Almost a quarter century after her death in 1989, Lucille Ball is still a ratings winner for CBS. Last Friday, the Tiffany net aired two colorized episodes of “I Love Lucy” — the special 1956 Christmas clip show and the classic grape-stomping installment from earlier that season — and drew almost nine million viewers.
Like everyone else, we love Lucy and have been talking about her a lot this year as Julia Louis-Dreyfus just bested her Emmy record, reaping a 14th nomination in the comedy categories. She went on to win Best Comedy Actress for the second year running for “Veep,” bringing her Emmy haul to four (with wins in 1996 for “Seinfeld” and 2006 for “The New Adventures of Old Christine”).
That ties Louis-Dreyfus with Ball, who claimed two apiece for “I Love Lucy” and “The Lucy Show.” While Ball was never nominated during the six seasons of “Here’s Lucy” or for her subsequent television appearances, she was the second inductee into the academy’s Hall of Fame in 1984, following Mr. Television himself, Milton Berle. (Louis-Dreyfus was just announced as part of the newest class of inductees).
And, five months after she died in April 1989, the academy honored Ball with the Governors Award. Her frequent costar Bob Hope saluted her with a montage of memorable moments and her husband, Gary Morton accepted the honor with some heartfelt words. (The photo to left showcases all of her Emmy awards, including that honorary trophy.)
Below, watch that moment from the 1967 Emmycast when Ball won her third award. As her name was announced by Carl Reiner, she was stunned, saying “I don’t believe it.” At the podium, she became visibly moved during her acceptance speech. While she mixes up her wins from the 1950s — thinking that her second Emmy came “because I had a baby” when that had been her first — she is clearly grateful for this honor from her peers.
Ball should well remember that first bid in 1951, as she also hosted the Emmycast. When her one-time on-screen love interest Red Skeleton picked up the prize for best comedian or comedienne, he quipped, “You’ve given this to the wrong redhead.” And his show also beat the debut season of hers for best comedy series even though “I Love Lucy” was the most buzzed-about show in America.
The next year, just two weeks after giving birth on both the show and in real-life on the same day, Ball would win her first Emmy as best comedienne while the show took best situation comedy.
In 1953, the show won again and Vivian Vance took home the first supporting actress Emmy ever awarded. Ball lost to one of her Desilu employees — Eve Arden of “Our Miss Brooks” — and William Frawley was edged out by Art Carney, who won the first of his five Emmys for “The Jackie Gleason Show.”
In 1954, the show lost to another Desilu production, “Make Room for Daddy,” while Ball lost the best actress race to Loretta Young for her self-titled show. Vance and Frawley lost to “Jackie Gleason” regulars Audrey Meadows and Carney.
In 1955, Ball skipped the Emmycast when “I Love Lucy” was not nominated for best comedy series. In her absence, she won best actress (continuing performance) but lost the comedienne race to Nanette Fabray (“Caesar’s Hour”). As she was not there, perhaps that is why she forgot this win during her 1967 acceptance speech.
While the never-nominated Desi Arnaz hosted the 1956 awards, his three costars all lost their races as they did the following year for the last season of the sitcom. And none would be nominated for the hour-long version of the show that aired sporadically for the next three years.
Following her divorce from Arnaz in 1960, Ball starred in a Broadway musical, “Wildcat.” The rigors of the Rialto soon sent her packing and she headed back to TV in 1962 with “The Lucy Show.” For that show’s first season, she lost lead actress in a series to “Hazel” star Shirley Booth. Not nominated the following two years, she was back in the race in 1966, losing to Mary Tyler Moore for the final season of “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”
In 1967, she would finally win once more, edging out “Bewitched” stars Elizabeth Montgomery and Agnes Moorehead and “That Girl’s” Marlo Thomas. By the way, Montgomery never won an Emmy, despite nine nods, including five for her work as that witch with a twitch.
The following year, in what was to be her final Emmy race, Ball prevailed yet again. Her competition — Montgomery and Thomas, as well as Barbara Feldon (“Get Smart”) and Paula Prentiss (“He and She”).