showed very little emotion until the funeral service. As they lowered his coffin into the ground and began filling in his grave, she says, I let out a bloodcurdling scream she'll never forget and wouldn't stop until she carried me away. After that, my mother and I returned to her parents' home in Jamestown. The next few years were very difficult ones for DeDe. She had practically no money and her parents had little to spare. I think she was a little stunned by her unhappy circumstances. I can remember her shaking her head, saying softly, "Married before I was eighteen, a mother before I was nineteen, and widowed before I was twenty-three." The future must have looked very bleak to her. She had been deeply in love with my father. I know she missed him very much.

DeDe's parents, my grandfather and grandmother Hunt, were then living in a small place on Buffalo Street in Jamestown. Their only son, my uncle Harold, had died of tuberculosis just a few years before, when he was only eighteen. They hadn't yet recovered from that loss, so when DeDe gave birth to a fine baby boy four months after my father's death, they were overjoyed. My brother arrived on Saturday, July 17, 1915, and was christened Fred Henry after Grandpa Hunt, who passed out cigars at the furniture factory that day and boasted to everyone about his fine boy, Freddy. He really thought of Freddy as his very own.

I was largely ignored and I became very jealous. It's always hard to go from being an only child to having an infant sibling in the house. Since my father had just died, I'm sure I was particularly sensitive to the great fuss that was made over the new baby. DeDe must have remembered that because, in 1953, when friends poured into our house with presents for little Desi, she stood by the front door and reminded them to "be sure to say hello to little Lucie first."

I remember feeling jealous about Freddy. But it, of course, wasn't his fault-he was a calm and levelheaded little boy, cooperative and hardworking. He took good care of all his belongings and never broke anything of mine. He never strayed far from home either, or caused anybody concern or worry. I was the tomboy and the daredevil, not Freddy. By the time I was twelve and Freddy was eight, I adored him, and have never changed my mind.

After Freddy's birth, my mother became more and more depressed, so finally it was decided that she should go to California for a complete change of scene. Freddy stayed with my mother's parents, while I was sent to live with my aunt Lola, my mother's younger sister. Lola was a plump, bosomy, easygoing woman who ran the best beauty shop in town. She had just married a Greek named George Mandicos.

George had been born and raised in Greece and spoke with an intriguing accent. He was the first Mediterranean type in my life, and he fascinated me. With my father dead, and me now separated from my mother, I naturally fell madly in love with Uncle George. My aunt and uncle were still honeymooning during this time. Distracted by each other, they couldn't have cared less whether I got to school or not. So most days I spent in my aunt's beauty shop or following Uncle George. Once again I was an only child, with a mother and a father, and it was such a happy, relaxed time for me.

DeDe, however, was miserable away from her children, so in a year or so, back she came to Jamestown. She'd been a widow for about three years when she married a big "ugly-handsome" Swede named Ed Peterson. He was a metal polisher who enjoyed his home-brewed beer on Saturday night and took pride in his handsome wardrobe. Ed was known as a "dresser," and when he turned himself out, he looked like the king of Sweden. Ed was a pleasant guy to have around, but despite his marriage to our mother, he never thought of himself as a father to me and Freddy.

On DeDe's wedding day, I remember, I sidled up to the new groom, so thrilled to have a father again. "Are you our new daddy?" I smiled up at him.

Ed looked down at me with surprise. "Call me Ed," he said shortly, shaking his hand free of my viselike grip.

And that's the way it was. Ed was never mean or abusive, but his presence in the house was shadowy. We barely had time to get acquainted with him before he and DeDe went off to Detroit to look for jobs, leaving me and Freddy behind. My brother stayed with our doting grandparents, while I was parceled out to Ed's parents, the Petersons. Nothing had ever prepared me for such hard, sour, cheerless people. And since the Petersons were both quite elderly, I'm sure they were about as pleased as I was by our new living arrangements.

Having accepted the responsibility, Grandma Peterson was not one to shirk her duty. She had been born in Sweden, and her attitude toward the free and easy ways of America was one of distrust and suspicion. A devout Christian, she strove to keep her life and mine free of "indulgences." Anything that gave pleasure lapsed into one of the seven deadly sins and was therefore "devil's bait." Nothing in this life was ever to be enjoyed, only endured. Grandma Peterson took me to Sunday school regularly, and I remember a lot of talk of "fire and brimstone" there.

Punishments were frequent and, to me, unreasonable since I never got a satisfactory explanation of my crimes. My grandmother complained to the Hunts that I was difficult and headstrong. She told me that I was a "nervous child," and "sassy" and "bold" and "silly." And why not? I had so little outlet for my physical energies. My usual punishment was solitary confinement in my room or being sent to bed before the sun went down in summertime, when I could hear the happy shouts of other children playing outdoors.

Grandma Peterson saw to it that Satan found no mischief for my idle hands. She bought linen toweling by the yard and had me roll the edges by hand-finicky work that made me want to jump out of my skin. Another chore was darning the Peterson hose, which were as thick as a horse blanket. I was taught to knit and crochet. This last skill took. I still crochet with great enjoyment, everything from baby booties to coverlets for beds.

Washing dishes was a daily chore, and how I hated it! The kitchen was small and dark and the sink so high I had to stand on a box to reach it. The only light came from one weak gas jet; the water was heated on top of the stove and soon became lukewarm and greasy. After Grandmother Peterson inspected the finished job, she often made me start all over.

In retrospect, learning those domestic skills certainly didn't hurt me, and later on my own mother kept me at chores until I did them right. But where the Petersons made housework a grim chore, at the Hunts' we kids got a sense of cozy togetherness from pitching in.

There were some small advantages to the harsh, isolated life I led with the Petersons. I used to welcome a rainy day. Then I was allowed to play with my clothespin dolls in a corner of the back porch. I can close my eyes and still see the leaden sky, the rain splashing off the porch roof, the bright green maple leaves clinging together like wet crepe paper, and I can hear my involved conversations with those dolls.

Curiously enough, Grandmother Peterson had a green thumb, and I have her to thank for my great love for flowers, especially spring flowers. Somewhere inside her there must have been a well of maternal tenderness, which found expression in the way she pruned and prayed over and tended her roses, her prize dahlias, the bulbs she brought indoors during the winter and set out again in the spring.

I don't suppose that hard work, discipline, and a perfectionist attitude toward my work did me any harm. They are a big part of my makeup today, as any of my coworkers will tell you. And when life seemed unbearable, I learned to live in my imagination, and to step inside other people's skins-indispensable abilities for an actress. On the other hand, I have my grandmother Peterson to thank for the gnawing sense of unworthiness and insecurity that haunted me for years. The Puritan idea that everything pleasurable is somehow bad almost ruined for me the first joys of our big I Love Lucy success. The hardest thing for me was getting used to the idea that I deserved it.

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