Showing posts with label Lucille Ball. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lucille Ball. Show all posts

Thursday, November 30, 2023

AKA Lucy by Sarah Royal

AKA Lucy
The Dynamic and Determined Life of Lucille Ball
by Sarah Royal
Foreword by Amy Poehler
Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762484263
240 pages
October 2023

“Lucy is one of America’s greatest works of art.” — Amy Poehler

Lucille Ball was a force of nature. Her\ chaotic energy combined with her feminine aura created her unique brand of charisma that made her a legend. What impresses me most about Lucille Ball was her tenacity. She was a hard worker, incredibly driven in both her professional and personal life and always had the dogged determination to make her dreams come true. Lucille Ball went from being a chorus girl, to becoming the queen of Bs at RKO (and eventually owning the studio!), to then becoming the star, alongside her husband Desi Arnaz, of one of the most beloved and best-known TV shows of all time. Ball wasn't a natural born comedian. Instead, her talent for slapstick humor came from her perfectionism. She worked on her craft until it was perfect, making audiences believe it was her natural born talent and not something that required hours of work to make it look easy. 

“I’m not ashamed to say that I stole liberally from her… She kind of paved the way for people like me to do [physical] comedy on sitcoms.” — Dick Van Dyke

AKA Lucy: The Dynamic and Determined Life of Lucille Ball by Sarah Royal is a celebration of this powerhouse entertainer, successful business woman and devoted wife, mother and friend. It's authorized by the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and the author is a pop culture historian who specializes in women in comedy. 

The book doesn't read like a traditional biography which is its strong suit. It offers a way to experience a bit of Lucille Ball in book form rather than simply take in a bunch of information about her. In the introduction the author promises the reader that they'll "discover feminist achievements, a passionate love affair, dissections of humor, communist accusations, struggles in Hollywood’s golden age and a classic rags-to-riches tale.”

Each chapter has a different theme. Some are biographical essays presented in chronological order. Others are timelines of Lucille Balls' life and certain aspects of her career or breakdowns of her comedy styles and notable episodes of I Love Lucy. Career-wise the book primarily focuses on her work in television with I Love Lucy and the subsequent spin-offs. 

Her film career is lightly touched upon. Some of the films discussed at length include Roman Scandals (1933), Stage Door (1937), Dance Girl Dance (1940), Du Barry Was a Lady (1943), Lured (1947), The Long, Long Trailer (1954), The Facts of Life (1960), etc. There was no real information about my favorite Lucille Ball film Yours, Mine and Ours (1968) alas. While I would have liked to have read more about her films, the intended audience here is really the I Love Lucy fan who wants to learn more about the beloved star.

interior spread courtesy of Running Press
source: Edelweiss

interior spread courtesy of Running Press
source: Edelweiss

The book also goes into great detail into her marriage to Desi Arnaz. It's clear that Lucille Ball went to great lengths to make that marriage work. The book goes easy on Desi Arnaz and only lightly touches upon his infidelity, jealousy issues and his drinking problem.

Some interesting facts from the book: 
  • Upon the death of her father, she believed that birds were a bad omen and was terrified of them for the rest of her life.
  • Lela Rogers, Ginger Roger's mother, was instrumental to her career: “Lela Rogers helped Lucy get her teeth straightened and hair fixed and made sure she learned how to do her makeup well, dress suitably, read literature to expand her vocabulary, how to treat agents and producers properly, and rehearse…”
  • Seeing Dorothy Gish in person do something silly "reinforced for [Ball] that glamorous actresses could have a goofy side, too."
  • Lucille Ball was friends with Carole Lombard and even after Lombard died considered her a mentor in spirit.
  • Had it not been for Ball insisting that I Love Lucy be shot in Hollywood instead of New York City, the show would not have been recorded on 35mm (to ensure proper broadcasting quality) and then may have not been saved at all. This also helped the show become one of the original series that enjoyed reruns.
  • Lucille Ball was to name her daughter Susan after her good friend, actress Susan Peters, but Desi Arnaz took hold of the birth certificate before Lucille could and named their daughter after Lucille. (This angered me immensely!)
  • She loved playing Backgammon because the game stimulated her brain in the same way working on a television episode would.

