LOS ANGELES – Lucille Ball always brought the funny.
That’s what friends of the legendary queen of comedy will tell anyone who asks about Ball’s willingness to do anything for laughs. A few of the iconic actress’ close friends spoke to Fox News in April during "Remembering Lucy," a weeklong tribute at the Hollywood Museum, and shared their thoughts on the life of one of show business’ brightest stars.
“I mean, I would love to be in her shoes. But the paramount thing for her was making people laugh. So whatever it took to get the laugh. She was a stunningly beautiful woman who did not mind, in fact, encouraged herself to go to the mat for the funny,” said “General Hospital” mainstay Carolyn Hennesy about Ball.
“And if that meant, you know – covering yourself with egg yolks, if that meant stomping on wine and being blue in the face, if that meant having a putty nose with Bill Holden and pulling it off and these crazy glasses – if it meant putting a bull's head on her. I mean, just whatever it took.”
Hennesy, 56, who has 38 seasons and 450 episodes of “General Hospital” under her belt, said self-deprecation is a skill and a length that Ball was willing to go to for the entertainment of others, and added that the red-headed beauty never took herself too seriously.
“That's the lesson for everyone who wants to be the great comedian — is you can be gorgeous, but you gotta go to the mat. It's as simple as that. And she was really one of the first ones that did it. Carole Lombard – yes – but Carole never went she never made a crazy face. Lucy did not mind being ugly for funny. That's as simple as that.”
Few people knew Ball the way writer and Hollywood historian Geoffrey Mark Fidelman did. Author of “The Lucy Book: Her Life in Television,” Fidelman is credited with multiple works celebrating Ball and echoed Hennesy’s view that Ball served as a pioneer not only in comedy but for women all over the world who watched her at her best for so many years.
“I think how much hard work went into putting on this show every week and that it's impossible. It is impossible that they got these scripts Monday morning, and after the first season they were filming it Thursday night,” Fidelman explained. “All of it – memorizing it, working out all the stuff, all of the music, the singing, the dancing for days and yet we're still talking about it. Nine hundred years later. These people were geniuses.”
Fidelman, who also wrote and directed “Inside Television's Greatest: I Love Lucy,” highlighted Ball was the first woman to run a major television studio in 1962, empowering women when many others balked at the idea.
“Ms. Ball was a trailblazer. She was the first woman to own a studio. She did it before anybody else. So she’d be happy that women are directing, that women are producing and writing well.
“Her main writer, one of them was a woman from day one — Madelyn Pugh Davis,” Fidelman lectured. “So I think she would really appreciate what's happening for women today that we treat them as persons and worry about do they have talent and nothing else.”
When asked what Ball might say about the current state of comedy and free speech in America, Hennesy and Fidelman carried slightly differing opinions, but agreed that the former executive would be overjoyed at the promise women have continued to show in proving their worthiness and value in Hollywood.
“I think she would love the progress. I think she would be intensely elated," said Hennesy, adding however that probably "she would say we need to pull back a little on this whole P.C. tamping down the funny.”
“People are terrified to be funny now," the actress and host continued, "because you say one thing and you are slammed to the ground. So I think she would say ‘You know what – we all gotta relax a little bit, just a little bit.'
"She would say, 'Bravo to women being in control, but you know what, you just maybe need to throttle back just a touch.’ That's all I'm saying. Just a touch.”
Meanwhile, Fidelman insists Ball would be “disappointed” at the lack of comedic variety on television, specifically in the slapstick-style that she gracefully dominated.
“I think Ms. Ball would be disappointed. First of all, the language — she never worked blue. She did some adult things, she could appreciate adult situations, but she did not appreciate children being subjected to dirty words or sexual suggestions,” said Fidelman.
“She felt that did not belong in comedy. And I think she would also be disappointed that as many channels as there are, there isn't room for the kind of show she did. There is no slapstick television happening anymore. I think she'd be very sad about that. But like on Fox and other places — there's good comedy to be found, but you have to look for it.”
Fidelman has been entrenched in documenting and detailing Ball’s life to depths that are potentially yet to be covered. One interesting tidbit Fidelman bestowed on us was how Ball always shared a concern for others. As May has been designated Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States since 1949, Fidelman explained that one of Ball’s “I Love Lucy” co-stars received continuous mental health assistance during her stint on the classic series.
“Vivian Vance had a nervous breakdown before 'I Love Lucy' and was getting mental health help the entire time she was Ethel Mertz and she was public about it,” said Fidelman. “She was one of the very first people who came forward and said 'Hey folks, we get mental health issues like you get the flu and we need money and we need help,' and she helped to destigmatize and won awards for her work with mental health. So let's have a shout out for Vivian Vance.”
The legacy of Lucille Ball continues to shine 30 years after her passing, and for Fidelman, Ball’s career and life are unparalleled – one that is only bred by a special kind of individual.
“Her legacy and spirit live on so many years after her passing because it's simple – she was the very best at what she did. Nobody else has been able to match it, therefore, we keep going back to it.”