This week we talk about the “First Lady of Comedy”, Lucille Ball. Did you know she was the first leading woman to be pregnant on an American TV show? Or did you know that the I Love Lucy show was the FIRST TV show to use film?
Many people only know her for the I Love Lucy show, but she was SO MUCH MORE. She was an innovator of her time in what she did as a woman on television, in the film industry, and for women at large. She and Desi Arnaz accomplished many “firsts” in the film industry and her influence continues to be felt today with many modern comedians crediting her as inspiration.
Lucille Ball Hometown Virtual Tour and History of Her Life
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Greetings and welcome back to the Talk With History Podcast. I am your host, Scott here with my wife and historian Jen. Hello on this podcast, we talk about history’s continuing impact on society as well as our personal and journey through YouTube. As we explore, record and share our history walks with you, the listeners.
Jen, this is our fifth podcast for Talk With History. And before we get into the main points today, I’m going to make a call for what I’m calling. I’m going to call the five star Question of the Week. So if you are listening to this podcast, itunes reviews help very much. So I encourage you to go on to itunes to leave us a five star review. And if you ask a question in that review, we will do our absolute best to answer that question at the opening in this particular part of the Podcast of Future Podcast. So I’m asking our listeners to help us out to help us grow with a five star itunes review. If you want to ask a question in that review, I will do my best to answer that question in a future episode. All right.
Moving on. So, Jen, who are we talking about today?
Today, we are going to talk about the Queen of Comedy, Lucille Ball, the first lady of Comedy, Lucille Ball.
Give us some backstory on why Lucille Ball for this particular episode.
So Lucille Ball, we had lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, and we didn’t realize how close Jamestown, New York, was to us. And that is where she grew up. That’s where she was born and where she grew up all the way through high school. And at one point, like I had said before, I was off of social media, looking at YouTube, and I had wondered, what is there to see in Jamestown, New York, surrounding Lucille Ball. I want to see what other people have done and other people had gone to. There’s some you’ll see or walk with History video if you watch it, there’s some big murals in Jamestown dedicated to her. There’s some statues dedicated to her. The homes that she lived in, born in, lived in are still there. And she’s actually buried there. So there’s a pretty good story you can tell about her life, but no one was really telling all of it. And when they were telling it, it was just the surface, nothing really digging into her life and the events of her early childhood that made her the woman that she was and connecting those to why she is so groundbreaking. And so I really thought that we could do a really great video on her and the things that she did that were just so the innovations that she made and the things that she did that were just so different than no one had done before. And there’s a Museum there as well. So we do two separate videos.
So if for some weird reason, someone is listening to this podcast, and they have never heard of Lucille Ball. They’ve never seen I Love Lucy. They’ve never seen her surprise face or watch the episode where she eats all the chocolate bond bonds in the factory.
Once you tell them who Seal Ball is. Like we said, Queen of comedy. First laid of comedy. She was very good at physical comedy. And she does one of the first TV shows that centers around a woman. And she’s basically the star of the show. And it’s very physical slapstick comedy. And it’s groundbreaking for many reasons. First of all, because of her. Second of all, she has a husband who’s Cuban. And so they’re breaking ground breaking a cultural stereotype because at first they didn’t want her to have a Cuban husband. But she wanted Desi with her on the show. They had been married for ten years. They had been trying to make it in the Hollywood industry, and they weren’t having very good luck,
Didn’t they start on radio?
She started on radio with another person.
My favorite husband. And it was a big radio show. And that’s when they asked her to do a TV show. And so she at that point, had been around movies long enough. They also call it the Queen of Bee movies. She’s done a lot of B movies. She had been around Hollywood enough to know that when you have lightning in a bottle that you can make some requests. And so she pushed for Desi. At first, they did not want Desi on the show with her, but they went and did vaudeville together, and they brought their act to vaudeville the things they do together. And it was such a big hit. And we talked about vaudeville before. It’s kind of like a live action comedy shows. It’s like going to a variety comedy show.
