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The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball

Written by Stefan KanferAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Stefan Kanfer

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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 384 | ISBN: 978-0-307-42491-4
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

As a movie actress Lucille Ball was, in her own words, “queen of the B-pluses.” But on the small screen she was a superstar–arguably the funniest and most enduring in the history of TV. In this exemplary biography, Stefan Kanfer explores the roots of Lucy’s genius and places it in the context of her conflicted and sometimes bitter personal life.

Ball of Fire gives us Lucy in all her contradictions. Here is the beauty who became a master of knock-down slapstick; the control freak whose comic alter ego thrived on chaos, the worshipful TV housewife whose real marriage ended in public disaster. Here, too, is an intimate view of the dawn of television and of the America that embraced it. Charming, informative, touching. and laugh-out-loud funny, this is the book Lucy’s fans have been waiting for.

Excerpt

Chapter One

A little world out of nothing

Few intimations of Lucille Ball's character and career can be found on her family tree. Hers is a classic instance of the comic talent that surfaces without genetic antecedent. There have been, of course, many such "sports" in show business, performers who sprang from generations of laborers or small-time entrepreneurs. But most often these comedians and clowns were first-generation Americans, breaking out from the poverty, illiteracy, and prejudice that still afflicted their parents. Moreover, the great majority of them came from the streets of New York City, where demonic energy was the only résumé they needed, and where opportunity lay all around them-from larceny and murder to medicine, law, and entertainment.

Lucille had little in common with the generation that was to beget laughter in vaudeville, in the legitimate theater, and on the sound stages of the 1930s. Compared to them she is a bloodline aristocrat. "My mother, Desirée Hunt," her account proudly states, "was of French-English descent, with a touch of Irish from her father's side that showed in her porcelain-fine English complexion and auburn hair." Lucille's father, Henry Durrell Ball, was descended from landed gentry in England; some of the family came to the New World as early as the seventeenth century. She was delighted to note that there was "some Ball blood in George Washington" since "his mother's maiden name was Mary Ball." If there were any deeper investigations of the Ball genealogy, Lucille did not record them. Actually, George Washington's relationship with his mother was one that grew increasingly unpleasant and embarrassing. Hardly had George left home when Mary began to complain publicly about her son's neglect. Rather than take pride in his early career, she used it as a lever to pry favors from him. During the French and Indian War, for example, he suffered terrible privations in the service of King George III. Mary displayed little interest in his ordeal; her letters demanded more butter and a new house servant. Irritation between parent and child remained until her death in 1789.

Evidently a number of Mary's descendants were working folk and farmers, scattered about the United States, with little in the way of wealth or prospects. For one of them, fate intervened in 1865, when oil was discovered in the appropriately named town of Pithole, Pennsylvania. Clinton Ball, Lucy's great-grandfather, had property in the vicinity, accepted the enormous bid of $750,000, and headed for the progressive, gaslit village of Fredonia, New York. There he built a large house and acquired an additional four hundred acres. Clinton must have found Protestant fundamentalism to his liking; he donated generous sums to local churches, but made certain that anyone who preached there hewed to his literal interpretation of the Bible. Unsurprisingly, he looked upon city life as licentious and went so far as to forbid any of his six children to dance.

Five of them obeyed; the sixth was an adventurer who wanted something more than received wisdom. Jasper Ball-"Jap," as he preferred to be called-married young and became a father soon afterward. He settled the family in Jamestown, New York, and began to invest his savings in the newfangled telephone business. When the hinterlands proved inhospitable to the invention he sought employment out west. The Securities Home Telephone Company of Missoula, Montana, hired him as manager, and for many years he shuttled between work and family, from the towns and villages of Montana to his home in upstate New York. In time Jap's admiring son Henry Durrell Ball ("Had" to family and friends) came to Missoula and signed on as a lineman for the phone company. In 1910 Had returned to Jamestown to visit his mother and sisters, and while he was there someone introduced him to the eighteen-year-old Desirée Evelyn Hunt, the daughter of a professional midwife and a man who had worked at a number of trades, including hotel management, mail delivery, and furniture construction. (She chose the Frenchified spelling; "Desire" was the name on her birth certificate.) The twenty-four-year-old Had qualified as an attractive older man. Several months later, on September 1, 1910, the two were married at the two-story gabled home of Frederick and Flora Belle Hunt. Some 140 guests witnessed the ceremony, conducted by the Reverend Charles D. Reed, pastor of the Calgary Baptist Church. It was the biggest social event of the season. Contemporary photographs show a pale, conventionally pretty young woman, and a husband so lean he appears to be two profiles in search of a face.

