The Life of Lucille Ball
The matchless silent film star Buster Keaton recognized Lucille Ball’s genius for physical comedy in the late 1930s and early 1940s when RKO and then MGM had her playing showgirls and gangsters’ molls. After MGM fired her, Keaton persuaded Harry Cohn to hire her for the comedy unit of Columbia Pictures.
At Columbia, Lucille hung out at The Boors Nest, the office Keaton shared with his associate Ed Sedgwick, who was later godfather to Lucille’s children.
The following excerpt from pages 164-165 of Lucille, published by Billboard Books, is about this pivotal moment when her career seemed to be failing, but in fact The God of Comedy was claiming Lucille Ball for his own:
“The jokes, reminiscences, and reenactment of well-loved movie bits that filled the Boors Nest were more than an exercise in nostalgia. For the aging men, they kept the withering muscles of their comedy in shape. For Lucille, they provided informal professional training. Keaton was a master of props and sight gags, an amateur inventor who built replicas of the Golden Gate Bridge and miniature railroad trestle that won first prize at a hobby show. In his films, the put-upon, sad sack character he played relentlessly battled motorcycles, trains, steamships and other developments of the modern age. Up in the Boors Nest, Keaton taught Lucille how to command props and how to throw herself into physical maneuvers without hurting herself. Speedy, rambunctious Lucille learned to slow down and refine action. Keaton drilled her in the mantra that was the foundation of her fabled comic timing: Listen, React, then Act. She learned to hear whatever another character said or did, respond to it and then perform an appropriate action. If, as so often happened in her comedy, a boat or barrel sprung a leak, she discovered it, gasped and plugged the spouting hole, sometimes by sitting on it. Keaton watched her from the corners of the set while she was filming and later made suggestions on how she might improve.
Miss Grant Takes Richmond, her first film under her new Columbia agreement, showed that Keaton’s belief in her was justified. Lucille played a public-spirited secretary, a character so ditsy that watching her is like standing before a photographer’s developing tray and seeing a photograph of Lucy Ricardo gradually emerge.”
PRAISE FOR BOOK
"Without ignoring the darker aspects of Ball's life, Brady portrays a woman of impressive determination and resilence." -- Time Magazine
"Every so often there comes along a book with new insights into the contradictions of show business -- new even to those of us who have studied it for years. Brady makes the reader feel for Lucy in the upsets and errors she experiened, making her far more vulnerable than her popular image would suggest."
-- David Shipman, author of Judy Garland and Cinema: The First Hundred Years