Friday, August 5, 2011

Happy 100th, Lucy!!!

Helloooooooo!  Nice to see you again!  It's been so, so long.  I'm sorry I've been away.  Did you miss me?  Maybe a little?  Well, you know how life can just get away from you sometimes.  But I'm back and ready to resume more great posts for your enjoyment.  And what better write-up to start with than this weekend!  I mean, how could I miss this?  Me, of all people??... What am I talking about?  Why, tomorrow, of course - Lucille Ball's 100th birthday!!

If you've read my posts before, you already know how much I love Lucy, and not just the television show, but everything she did.  Since I was a little girl, I've watched Lucille Ball with reverence, admiration, and plenty of envy.  Oddly, one of the strongest memories I have as a child is the 1989 news report that Lucy had passed away.  I was only eleven then, and I wasn't even watching her extensively yet.  However, the impact she already had on me was evident, as I stared at the television screen, watching her "In Memoriam" and crying.

She had such talent, yet such beauty and ferocity.  She's someone I don't think I could have ever met in real life though, without fainting on site.  Her life, not just her work, was such an inspiration.  Born in 1911 in Jamestown, New York, she lost her father at the age of three and had to grow up fast to look after her younger brother while their mother worked two jobs.  Even though they all lived with her grandparents, Lucy eventually left Jamestown at 16 to attend an acting high school in New York City.  She worked along classmate Bette Davis, but only for a little while, as she was soon sent home for being "too shy."  (Yep!  Lucy...too shy!)

A couple of years later, Lucy tried her luck in New York again.  Using the stage name Dianne Belmont, she started working as a model.  Unfortunately, she contracted a bad case of rheumatoid arthritis and spent the next two years back home in intense therapy re-learning how to walk.  But that didn't keep her down for long.  She returned to New York once again, and as they say, "third time's the charm."  She started her acting career with a few small, short-lived chorus parts here and there, which led her to be noticed by Samuel Goldwyn.  She joined the Goldwyn Girls, a dance company, and moved to Hollywood.  Though she didn't remain with the Girls long, she was signed to a contract by RKO.

At RKO, she began the best training of her career by none other than Ginger Rogers' mom.  She took acting classes, became part of RKO's budding-stars group (which included people like Rogers and Henry Fonda), and began with bit parts in films like "Roberta" and "Follow the Fleet."  Finally, after a successful performance in a supporting part alongside Rogers and Katherine Hepburn in "Stage Door," Lucy was given her first starring role in "The Affairs of Annabel."  It was only a B-movie, but it began her career as "The Queen of the Bs."  She continued this queen role for almost a decade before she her next queen role, "The Queen of Comedy." 

She broke out of B-films for a while when she moved over to MGM.  With their Technicolor marvels, her brightly-tinted red hair (originally a brunette) was an asset like never before.  Her first starring role in an A-movie was the musical "Du Barry was a Lady" alongside Gene Kelly and Red Skelton.  She made a few more pictures for MGM, but unfortunately, the studio really didn't know how to use her yet.  She fought to get out of her contract, and once successful, she moved into the radio medium with "My Favorite Husband," the show that would bring about the Lucy most of us know today.

I loved all her films.  The spunk, the sarcasm, well...I don't know if I managed to pick up enough of it as I dreamed of (probably to many people's delight), but I know I would not be who I am today without it.  TCM is celebrating her 100th birthday with a marathon of her films all day long.  My recommendations, if you can't sit there all day long, are "Without Love" (1945) at 9:30am EST (with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy), "Dance, Girl, Dance" (1940) at 6:15pm EST (with Maureen O'Hara and the film she was shooting when she first met Desi),  "Stage Door" (1937) at 8pm EST, and "Easy to Wed" (1946) at 11:30pm EST (Lucy in Technicolor with Esther Williams and Van Johnson).  Trust me, you don't want to pass up this celebration.  Until next time, everyone.  And Happy Birthday, Ms. Ball, wherever you are.

(Post-tidbit: LIFE magazine released some never-before published photos of Lucy today (even though I've had one of them on my wall since high school).  You can enjoy the slideshow here.  Also, for a video treat - two of my favorite things rolled into one - Lucy and London...)