Laden with gifts of silver, linen, and furniture, the couple boarded a train and headed toward the sunset. They settled in the little town of Anaconda, Montana, about twenty-five miles from Butte. A couple of months later Desirée became pregnant. She expressed a desire to have the baby back home in Jamestown, where her mother could act as midwife. Had consented, and the couple went east in the summer of 1911. On August 6, Lucille Desirée was born.

Once Flora had pronounced her granddaughter fit for travel, the Balls returned to Montana-only to turn around and head back east. Securities Home Telephone had recently acquired the Michigan Telephone Company, and the company needed experienced linemen. The little family resettled in Wyandotte, outside Detroit, a town just far enough from the automobile industry to offer quiet tree-lined streets and clean air. Had regarded it as a fine place to raise a family, and pretty soon Desirée was pregnant again. Everything went well: Had was making five dollars a week, a good salary in those days, and the doctor said that Desirée was the ideal age and weight to bear a second child. As for little Lucille, she was an active, healthy youngster, fond of her mother and crazy about roughhousing with her father-she would scream with delight when he tossed her into the air and caught her inches from the floor.

All this was to change in the awful winter of 1915. In January, cases of typhoid fever were reported in the Detroit area. Public health officials warned citizens to boil their water and to stay away from unpasteurized dairy products. Desirée scrupulously followed their instructions. Had went along for a while, but in early January he treated himself to a dish of ice cream. A week later he began to suffer from sleeplessness, then intestinal problems, and finally he developed a fever of 104 degrees accompanied by delirium. Physicians made a grim diagnosis and nailed a sign to the Balls' front door: keep out-health authorities. Neighbors shut their windows and drew the curtains; there was no vaccine at the time. The family doctor could do little beyond making Had comfortable and preparing Desirée for the end.

Distraught and overburdened, she kept Lucille out of the sickroom and in the fresh air for hours at a time. To ease her mind she tied one end of a rope around the child's waist, the other end to a steel runner on the backyard clothesline. As long as she heard the metal squeal, Desirée knew that her little daughter was running like a trolley from the back of the yard to the front. Whenever the noise stopped for longer than a few minutes she ran outside to see if Lucille had slipped the knot. The three-and-a-half-year-old never did escape, but on at least one occasion she tried. After an ominous silence Desirée found her batting her eyes and negotiating with a milkman: "Mister, help me. I got caught up in this silly clothesline. Can you help me out?"

Had died on February 28, 1915. He was twenty-eight years old. Lucille retained only fleeting memories of that day, all of them traumatic. A picture fell from the wall; a bird flew in the window and became trapped inside the house. From that time forward she suffered from a bird phobia. Even as an adult, she refused to stay in any hotel room that displayed framed pictures of birds or had wallpaper with an avian theme.

Had's widow was twenty-two. She was five months pregnant, with a dependent child, little insurance, and no professional skills. Somehow she summoned the strength to make funeral arrangements in two cities: Wyandotte, where her late husband was embalmed, and Jamestown, where he was to be interred. In order to get a little peace, Desirée enlisted the aid of a sympathetic grocer. Six decades later, Lucille gratefully summoned up images of Mr. Flower: "He let me prance up and down his counter, reciting little pieces my parents had taught me. My favorite was apparently a frog routine where I hopped up and down harrumphing. Then I'd gleefully accept the pennies or candy Mr. Flower's customers would give me-my first professional appearance!" Those gifts came from customers who would rather donate money than pay condolence calls to a quarantined house.

Several days later Desirée and Lucille accompanied Had's body on the long train ride to upstate New York. On the chill, iron-gray morning of March 5, Had was buried at Lake View Cemetery in Jamestown. Lucille looked on blankly, oblivious to the glances in her direction. At the last moment, as Had's casket was lowered into the grave, the loss suddenly hit home. The little girl was led away screaming to her grandparents' house on Buffalo Street in Jamestown. Mother and child had no other refuge.

So an autonomous nuclear family backslid to total dependence, as Desirée returned to the adolescence she had fled, reliant on her parents for food and shelter. Still, Fred and Flora Belle Hunt were kind and undemanding folks; they did everything possible to make their daughter and granddaughter feel wanted and comfortable. The Hunts had lost their own son, Harold, at the age of eighteen, and when Desirée presented them with a grandson on July 17, 1915, they were deeply gratified. When she announced that she would christen him Frederick, after Grandpa Hunt, they were beside themselves. To all appearances, Lucille was once again in an affectionate and secure household.

