August 06, 2011

Happy birthday, Lucille Ball: Looking good for 100

Lucille Ball, the long-stemmed looker born August 6, 1911, came to Hollywood when she was 22. For two decades. mostly at RKO Pictures, she was cast as dime-a-dance dames, b-girls and burlesque queens, ever the wisecracker, never the star. But she had the last laugh.

In the early 1950s, the studios lived in dread of television, refusing to sell their old films for broadcast or permit their stars to appear on the small screen. Nevertheless Ball and her husband, bandleader Desi Arnaz, took their radio show to television, renaming it I Love Lucy. Five years later, she and Arnaz bought the RKO real estate holding for their thriving TV studio, DesiLu. Like other smart, outspoken actresses (Eve Arden and Ann Sothern come to mind), Ball was a big-screen also-ran who became a queen of the small screen. This is not to say that Ball's big-screen career was negligible.

Her television career will be celebrated this weekend on MeTV, which between Friday and Sunday will air 100 episodes of I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show.

On her birthday, which is Saturday, TCM hosts an all-day mini-retrospective of her best-known films. Best Foot Forward (airs at 4:30 pm), Dance, Girl, Dance (6:15 pm) Stage Door (8 pm), The Big Street (9:45 pm) and Easy to Wed (11:30 pm).

Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), directed by Dorothy Arzner, is my favorite of Ball's tough-cookie performances. She plays a burlesque queen, "Tiger Lily" White, loosely based on Gypsy Rose Lee. She's funny, she's smart and she's belatedly compassionate to her co-star, Maureen O'Hara, rival for the affections of the unlikely Louis Hayward.

Your favorite Ball movie? Episode of her television show?  See more at the Everything Lucy website!

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