Lucille Ball was my first introduction to a comedy leading lady. A walking contradiction (glamorous with a slapstick charm, ditzy with a razor wit), Lucy showed me there were no boundaries to what a woman could be—and that included being funny! Let’s face it: She put “klutzy comedienne” on the map decades before Liz Lemon ever fumbled her first cup of coffee.
But behind Lucille’s Kewpie doll grin, there were dark struggles and exhilarating triumphs – a history I never knew as I (and the rest of America) watched her wildly shove chocolates into her bra, wallpaper her bedroom in a maze of dizzying stripes, and beg Ricky to put her in the Tropicana’s next number. I still get a goofy grin on my face when I remember how Lucy used an “anonymous” song request to tell Ricky she was pregnant.
So, to remember the comic genius that was Lucy, here are seven little known facts about the life that led her to make us laugh and love her even more:
1. After her father’s death in 1914 from typhoid fever, Lucille was raised primarily by her mother Desiree (Dede) Ball and her stepfather Ed Peterson. The family was so poor Lucille couldn’t even afford the pencil she needed for school. She would hoard pencils for the rest of her life.
2. Lucille spent much of her childhood living with Peterson’s mother, who introduced her to needlework as a hobby, which inspired Lucille’s life-long love of crocheting.
3. Lucille was accepted to the prestigious Robert-Minton-John Murray Anderson School of Drama in Manhattan after auditioning with a comic monologue (the others did Shakespeare), but was dismissed after a month because she was too shy to perform in front of her classmates.
4. She initially dyed her hair blonde to pursue acting and modeling in New York. It wasn’t until MGM purchased her contract in 1942 that she returned to her roots as a redhead.
5. When CBS balked at Lucille and Desi Arnaz's insistence on shooting I Love Lucy on expensive film in Hollywood, the couple agreed to take a pay cut in exchange for retaining full ownership rights to the show and running it under their newly formed Desilu Productions.
6. I Love Lucy was the first comedy to be filmed before a live audience. When it aired, department stores closed early and telephone and water usage dropped.
7. After her divorce from Desi in 1960, Lucille promptly took control of Desilu (becoming the first woman to head a major studio in the process), bought out Desi, and sold the company to Gulf+Western for $17 million.