Ball of fire The tumultuous life and comic art of Lucille Ball

Stefan Kanfer

Book - 2003

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BIOGRAPHY/Ball, Lucille
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New York : Knopf 2003.
Physical Description
361 p. : ill
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Main Author
Stefan Kanfer (-)
Review by Choice Review

Also author of Groucho (CH, Feb'01), A Summer World (CH, Mar'90), and other titles, Kanfer (Long Island Univ.) chronicles Ball's early life growing up in Jamestown, NY; her stints on stage, as a Goldwyn Girl, and at the RKO, MGM, and Columbia studios; her work in radio; her marriage to Desi Arnaz; Desilu Studios; the phenomenon of--and a behind-the-scenes look at--the I Love Lucy television series; her ordeal with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC); her relationships with her children, Lucie and Desi Jr.; and her life and career after I Love Lucy. The last chapter offers an interesting assessment of Ball's enduring effect on television comedy, the public, feminist scholars, and critics of popular culture. The extensive bibliography is a plus, but this well-written book would have been enhanced by endnotes, a filmography, and a list of Ball's television appearances. It joins Kathleen Brady's highly regarded biography Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball (CH, Apr'95) and Coyne Steven Saunders and Tom Gilbert's Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, which offers a detailed look at Desilu studio. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. All academic and public library collections supporting television and popular culture; all levels. C. McCutcheon University of South Carolina--Spartanburg

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by Booklist Review

The author of the widely applauded Groucho (2000) offers another substantial, riveting Hollywood biography. As we see here, Lucille Ball never really emerged from the damage done to her as a child; she was forever haunted by self-doubt, obsessive-compulsive behavior, insecurity--the sort of psychological afflictions that attend a deprived childhood. But Ball certainly had the performance bug early on. Her career path took her from queen of B movies to first lady of television, as a result of, of course, the phenomenally successful I Love Lucy show. As a sixty-foot image on the screen, the actress was only a journeywoman performer; as a sixteen-inch TV image, she turned into a superstar. Ball also became a successful Hollywood businessperson, the first woman with major economic power in postwar Hollywood. Her personal life is well investigated here, with, naturally, much focus on her marriage to Desi Arnaz--troubled nearly from day one. Ball's last years were not particularly happy, but the book itself ends positively, as Kanfer concludes that her public accomplishments over a comparatively brief period are enough to guarantee her a lofty place in the history of popular entertainment. --Brad Hooper Copyright 2003 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Early in the run of I Love Lucy, Ball gave co-star Vivian Vance a hard time. Vance decided, "If by any chance this thing actually becomes a hit and goes anywhere, I'm gonna learn to love that bitch." She did, and so did the rest of the world. But according to Kanfer's excellent, compulsively readable biography, Ball (1911-1989) was much easier to love from afar (as was Kanfer's previous subject, Groucho Marx). Despite all the laughter the gifted red-headed comedienne produced, her personal life was unhappy. To save their marriage, she and Desi Arnaz produced and starred in I Love Lucy. It revolutionized TV (it was shot on film with three cameras in front of a live audience), but the all-consuming pressure of the show (and other shows produced by their company, Desilu) pushed them apart and made them absentee parents. Although Ball reigned on four consecutive top-rated CBS comedies from 1951 to 1974, Kanfer sees a decline in the quality of her work beginning in the early '60s. Without Arnaz to dominate her and placate others after they divorced, Ball became all-controlling on her shows, and her temper and tactlessness began costing her professional and personal relationships. "She could be very cold," admits daughter Lucie Arnaz, "and although she told me she loved me all the time, I didn't feel loved." Kanfer's sad, well-written and -researched bio benefits from a wealth of previously published accounts (best are Kathleen Brady's Lucille and Geoffrey Mark Fidelman's The Lucy Book), but her story is still a compelling one. Photos not seen by PW. (Aug. 15) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

The author of Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx, Kanfer wrote for theater and television before becoming a journalist (he was with Time for 20 years). So he's a natural to craft this life-and-art work on Lucy. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

Canny critic and cultural historian Kanfer (Serious Business, 1998, etc.) brings a bemused attitude and a keen knowledge of show business to a tale that's becoming as familiar as an I Love Lucy rerun. Back again we go to Lucille Ball's early days in Jamestown, New York, followed by her youthful sorties to Manhattan and work as a model. An agent's tip sent her to Hollywood, where she toiled first as a featured extra in musicals, then as the lead in some B-plus films, none of them bringing the kind of stardom reached by rival RKO contract player Ginger Rogers. It took a tiny, black-and-white TV screen and the role of housewife Lucy Ricardo to bring Ball success and, eventually, a place alongside Chaplin and Keaton as a comic icon. On the set, the woman behind the sweet, goofy image was a hellion. She tore off Vivian Vance's eyelashes, kicked husband Desi in the groin (several times), and gave Richard Burton line readings, prompting Mrs. Burton to label Miss Ball "Miss Cunt." Off the set, Desi retaliated with compulsive gambling, constant boozing, and serial adultery, often with prostitutes. His professional judgment, however, remained shrewd and unerring. Long after he and Ball divorced, he advised her not to star in the film version of the stage hit Mame. She ignored the insight and took the part, stumbling into the sad last act of her career with a damaging flop. A second, comfortable marriage to comic Gary Morton, some quality time with her children, and the usual round of testimonial affairs brought a measure of happiness to the end of a turbulent, perhaps even an unsatisfying life. Entertaining and thoughtful observations bring The Redhead into sharp focus. (16-page photo insert, 15 additional photos in text) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.