Red-headed beauty was a TV pioneer

Lucille Ball, 77, red-haired comic actress and pioneer TV mogul whose elastic facial expression ad and precise comic timing catapulted her into an American institution via the enormously successful “I Love Lucy” series, died April 26, 1989 of cardiac arrest at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Ball, whose face has been deemed the most recognized in history due to the enduring global popularity of “I Love Lucy” and its successor series, has since the early 1950s been inextricably associated with her characterization of Lucy Ricardo, a scheming but lovable housewife with a penchant for getting into hopelessly miscalculated situations.

The original “I Love Lucy” series, which she and first husband Desi Arnaz produced and co-starred in for CBS, ran from 1951-57. It was estimated a few years ago that a half-billion people were watching the show in international syndication every week.

Ball was born in Celeron, NY, and dropped out of high school to attend drama school briefly before getting several jobs on chorus lines. After a two-year stint during which she was bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis, she went to Hollywood and started appearing in small roles before appearing in more prominent films such as “The Big Street,” “Without Love,” “Her Husband’s Affairs” and “Fancy Pants.”

The scatterbrained wife character first took off in her radio show “My Favorite Husband,” and she eventually persuaded CBS that “I Love Lucy,” a TV series featuring Ball and her Cuban husband would work. The show where her fictional son was born on the same day as her real son Desi Jr. drew an unprecedented 71.7% rating, completely overshadowing TV coverage of Dwight Eisenhower’s Presidential inauguration. After building Desilu productions into a major production company of shows including “Mission Impossible” and “Star Trek,” she sold the company to Gulf & Western in 1967 for 17 million, and it became Paramount Television.

She is survived by her second husband Gary Morton; daughter Lucie; son Desi Jr.; a brother and three grandchildren.

–Adapted from Variety’s obit in the issue of May 3-9, 1989

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