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Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball Hardcover – August 19, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (August 19, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375413154
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375413155
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,044,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Those expecting a vicious Hollywood tell-all from Stefan Kanfer’s Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball will be disappointed. Kanfer, whose past work includes a biography of Groucho Marx and a history of the animation industry, comes to his famous red-headed subject with admiration, and readers will be drawn by his exuberance for early film and television history.

Kanfer opens with a brief recounting of Ball's tragic childhood (her father died of typhoid when she was 3 years old) and her early career as an unintentionally starving model in New York City. The significant portion of the book begins, however, when Ball gets her first offer for a stint of film work in California and finds herself launched on a moderately successful film career. Here Kanfer provides details of the inner workings of United Artists, Columbia, and RKO as Ball does battle with Ginger Rogers, Kathryn Hepburn, and a host of other young actresses struggling for screen time. But, as Kanfer notes, it was in television that Ball made her great mark, starring with her husband Desi Arnaz. I Love Lucy debuted in 1951, and readers will delight in Kanfer’s behind-the-scenes details of the show’s production. The first situation comedy to be filmed before a live audience, Lucy offered countless challenge--technical, professional, and personal—for the volatile couple.

Kanfer argues that Ball is one of the few truly enduring television personalities to emerge from the early years of television. His book, entertaining as it is educational, does much to secure her legacy. --Patrick O’Kelley

From Publishers Weekly

Early in the run of I Love Lucy, Ball gave co-star Vivian Vance a hard time. Vance decided, "If by any chance this thing actually becomes a hit and goes anywhere, I'm gonna learn to love that bitch." She did, and so did the rest of the world. But according to Kanfer's excellent, compulsively readable biography, Ball (1911-1989) was much easier to love from afar (as was Kanfer's previous subject, Groucho Marx). Despite all the laughter the gifted red-headed comedienne produced, her personal life was unhappy. To save their marriage, she and Desi Arnaz produced and starred in I Love Lucy. It revolutionized TV (it was shot on film with three cameras in front of a live audience), but the all-consuming pressure of the show (and other shows produced by their company, Desilu) pushed them apart and made them absentee parents. Although Ball reigned on four consecutive top-rated CBS comedies from 1951 to 1974, Kanfer sees a decline in the quality of her work beginning in the early '60s. Without Arnaz to dominate her and placate others after they divorced, Ball became all-controlling on her shows, and her temper and tactlessness began costing her professional and personal relationships. "She could be very cold," admits daughter Lucie Arnaz, "and although she told me she loved me all the time, I didn't feel loved." Kanfer's sad, well-written and -researched bio benefits from a wealth of previously published accounts (best are Kathleen Brady's Lucille and Geoffrey Mark Fidelman's The Lucy Book), but her story is still a compelling one. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

It didn't really show me a "different" side to LB; it basically retells the same stories that we've all heard before.
The Girl Who Loved Books
The author also made the book painful to read, it was full of too many boring details and the ending included random information padded onto the end of the book.
MReader
The author, Stefan Kanver, does not delve into the mind of his subject so I always questioned its validity that it really happened as he described.
Agnes Meo