Yeah. And for those who aren’t familiar with vaudeville, and maybe you haven’t seen many I Love Lucy episodes. As you said, she’s a physical comedian, large expression. She would have been great on Broadway, right? She’s just large and just that whole physical comedy. So that works in vaudeville because vaudeville is a traveling, more in person type show.
Yeah. You’re putting on a routine for people. It’s more than just radio. You’re doing the visual side of it. And that’s the whole I Love Lucy. She’s always getting into, like these situations where she’s contorting her body or hurting her body or trying to hide or something funny that’s also physical. So she breaks away in that regard, she breaks away with insisting Desi is cast in the show, and she’s older. She’s 40 years old when they start. I Love Lucy,
which that surprised me when I found that out. And maybe it’s black and white TV at the time. But she was successful in Hollywood as a B movie actress because she was attractive. She was she was very pretty and black and white, probably a little bit more forgiving. But she also had really good genes.
But then she gets pregnant two years into the show. And it’s the biggest rated show. People say that everybody was in their homes from nine to 930. When I left, Lucy was on. Was it a hit show, right with season one, right with season one. And then she got pregnant. And then she’s like, Well, we’re going to have to end the show because nobody had ever been pregnant on a TV show before because this was the early this was 51 50. This is she has little Desi and little Ricky in the show. But in real life, she’s pregnant with Desi in 1053. And so they can’t even say pregnant on air. They have to say expecting. And then the title of the episode is, I think pregnant in French. They don’t even use the word pregnant in English for the script. But it is like the most watched TV show. Everybody watches Lucy have the baby, right? It’s not graphic, of course. But that was a huge TV show. And of course it would be because this is the baby Boomer generation, right? Everybody is actually doing that they can identify in real life.
They can identify with Lucy. Hey, we are like them because they’re having a baby.
Yes. So she took a huge risk in doing that on TV. I mean, she’s actually pregnant, not pretending to be pregnant. She’s actually pregnant. So that was a huge risk. But it was a huge payoff. It was the biggest rated TV show for the longest time.
So what do you think kind of gave her the chops to make a call like that?
Well, that’s what I think. People, if you understood her childhood and where she came from, you would understand these huge risks that she takes one of her. She gave an interview to Rolling Stone, and people were telling her how funny she was. And she would insist that she’s not funny. Her writers were funny. Her directors were funny. The situations were funny. But what I am is brave and actually say that at the end of one of the Walkers history episodes. So what makes her so brave? So she’s brave putting herself out there, right? She’s brave to do now. What she’s not giving herself credit for is comedic timing, because, yes, you can do what your writers and directors are telling you to do and the physical talent. But if you don’t have the timing of it, it’s not funny. And so she has that comedic timing.
But the thing that she says that she is brave to put herself out there and she was and I think if you understood where she comes from in her childhood, you would understand where that bravery comes from. So that’s where we start in Jamestown.
That’s where we kind of start her story because she didn’t start in a Hollywood family.
No, her family was pretty lower class, and she was born in Jamestown, but her father dies when she’s three years old and her mother is pregnant with her brother. When he dies and then move away, they move back to Jamestown to move in with her grandparents because her mother can’t make ends meet. Basically, they move back with her grandparents, and her grandparents don’t live quite in Jamestown they live in is called Sailoran, which is like a suburb of Jamestown. And she loves Celoron because it’s a Lake town. And actually, when we went there and we were filming at the Lucille Ball park, people actually thought we were there bird watching because it’s such a beautiful area.
And it’s like a bird sanctuary. And they have both of the statues there. So just an offset. There’s two I love Lucy statues at Celoron in the I love Lucy Park. And the reason why there’s two. And we go into this in the video is one got a reputation of ugly Lucy, and one got the reputation of lovely Lucy. So ugly Lucy or Scary. Lucy was the first one, and it depicts her in the Vitameta. You got to say it’s vitamin vitamin commercial. And so she’s holding the bottle and she’s smiling. But the smile looks almost like a sneer. And let’s be real. The face on that first statue was not great. It’s not complementary. So it got a lot of buzz, Facebook buzz and stuff. And that was not that long. I mean, it was maybe ten years ago.
