There are few figures as instantly recognizable as Lucille Ball: in terms of both looks and talent. With fiery red hair, huge blue eyes and a sense of humor that could kill, she became the beating heart of American television. She was the first woman to head a major Hollywood Studio, Desilu Studios, which she also owned. She was one of the first women to ever be pregnant on television. And she was the first woman to be a real star as a comedian, paving the way for the likes of Carol Burnett, Joan Rivers, and so many more. “The Plot Thickens” is telling the story of Lucille Ball like it’s never been told before.
Lucille Ball’s story is the newest season of “The Plot Thickens,” hosted by Ben Mankiewicz. A podcast from Turner Classic Movies, the first two seasons document the story of Peter Bogdanovich, a Hollywood director, and the inside story of The Bonfire of the Vanities, a movie that was supposed to be a hit. But this season will be their biggest story yet, with interviews from the people who knew Lucy and audio archives from the icon herself.
Small-town girl to the pillar of American stardom
“The Plot Thickens” follows Lucy from her childhood years in the small town of Jamestown, New York, all the way to Hollywood. She had roles in 75 movies, small parts mostly, but she was making a name for herself. As Mankiewicz puts it, at 40, she had a second act that perhaps no one could ever beat with the creation of I Love Lucy.
After being told she was talentless at audition after audition, after being told that comedy and relentless ambition were roles only for men, Lucille Ball laid the framework for television sitcoms and became a bona fide star.
The first episode of “The Plot Thickens” takes us through her early years. Her father died of tuberculosis when she was just three, you can hear her tell the story of that day as she remembers it. She was enraptured by the vaudeville acts and silent movies of the time, particularly enamored with The Perils of Pauline, a silent film about an ambitious young woman who puts off marriage for a life of adventure. A life Lucy dreamed of. She went on to drama school in New York City, where she faced harsh criticism from her teachers, but that would not stop her.
But that dream nearly did shatter, though, when a neighborhood boy was accidentally shot and paralyzed in her family’s yard during a target shooting practice. Her family was forced to relocate when their house was sold to settle the legal judgement of the accident.
The Lucille we didn’t know
Lucille Ball’s life continued to not be all glitz and glamor. Despite she and husband Desi Arnaz becoming the most beloved couple in America, they divorced in 1960, their marriage nothing like it appeared on television. In 1953, she voluntarily faced the HUAC, or the House Un-American Activities Committee, during the McCarthyism period in America. Ball had listed her party affiliation as Communist, along with her brother and mother, in 1936. Unlike other Hollywood stars of this time period, she managed to escape McCarthyism relatively unscathed.
The Lucille Ball that audiences thought they knew was not all she wrote. “The Plot Thickens” is looking at the rest of Lucille’s life, before she was the funniest woman in America. Listen along with new episodes released every Tuesday to hear about the Lucy we didn’t know.