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LUCILLE BALL


The following was e-mailed on 3/29/02:

From a Lucy Fan in Kankakee, Illinois:

Just heard the news that writer-director Billy Wilder died yesterday. People always say that celebrity deaths seem to come in threes, and now in two days' time we have seen the passing of Milton Berle, Dudley Moore, and now Billy Wilder.

Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" and "Some Like it Hot" are two of my favorite films.

Did Lucy ever work with him?

* * * * *

Sadly, no... Lucy once told us that the three big directors that she would have loved to work with were Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock and George Cukor. One of the problems, of course, was that prior to the advent of I Love Lucy she simply was not considered an "A-List" star. She herself, and everyone else in those days, considered her to be "The Queen of the B's."

Lucy and Wilder almost worked together back in the summer of 1941. Lucy and Desi were still newlyweds, Lucy had scored a big success with RKO's "Dance, Girl, Dance" and "Too Many Girls," and she was looking for another good script. Two of her good friends, Ginger Rogers (who had just won an Academy Award for "Kitty Foyle") and Carole Lombard had been offered the lead in a Samuel Goldwyn picture, "Ball of Fire," written by Wilder and his partner Charles Brackett.

Both Rogers and Lombard passed on the film, which was something of a take-off on "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." It concerned a fast-talking striptease artist who hides from the district attorney by boarding with eight college professors, who are writing an enclyclopedia.

Lucy had just played a similar role in "Dance, Girl, Dance," and after reading the Brackett-Wilder script, she was sure the role of stripper Sugarpuss O'Shea was perfect for her. She'd started her career at Goldwyn and still had friends there -- and for a moment it looked as though she had a good shot at getting the part.

Goldwyn, however, had already cast Gary Cooper as the male lead (one of the professors) and wanted a top female star to play opposite him. When he was convinced Rogers and Lombard were out of the running, he offered the role to Barbara Stanwyke. As Lucy predicted, the picture was a huge success for all concerned.



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