Yeah. So they commissioned another statue and the other statue is more not only complements her more, but it is a more beautiful rendition of her. And it’s just her, I think, like every day Lucy look with the polka dot dress, which is a very iconic dress that she wore and a pocketbook and her hair done up. That one is like in the center of the park with the scary Lucy. They kind of put off to the side. So we were in Celoron, so that’s where her grandparents live in salaries, and she loved it there. It’s very touristy town. It’s a very amusement park kind of place. They had a carousel at that park, and she just loved being there.
But something happens in 1927, on the 4 July, her brother is about to turn twelve. Her brother’s name was Freddy, and she was 16 at the time. And her grandfather bought a rifle and he brought it home. And it was for Friday’s birthday. And he said, no one can shoot this today. We are going to do it the next day where I can take the time and show you how to do everything. So that next day, he was showing them all about the rifle and he put up tin cancer them to shoot. And Freddie had his girlfriend Johanna over and the neighborhood boy Warner had come over and Freddie had taken some turns. And Johanna wanted a turn. And just as Johanna was about to shoot. One of his mother called for him to come home, and he jumped up just as Johanne fired the gun. And it went right into his back. And it suffered a spinal cord. And Warner never walked again. And the research I had done, Warner basically didn’t make it out of his teenage years either. And the family had offered to pay all the medical bills. However, it went to lawsuit and the family took everything, took their house, took all the furniture, took anything they ever had. And the grandfather, from what Lucille had said, the life went out of him. He never worked again. He was never happy again. He was never helpful again. He just was basically that was the end of him. Yeah.
You said Lucy was 16 .
So she was smacking the middle of high school in her prime years.
So then they had to move back to Jamestown. So they went from a nice suburb, back to the city. Jamestown is kind of like a blue collar New York town. Smaller. It’s in upper state New York, like we said, close to Erie. And she went to the local high school there. They moved into a small apartment. So her grandparents and her and her brother and her mother. And she went to the local high school there. And she tried to throw herself into drama and into acting. And her drama coach told her that she just didn’t have what it takes to be an actress. She was never going to make it.
Everybody loves stories like that. You can look back at Hindsight and be like, wow, that drama teacher was a little bit off.
Yeah. So she had again discouragement again. But she wanted it. She wanted to try. She really loved acting and she really loved performing. And so she went to New York City and from New York City. She went to La. And like I said, she was chorus girl and did B movies. And she met Desi, and they got married. And her and Desi did not have an easy marriage in the beginning. It’s very infidelity and drinking and those things. But she persevered through it all. So that’s why I think Lucille Ball, you have to understand a lot of what she’s coming from.
So when I Love Lucy comes around and it has such success, it’s because she knows what she wants, first of all, and she is willing to take a risk. She’s brave. She’s willing to say, I want my husband and we’re actually going to film it this way. So what they did that was so innovative with film is they used film. It wasn’t a live performance like they used to be.
Where now you don’t get reruns of old shows because the Isle of Lucy show was it really like the very first one?
Yeah. So it was the very first TV show to use film, so that more expensive. They could have Reruns, essentially. Yeah. Because she knew again that this would bring in, even though it was more expensive to do so less salary in the long run, it was going to pay off. And so they started their Desi Liu production company because that’s what they wanted to do. And no one was really going to back them. So they started their own production company.
And if I remember right.
And we’ll talk about the Museum a little bit.
But even in the Museum, they talk about some of the innovations beyond just being the first ones to use film for things like reruns. Y
es. And that’s actually where despite comes in a lot. He reminds me a lot of you, actually, because he’s so innovative with the technology that he even though he knows this is not what’s mainstream right now, he sees the future and knows that this is going to be the future of film.
Yeah. And I think if I remember right, they actually had the old film reels there. And they were the first TV show. If you think about some of those old TV shows, a lot of them picture them in your mind. And it’s like if they’re performing on a stage, just one angle where the Isle of Lucy show and what Desi Arnaz started doing was multiple shots, multiple angles. If I remember correctly for the same scene and splicing those together, he was the first one to do that.
