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Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ballby Stefan Kanfer
Synopses & Reviews
A little world out of nothing
Few intimations of Lucille Ball's character and career can be found on her family tree. Hers is a classic instance of the comic talent that surfaces without genetic antecedent. There have been, of course, many such "sports" in show business, performers who sprang from generations of laborers or small-time entrepreneurs. But most often these comedians and clowns were first-generation Americans, breaking out from the poverty, illiteracy, and prejudice that still afflicted their parents. Moreover, the great majority of them came from the streets of New York City, where demonic energy was the only réeacute;sumé they needed, and where opportunity lay all around them-from larceny and murder to medicine, law, and entertainment.
Lucille had little in common with the generation that was to beget laughter in vaudeville, in the legitimate theater, and on the sound stages of the 1930s. Compared to them she is a bloodline aristocrat. "My mother, Desiréeacute;e Hunt," her account proudly states, "was of French-English descent, with a touch of Irish from her father's side that showed in her porcelain-fine English complexion and auburn hair." Lucille's father, Henry Durrell Ball, was descended from landed gentry in England; some of the family came to the New World as early as the seventeenth century. She was delighted to note that there was "some Ball blood in George Washington" since "his mother's maiden name was Mary Ball." If there were any deeper investigations of the Ball genealogy, Lucille did not record them. Actually, George Washington's relationship with his mother was one that grew increasingly unpleasant and embarrassing. Hardly had George left home when Mary began to complain publicly about her son's neglect. Rather than take pride in his early career, she used it as a lever to pry favors from him. During the French and Indian War, for example, he suffered terrible privations in the service of King George III. Mary displayed little interest in his ordeal; her letters demanded more butter and a new house servant. Irritation between parent and child remained until her death in 1789.
Evidently a number of Mary's descendants were working folk and farmers, scattered about the United States, with little in the way of wealth or prospects. For one of them, fate intervened in 1865, when oil was discovered in the appropriately named town of Pithole, Pennsylvania. Clinton Ball, Lucy's great-grandfather, had property in the vicinity, accepted the enormous bid of $750,000, and headed for the progressive, gaslit village of Fredonia, New York. There he built a large house and acquired an additional four hundred acres. Clinton must have found Protestant fundamentalism to his liking; he donated generous sums to local churches, but made certain that anyone who preached there hewed to his literal interpretation of the Bible. Unsurprisingly, he looked upon city life as licentious and went so far as to forbid any of his six children to dance.
Five of them obeyed; the sixth was an adventurer who wanted something more than received wisdom. Jasper Ball-"Jap," as he preferred to be called-married young and became a father soon afterward. He settled the family in Jamestown, New York, and began to invest his savings in the newfangled telephone business. When the hinterlands proved inhospitable to t
As a movie actress Lucille Ball was, in her own words, “queen of the B-pluses.” But on the small screen she was a superstar–arguably the funniest and most enduring in the history of TV. In this exemplary biography, Stefan Kanfer explores the roots of Lucy’s genius and places it in the context of her conflicted and sometimes bitter personal life.
Ball of Fire gives us Lucy in all her contradictions. Here is the beauty who became a master of knock-down slapstick; the control freak whose comic alter ego thrived on chaos, the worshipful TV housewife whose real marriage ended in public disaster. Here, too, is an intimate view of the dawn of television and of the America that embraced it. Charming, informative, touching. and laugh-out-loud funny, this is the book Lucy’s fans have been waiting for.
A portrait of the redheaded comic icon discusses her lonely childhood, discovery of her comedic talents, marriage to and divorce from Desi Arnaz, runaway successes on the "I Love Lucy" show, and her painful final years. Reprint. 35,000 first printing.
About the Author
Stefan Kanfer's books include The Eighth Sin, A Summer World,The Last Empire, Serious Business, and Groucho . He was a writer and editor at Time for more than twenty years. A Literary Lion of the New York Public Library and recipient of numerous writing awards, Kanfer is currently in the Distinguished Writer program at Southampton College, Long Island University. He lives in New York and on Cape Cod.
Stefan Kanfer's Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx and The Essential Groucho: Writings by, for, and about Groucho Marx are available in Vintage paperback.
From the Hardcover edition.
Table of Contents
Preface. Why Lucy? Why now? — Introduction — 1. A little world out of nothing — 2. "This girl's fulla hell" — 3. "Jesus, what energy!" — 4. "I'll call you Dizzy" — 5. "The hair is brown but the soul is on fire" — 6. "How can you conceive on the telephone?" — 7. "How can I possibly sell this?" — 8. "Lucy is enceinte" — 9. "The only thing red is the hair" — 10. "Why can't I be happy?" — 11. "From Cuban to Reuben" — 12. "What are you trying to do, ruin my career?" — 13. "Tough, very tough" — 14. "You think it's funny getting old" — 15. A Marx sister.
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