She may be a Hollywood icon, but to Lucille Ball’s parents, she was just their daughter. Lucille—whose full name is Lucille Désirée Ball—was born on August 6, 1911, in Jamestown, New York, to Henry Durrell Ball and Desiree Evelyn Hunt. (Her middle name was inspired by her mother’s first name.)
She started acting at the age of 12 years old when her stepfather encouraged her to audition for his Shriner’s chorus line. In 1926, Lucille enrolled at the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York City (where Bette Davis was also a student). Lucille said in a later interview that “all I learned in drama school was how to be frightened.” In 1940, Lucille met her future husband, Desi Arnaz, while filming the stage show, Too Many Girls. The couple married that same year.
In 1948, Lucille was cast as Liz Cooper, a wacky wife in the CBS Radio comedy show, My Favorite Husband. The show ran for 148 episodes. After the success of My Favorite Husband, Lucille was asked by CBS to develop it for television, which she agreed if she could work with her real-life husband, Desi. Unimpressed by the pilot episode, CBS turned down a show with Lucille and Desi, which led them to hit the road as a vaudeville act in which Lucille played a zany housewife who tried to get into her husband’s show. After the success of the tour, CBS greenlit I Love Lucy, which went on to run for more than 100 episodes and be one of the most-watched shows in TV history.
Lucille and Desi’s marriage was portrayed in the 2021 movie Being the Ricardos, in which Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem starred as the couple. The film was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. In an interview with Extra in December 2021, Kidman opened up about why she wanted to play Lucille. “That is something that Javier and I want to honor,” she said. “But at the same time, you want it to be a true depiction of who they are so that people watching it go, ‘Oh, OK…’ Aaron’s really gone in there, he’s done them proud, but at the same time he has been very true to their spirits… They’re compelling, fascinating… people and at the same time—they are human.”
The story of Lucille and Desi’s relationship was told in Amy Poehler’s 2022 documentary, Lucy and Desi, which dove into who they were as people in addition to Hollywood stars. “I knew about them as performers, not as people,” Poehler told Variety in 2021. “These two incredible outsiders worked hard to become powerful, influential figures at a time when women and immigrants were not running the system. But at the end of the day, the attempt was to tell a love story: Their long journey of falling in love, working, and staying in love with each other through thick and thin was echoed in their show.” Poehler continued, “And then to watch America’s most powerful couple — they created the idea of a power couple — split up after being on TV, as this example of how things will always be OK, it was interesting. So much is made of their work and comedy, and it should be. But I also think it is also an equal triumph to have a relationship that was the kind that they had. It is hard to maintain a working relationship, as well as a relationship with someone you love and is your partner in raising kids.”
So who are Lucille Ball’s parents, Henry Durrell Ball and Desiree Evelyn Hunt? Read on for more about Lucille Ball’s parents and how her father’s death as a child set into motion the events of her childhood that would affect her for years to come.
Lucille Ball’s father was Henry Durrell “Had” Ball. Soon after Lucille’s birth, Henry and his wife, Desiree Evelyn Hunt, moved from Jamestown, New York, where Lucille was born and where Henry worked as an electrician, to Montana for Henry’s work. The Balls didn’t stay there long as Henry was soon offered another job as a telephone lineman at the Bell Company in Michigan. A few years later, in 1915, when Lucille was three years old, Henry was diagnosed with typhoid fever and died. “I do remember everything that happened,” Lucille once said. “Hanging out the window, begging to play with the kids next door who had measles, the doctor coming, my mother weeping. I remember a bird that flew in the window, a picture that fell off the wall.”
Lucille Ball’s mother was Desiree Evelyn “DeDe” Hunt. After the death of her husband and Lucille’s father, Henry Durrell Ball, Desiree—who was pregnant with her second child at the time, Fred—moved their family from Michigan back to Jamestown, New York, where she found work in a factory. and met her second husband, Ed Peterson. Ed and Desiree married four years after Henry’s death. According to Biography.com, Ed wasn’t a fan of children, and convinced Desiree to move with him to Detroit without Lucille and Fred. Fred went on to move in with Desiree’s parents, while Lucille lived with Ed’s parents. Lucille once recalled what it was like to live with her stepfather’s parents (including his strict mother), and how the household often didn’t have enough money to buy Ball’s school supplies. When Ball was 11 years old, she reunited with her mother and Ed after they moved from Detroit back to New York. Four years later, when she was 15, Lucille moved out of her parents’ home after she convinced her mother to quit high school and enroll at John Murrary Anderson-Robert Milton Dramatics School in New York City. “I was a tongue-tied teenager spellbound by the school’s star pupil, Bette Davis,” Ball said of her time at the program. She also recalled the school writing to her mother, telling her “Lucy’s wasting her time and ours. She’s too shy and reticent to put her best foot forward.”
Lucille’s love of performing came from her grandfather (her mother’s father), who bought Desiree a home in the country so they could be a family again. After the family reunited, Lucille’s grandfather would often take her to vaudeville on Saturday nights, where she got her introduction to comedy. After the vaudeville shows, Luille would often stage plays at home with her family as the cast, crew and audience, and in high school, she performed in a production of Charley’s Aunt, which inspired her to pursue acting as a career.
Lucy and Desi is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. Here’s how to watch it for free.
For more about Lucille Ball, read her autobiography, Love, Lucy. The book—which was published after Ball’s death in 1989 and is her only autobiography—follows the comedienne’s career and life, from her childhood in Jamestown, New York, to her dreams on Broadway and her marriage with Desi Arnaz. Written by Ball herself, the autobiography also includes intimate memories of her and Desi’s children, what led to the end of their marriage and how Ball found love again with her second husband, Gary Morton. Told in her own words, Love, Lucy is a must-read for anyone who loves Lucy.
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