He was she’s the first woman of a major production company. But he’s the first one to see those innovations are actually going to pay off in the long run, because that’s what people will want to see. And that’s what people will want to watch. And they do some great shows. They do Star Trek, like people don’t realize they’re there.
Yeah. Their production company. I encourage folks, if you’re a Lucio Ball fan, go watch it. Go find our videos because we show some of the shows that they produced, and they’re huge shows.
And they were really adamant about multicultural casting. Think about Star Trek. Think about Star Trek. They pushed that because they knew that that was a better reflection of America. And I think because she understood being married to a Cuban, a man who was Cuban American. So he was also getting stereotyped and ostracized for his race. She understood that America was changing and people are going to want to see themselves represented on TV. And that’s why they push for this multi race cast in Star Trek. Plus, this is supposed to be very futuristic. And so they knew the future was just going to keep evolving. She’s so innovative when it comes to that Lucille Ball, I think people pigeonhole her into comedy. She really was this feminist. I see her as somebody who is really seeing the bigger picture and making the decisions for that bigger picture, even though she’s a woman and she’s groundbreaking all these things in the she wants to have the say. And so she gives herself the position to have that say, yeah.
It really was incredible learning more about her because I knew her for I love Lucy, that was it. That’s all I knew her for. Not for the innovations, not for what she did. Never in a million years knew until we literally were doing the video that she was 40 when she started. I love Lucy.
Yeah. Right. So think about all the years of experience behind her already when she’s starting that show and breaking on really breaking out in the TV movie industry. And she was so supportive of other women like Carol Burnett gives Lucille Ball credit for her career. And Carol Brunette is huge in comedy and performance, right. But because Lucille Ball took her under her wing and really mentored her, she really gives her a lot of credit. And there’s a I think it’s a biography or a movie being filmed right now about Lucille’s life. Right.
And it’s Nicole Kidman who’s playing Lucille Ball.
And there was a lot of criticism about that because people are like, well, Nicole Kidman was not funny, and there was actual people who said, I should play her because I’m funny. And her daughter stepped in and said, My mom is not the funny woman, right? That’s the hardest part I think they had in their life. Everyone saw them as Lucy Arnez, Lucy Ricardo and Ricky Ricardo. But they weren’t those two people. They were Lucy Arnez and Desi Arnez, completely different people. And her daughter was like, Nicole Kidman is perfect to play my mother because what you don’t see, she’s the one who’s okay all the scripts. She’s in the writer’s room reading everything off with the writers. Okay. We’ll do that. No, we won’t do that. Okay. We’ll do that. She has the end set.
And actually one of the clips that I put in our video was them accepting an award, I think an Emmy. And the first people she talks about is the writers. She says on stage, I wish we could have the writers up here.
Yes. She’s very serious, right?
She’s very serious accepting that award because in the long run, she’s a businesswoman, right? She’s definitely funny. And she’s a comedian. But she is a business woman, and she’s moving the film comedy industry forward. And she’s making these big decisions, and she’s doing it in a marriage that isn’t always the easiest marriage. But yet they have a business partnership, and she’s raising two children later in life. So all of these struggles, this is why Lucille’s daughter, who is also named Lucy, says that Nicole Kidman was better for this role. And I don’t think people were realizing because people always think of Lucille Ball as the comedian, which is great. But there was so much more to her. And I hope we had kind of gotten that across in the video. That what she did was so groundbreaking. For women, but just for comedians in general, I mean, how many comedians look up to Lucille Ball? We said, right. Yeah. Today, Jimmy Fallon, right. So many people look up to her for what she did and that’s regardless of male or females. Yeah. And we actually did two videos. We did kind of her life in hometown. And then we did the Museum.
So talk a little bit about what the Museum has.
