‘I Love Lucy’: Why Lucille Ball Agreed to Series Despite Taking a Financial Loss for Iconic Role

I Love Lucy is a household name, even over six decades after its small-screen debut. The show brought Lucille Ball’s knack for comedy for the world to see, and fans quickly were hooked. However, Ball’s decision to take the iconic role was an upfront financial loss from what she was making in her movie and radio career. If the writers of I Love Lucy had not agreed to her one demand, Ball would have turned down the opportunity. Luckily for us, personal happiness was more important to Ball than money. 

Lucille Ball on 'I Love Lucy', in black and white
Lucille Ball on ‘I Love Lucy’ | CBS via Getty Images

How ‘I Love Lucy’ became a hit TV show

I Love Lucy is arguably one of the best classic sitcoms of all time, with Lucy and Ricky being one of the most notable television couples. The sitcom originally aired on CBS from 1951 to 1957. The series was set in a New York City apartment building where Lucy, played by Lucille Ball, and her singer/bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo, played by Desi Arnaz lived. As a gullible and ambitious woman with a desire to achieve stardom, Lucy was constantly getting herself and her husband into trouble.

Fans watched and, continue to rewatch, episode after episode to see what explaining the iconic redhead had to do next. Lucy’s partner in crime for most of her shenanigans to make it in show business was best friend Ethel Mertz, played by Vivian Vance. The two friends are found scheming ways to have the chance to be included in Ricky’s nightclub performances, which often ended in a disaster. 

The classic series showcased Ball’s comedy skills and became a widely watched show in the United States. It ran for six seasons, and shortly after the series finale, it was modified for The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Even 60 years after I Love Lucy ended, people still turn on the fan-favorite show to enjoy a good laugh with friends and family. 

From radio to ‘I Love Lucy’

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Before the debut of I Love Lucy, Ball was the star of her hit radio show called My Favorite Husband. The radio show had a similar premise to I Love Lucy, with about two dozen of the TV show’s plots rewritten stories from the radio show. Although the rendition would be an easy crossover for Ball, she drove a hard bargain before agreeing to play Lucy.

Taking the iconic role in the classic series was actually a financial loss for Ball because she already had a thriving movie career and a hit radio show. Therefore, according to Closer Weekly, Ball told the writers of I Love Lucy, “I want Desi to play my husband. I want a reason to do this show.” Why else would she give up her established career success, except for personal happiness?

Ball’s demands were met, as Desi Arnaz played Lucy’s husband, Ricky Ricardo, on the show. The pair’s performance on the popular 1950s comedy series led to Arnaz and Ball becoming known as one of Hollywood’s most famous power couples. Although Ball fought to secure her husband’s spot on I Love Lucy, Arnaz returned the thanks by insisting his name be billed first on the show’s credits instead of Ball’s. 

What was Lucille Ball’s net worth?

Ball chose the well-known role of Lucy instead of pursuing her movie and radio success further. Although she decided to star in I Love Lucy for personal happiness and saving her marriage, it ended up being a great financial move as well. Ball not only became one of the most recognized stars for her witty redhead role, but she also had a net worth of $60 million (comparable to $125 million today) at the time of her death in 1989. Also, could you imagine I Love Lucy without Lucille Ball?