Friday, 26 September 2014




I have always been a fan of Lucille Ball and the I Love Lucy show. Both Ball and her sitcom have fuelled my interest in fifties culture, reminded me of the importance to laugh in everyday life, and been an inspiration to me of female success. This past summer I had the pleasure of visiting the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museum & Center for Comedy located in Ball’s hometown of Jamestown, New York. Although not your typical museum, the Ball and Arnaz Museum and Center has an almost magical quality about it, allowing the visitor to connect and feel apart of the time period and sitcom. 

Lucille Ball was born in 1911, experiencing a childhood of hardship. In her late teens and early twenties Ball entered the entertainment industry in New York. Her career began modestly, with stints of modeling and parts in B list movies. In 1940 Ball met her husband Desi Arnaz. In 1951 the two moved to Hollywood to create their own television studio (Desilu) that would produce their sitcom, I Love Lucy. The show followed the lives of the happily married couple Lucy and Ricky Ricardo (Ball and Arnaz) and their closest friends and neighbours Ethel and Fred Mertz (Vivian Vance and William Frawley). Ball expertly played the zany, redheaded character of Lucy Ricardo who was constantly getting herself into ridiculously, hilarious situations.

The black and white sitcom ran for six seasons (1951-57), followed by another three special edition seasons that featured one-hour episodes (1957-60). The show was an American favourite, ranking number one in the United States for four of its nine seasons. The popularity of the show continues, as it has never been off the air since the broadcast of its first episode.

My appreciation of Ball and the television show does not simply stem from the plot and antics of the sitcom, (but) is also largely due to the groundbreaking accomplishments of the comedian. Lucille Ball was the first woman to head a Hollywood Production Company, which she did successfully for five years. Previously she was the Vice-President of the company for twelve years. Ball was also one of the first female comedians, and as a result has inspired many notable female celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres. In the second season of I Love Lucy, Ball became one of the first women to continue to star in a sitcom while pregnant, which was radical for the time. Although the I Love Lucy show did portray instances of female traditionalism, I feel that in this way the show is a product of its time. Even though certain traditional customs were portrayed (such as the male breadwinner and the female homemaker) the traditional female role was also challenged by both Lucille Ricardo and Lucille Ball. Ball accomplished many ‘firsts’ as a woman and while Ricardo may have been a housewife she was also headstrong and independent.
After twenty years of marriage and two children, Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960. While the two portrayed a madly in love couple onscreen, Arnaz was a womanizer. Ball and Arnaz both remarried and continued their careers, although never reaching the same height of success as in the I Love Lucy Show.
Lucille Ball’s legacy lives on, most notably in Jamestown, New York. The Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museum & Center for Comedy is comprised of two separate buildings. The first building (Lucy Desi Museum) is devoted to both Ball and Arnaz’s life and careers outside of the I Love Lucy show. The museum includes written, video, and audio information on the two as well as artifacts from their lives. The pieces that I enjoyed the most in this building were Ball’s Mercedes-Benz and a section of the exhibit that featured numerous products that Ball had endorsed. The second building (Desilu Studios) is dedicated solely to the I Love Lucy sitcom. The Studio contains large set replicas, costumes worn by the cast, an interactive recreation of a popular episode, and information panels on all four members of the cast. This building was the highlight of the visit for me because it was truly an immersive experience, I felt like I had stepped back through time and was standing on the set of I Love Lucy.

Lucy is dressed clown like and is folding a pie in one hand a squirting water bottle in the other.


-The I Love Lucy show created the re-run.
-Desi Arnaz and Karl Freud (cinematographer) created the multi-camera production method that is still used today. The technique allows for continuous taping of a television show.
-The I Love Lucy show was one of the first shows to portray a Latin-American romantic relationship.
-Lucille Ball as the head of Production Company Desilu decided to produce the television show Star Trek, when many felt it would be a failure.
-Lucille Ball starred in seventy-two films throughout her career. In 1985 she starred in the particularly poignant film Stone Pillow, which drew attention to the issue of homelessness in America.


  1. I'm glad you address some of your personal reasons for admiring Lucille Ball, namely her career success in Hollywood both on and off screen. I did not know about her management roles in the Hollywood Production Company, and I think this is an important element when we think about Lucille Ball's impact on women in comedy. I'm curious, did the museum also address these aspects of her career, or did it focus mainly on the show itself?

    Great post also to show what kind of interesting (and surprising!) museums and cultural heritage centres exist in small towns: when Hollywood stars come from small beginnings, it provides opportunity for their hometown to celebrate their heritage.

  2. Thank-you for your comment. The museum does mention Ball’s management roles in the biographical sections (mostly in building one) however her television roles are the clear focus. This is something that I think the museum could have focused on more.

    Ball is definitely the pride and joy of Jamestown and has brought them a small tourist industry. The museum is a rather recent addition, as it was added in the 1990s. But throughout the town there are murals from the I Love Lucy show on brick building, flags depicting the cast, they have even begun an annual race and comedy show in her honour.