But she was not satisfied with appearances. "I was largely ignored," she remembered, "and I became very jealous." Lucille had been struck two terrible and inexplicable blows. As she interpreted them, a beloved father had abandoned her without so much as a good-bye. Five months later she had been displaced by a wailing rival who absorbed 100 percent of her mother's love and attention. Confused, anxious about her own mortality, the child became fixated on her grandparents, a pair whose idiosyncrasies she came to cherish. Fred Hunt was an imposing figure, overweight and garrulous, with a wardrobe of three-piece suits that had seen better days. He stoked his omnipresent pipe with Prince Albert tobacco, played popular tunes on the parlor piano, whittled toys for his grandchildren, and palavered incessantly about the sorry condition of the Working Man in America. Hunt's favorite philosopher was Eugene V. Debs, and he was forever booming the virtues of that fighter against economic injustice-a man "baptised in Socialism."

As for Flora Belle, she had been a hotel maid in her youth and she retained both a winsome air and a vivid physical presence; Lucille was to remember her Grandma Flora as "a real pioneer woman." Together, the Hunts encouraged Lucille to learn the piano and to take pleasure in the familiar. These included free visits to the local amusement center. A five-cent streetcar ride brought her to Celoron Park, and admission was free. There Lucille Ball became an upstate Dorothy Gale, "dazzled by the brilliance of the Wonderful City," with Celoron as her Oz. Four-decker picnic boats floated along the twenty miles of Lake Chautauqua; stands offered pink cotton candy on a stick; strollers could gawk at a bearded lady, a strong man, a snake charmer, a fortune- teller. As the wide-eyed children shrieked and giggled, the Phoenix Wheel took them a hundred feet in the air before descending to street level. A ramp let them slide deleriously into the shallows of the lake. John Philip Sousa's men blared away on the bandstand. And a zoological garden allowed glimpses of exotic tigers, as well as the chance to ride Shetland ponies around a little track. Best of all were the nickelodeons, with their joyous two-reelers of Charlie Chaplin and the cliff-hanging serials of Pearl White.

It was as if Lucille had been granted compensation for all the losses of the last year-and a new kind of freedom was still to come. Desirée, brought low by Had's early death, suffered from postpartum depression. Nothing seemed to lighten her burden, and after a few months Fred and Flora Belle determined that the only cure would be a complete change of scene. They bought their daughter a round-trip railroad ticket to California and took over the raising of the children. Two active youngsters were one too many for the aging couple; they entrusted Lucille to her mother's sister, Lola, then operating James-town's busiest beauty salon. The move turned out to be one of the happiest periods in Lucille's life. Aunt Lola had just married a Greek immigrant, George Mandicos, and the couple had eyes only for each other. Their charge came and went as she pleased, making faces in the wide glittering mirrors, nourishing a harmless crush on her uncle George, getting pats and compliments from her aunt's customers. Looking back on those halcyon days, Lucille recalled: "Once again I was an only child, with a mother and a father, and it was such a happy, relaxed time for me."

She was never again to enjoy that status. Desirée came back restored and balanced. Of all the things she had seen out west, only one incident remained in her now placid mind. She had been riding on the same train as Douglas Fairbanks, and as it drew into Los Angeles the actor jumped from the train, vaulted a low barrier, and leaped into the arms of his wife, Mary Pickford, waiting for him in a baby-blue convertible. It was like a dream, Desirée told her parents; she never expected to see movie stars up close again.

When World War I began, Desirée found work in a local assembly plant. There she caught the attention of the strapping, thirty-one-year-old Ed Peterson, a foreman in the sheet metal department. Ed's large features were a mixture of the ungainly and the attractive, and he seemed surprisingly intelligent and well read. Not many eligible men lived in Jamestown; Desirée overlooked the foreman's reputation for drinking to excess. Their courtship was brief; the pair announced wedding plans in the summer, and got married on September 17, 1918.

Lucille fancied that Ed would simply slide into her father's place and make the family whole again. Her dreams were dashed when she sidled over to the groom on his wedding day.

Taking his hand tightly, the seven-year-old inquired in her most flirtatious tone, "Are you our new daddy?"

Peterson frowned down and pulled loose from her grip. "Call me Ed," he instructed.

Lucille and little Freddy scarcely got to know Ed Peterson before he and Desirée took off for Detroit in search of well-paying jobs. Once again Lucille was farmed out. Ed thought it best if the outspoken little girl got some lessons in deportment, so this time she was sent to the home of his parents. There could have been no greater contrast than the indulgent Mandicoses and the severe and elderly Petersons.


