‘I Love Lucy’: A Traumatic Event Caused Lucille Ball to Avoid Pictures of Birds

I Love Lucy star Lucille Ball described her childhood as “challenging” and marked by “death and cruel circumstances.” One event in particular caused her to avoid pictures of birds for the rest of her life.

Lucille Ball said her mother tried to ‘keep her under control’

Lucille Ball in 1968 | Max B. Miller/Fotos International/Getty Images
Lucille Ball in 1968 | Max B. Miller/Fotos International/Getty Images

According to Ball, her mother, DeDe, had difficulty keeping her “under control,” so she would sometimes tie her to a dog leash and keep her in the backyard. In her book, Love, Lucy, Ball says life became difficult for her mother during her father’s illness and eventual death. She was overwhelmed with work and childrearing, so she looked for ways to keep Ball occupied.

DeDe would sometimes leave Ball with the local grocery store owner. “My mother finally made arrangements with our kindly corner grocery store owner, Mr. Flower,” wrote Ball. “He let me prance up and down his counter reciting little pieces my parents had taught me. My favorite was apparently a frog routine where I hopped up and down harrumphing. Then I’d gleefully accept the pennies or candy Mr. Flower’s customers would give me—my first professional appearance!”

Why Lucille Ball avoided pictures of birds

Ball said her father died after developing the flu and typhoid fever. He was just 28 years old and her mother was 22. Ball, who was almost 4 years old at the time, said she remembered that day vividly. After her mother told her about her father’s death, she noticed birds in the window. From that moment on, she couldn’t stand to be around anything with an image of a bird on it.

 And I remember at that very moment, a picture suddenly fell from the wall. And I noticed on the kitchen windowsill some little gray sparrows feeding. I’ve been superstitious about birds ever since. I’ve heard that birds flying in the window are supposed to bring bad luck.

I don’t have a thing about live birds, but pictures of birds get me. I won’t buy anything with a print of a bird, and I won’t stay in a hotel room with bird pictures or bird wallpaper.

Lucille Ball, Love, Lucy

Lucille Ball’s mother became very depressed

Ball’s brother, Freddy was born four months after her father died. She said her mother became very depressed after his birth. Consequently, the family separated so that DeDe could take care of herself. Ball said she was jealous of Freddy at first because she was ignored, but she eventually learned to love her sibling.

“After Freddy’s birth, my mother became more and more depressed, so finally it was decided that she should go to California for a complete change of scene,” wrote Ball. “Freddy stayed with my mother’s parents, while I was sent to live with my aunt Lola, my mother’s younger sister.”

DeDe eventually moved back, and the family was together again for a short time. Ball’s mother remarried, but Ball said she didn’t have a chance to get to know her stepfather. DeDe and her new husband moved to Detroit to look for jobs, leaving Ball and her brother behind.

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