Tomorrow (8/6) marks the 100th anniversary of the late Lucille Ball’s birth — in case you missed advance word on celebrations ranging from the Lucy Fest Comedy festival in Jamestown, New York, to The Hallmark Channel’s 48-hour “I Love Lucy” marathon that launches at six tomorrow morning and lasts ‘til Monday morning (with no repeats!).
Of course, you can’t hear Lucy’s name without thinking of America’s beloved crazy redhead and her antics. Her legendary fiery marriage to Desi Arnaz might also come to mind. But long spells of infirmity and physical struggle? Those are aspects of the Hollywood icon’s life you probably wouldn’t think about Yet she certainly lived through them, and recalled them decades later.
“I was 17 years old and working as a New York model, running myself ragged, becoming so run down that I developed pneumonia. And from that I contracted rheumatoid arthritis. It was terrible!” she recounted to Marilyn Beck in 1972. “I ended up in bed for eight months, then restricted to crutches for several years with 20-pound weights on my legs to help strengthen the muscles.” She smiled and added, “That might have been the best thing that could have happened to me. I mean, a girl confined from ages 17 to 19. Imagine what trouble that kept me out of!”
In 1960, when she was the star of “Wildcats” on Broadway, “I had gone into the show run down, exhausted, still recuperating from a leg I had broken on a Bob Hope picture. I stayed with the show for a year, and each month became more of an agony. I was spending my Sundays off at doctors and chiropractors for therapy. I developed pneumonia. I lost 22 pounds. I reached the point where I was so weak I would faint on stage. Once I fell into the footlights and broke my finger.”
Besides her physical travails, Lucy went through divorce from Desi Arnaz twice, and suffered some profound professional disappointments as well. And yet, for all the times she was knocked down in life, she kept bouncing up with a ready attitude and a fast quip. As she once\famously put it: “The ham always rises.”