From the Hardcover edition.
Stefan Kanfer|Author Q&A|Author Desktop

About Stefan Kanfer

Stefan Kanfer - Ball of Fire

Photo © Elena Seibert

Stefan Kanfer’s books include Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball; Stardust Lost: The Triumph, Tragedy, and Mishugas of the Yiddish Theater in America; and Somebody: The Reckless Life and Remarkable Career of Marlon Brando. He was a writer and editor at Time for more than twenty years and was its first bylined film critic, a post he held between 1967 and 1972. He is also the primary interviewer in the Academy Award–nominated documentary The Line King and editor of an anthology of Groucho Marx’s comedy, The Essential Groucho. He is a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library and recipient of numerous writing awards. He lives in New York and on Cape Cod.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with

Stefan Kanfer
author of

BALL OF FIRE:
The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art
of Lucille Ball

Q: What made you want to write about Lucille Ball in particular? Given that a few biographies of her exist, what makes yours different?
A: All the biographies of show people I’ve done for magazines were about men-and, for the most part, Jewish men-Groucho Marx, of course, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers etc. I wanted to examine someone quite different. I thought the biography would make me stretch. And it did. Among the many differences between this bio and others is the relentless research, ranging back to Lucille Ball’s beginnings, and going well past her death to the apotheosis that elevated her to the pantheon and provoked new scholarship from media critics, feminist scholars and others.

Q: Having written other books that dealt with the entertainment industry, such as Groucho, were there many discoveries you made when covering this life?
A: The entertainment industry always yields new insights if you dig deep enough. But some things never change. The self-assured wrong-headedness of network executives, for example. And timing, after all these decades, remains the single most important factor in success-had Lucy not run into someone who told her about an opportunity in Hollywood, she would very likely have remained a New York model, married late and become an upstate NY housewife.

Q: How long did you work on this book and approximately how many friends and co-workers of Lucy’s did you talk to about it?
A: I generally research a book for a year, then spend the next year writing it. I talked to quite a few of Lucy’s friends and relatives, but much of the work came in Sterling Library at Yale, where volumes on American studies, and files of ancient newspapers yielded all sorts of information. The trouble with interviews of a person long gone is that the colleagues tend to be of advanced age, and their anecdote is unreliable unless checked with the record. I tried to cite three sources for every significant bit of biographical detail.

Q: Do you think Lucy’s unhappy childhood in upstate New York and the early death of her father contributed greatly to the kind of actress/comedienne she would become?
A: Graham Greene once stated that a writer’s capital is his childhood. So it is with comedians. There is no question that Lucy’s unhappy and bewildering beginnings-the loss of her father when she was three, the breakup of her family when she was an adolescent etc. had much to do with her drive, and with her ability to play a resourceful and valorous woman. As she herself admitted, “I am not funny. My writers were funny. What I am is brave.”

Q: When she first came to New York City and got a job modeling, what was that certain look that got her work?
A: Lucy’s willowy blonde look in the 1930’s was considered commercial not merely because she was beautiful-then as now, there were a lot of smashing models in New York City-but because of her resemblance to film star and favorite of the columnists, Constance Bennett.

Q: In Lucy’s early days in Hollywood, at studios such as RKO, she became good friends with several movie stars, such as Carole Lombard, Ginger Rodgers and George Raft. How did a smalltown girl who often got homesick for Jamestown, NY feel so comfortable in that world-or was it that the movie world was so much smaller in the 1930s…?
A: Lucy’s ability to settle comfortably in Hollywood derived from her amiability and her need for father figures. People liked her. Even George Raft, a notorious womanizer, treated her in an avuncular fashion, and the tough-talking Carole Lombard took the starlet under her wing. The studio heads, as far as Lucy was concerned, were Daddies, to be respected rather than feared. That attitude also served her well in Celluloid City.


Q: Is it true that as a young Cuban bandleader, Desi Arnaz started the whole Conga line craze in the late ‘30s?
A: Like many another Cuban refugee, Desi Arnaz made his first American home in Miami, where he performed in a night club and one night, in desperation, started a Conga line with the drunken customers. The Conga Craze caught on. Lyricist Lorenz Hart happened to see his act and recommended him for the Rodgers and Hart show, Too Many Girls. Desi took the Conga Craze with him, and conquered Broadway in 1939.

