If you’ve watched every episode of I Love Lucy, you may want to know about Lucille Ball’s net worth and how much she made from the show’s six seasons and what she left for her kids when she died.
Ball—whose full name is Lucille Désirée Ball—was born on August 6, 1911, in Jamestown, New York. 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, Ball enrolled at the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York City (where Bette Davis was also a student). Ball said in a later interview that “all I learned in drama school was how to be frightened.” In 1940, Ball met her future husband, Desi Arnaz, while filming the stage show, Too Many Girls. The couple married that same year.
In 1948, Ball 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, Ball was asked by CBS to develop it for television, which she agreed if she could work with her real-life husband, Arnaz. Unimpressed by the pilot episode, CBS turned down a show with Ball and Arnaz, which led them to hit the road as a vaudeville act in which Ball 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.
Ball and Arnaz’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 Ball. “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 Ball and Arnaz’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 what is Lucille Ball’s net worth? Read on for how much Ball made on I Love Lucy and how much she was worth when she died.
How much did Lucille Ball make from I Love Lucy?
Lucille Ball starred as the lead of I Love Lucy for 180 half-hour episodes from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957. She played Lucy Ricardo, a housewife in New York City, who would concoct various schemes with her best friends, Ethen and Fred Mertz, to appear with her husband, Ricky Ricardo (played by Ball’s real-life husband at the time, Desi Arnaz), the leader of a band at a nightclub. After I Love Lucy ended in 1957, Ball and Arnaz went on to star in three seasons of their own spinoff, The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, which was later retitled as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. For four of its six seasons, I Love Lucy was the most-watched show in America and was the first series ever to ends its run at the top of the Nielsen’s rating.
Since its finale, I Love Lucy has been syndicated in dozens of languages across the world, with more than 40 million viewers each year. A re-aired, colorized version of its Christmas episode was watched by more than eight million viewers on CBS in 2013. The show, which was the first scripted TV series to be shot on 35mm film in front of a live studio audience, has won five Emmys and was voted as the “Best TV Show of All Time” in a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine in 2012.
How much did Lucille Ball make from I Love Lucy? According to Bart Andrews’ 1985 book, The I Love Lucy Book, Ball and Arnaz were paid a joint salary of $4,000 per episode ($2,000 each) for I Love Lucy. The book reports that the couple originally asked for $5,000 per episode, but CBS and Arnaz agreed to $4,000 for complete rights to the show. As for other costs, the book also reports that Philip Morris, a cigarette company, paid the show’s asking price of $26,500 to sponsor I Love Lucy. CBS also paid $5 million for the rights to broadcast the show, according to The I Love Lucy Book.
In 1953, months after the birth of Ball and Arnaz’s second child, Desi Jr., the couple signed a new $8 million contract with Morris for another 100 episodes, with a production budget of around $40,000 to $50,000 per week, according to the book. (The book also reported that twins, Richard and Ronald Lee Simmons, who played Lucy and Ricky’s baby son in I Love Lucy, made $25 per week for one day of filming on Fridays.) After I Love Lucy ended, Ball and Arnaz signed a $2.5 million deal with Ford to sponsor five episodes of The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, which was expanded to 13 total episodes. According to The Los Angeles Times, I Love Lucy makes around $20 million each year from reruns.
What was Lucille Ball’s net worth?
What was Lucille Ball’s net worth? Ball died at the age of 77 on April 26, 1989, of a ruptured aorta after open-heart surgery. She was survived by her two children, Lucie and Desi Jr., and her second husband, Gary Morton, whom she married in 1961. Lucille Ball had a net worth of $40 million—equal to about $80 million today—according to the Gazette Review. Desi Arnaz—whom she divorced in May 1960—was worth $20 million at the time of his death, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Arnaz, a regular cigarette smoker, died three years before Ball on December 2, 1986, from lung cancer.
Though much of Lucille Ball’s net worth came from I Love Lucy, a lot of her and Arnaz’s money was also from the merchandise deals that came after the birth of their son, Desi Jr., in 1953, which led to sponsorships for dolls, comic books, cigarette lighters, aprons and more items, according to The I Love Lucy Book. The financial windfall led industry experts to nickname Desi Jr. as “Lucy’s $50 Million Baby.”
In 1950, Ball and Arnaz founded their own production company, DesiLu Productions, which has produced shows like I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Untouchables, Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. The company was the second-largest independent television company in the United States until 1962 and remained as the number-one independent production company in the country until it was sold in 1968 to Paramount Television. Both Ball and Arnaz owned a majority stake in DesiLu until 1962 when Ball bought out Arnaz and ran the company by herself for seven years. She sold her shares of Desilu to Gulf + Western (later Paramount Television) for $17 million (a value of $132 million in 2020) in 1968.
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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