A dismal glimpse of a legendary comedienne’s reclusive retirement, told in a series of engaging anecdotes by a fawning confidant.
Tannen, who befriended Lucille Ball during her final ten years (1979–89), focuses on her professional decline and her marriage to “second rate comic” Gary Morton. An I Love Lucy fanatic since childhood who was four decades younger than the star, Tannen claims to be Gary’s sister’s husband’s cousin––“a third cousin twice removed or something like that.” Despite this distant relation, he became Ball’s close friend and a credible spokesperson, winning the approval of her daughter, Lucie Arnaz. At her best, Ball made Tannen laugh, especially when she failed to recognize Katharine Hepburn on the phone and made “one of those contorted gestures with her mouth the way Lucy Ricardo would do when she was caught doing something naughty.” But Ball’s best rarely appears. She merely tolerated visits from her children and obsessed over her ex-husband, Desi Arnaz. By 1986, her “all too familiar trademark and gestures seemed tired and her legendary comic timing just wasn’t there” when she starred in her last sitcom, Life with Lucy, a humiliating flop. An outmoded has-been unable to get work, Ball dreaded showing her aging face in public and struggled to maintain her identity during her forced retirement. Divulging both Ball’s clinical depression and her lust for pranks, Tannen reveals the similarities and discords between the real woman and her merry on-stage persona. Refraining from scandal, but not from name-dropping and melodrama, the author spices up Ball’s humdrum retirement-hours of playing backgammon and watching Wheel of Fortune, with cameos from Shirley MacLaine and Liza Minnelli.
Entertaining and well-written, a worthwhile read for Ball’s fans who can stomach the sorrows she endured after her heyday. Those more intent on family drama and dirt on Desi should check out the more sensational accounts of Kathleen Bradley and Tom Gilbert.