Q: Do you think it was love at nearly first sight between Lucy and Desi?
A: “Whoever loved, that loved not at first sight?” Desi and Lucy are exemplars of that Christopher Marlowe quote. All those who saw them meet at a party testified to the electricity in the air. The love became distorted through the years, marred by anger, jealousy and resentment, but it never quite disappeared.

Q: Several older, wiser actors, comedians, and even a few critics saw the great comedic talent that Lucy had-especially when she did theater-before the studios picked up on it. Who were those most essential people who noticed and helped shape her into a comedic actress?
A: Lucy’s talent was recognized early-by Eddie Cantor, when she clowned around on the set of her first movie. By Buster Keaton, who saw the silent movie comedienne in her. By Carole Lombard, who admired Lucy’s energy and willingness to do pratfalls, even when they made her look ridiculous. By Eddie Sedgwick, an old director who knew talent when he saw it. And by many lesser figures who worked with her in 1930’s and 1940’s Hollywood.

Q: How is it that Lucy and Desi got divorced one morning in 1944-his notorious womanizing still a problem-and then recommenced their relationship that afternoon? How famous were they at that time?
A: Lucy and Desi were not famous in 1944-but neither were they ciphers. Desi’s career had slowed down, and Lucy’s had not yet taken off, but they were still worth an item in the gossip columns when she filed for divorce, miserable with his infidelities and his intemperate outbursts. He convinced her to have one last sentimental dinner before the split. That led to bed. The next morning, the divorce was called off.

Q: Lucy once said she was in the only Hepburn-Tracey bomb, Without Love, but she got great reviews from it, true?
A: Lucille Ball was indeed in Without Love, the only Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movie ever to get panned, and to lose money at the box office. Oddly enough, Lucy was the one performer to benefit from the film: the critics cheered her performance.

Q: In 1946, when Lucy was 36 and respected as a second lead in films, MGM let her go. For most actresses then, would their careers have been over after that? Did radio save her?
A: Having departed from Metro on bad terms, Lucy was not exactly a hot property. But the breaks went her way when she started working in radio, then an important medium. Her wry delivery was just right for the microphone, and she enjoyed a new celebrity.

Q: When she was doing a comedy show on radio, Lucy observed a more famous practitioner whose delivery taught her a thing or two. Who was that and what was it she learned?
A: It was Jack Benny who became Lucy’s instructor. She had not been getting all the laughs she wanted on her radio shows. A producer obtained tickets to the Benny show, and she watched the Master at work, using pauses to great effect, making an expression do the work of many words. She was a quick study, and employed everything she learned to great effect.

Q: When Lucy finally got pregnant and had to drop out of the film, The Greatest Show on Earth, what was the famous line from Cecil B. DeMille?
A: The DeMille line, stated when she had to drop out of a film contract, and the blockbuster movie, The Greatest Show on Earth, was directed at Desi: “Congratulations. You are the only person in the world to screw Columbia Pictures, Paramount, Cecil B. DeMille and your wife, all at the same time.”

Q: Who appeared in a dream to Lucy when she was considering taking her vaudeville show with Desi onto television and what did this person say to her?
A: Carole Lombard, who had died in a plane crash on a WWII bond tour, appeared in one of Lucy’s dreams, urging her to take a risk, borrow money, and do her own TV show.

Q: Within the first year, I Love Lucy became the #1 show in the country. What about that situation comedy do you think was so appealing in the early 1950s, especially at a time when, as you say, there was Milton Berle and Your Show of Shows with Sid Caesar?
A: Lucy’s luck held when the program debuted. CBS’s lead-in show was the top-rated Arthur Godfrey and His Friends. This was before the era of the remote. Couch potatoes had to get up to change the channel, so most of them stayed put to see what was next. The show was so well-written, and Lucy and Desi were so fresh (as indeed were the second bananas, William Frawley and Vivian Vance) that the audience was hooked.

Q: Which was more revolutionary for the time: using three cameras to film a TV show in front of a live audience, or writing Lucy’s real-life pregnancy into the ’52-53 season?
A: The three-camera show was not exactly new-Amos ‘N’ Andy had used it the preceding season. But cinematographer Karl Freund was a genius at lighting and photography and gave the TV show the look of a mini-movie. This proved to be the making of Lucy’s career. The announcement of her pregnancy was headline stuff at the time, but like most such pseudo-scandals, dissipated in a rapidly maturing America.

Q: Do you have a favorite I Love Lucy episode?
A: I have no favorite Lucy episode, because I think her artistry, for the first five years, is unmatched in almost every show. But the “Vitameatavegamin” and grape-pressing segments show her at her slapstick best.

