Learning from Lucy
Growing up, my favorite comedienne was, and remains, Lucille Ball. It was a mystery to me why my fellow classmates in elementary school did not know who Lucy was. How shameful! Didn’t they watch Nick at Nite every single night like I did? For almost two decades I have read too many Lucy books to count and watched hundreds of hours of her performances and interviews, yet I still find myself laughing at her as much as I did the first time I discovered this perennial talent. Over that time the rose-colored glasses came off as I realized that, like most successful entertainers, she was a flawed and often complex human being. This makes her all the more relatable.
April 26, 2019 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Lucille Ball’s passing, but her legendary talent lives on through her endless reruns and in her hometown of Jamestown, New York. Now that I am an adult, I realize it is the simple life lessons that emerged from reading about Lucy that I treasure equally as much as the infinite laughs. Here are a few of those lessons.
It doesn’t pay to get discouraged.
At the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York City, a 16-year-old Lucy was told she did not have what it takes to be an actress and was constantly overshadowed by the prized pupil by the name of Bette Davis (ever heard of her?). Not to be deterred, Lucy spent a few years as a model in New York, except for two years she was wheel-chair bound while battling a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, until she was randomly picked by an agent to go to Hollywood and become a “Goldwyn Girl.” The twenty-two-year-old native New Yorker was Hollywood-bound, and the Golden State was her home for the rest of her life.
Lucille Ball won four Emmys (and received one posthumously), a Golden Globe, was a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986, and the list goes on! Yet no matter how many times she won, her acceptance was always humbling and genuine. When she won her third Emmy in 1967, she went up with nothing prepared to say but stated how much the award meant to her because it was from her peers and said with tears glistening in her eyes, “I love my work. Thank you for giving me this for it.” And when her widower Gary Morton (with whom she had a happy 28 year marriage to) accepted her Emmy posthumously in September 1989, he emotionally told the audience, “She also loved her public, and it was one of the great joys of her life that they loved her back.” But then again, how could we not love Lucy?
Life does not end at 40. Sometimes… it’s just beginning.
1951 was a big year for Lucille Ball. In July she had her first child, I Love Lucy aired on CBS in October, and Lucy turned forty in August. Even today for a woman to have so many milestones occur in her fortieth year is rare but for 1951 it was never heard of. I Love Lucy went from being a giant leap of faith for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz to top of the Nielson ratings, and soon the Emmys and awards began to pile up for the show’s star and writers. Lucille Ball went from being the “Queen of the B’s (B movies)” to the “Queen of Comedy” in a little more than a year!
A woman can be both smart and beautiful.
A beauty and a superb actress, Lucille Ball was also the first woman to run a studio. She bought out all of her ex-husband Desi Arnaz’s shares in Desilu Studios for $2.5 million in 1962 and was served as president for 5 years. By all accounts she ruled the studio with an iron fist. It was under her leadership at Desilu that such shows as Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were born. In 1967, Lucy sold Desilu to Gulf and Western for $17 million. She later told Carol Burnett that it was when she was running Desilu they added the “s” to her last name.
Work hard no matter what season of life you are in.
Lucy was never one to believe in luck, she said, “Luck to me is something else: Hard work — and realizing what is opportunity and what isn’t.” From the time she was in her teens until her passing in 1989 Lucille Ball put all her effort into each project she undertook. While portraying a bag lady in the 1985 drama, “Stone Pillow,” Lucy (74 at the time) was draped in layers of clothes for the part and ended up being hospitalized for dehydration in New York. “Stone Pillow” is an emotional story that everyone who only thinks of Lucy as a comic actress should watch. She tackled every genre with a type of precise ethic and rawness that many comedians had a hard time pulling off.
Always lend a helping hand.
Not only did Lucy mentor younger comedians such as Carol Burnett, whom she affectionately called “Kid,” she also held workshops for emerging actors on the Desilu lot in the late 1950s. In her late 60s and into her early 70s, Lucy taught a television and film course at California State University Northridge. She put her heart and soul into those courses and wished for her students to flourish. However, she was not afraid to tell a student they did not possess the passion or drive to be a competent actor and was known for her forwardness. Lucy also was very generous to charitable organizations, having a special place in her heart for children. She was an avid supporter of the March of Dimes and she and her husband Gary were regular attendees at Barbara and Marvin Davis’s annual Carousel of Hope Ball, which raised money for juvenile diabetes. Lucy truly modeled her life after the Maya Angelou quote, “When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.”
“The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age.”
That one speaks for itself.
Check out Lucille Ball’s biography on the National Women’s History Museum website
If you are a Lucille Ball fan, or just a fan of comedy in general, take a trip to Jamestown, New York and visit the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Museum & Center of Comedy as well as the brand-new National Comedy Center