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.
LINE OUT OF MY STAND-UP SET: Why didn’t Lucy just tell Ricky that she’s a classically trained Vaudevillian comedian and has the chops and qualifications to perform for the fucking show?
Even at 102, Lucy doesn’t look like she’s aged a day on the Zombie Walk of Fame! See her forever young but with an insatiable craving for the flesh at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2012/05/i-love-lucys-braaaaaaaaains.html
Odd that the set up for Joan is that she’s a cleaning freak. Right out of Christina’s book…
Lucille Ball was once the most powerful woman in Hollywood and of course she kept Joan Crawford in line. She also did the same to Tallulah Bankhead (who was substituted for Bette Davis, who refused the role and didn’t want to be bullied by Lucy who ran a tight ship and you did things her way).
The most interesting thing I’ve read about Lucy is that there are rumors that in the late 40’s early 50’s she was actually a high-priced “escort to gentlemen” and that is how she actually met Desi.
@Snapper59: I can’t remember where I read it (so take it with a grain of salt) but Joan Crawford didn’t care much for Lucy after the week of filming the episode. Allegedly at the end of filming, Joan invited some of the cast and crew out to dinner, but didn’t invite Lucy. If true, maybe it was because she didn’t like Lucy keeping her in line.
Lucy better be gay-friendly. I cried when she passed away. And Joan Crawford can bow down to Ms. Ball. And fuck Joan’s dinner invitation. I don’t get the gay fascination with her. She was a bitch.
Lucy is a legend. Funny is a given. She was also extremely smart and an excellent business woman. She was one of the richest and most powerful people in Hollywood through her Desilu production company. So, yes, when it comes to queen bees, they don’t like each other much, Lucy was the baddest of them all. And, she liked her gays. And we like her back.
Ball and Vance faced some nasty criticism in the later series after Arnaz and Frawley were gone, unfriendly insiders calling the later Ball program the “Dyke Sans Dick” show.
Desi Arnaz was one of Hollywood’s most underrated talents. Every writer who worked for him and Ball are on record that Desi was one of the most genius ‘script doctors’ ever. Arnaz insisted that comic situations had to spring from believable human circumstances and reactions and not be outlandishly motivated. He backed the writers to wall, and never said anything was too expensive to try.
The divorce cost Lucy as much professionally as it did personally, because Desi was adamant about Ball and everyone else having scripts memorized when it was time to shoot. Without him, Lucy soon got lazy about it, and started reading her lines from cue cards, losing her connection with the other actors, and giving a ‘show’ rather than a characterization.
Consequently, the vulnerability that was so beloved in Lucy Ricardo was soon lost in later incarnations.
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