Last Updated on October 27, 2023
“Lucy, I’m home!”
Fans of the unforgettable comedy “I Love Lucy” can hear Ricky calling as he breezed into their apartment after a long day at work.
Known as the “First Couple of Comedy,” Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz made an incredible impact on the world of television sitcoms. Although their television lives portrayed the charismatic couple as happy, fun, and zany, the real-life drama of Lucy and Desi’s history tells a much darker story.
Lucille Ball in Jamestown, NY
Lucille Desiree Ball was born on August 6, 1911, in her grandparent’s home in Jamestown, NY. Her parents were Henry Durrell Ball and Desiree Evelyn Hunt, or DeDe, as she was known.
Soon after Lucille was born, Henry, DeDe, and she moved from New York to Montana for Henry’s work as an electrician. They didn’t stay long. Soon after settling in, Henry was offered a job in Michigan as a lineman for Bell Telephone. The family packed up and headed to Michigan.
Lucy was just three years old when her father contracted Typhoid Fever in 1915 and passed away.
“I remember everything about that time,” Lucy once recalled. “Hanging out the window, begging to play with the kids next door who had measles, the doctor coming, my mother weeping.”
Soon after Henry’s death, DeDe, pregnant with her second child, and Lucy moved back to Jamestown.
The family moved in with Lucy’s maternal grandparents, aunt, and uncle in a small Cape Cod home just blocks from Chautauqua Lake in the village of Celeron. The home still stands today on a small street now known as Lucy Lane.
It was both a happy and tumultuous childhood that would pave her road to unexpected stardom.
By the time Lucille was 15, she had left home for New York City where she enrolled in the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts. Years later, in an interview, Lucy recalled, “All I learned in drama school was how to be frightened.”
Instructors at the school felt she would not be successful in the entertainment industry and made it a point to tell her so frequently. The harsh criticism only fueled Lucille’s desire to prove them wrong.
New York City provided constant criticism.
Lucy tried modeling, a stint as the Chesterfield cigarette girl, and chorus work on Broadway.
She would get hired – then quickly fired – several times.
It wasn’t until she moved to Hollywood in the early 1930s that things began turning around. Her first credited role came in 1936 in the movie “Chatterbox.”
Catching Her Break in Hollywood
By 1940, Lucille was cast as the lead in the musical “Too Many Girls.” It was here she met and fell in love with Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz, who played her bodyguard in the show. The chemistry between the two was instant and undeniable. They married a few months later and, for ten years following, maintained separate careers.
In 1948, Lucille was given the role of Liz Cooper, the wacky wife in “My Favorite Husband,” a comedy on CBS Radio.
The show was such a hit that CBS producers asked her to deliver it for television. She agreed, but insisted on working with her real-life husband. CBS was reluctant, citing the public would never accept a red-headed Anglo-American wife with a Cuban husband.
The couple went on to create the Desilu Production Company where they could be in control of developing their own brand of comedy.
Launching “I Love Lucy”
“I Love Lucy” dominated US TV ratings during its run and became the launchpad to stardom for Lucille Ball. The couple starred in two feature films during the show’s production breaks.
As the sitcom’s run ended in 1957, the couple continued to produce the “Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” until 1960. Soon after, the couple divorced, and Lucy bought out Desi’s share of the production company. This would make Lucille Ball the first woman ever to head a television production company.
Desilu went on to produce other popular television shows including “Star Trek,” “Mission: Impossible,” and “The Untouchables.”
In 1967, Lucy sold her share of Desilu Productions to Gulf+Western for $17 million. The company went on to be renamed Paramount Productions.
A Hometown Girl
Although Lucille Ball remained one of the most well-known Hollywood icons, she never lost her love for home and family in western New York. She developed a vision for her hometown as the number one destination for the celebration of comedy in America. Her dream was not to be the only comedian celebrated in Jamestown, but for her hometown to embrace and honor all who brought comedy into people’s living rooms across the country.
This dream became a reality when the National Comedy Center opened in downtown Jamestown in 2018. The cutting-edge museum uses technology to create an exceptional visitor experience by customizing how each guest interacts with more than 50 immersive exhibits. Your laugh-filled, personalized journey will bring you face-to-face with stand-up comedians, movies, radio shows, comic strips, and more.
Visiting the Lucy-Desi Museum
Perhaps the most intriguing collection of all things Lucy can be found within walking distance of the National Comedy Center. A second, less flashy, but equally impressive two-part museum tells the story of Lucille Ball’s personal life and career. The Lucy-Desi Museum is a must-see for any fan of the comedienne. From costumes worn by the late star to the rooms in the “I Love Lucy” television show apartment, the museum helps visitors better understand her struggle to stardom.
Museum guests who opt to see both the National Comedy Center and the Lucy-Desi on the same day can purchase a ticket for entrance to both at either location. Parking for the museums is free. If you go, plan to spend several hours immersing yourself in the pair. There’s a lot to see and explore.
If paying homage to the late icon is on your to-do list, be sure to visit her final resting place in Lake View Cemetery.
Enter through the main gate on the corner of Lakeview Avenue and Buffalo Street. Follow the red hearts on the pathway to Lucille Ball’s resting place.
For a complete driving tour of “LucyTown,” visit LucyTownTour.com on your mobile device.
Lucille Ball left an indelible mark on television comedy through her unwavering dream to be a star. With that same passion, she’s spotlighted her beloved hometown and truly put it on the map.