Those expecting a vicious Hollywood tell-all from Stefan Kanfers 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 Kanfers behind-the-scenes details of the shows production. The first situation comedy to be filmed before a live audience, Lucy offered countless challenge--technical, professional, and personalfor 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 OKelley
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.
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