LIFE Lucille Ball

LIFE Lucille Ball

She was capricious, outspoken, madcap, and never embarrassed. And we loved her for it. Thirty years after the death of one of TV's legends, LIFE remembers the life and career of Lucille Ball, the hilarious comic actress whose iconic sitcom, I Love Lucy (which she created and starred in with her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz) was so popular that the episode featuring the birth of their characters' son, Little Ricky, attracted more viewers than the inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower. A Hollywood giant who blazed a trail for women in front of and behind the camera, Ball was the first female to run a major television production studio, and she green-lighted such classic broadcasts as Star Trek and Mission Impossible. A former showgirl on Broadway stage, Ball was known as one of the hardest-working actresses in Tinseltown before conquering radio and then TV. With her unique brand of fearless, physical comedy, she paved the way for funny folks like Mary Tyler Moore, Penny Marshall, and Robin Williams. As Will and Grace's Debra Messing writes in the heartfelt foreword to this LIFE Special Edition, “It's fair to say that I have my career because Lucy paved the way. She and Desi invented the sitcom.” And, boy, did she make us laugh.

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