While most of the world remembers Lucille Ball, who was born 102 years ago today, as a consummate entertainer and perhaps the most gifted physical comedienne in the annals of television, not as many are aware that she was also a supporter of gay rights.
But it’s true. The iconic star gave a very candid interview to People magazine in 1980, a time when LGBT folks weren’t very visible in the media, which magically recirculated a couple of years ago to commemorate Ball’s centenary.
Asked how she felt about the burgeoning gay rights movement, Ball answered: “It’s perfectly all right with me. Some of the most gifted people I’ve ever met or read about are homosexual. How can you knock it?”
In 2001, one of Ball’s gay friends, Lee Tannen, wrote a book about his relationship with the actress. In it he recalled a mutual friend telling Ball how gay men adored her and how her curiosity was piqued when she learned about a gay bar in West Hollywood that played marathons of I Love Lucy episodes.
Tannen later told Out magazine, “Lucy Ricardo was the true gay icon, [and] the underdog who was always trying to prove herself, and I think many gay men can identify with that.”
So there you are, yet another reason to love Lucy. Here are a few more:
For camp fans, there’s the famous cat fight between Ball and costar Maureen O’Hara in Dance Girl, Dance (watch it below). Fun fact: The 1940 drama was helmed by pioneering female (and openly lesbian) director Dorothy Arzner and during the women’s liberation movement of the early 1970s, the film was reassessed as promoting female empowerment.
For fans of bad movies we love, there’s Ball in the notorious 1974 film version of Mame with
Dorothy Zbornak Bea Arthur (the two croak perform the standard “Bosom Buddies” below). Fun fact: Gay director George Cukor was originally set to direct and Bette Davis was to costar, but after Ball broke her leg skiing filming was delayed. Cukor was replaced by director Gene Saks, who cast his wife Arthur. However, on a more negative note, Ball reportedly had the great Madeline Kahn canned from a supporting role. Boo!
Lucy was always loyal to her peers. On her ’60s sitcom The Lucy Show, Ball cast Joan Crawford, then reduced to performing in a number of low-budget horror films such as Berserk, to play herself in an episode (watch the first few minutes below). Fun fact: Ball caught Crawford drinking vodka and after she showed up late for rehearsal, threatened to fire her. Crawford was on time the following day.