L.S. Klepp
November 04, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Kathleen Brady
genre
Biography, Television

We gave it an A-

Lucille Ball and television met at just the right moment for both of them. She had spent nearly 20 dim years in Hollywood making one forgettable movie after another. She had just turned 40 when I Love Lucy began its triumphant run on CBS in 1951, at a time when television was looking for a sympathetic female star to attract its growing middle-class audience. The movies hadn’t known what to do with her slapstick instincts and offbeat, innocuous prettiness. But TV, inviting itself into our living rooms, demanded next-door-neighborliness. In retrospect, it’s as hard to imagine Ball succeeding in movies as it is to imagine Garbo on TV in I Love Greta. As Brady puts it in this well-written biography, Ball became TV’s most popular star because of ”a workaday humanity that made her as accessible as a houseshoe or a pot of coffee and as welcome in the average home.” Brady has no sensational revelations, unless you count as sensational the fact that Ball was tougher, colder, and brassier than her TV image suggests, or that her marriage to the frequently drunk and perpetually unfaithful Desi Arnaz was basically a disaster (she reportedly punctuated a fight by hitting him on the head with a hammer, knocking him out cold), or that she was rumored to have had an affair with the suave George Sanders as an antidote to her volatile husband. Her essential ordinariness comes through in her private life, too. The most absorbing part of the book is the beginning, because her childhood — with an odd assortment of relatives in Jamestown, N.Y. — is a classic case of mixed signals and cross-purposes. It was a good start for the queen of the sitcom. A-

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