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By J. Baxter on September 2, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Drawn entirely from secondary sources, there is nothing new to be found in this biography. I wouldn't even recommend it to someone who has read no other biography of Ball, as it is filled with the most elementary mistakes. The author doesn't even describe the "Lucy" episode with William Holden accurately. Just skip this one.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
correctly, you have no business being a Ball biographer. (Lucy had an 'argument' with Holden at the Brown Derby? As Ricky would say "Whaaaa????")
A tepid rehashing of every Lucille Ball book ever written. We know every story by now, and his one original thesis )that she was more successful on television than in the movies) is never really argued or clarified.
Rent it at the library if you must but I would save my dough.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By takingadayoff TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Ball of Fire concentrates on the I Love Lucy show, how it came about (and almost didn't get off the ground), behind the scenes tidbits, its effect on America. Kanfer doesn't stint on the rest of Lucy's life, both before and after the Show, but I Love Lucy really is the star of this book.
Never having read a biography of Lucille Ball, this was all news to me, and I enjoyed discovering that Vivian Vance loathed William Frawley, and that Ball was such a stickler and control freak. Kanfer's style is easy and very readable, and there are plenty of photos to round things out, including an unexpected one of a young topless Lucille Ball.
If you are in the mood for an entertaining and, let's face it, unimportant, book, this one is worth the money.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By chris2519 on August 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
So.... if I choose a subject matter, and then read several different books about that subject matter, and then summarize all the facts (while managing to get many of them wrong because I have no real understanding of what I'm writing about in the first place) into a new book... I can get published? Because that's exactly what this guy did. No new information of any consequence, and all he did was take information that he read from "Desilu", "Love, Lucy", "Lucille", "Lucy in the Afternoon", "I Loved Lucy", and a few others, and regurgitate it into one book. Yes, he sourced all of his information and gave credit appropriately, but still... isn't this what a book report is? Also, numerous errors throughout where he gets the different shows confused. I'm not suggesting he has to be one of those people who can answer trivia quizzes about every single episode of every show, but still -- there were only 3. It shouldn't be THAT hard to keep track of. He confuses the timelines several times, including having Robert Stack on the set of "I Love Lucy" (it was "The Lucy Show") and Joan Crawford on the set of "Here's Lucy" (it was "The Lucy Show.") The book is kind of like a "Greatest Hits" album -- except he didn't perform any of the songs himself.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Spady on August 27, 2003
Format: Hardcover
By now, die-hard Lucy fans know about her early years as a model, her career in Hollywood as the queen of the B-pictures and her attempts to save her marriage by including her ever-wandering, hot-tempered husband, Desi, in the proposed TV show based on her successful radio show. We know that she was a complicated woman, driven to succeed, a person who would now be called a workaholic and that she credited Desi with being the brains of the operation. She could be arrogant and demanding and she could be loving. She was larger than life.
And, we know about her intricate, not always happy relationship with Vivian Vance, her perpetual second banana. That Ethel and Fred did not get along off camera is not new, nor is the birth of Little Ricky on stage and the conflict that caused for the real Desi, Jr. Lucy fans already have read, and probably have in their collections, the various biographies and histories of I Love Lucy - not to mention a few pieces of memorabilia.
So, what can Stefan Kanfer offer that we have not read before? Actually, not much. While "Ball of Fire" a readable and farily well organized, Kanfer covers much the same ground we have been over before, particularly in "Lucille" Kathleen Brady's authoritative study of this comic legend.
His individual twist, which, to be fair, he sticks to admirably, is why was the moderately successful B-movie queen such a run-away success on the small screen. Unfortunately, he could have stated the answer in one sentence -- actually, he does -- rather than attempt to base a whole biography on that one point.
Kanfer usually paints with broader strokes than does Brady, who is more attentive to detail.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Lucille Ball is one of the totems of America in the 1950s, but she has proved to transfer very well into the next century and into other cultures. At every second of every day, people somewhere in the world are watching Lucy stomp grapes, drunkenly pitch a vitamin product, or get woefully behind on a candy assembly line. "I Love Lucy" was the hallmark of her career; she didn't do anything as well before or after, but it wasn't for lack of trying. _Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball_ (Knopf) by Stefan Kanfer is a big, entertaining biography that spends about a third of its pages on the "Lucy" years, when the star produced a classic program that will, like the films of other clowns such as Chaplin and Keaton, always find an audience. Even during those years, however, Lucy's life was tense and unhappy except for her professional efforts. It is the standard paradox of comedians, and Kanfer rightly evaluates it in full.
Lucy was a beautiful brunette from Jamestown, New York. She worked as a model and then became "Queen of the Bs", a hardworking actress stuck in second-rate pictures. Her eventual success on television stemmed directly from her marriage to Desi Arnaz, but their joint effort was from the beginning an attempt to keep the marriage together. Kanfer is careful to show just how much Desi contributed and how revolutionary the format of the show was; production in front of a live audience with three cameras going had never been tried before, for instance. But he knew she was the core of the show; when she tripped on a cable, he told everyone, "Amigos, anything happens to her, we're all in the shrimp business.") She got opportunities to show off a physical comedy that movie producers had denied her.
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