Lucille Ball's daughter Lucie Arnaz says the comedy legend wasn't interested in business: 'She wanted to play in the sandbox, period'

Raechal Shewfelt
Editor, Yahoo Entertainment

Lucille Ball was a legend, for sure, but her daughter, Lucie Arnaz, says there’s something that people have long misunderstood about her.

“My mother did not have a great business mind, didn’t want one, was not interested in that end of it at all. She wanted to play in the sandbox, period,” Arnaz, the actress daughter of Ball and her longtime love and I Love Lucy co-star, Desi Arnaz, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “She wanted to go to work and play those characters and have fun and do shows. My father was a great business mind and he ran the studio and she was never happier than when she could rely on that.”

Lucie Arnaz remembers mother Lucille Ball. (Photo: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic)

Ball was on her own after she divorced Desi after 20 years of marriage, in 1960. She became the sole owner of Desilu Productions, making her the first woman to lead a major TV studio. It was the one behind some of the most popular shows of the day.

“So she gets a lot of credit for being the first woman this, the first woman that, the big businesswoman… but she did not like to do that,” Arnaz says. “And she wasn’t particularly good at it. What she was good at was instincts, she had great instincts, so once in a while she made a couple of calls that were pretty brilliant, like, ‘No, don’t cancel Star Trek. No, I think Mission: Impossible is fun, let’s leave it on.’ You know? Those were smart calls, but it wasn’t what I would call business sense, and she did not enjoy that at all.”

What Ball was particularly and undeniably good at was comedy, the kind of hilarious, often physical performances that she gave on her classic sitcom, I Love Lucy. The phenomenally popular show ran for six seasons, from 1951 to 1957.

Five classic episodes, including some of Arnaz’s favorites, will play in color on the big screen at more than 600 theaters across the country on Aug. 6, in honor of the late star’s birthday. Ticket holders for I Love Lucy: A Colorized Celebration will also see a new featurette called “Redhead Tales ,” about the colorization process.

Yahoo Entertainment snagged an exclusive sneak peek:

For fans who can’t make it to the theater, 16 popular episodes of the show that have been colorized will be released in a new DVD collection on Aug. 13.

Arnaz can’t name just one favorite episode — “Absolutely not. I think it’s impossible” — and she enjoys going back and discovering the ones that aren’t among those shown over and over again. But she loves the classics, such as “Lucy Does a TV Commercial,” in which Ball’s character films a commercial for a curious product called Vitameatavegamin.

“Vitameatavegamin is beyond classic in anybody’s book for a myriad of reasons, primarily the fact that there was so much memorization. It was such a long unedited piece that she knew, from start to finish, and, you know, it’s not a movie, they don’t stop and start,” Arnaz says. “There’s an audience there. She started it and she finished it, and it was the same audience, and she did it once. And that’s — it’s flawless. It’s an absolutely flawless piece of classic comedy.”

She adds that her mom would be sure to point out that the show’s “brilliant writers,” including Bob Carroll Jr., Madelyn Davis and Jess Oppenheimer, did an excellent job writing a scene that builds and builds.

“And then you take somebody who knows their business so well and is such a good actress that she can do things that are outrageous and make them totally believable, that’s the brilliance of shows like that,” says Arnaz, herself a Golden Globe-nominated actress and singer who continues to perform.

Lucie Arnaz stars alongside her mother, Lucille Ball, in the CBS show Here's Lucy, from 1968 to 1974. (Photo: CBS via Getty Images)

Although she co-starred with her mom on the future show Here’s Lucy, Arnaz says her favorite memory of Ball is their time away from the set, away from any set. She remembers that people would tell her how they’d kill to have her mom as their own and have all those “magical memories,” to which Arnaz recalls responding, “Really? Would you? Because she’s a pretty busy lady.”

Now, Arnaz’s favorite memory of Ball, who died in 1989, is decidedly unglamorous.

“I sort of always come back to the idea that any memory where she’s just home and has time to just be with us, any of those simple, the simplest of dumbest of memories, you know, making a grilled cheese sandwich in the kitchen,” Arnaz says.

She’s had some time to think, too, about the legacy of her mom and I Love Lucy .

“The older I get, I think it’s unconditional love. Teaching people about unconditional love,” Arnaz says. “I think that show, with everything else that it was: hilariously funny, brilliantly written, timeless — you could put a kid in front of it today, the same way you could five generations ago, and they would laugh and they wouldn’t be insulted — but, I think, when push comes to shove, that show was about forgiveness and love. It could have been called I Love Lucy Anyway.”

The message was “the people who love us truly love us, allow us to get into terrible situations and make big fools of ourselves, get into trouble, and at the end of the day, they go, ‘Come here,’ and they hug you and they love you and life goes on.”

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