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Morgan Evans

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Lucille Ball. Mehhhhhhhh.

Posted: 08/07/11 07:26 PM ET

After you read this, you might be asking, and rightly so, why I took the time out of my day to type a passage verbatim from a fairly esoteric book no one I know has read. Well, I was bored, and also yesterday was/would have been Lucille Ball's 100th birthday. I understand that the following passage is fairly acerbic but I think it's important to note that Lucille Ball -- while a hilarious and very talented comedic powerhouse of a woman -- did very little to push society towards a thoughtful and intelligent place when women's rights are concerned. Just because she's a funny lady doesn't mean she's a feminist. In fact, I think it's fair to say Norman Lear, a man (or a woman named Norman cleverly disguised as a man), did much more in the way of eliminating gender bias and promoting a female driven workforce as far as television production is concerned. After all, he hired Virginia Carter. And hopefully we've all seen Maude.

I hope to be half the man/woman that Norman Lear is. 

Women in television owe a lot more to people like Frieda Barkin Hennock, Gertrude Berg, Loretta Young, Ida Lupino, Irna Phillips, Agnes Nixon and of course Marlo Thomas, but you don't see us celebrating their birthdays because they didn't play/create women who loved to vacuum. 


I also don’t disagree with the contention that Lucille Ball was essentially “faking it to make it” (as my wonderful friend Caitlin has pointed out) and paving a way for female comedians later on down the road, but I do think it’s worth noting that people adore Lucille Ball when there are women such as Frieda Barkin Hennock -- who was the first woman appointed as FCC Commissioner the same year -- 1948 -- Ms. Ball started acting in a radio program entitled My Favorite Husband. All I'm saying is that I personally think someone like the former is more deserving of our praise, idolization and adulation than someone like the latter.

So, without further ado, here's the passage I've been alluding to since the beginning of this blog-post which is a very unprofessional way to write an article.

From Robert S. Alley and Irby Brown's book Women Television Producers 1948-2000

At this point the reader might ask, quite understandably, what about Lucille Ball? Did she not own her company? The evidence is overwhelming that the production decisions on I Love Lucy were made by men, central among them being her husband Desi Arnaz. In a 1956 Look Magazine interview Lucille Ball identified her style: "I had to learn to lean, to be dependent. I feel sorry for us American women sometimes. We're brought up to take care of ourselves, to make our own way -- and who needs it? 

This same attitude is borne out in the series itself. In a New York Times article (20 April 1958) Cecelia Agar went directly to the point when she wrote about the Ball and Danny Thomas series. "Both households operate in the Mediterranean tradition; the husband is absolute monarch; the household revolves around his way of life; his house is situated in the environment he prefers; he does not post a timetable of his comings and goings nor a map of his whereabouts away from home; each of his returns home is a boon conferred upon the rest of the inhabitants. The wife runs the house, rears the children, winnows out any possible source of irritation to her husband, and seeks to advance his career from what she alone sees as her place in the background." Technically, Ms. Ball was a producer, but the evidence throughout her career makes clear that she depended upon others (men in almost every instance) to care for the production tasks and the selection of material. Her portrayal of the comic character she created always focused upon her dependence upon men to make decisions. This was particularly clear in the stories developed on I Love Lucy. Thus, we pay tribute to her remarkable success and impact upon the medium, but we find scant evidence that she stands in the line of women who were challenged by the inequities of sexism in the television medium. "