Lucille Ball: The Woman Who Changed Television

Portrait of a woman with an elegant updo hairstyle, adorned with a voluminous pink flower headpiece and a sheer veil. She wears a black top with a large brooch and a full, striped skirt in vibrant shades of blue, pink, and green. Her makeup is classic with red lipstick, and she is seated with a serene expression.
Lucille Ball

It was the early 1950s, and “I Love Lucy” had America enraptured. The show was so popular that, as Lucille Ball, the star who played “Lucy” would say,

“In 1951-52, our show changed the Monday-night habits of America. Between nine and nine-thirty, taxis disappeared from the streets of New York. Marshall Fields department store in Chicago hung up a sign: ‘We love Lucy too, so from now on we’ll be open Thursday nights instead of Monday.’ Telephone calls across the nation dropped sharply during that half hour, as well as the water flush rate, as whole families sat glued to their seats.”

But in 1952, the show nearly came to a stop. Lucille was pregnant. She and her husband, Desi Arnaz, were expecting their second child. Joyful it was for the couple but problematic for the show, considering the societal taboos around depicting pregnancy on television. Sensing an opportunity to be bold and help shift social norms, the executives and writers wrote Lucille’s real-life pregnancy into the show, though they used the word “expecting” instead of “pregnant.”

As Lucille’s pregnancy unfolded on screen, the show handled it with warmth and humor, delighting viewers and adding to its immense popularity.

On January 19, 1953, Lucille gave birth to Desi Arnaz Jr., and just 12 hours later, 44 million viewers – 72% of American households – tuned in to see Lucy welcome Little Ricky into the world. The episode garnered more viewers than President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration the following day.

Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, New York, on August 6, 1911. She was the firstborn child of Henry Durrell Ball and Desiree “DeDe” Evelyn Hunt. Dede, as the family called her, was a talented musician. “She could have been a fine concert pianist,” but married at seventeen and had Lucille shortly after. Henry “was a wonderful guy, according to everyone who knew him: full of fun, with a good comic sense.” Lucy’s mother would say that’s where her daughter’s sense of humor came from.

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Notes:

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Sources:

  • Ball, Lucille. Love, Lucy. United States, Penguin Publishing Group, 1997.
  • Herringshaw, DeAnn. Lucille Ball: Actress & Comedienne. United States, Abdo Publishing, 2011.
  • “Lucille Ball.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucille_Ball
  • Photograph taken by Harry Warnecke and Robert F. Cranston in 1944, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.94.40)