AKA Lucy is presented in a beautifully designed unjacketed hardcover. The book has gorgeous interior spreads designed with pops of bold color that make it really pleasing to the eye. Throughout the book are quotes from various people in the business and family members about Lucille Ball which give the book a greater sense of intimacy. I also really liked the endpapers and the stunning cover which features a striking image of Lucille Ball in front of her own silhouette. Overall, it's a really nice package and would make for a great gift for the Lucille Ball/I Love Lucy fan in your life.

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of AKA Lucy for review.

I share more thoughts about the book on episode #6 of The Classic Movie Roundup on YouTube. Watch here:

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beauty for the Asking (1939)

Patric Knowles, Lucille Ball and Donald Woods in Beauty for the Asking (1939)

Beautician Jean Russell (Lucille Ball) has just mastered her formula for astringent cold cream. The business and financial prospects are enough that she can finally marry her live-in beau Denny (Patric Knowles). However, it turns out Denny has his higher aims and plans to marry wealthy yet homely socialite Flora Barton (Frieda Inescort). Settling into life without Denny, Jean and her straight-talking roommate Gwen (Inez Courtney) set out to make Jean's cold cream a success. Jean barges into the office of advertising executive Jeffrey Martin (Donald Woods) determined to get his help with her product. The cold cream evolves into a whole line of beauty products and salons. When Jean and Jeffrey get backing from Denny's new bride Flora, things get awful complicated especially when Denny and Jeffrey vie for Jean's romantic attentions.

RKO's Beauty for Asking (1939) was directed by Glenn Tryon who most will recognize as the male lead in two Pal Fejos films Lonesome (1928) and Broadway (1929). The story was based on an original idea by women screenwriters Grace Norton and Adele Buffington and would then be fleshed out by Edmund L. Hartmann, Doris Anderson and Paul Jarrico.

Adele Buffington, who would later write under the names Jesse Bowers and Colt Remington, championed original stories for film instead of adaptations of plays and novels which were the norm in Hollywood. She got her start as a teenager working at as a ticket cashier at a cinema. This job allowed her to watch as many silent movies as she wanted. At the tender age of 19 she wrote her first screenplay and her journey to Hollywood began. In 1924 she wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times called Beauty and Brains Go Together, in which she fought against the stereotype that intellectuals were ugly and beautiful women were dumb.

This idea, perhaps progressive for the time, made its way into Beauty for the Asking where socialites and business women alike are known for their smarts as well as their looks. In fact the weakest character, Flora Barton-Williams, blossoms when she achieves not only self-confidence and glamour but also grows wise to the motives of her husband. Flora gets help from Jean who is not just her romantic rival but also a role model. Jean who is still smarting from Denny's betrayal is also a diligent business woman who makes a career for herself with her own invention. She didn't intend to give up her aspirations even when marriage with Denny seemed likely. She tells him:

"Why should a woman stop using her brains just because she's caught her man?" - Jean Russell

The screenwriting team was also inspired by Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics entrepreneur who became rich off of her business. She believed in packaging, up-pricing, endorsements and the perceived power of science.  According to an article on, screenwriter Paul Jarrico did quite a bit of research hoping to reveal the shady tricks the beauty industry employs to fool customers. A little of this remains in the movie however the focus of the story is more about the main characters relationships with each other than the beauty industry that sustains them.

Beauty for the Asking is a darling little movie. Pair this in a double bill with The Women (1939) and it would serve as a nice little appetizer for that main course. As many classic movie lovers know, 1939 was a great year for the film industry. This doesn't only include the big pictures but for B-movies too.

Beauty for the Asking and The Women (1939)
Beauty for the Asking is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive.You can purchase the DVD from the WB Shop. Use my buy links to shop and you will help support this site. Thanks!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Beauty for the Asking (1939) to review!

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