We do the Museum just so you can kind of learn the logistics of it because it’s two separate museums kind of put into one right next to each other. There’s one about their personal lives and the personal life. One is you can’t take a lot of film in there. You can’t take a lot of footage in there because there’s personal artifacts. They don’t want a lot of people to have pictures and see. And so that kind of goes into their lives before they met each other, after they met each other, their marriage after their marriage and the other Museum, because you walk out of the one and go into the other is the Desi-Lu production Museum. And that one shows you the set.
They recreate the set of I Love Lucy. They recreate the stage where they filmed my favorite husband. They have copies of, like, the Emmys. Yes. They have all the Emmys.
I assume that are they the real ones?
They’re the real ones.
Yeah. That was cool. And they have that film machine you were talking about where they shot three separate angles and it would cut it so you could get that three dimensional. Yeah. That was actually probably my favorite seeing that second Museum, because again, you kind of have to walk out of one building and into the next. But that second Museum, they have a full size recreation of the apartment, the Ricardo apartment. Yes. Which is a fictional address. It’s a fictional address, but they show clips and they talk about other actors and actresses. Yeah. The two bands and Lucy, she had done films and with the Isle of Lucy show, obviously, that drew a bunch of big names. So they got cameos from John Wayne, John Wayne huge Bob Hope, right. Lots of people wanted to be on I Love Lucy. Her and John Wayne got along really well for a long time. And so, yeah, there was a lot of famous people who did cameos also on it was interesting. They had a fair amount dedicated to actually, their costars and their costars were actually kind of very high quality actor and actors. They had done a lot before I Love Lucy. So there was this kind of perfect storm that came together with folks that were later on in life right now, 40 plus years old. They had already been acting for quite some time.
So it was fun doing this video, tons of artifacts in there. So if you wanted to see her outfits from certain skits that she had done with Desi on the show. They had tons of the outfits and artifacts from that show. And the Emmys. Like you said, they had a recreation of the set on a smaller scale, so you can kind of see how they worked the show. And you could film your own commercial. Yeah, that’s right. We do our best to try and do that. We drove around Jamestown. We saw the murals all over there’s murals that show pictures of her and Desi that show scenes from some of her most famous Isle of Lucy episodes.
There’s a lot of I love Lucy in and around Jamestown. They do really love her there. And then she’s buried there. So with her family. So you can also visit her grave there as well. But a it’s great town. And if you ever get out there, I didn’t realize how much I loved Lucy until I went there and was so appreciative of who she was and what she did. They have a great gift shop there at the Museum, too. But I was really surprised how much I really loved it. We watched I Love Lucy here and there, but I was not a huge I Love Lucy fan. But after going there, it makes you appreciate her a lot more. Yeah, there’s a lot. And there’s a whole nother Museum that she’s a part of it’s in town. It’s the Comedy Museum Comedy Museum. But that has comedies across all ages. Yes. And that’s all comedians. But it’s in Jamestown. It’s probably in Jamestown because of her. Yeah. Most likely she had quite the impact on this life.
So yeah, again, I encourage folks to go look up the videos.
If you guys are curious if this sounded interesting and you want to see it, you can go find those couple of videos on our Walk With History YouTube channel. And really, to summarize, what we learned about Lucy is that she was a groundbreaker breaker not only for women but for the TV and movie industry period. She brought diversity to the silver screen with her husband when no one else is doing that, Desi Lou Productions was innovators of their time, and they’ve really moved the film industry forward. They did firsts and continued to do firsts all throughout their years. And Lucy Ball, she showed America and the world what women were capable of, not just in comedy but also in the workplace.
So again, thank you to everyone who’s listening, please reach out to us through our website, Talkwhithhistory.Com that’s talkwithhistory.com. But more importantly, if you know someone else that might enjoy this podcast, please share this with them. Word of mouth is really one of the best ways for a podcast to grow in its early stages, which is where we are at right now. And so we rely on you, our community to grow, and we appreciate all of our listeners.
Yes. And if you want to comment with your favorite. I love Lucy episode there’s some good ones out there. That would be great.
So again. Thank you all. And we’ll talk to you all next time. Thank you.