Lucille Ball Memorabilia Headlines Latest Julien’s Auctions Sale
Today, many remember Lucille Ball for the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy. That is not without good reason. The show created a blueprint that television sitcoms still follow to this day. Its physical style of humor, deeply inspired by vaudeville, gives it a “timeless” feeling for many viewers across generations. Starring Lucille Ball and her then real-life husband, the Cuban-American performer Desi Arnaz, the show also helped normalize the idea of interracial marriage for American families as it reigned atop the Nielsen ratings.
Beyond I Love Lucy, Ball had an extensive career on stage, screen, and radio. An upcoming Julien’s Auctions event will feature Lucille Ball memorabilia from various points of her career. Auction Daily takes a look at these featured lots before the bidding begins.
In 1957, I Love Lucy became the first television show to leave the air while still holding first place in the Nielsen ratings. This would become a trend for Lucille Ball, always departing shows when it felt right to her instead of waiting for diminishing viewership. Ball went on to star in several more sitcoms, including The Lucy Show (1962 – 1968) and Here’s Lucy (1968 – 1974). Available in this Julien’s Auctions event is a script from the latter show (lot #18, estimate: USD 300 – $500).
Like I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball wrapped up The Lucy Show while still atop the Nielsen ratings. She saw her latest project, Here’s Lucy, as an opportunity to star alongside her own children. Ball’s children were not merely cast to boost their own careers. Their presence in the show helped Ball and the writers explore generational differences between members of the Greatest Generation (represented by Ball) and the generation growing into adulthood at the time, the baby boomers (represented by her children). The show also had other nods to the passage of time. For example, Lucille Ball chose the name Lucy Carter for her character in the show. The “ar” in “Carter” was a nod to her then ex-husband Desi Arnaz.
Fittingly, the script available in this auction comes from a season-two episode of Here’s Lucy titled “Lucy and the Generation Gap.” In the episode, Lucy plays alongside her children in a school production. The play emphasizes the age-related differences between them. It is also one of the many show-within-a-show episodes of Lucille Ball’s sitcoms.
Here’s Lucy remained in the top ten in ratings for many seasons. However, by the fifth season, the show dipped to #15. This was the first time that a Lucille Ball-led sitcom fell below that line. Ball also suffered a leg injury that year that forever limited her physicality on screen. CBS managed to convince Lucille Ball to commit to a sixth season. Yet at its conclusion, production ended on Here’s Lucy. While Ball would appear on television sporadically afterward, the Here’s Lucy series finale marked the end of Ball consistently starring in new content on the air.
Lucille Ball and Vaudeville
Beyond her own sitcoms, Lucille Ball also starred in various radio shows, plays, and television specials. That included the Danny Thomas special The Wonderful World of Burlesque. What Thomas defines as “burlesque” is different from what a contemporary audience would imagine. He uses the term to reference exaggerated, physical humor performed on stage and on camera, particularly vaudeville. Ball co-starred in The Wonderful World of Burlesque, paying respects to the comedy greats of years past through various skits.
Coming to auction this month is a print of Lucille Ball wearing a Bob Mackie-designed butterfly outfit on the television special (lot #19; estimate: $800 – $1,200). Ball wore the costume in the show’s final skit, flapping her wings to the live audience’s delight. Then, a rope and pulley system guided Ball up and swung her around from stage left to stage right. Eventually, she floated up into the box seats, playfully flirting with audience members. Footage of the skit is still available on YouTube.
Vaudeville played a formative role in Lucille Ball’s career. She grew up watching vaudeville performances in New York’s Celoron Amusement Park. Years later, when CBS producers believed audiences would not respond favorably to an interracial couple in I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz hit the road to perform vaudeville street performances to convince them otherwise.
The performances were very similar to the eventual I Love Lucy sitcom. Ball played a stay-at-home wife who would do anything, especially rush head first into wacky situations, to make it onto her husband’s show. The vaudeville skits were a success, and the executives at CBS had seen enough to greenlight I Love Lucy as Ball and Arnaz imagined it. American audiences tuned in at record numbers to watch and laugh with the couple.
Julien’s Auctions’ summer event begins on August 30th, 2021 at 2:00 PM EDT. View each of the lots and register to bid on the Julien’s Auctions website.
Want to learn more about celebrity memorabilia in the auction industry? Auction Daily recently looked at Hank Aaron’s 3,000th hit game-worn jersey, made available by Heritage Auctions.