Canny critic and cultural historian Kanfer (Serious Business, 1998, etc.) brings a bemused attitude and a keen knowledge of show business to a tale that’s becoming as familiar as an I Love Lucy rerun.
Back again we go to Lucille Ball’s early days in Jamestown, New York, followed by her youthful sorties to Manhattan and work as a model. An agent’s tip sent her to Hollywood, where she toiled first as a featured extra in musicals, then as the lead in some B-plus films, none of them bringing the kind of stardom reached by rival RKO contract player Ginger Rogers. It took a tiny, black-and-white TV screen and the role of housewife Lucy Ricardo to bring Ball success and, eventually, a place alongside Chaplin and Keaton as a comic icon. On the set, the woman behind the sweet, goofy image was a hellion. She tore off Vivian Vance’s eyelashes, kicked husband Desi in the groin (several times), and gave Richard Burton line readings, prompting Mrs. Burton to label Miss Ball “Miss Cunt.” Off the set, Desi retaliated with compulsive gambling, constant boozing, and serial adultery, often with prostitutes. His professional judgment, however, remained shrewd and unerring. Long after he and Ball divorced, he advised her not to star in the film version of the stage hit Mame. She ignored the insight and took the part, stumbling into the sad last act of her career with a damaging flop. A second, comfortable marriage to comic Gary Morton, some quality time with her children, and the usual round of testimonial affairs brought a measure of happiness to the end of a turbulent, perhaps even an unsatisfying life.
Entertaining and thoughtful observations bring The Redhead into sharp focus. (16-page photo insert, 15 additional photos in text)