Legendary comedic actress, best known for the title role in the hit television sitcom of the 1950’s “I Love Lucy.” She was born Lucille Desiree Ball was on August 6, 1911 in Jamestown, New York. Intent on becoming an actress, she left high school at age 15, and tried unsuccessfully to get into drama school in New York City. Undaunted, Ball took a job as a waitress while trying for jobs in modeling and in chorus lines of Broadway shows. Moderately successful in these pursuits, she was chosen to be the poster model for Chesterfield Cigarettes in 1933, which got her national exposure for the first time, and caught the attention of Hollywood. She started at the bottom, with bit parts in low budget films, but her initial success would lead to bigger and better parts. Ball would appear in over 60 films by the late 1940s. After performing in the musical “Too Many Girls,” in 1940 with popular Cuban band leader, Desi Arnaz, Ball fell in love with her co-star, and married him later that year. Their performing schedules clashed frequently, and the newlyweds often found themselves on opposite sides of the country at the end of the week. This was a problem because of the time needed for long distance travel in the days before jet airliners. The young couple decided that the best chance for their marriage to work was if they worked together. Offered her own TV series in 1950, Ball refused unless Arnaz could co-star. Television was a godsend for the couple. They formed their own production company called “Desilu.” Arnaz discovered he had a natural executive ability, and was soon calling all the shots for the project that would become “I Love Lucy.” From 1951 through 1957, it was the most popular show on television, and Ball was at last firmly established as a megastar. Working on camera through her second pregnancy, ‘Lucy’ was the first obviously pregnant woman to appear on network television. When the much-publicized birth of her son, Desi Arnaz Jr., occurred on the show in January 1953, the story received more press coverage than President Eisenhower’s inauguration. “I Love Lucy” won more than 200 awards, 5 Emmys and the respect and adoration of the country. After 179 episodes of the “I Love Lucy,” Ball and Arnaz decided to call it quits for the sake of their marriage. They soon began taping another show, named “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour,” which didn’t need the time and attention of their previous works. Arnaz was able to spend more at home, working with “Desilu.” By the end of the 1950s, Desilu became a powerful, respected corporation, producing such hit TV shows as “Star Trek” and “Mission Impossible.” After 20 years of marriage, Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960. While Arnaz turned to alcohol and was rarely seen in public again, Ball took out a loan for $3 million and bought her ex-husbands half of Desilu. Desilu was then the world’s largest television production facility, so Lucy’s take-over made her the first woman in Hollywood history to hold such a powerful position. In 1962, encouraged by fans, Ball reprised her role as ‘Lucy’ in a new TV series, as she starred in “The Lucy Show.” It would run successfully for 6 years, and feature her former “I Love Lucy” co-star, Vivian Vance. When “The Lucy Show” went off the air, Ball wasted no time in reformatting the show and starring in yet another series based on the same character. “Here’s Lucy,” was instantly picked up by the networks and ran on prime time through 1974. It was during this same period that Ball won rave reviews for her appearance on Broadway in, “Wildcat.” On the heels of that success, Ball teamed with Bob Hope for two feature films and co-starred with Henry Fonda in the critically acclaimed, “Yours, Mine and Ours.” Though she played a scatterbrained redhead, Ball was nothing of the kind in real life. Desilu Productions continued to grow and prosper under her leadership, ultimately acquiring RKO Studios, where both Ball and Arnaz had formerly worked as contract players. In 1967, she sold Desilu Productions to Gulf & Western for $17 million, netting some $10 million cash out of the deal. Ball remarried in 1968, taking Gary Morton as her second husband. Morton, a former comedian, worked with Ball to help create “Lucille Ball Productions.” In the late 70s and early 80s, Ball made only sporadic appearances on TV, usually as the guest star. In 1985, she portrayed a New York homeless woman in the TV film, “Stone Pillow.” Her last attempt at a new comedy series, “Life with Lucy,” was a failure. Lucille Ball spent much of the rest of her life out of the spotlight. Her last public appearance was at the 1989 Academy Awards. One week after undergoing open heart surgery, on April 26, 1989, Lucille Ball suffered a ruptured aorta and died. She was 77 years old. Ball is survived by two children. Desi Arnaz died of cancer in 1986. Today, “I Love Lucy” is syndicated in more than 80 countries and remains one of the most popular and beloved TV shows of all time.
Visitors to Jamestown are sometimes surprised by the omnipresence of Lucille Ball in the city but this is where she was born and where she returned at age 3 to the nearby town of Celoron, NY with her recently widowed mother to reside in her grandparent’s home. At age 16, her family moved to Jamestown where she attended Jamestown high school before embarking on her career in show business.
Upon her death in California, she was initially interred in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood but in 2002, at the request of her children, her ashes were moved to this cemetery where they share a grave with her father, mother and younger brother. The inscription on the tombstone reads “You’ve Come Home”. The reverse side of the stone bears an engraved heart with the name “Ball” inside that is reminiscent of the logo for the original “I Love Lucy” show. As soon as you see it, you know who’s grave it marks.
Along with the local Lucille Ball Museum, Lucille Ball-Desi Arnez Center, and Lucille Ball Little Theater this grave is one of the most visited places in the area. Every summer, Jamestown celebrates Lucy’s legacy with its annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival that attracts thousands of admiring fans.
You may use the above coordinates to navigate to the gravesite on your own or, if you enter the cemetery at the main gate at the corner of Lakeview Avenue and Buffalo Street, there are small “LUCY” hearts painted on the pavement at intervals with arrows pointing the way to Lucy’s grave.****
- August, 06, 1911
- Celoron, New York
- April, 26, 1989
- Beverly Hills, California
- Lake View Cemetery
- Jamestown, New York