Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen (2016)
The first lady of comedy, Lucille Ball (1911-1989) broke many barriers for women in entertainment. Ball discovered her love for performing on Broadway, and she moved to Hollywood in the 1930s to become a contract player for RKO Radio Pictures. In the ’30s and ’40s, Ball became the Queen of the Bs, appearing in over seventy-five motion pictures but never as a starring lead.
In 1950, Ball took the role of a zany housewife on a radio program called My Favorite Husband. When asked to adapt the role for the new venue of television, Ball insisted that her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, portray her on-screen husband. The studio was initially resistant to an interracial couple portraying the American dream in people’s homes every week, but the two took the vaudeville act on the road and made it a huge success, which calmed the studio’s fears.
In 1951, I Love Lucy premiered on CBS. Ball was forty-one and had just given birth to their first child. The show defined the golden age of television and broke new ground—along with televising the first interracial couple, it was the first television show to portray a pregnancy and birth. When Ball was pregnant with her second child, her character Lucy was also pregnant, which caused an uproar in the country. Pregnant women were not allowed to be shown on screen; the network demanded that the word “expecting” be used instead of “pregnant.” Both Lucys gave birth on January 19 and forty-four million people tuned in to celebrate. In contrast, that same day, twenty-nine million watched President Eisenhower’s inauguration.
I Love Lucy also invented the sitcom format, the live audience, and the rerun, and it was the first to be shot on film so that it could be filmed in Hollywood, where Ball and Arnaz lived. To make the costly compromise, they formed Desilu Productions and produced the show themselves. With Desilu, Ball became the first female head of a major television studio, and the studio went on to produce multiple hit series including Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. She remained a mainstay on television for the next thirty years.