Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball by Stefan Kanfer
One of my favorite pastimes, hobbies, and passions is reading old Hollywood biographies, memoirs, and autobiographies. I’m absolutely obsessed with them. When they happen to be about one of my personal favorites, I can barely make myself put the book down. I devour each word (often twice) and study the pictures as though I’m searching for hidden clues.
Lucille Ball is one of my favorite television actresses… movie actresses…stars.. comedians.. oh, heck, she’s one of my favorite humans to ever draw breath. Let’s just leave it at that. I read everything about her that I can get my hands on.
Ball of Fire is the latest Lucille Ball biography I’ve read and it’s easily one of the best.
From the Back Cover:
As a movie actress Lucille Ball was, in her own words, “queen of the B-pluses.” But on the small screen she was a superstar – arguably the funniest and most enduring in the history of TV. In this exemplary biography, Stefan Kanfer explores the roots of Lucy’s genius and places it in the context of her conflicted and sometimes bitter personal life.
“Elegant, entertaining… engaging and immensely readable. – The Boston Globe”
Ball of Fire gives us Lucy in all her contradictions. here is the beauty who became a master of knock-down slapstick; the control freak whose comic alter ego thrived on chaos; the worshipful TV housewife whose real marriage ended in public disaster. Here, too, is an intimate view of the dawn of television and of the America that embraced it. Charming, informative, touching, and laugh-out-loud funny, this is the book Lucy’s fans have been waiting for.
A delightful… Encyclopedia Lucytania, guiding us through every possible detail of the woman’s history and legacy. – San Francisco Chronicle
Lucille Ball Fans: This Has to be the Next Book You Read
If you love Lucy like I love Lucy (sorry, I had to), you’ll want to read this book cover to cover, possibly twice. While we’ve all known and celebrated the fact that Lucille Ball was one of the most beautiful, talented, and gifted stars Hollywood ever saw, this great book is a reminder of the strength this lady possessed. When you read about everything she had to overcome (and remind yourself that this was a time when feminine strength wasn’t celebrated as it is today), you realize that she never simply waltzed into stardom, she kicked, scratched, and clawed every step of the way.
Needless to say, that makes her fans love her even more.
While I love everything about this book, one of the things that stands out to me is the fact that the author doesn’t try to “steer” the facts toward any set narrative. As a fan of many actors and actresses from Old Hollywood, I have to say that this would be difficult (if not impossible) for me. If, say, I were writing a biography of any of my favorite stars, I’d want desperately to show them at their best on each page of the book. I’d steer everything in a preconceived direction… Happy Town, U.S.A.
Warts? Not a one. Negative actions? Never! How dare you ask? Promiscuous? I should say not!
See why I don’t write biographies… everyone would come off like a choir boy or Sunday school teacher. To be able to give an accurate, beautifully rounded portrait of an individual takes a lot of talent and, I’d wager, self-control. As an avid reader of Old Hollywood biographies, I’m overjoyed that such authors exist. After all, none of us expect our favorite stars to have been perfect – even the men and women (except for One) in the Bible weren’t perfect!
It’s the imperfections we identify with – the weaknesses that we love seeing them overcome and the demons we love seeing them defeat. It makes them more real to us and makes us love them even more. Author Stefan Kanfer does a beautiful job of showing complete respect to Lucille, Desi, William Frawley, Vivian Vance, and the many other household names who “guest starred” in our favorite Lucy’s life.
Unlike some biographers, he doesn’t fixate on a star’s less-than-perfect traits but he doesn’t gloss over them as a certain Old Hollywood blogger we know would have done. *Raises hand with guilt on her face
This particular biography gives us a beautiful look at the mesmerizing life of Lucille Ball – from her earliest days to her last days. While it would be impossible to give the totality of a life within one book, Mr. Kanfer comes alarmingly close. I feel like I know her better after this book than I did before and, as someone who truly adores Lucille Ball, I will forever be thankful for that.
I Love Lucy Fans: Consider this a MUST READ BOOK
As a Lucille Ball fanatic, I’m sure you won’t be the least bit surprised to know that I can recite episodes of I Love Lucy along with the stars. I know what they’re going to say right before they say it and yet laugh each time as though it were the first time. That’s the magic of the stars, the writers, and everyone involved. While Ball of Fire (obviously) focuses on arguably the greatest comedic talent of all time, herself, there is gold… and a lot of it… for fans of I Love Lucy.
Even I read stories about casting (William Frawley, Vivian Vance, and memorable guest stars) in Ball of Fire I’d never heard… and I was pretty sure I was a walking/talking/coffee-chugging I Love Lucy encyclopedia! I honestly don’t want to give anything away, here, because I want you to read the book for yourself and be just as surprised and delighted with each turn of the page. I will say this, however – I’ve always known that Desi Arnaz deserves more credit for his acting and comedic genius. After reading Ball of Fire, I realize that he deserves A LOT more credit for the success of the series. He was more active behind the scenes than most of us would have ever guessed and he may have had one of the greatest eyes for casting of all time.
He was more than just a source of facial expressions for Lucy’s antics or verbal expressions for Lucy’s humor – he was one of the driving forces behind the series. I desperately want to find a read a biography of Desi Arnaz after reading Ball of Fire because it has caused me to be even more of a fan of this complex, talented, diverse, and often complicated man.
I only wish this particular author would write such a biography!
As I said, I refuse to give any of the wonderful details or stories away but I want to implore you again… if you’re a fan of I Love Lucy, you’ll love the amount of time devoted to the series. I read and reread the pages and am looking forward to pulling out my dvds and finding the episodes mentioned. The Grape-Stomping episode will be one of the first I re-watch!
I’d better move along before I DO give something away.
Ball of Fire is, As Much as Anything a Love Story
Not only is this book, at heart, a love story – it’s one of the best love stories you’ll ever read. When I read (pages 63-65) about the first time Lucille an Desi met, I literally had goose bumps. Now, I know the word literally is overused and misused these days but trust me – I’m neither overusing or misusing. I legit had goosebumps as well as a lump in my throat. The feelings would return (often along with teary eyes) when the author talked about Lucy’s desire to have children, when the marriage began (and continued) to unravel, and when both Desi and Lucille died.
The love these two gifted stars shared for one another was absolutely palpable. When you read the book, it becomes more clear than ever that Lucille and Desi were soulmates, just as Lucy and Ricky were. Sadly, soulmates don’t always go the distance with one another – especially when Hollywood is concerned. Hollywood is like a whole other world and very few couples navigate it from start to finish hand in hand. I’m convinced that, had they lived in any other place, they’d have made it.
As I’ve said many times on Hollywood Yesterday, old movies, classic television, and Old Hollywood biographies are part of my DNA. I love for an author to take me on a journey where I’m able to spend time with current favorites and meet stars who I become so smitten with, they often go on to become favorites. A notable star this happened with was Carole Lombard. Her name kept popping up in various biographies (Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers….) and she was always such a scene-stealer that I sought out more information about her. I found that she was, indeed, beautifully colorful and wonderfully full of life. She, along with other household names (Clark Gable, Ginger Rogers, Claudette Colbert, etc) are here in Ball of Fire – woven into the fabric that is the magical life of Lucille Ball. They add to the mystique and heighten the magic.
What more can I say? This is a breathtaking book and I really hope you read it as soon as possible. Ball of Fire is available on Amazon in paperback for less than $5 and hardback for not much more.
EDIT: I just searched for the author (Stefan Kanfer) on Amazon – determined to buy any and all biographies he has written. Am I ever in luck? He has several – so, needless to say, you’ll be seeing the reviews soon!