Q: What did you think of her later films, like Yours Mine and Ours where she was teamed with Henry Fonda (all those years after a date), and the musical Mame?
A: The film Yours, Mine and Ours, demonstrates that Lucy was a gifted and convincing actress as well as a first-rate comedienne. On the other hand, Mame was the wrong material for her-something that Desi knew. He tried to convince her not to do it, but they were long since divorced, and his opinion was, alas, ignored.

Q: It seems that many found Lucille Ball’s amazing comedic timing part of what set her apart from other funny actresses. Was that what made her so special?
A: What makes Lucy special cannot be easily defined. Best to say that three generations can watch the same show at the same time and find things to laugh at-50 years after it was made. What Lucille Ball has in common with all the great comic artists is the ability to persuade us that everything is at stake in her onscreen life, and that she is making it up as she goes along, even though we know that every line and gesture has been planned. This is why she has so often-and aptly-been compared with Charlie Chaplin


From the Hardcover edition.

Author Q&A

Why is this book different from all other Lucy books?

-- Since her death in 1987, Lucille Ball has grown in significance and popularity. Ball of Fire is the first Lucy biography to show why, and to give detailed accounts of fans, scholars, worshipful comediennes, ardent feminists, sociologists, industry watchers and even poets who have raised Lucy to iconic status.

-- It's the first biography of Lucy to tackle all the elements of her life: a detailed biography from birth to death (showing her toots in small town, upstate New York; dealing with the loss of her father at a young age; showing her rise in show business in NYC and as a failed Hollywood starlet, detailing her dizzying and tumultuous relationship with Desi Arnaz; showing her rise in TV and her ultimate sad decline professionally and personally).

-- It's the first biography to really deal with the business side of Desilu.

-- The book also deals with the history of early television, much the way the author's Groucho dealt with the background of Hollywood in the 1920's, 30's and 40's.

-- It's the first book to show how Lucy beat the McCarthy era blacklist

-- It goes into the work side of I Love Lucy--and really shows how that series developed, nearly failed, and ultimtely became the most beloved television show of all time (much the way Kanfer did in Groucho, showing how the Marx Brothers really worked, he shows the effort and creativity that allowed I Love Lucy to succeed)

-- The relationship with Desi, as well as the relationship between Lucy and her children, is gone into in great detail -- and is quite moving and surprising

-- It's the first biography to be a truly full-length portrait of every aspect of the century's most important comedienne

Praise

Praise

“A wonderful and poignant book. . . . [Kanfer] gives a superb picture of how [Lucille Ball] changed television.” –David Thompson, The New Republic

“Elegant, entertaining . . . engaging and immensely readable.” –The Boston Globe

“Oh what a love story. . . . Kanfer does an excellent job of explaining why Lucy and Ricky Ricardo still reign as cultural icons today.” –USA Today

“A delightful. . . . Encyclopedia Lucytania, guiding us through every possible detail of the woman’s history and legacy.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“Sprightly, affectionate . . . lushly detailed. . . . With a sharp sense of pace, and a storyteller’s sense of character and drama [Kanfer] weaves a history not just about one brilliantly talented woman, but also about the remarkable and strangely enduring love affair between Lucy and Desi Arnaz, and especially about the raw and unformed medium of television that the two of them did so much to shape and create.” –Wall Street Journal

“Liberally sprinkled with interesting tidbits. . . . What makes Ball of Fire an unexpected pleasure–and a rarity among Hollywood biographies–is Kanfer’s almost novelistic appreciation of how Ball evolved emotionally through her 77 years. . . . We’re projected back into the star’s personal world, and it’s as human as our own.” –People

“An informative and interpretive biography. . . . The details recounted here are fascinating.” –Chicago Sun-Times

“A crisp writing style, an abundance of anecdotes . . . [and] fresh insights. . . . A sympathetic but clear-eyed [portrait].” –Atlanta Journal Constitution

“Captivating. . . . The final third of the book is pure Hollywood tragedy.” –Los Angeles Magazine

Ball of Fire is a memorable portrait of its subject in all her gifted weirdness.” –Washington Post Book World

“While paying close mind to the details of an astonishing career, Kanfer also illuminates the inner turmoil. . . . [He] gently conveys how great [Lucy] was and how small she could be.” –New York Daily News

Ball of Fire does convey a vivid sense of [Lucy's] fearlessness. Stefan Kanfer has the whole heroic story.” –New York Times Book Review

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