Movie Star Memories: Lucille Ball

In this blog series, I’ll describe my impressions of various movie stars I’ve met over the years. Hope you enjoy reading about your favorites, and that you’ll be inspired to check out my Hollywood novel Dream Factory, which is available in both paperback and electronic formats through Amazon.com.

Lucille Ball’s star rose higher in Hollywood once she began working in television, but she had been working steadily in the movie industry for about 15 years prior to that. Lucy’s gift for comedy was evident in some of the films she made before the debut of her wildly successful TV show “I Love Lucy.”

As a girl, I watched reruns of that show so much that I came to idolize Lucy. One day I got a silly, crazy idea (just the kind of idea that Lucy Ricardo would get): I decided to call Lucy’s production office out in California to see if I could talk to her on the phone. With my mom’s support, I researched the phone number and then called it, never really expecting that I’d actually reach Lucy — but I did!

A receptionist answered the phone, and I said as clearly as I could (while my heart was pounding nervously in my chest) that I was a girl from the East Coast who enjoyed Ms. Ball’s TV shows and was hoping to tell her so. The man hesitated for a moment before telling me to hold on. Those next few minutes of being on hold seemed like the longest few minutes of my life. I kept trying to mentally rehearse what I’d say if Lucy herself got on the phone, but I couldn’t think straight, so I just kept listening to the sound of my own breathing until a woman with a deep voice picked up the line and said: “Hi; this is Lucille Ball.”

Was that really her? I wondered for a moment, before remembering that her voice had deepened over the years from cigarette smoking. The woman did sound just like Lucy had sounded on a recent TV interview I’d watched. “Um, um, hi,” I blurted out. “Um, uh, thanks for taking my call.”

“You’re welcome, dear. I understand you enjoy my work.” The genuine warmth that came through in her voice helped me relax.

I don’t actually remember everything that I blurted out over the next few minutes, but it generally had to do with some of my favorite scenes from Lucy’s shows and how happy she had made me feel watching them. I talked and talked in a burst of nervous energy, and Lucy listened patiently.

Then she thanked me for calling her. “I love to hear from young people like you,” she told me.

“Oh, thank you,” I gushed. “I loved talking to you.”

That one phone conversation meant the world to a shy girl like me. It was the first time I’d done something so bold to try to make a dream come true, and it actually worked. That set me on a path of pursuing other dreams, which have led me to many other adventures over the years that I wouldn’t have experienced if I’d lacked courage.

Some years later, when I was a teen, I met Lucy in person at the Kennedy Center Honors. She was cordial, but not as friendly as she’d seemed on the phone before. That didn’t bother me, though, because I knew why: Just a few days before the event, her former husband and lifelong friend Desi Arnaz had passed away. Lucy was visibly emotional, seeming to swing frequently between sorrow and joy that evening we met. It was clear that Lucy herself was a much more complex person than her “Lucy” character.

I’ll always be grateful to Lucy for taking my call.

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