It was a semi-tradition in my family: on days I stayed home sick from school, I watched I Love Lucy. Sometimes my mother would join me. No matter how poorly I felt, Lucille Ball could make me laugh.
What I didn’t know then was that Lucille Ball was more than a brilliant comedienne. She was also a trailblazing feminist badass during a time when women weren’t allowed to be any of those things.
Five of the ways Lucille Ball was a woman before her time:
She was the first woman to run a production company.
Nowadays, female-led production companies are standard. But back in the 1950s, women were not considered entrepreneurs. Lucille Ball changed that when she and then-husband Desi Arnaz (known as Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy) founded Desilu Productions, which made shows such as I Love Lucy and Star Trek (!!!) possible.
But Lucy didn’t quit there: after selling Desilu Productions, Ball established her own, new production company Lucille Ball Productions in 1968. She was officially the first woman to run a production company without a man’s help.
She promoted the first biracial couple on television.
While Lucy and Ricky’s relationship on “I Love Lucy” is arguably the reigning relationship on the show, Lucy had to fight the network to land her husband the role of her husband.
According to Brady, Lucy told CBS she wouldn’t do the show without Arnaz, and they eventually gave in. Girl power!
She celebrated female friendships.
Nowadays, strong female friendships are everywhere: Leslie and Ann, Abbi and Ilana, and Taystee and Poussey, just to name a few. But back in the 1950s, Lucy and her BFF Ethel were constantly getting up to their own wacky adventures, without falling into Hollywood’s more misogynistic tropes about female friendships.
I Love Lucy‘s depiction of pregnancy was revolutionary.
Though AV Club points out that “I Love Lucy” was not the first television show to feature a pregnancy, it was one of the early ones, and it broke barriers with the overwhelming success of the storyline. However, although the public was clearly ready for a pregnancy storyline, Lucy’s pregnancy existed in a time with stringent moral standards for television. This meant Lucy’s character couldn’t actually say the word “pregnant” because “CBS deemed [it] too vulgar.” Instead, Lucy had to say “expecting” or “spectin’.” The episode title used the French word for it, “enceinte.” Even more ludicrously, executives reportedly called for a priest, minister and rabbi to approve the scripts before they gave permission for the storyline to air. Yikes!
She wasn’t always a “proper lady.”
Lucy had no qualms about showcasing her physical comedy skills on I Love Lucy and her other television endeavors. During a time where most housewives were depicted to be proper and demure June Cleavers, Lucy was consistently zany and loud, breaking expectations.
In fact, Lucille Ball made a career out of standing out: she dyed her hair red in order to stand out and break away from the typical Hollywood definition of beauty. You go, girl!
As Bitette notes: