Lucille Ball -- whose career in front of the camera spanned five decades -- served as a pioneer for female comedians, as well as for the television industry itself. Named TV Guide's "Biggest TV Star of All Time," Ball was only one of two women to successfully star in three separate long-running sitcoms in successive decades. (The second woman was Jane Curtin).
The reason people still watch I Love Lucy -- or any other rerun for that matter -- is actually because of Lucille Ball. Together, Ball and her husband (on TV and in real life), Desi Arnaz, developed the idea for syndication. Besides this major shift in the way people viewed television, Ball also pioneered the three camera technique -- now standard fare for sitcoms. She was the first woman to own her own studio and she won seven Emmys throughout her career, including Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Comedy Series several times, and Best Comedienne. For all of her work and contributions in comedy, she won a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.
Following the I Love Lucy show (1951-1957) came The Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour (1957-1960 ). The couple then split-up in real life and Ball struck out on her own with another sitcom, The Lucille Ball Show (1962-1967), and finally, Here's Lucy (1968-1974).
Before hitting it big and becoming one of the first people to make a name on the small screen, Ball was known as the "Queen of the B Movies" (also as "Technicolor Tessie" -- for the way her red hair showed up on the camera.) At one time, she held contracts as a minor star at RKO (which she and Arnaz would later buy out and rename Desilu) and MGM. For over 20 years, she often took small, and in retrospect, surprisingly dramatic, roles. During this time, she performed and sang in movies such as Wildcat, and Broadway shows like Ziegfeld Follies. In 1940, on the set of Too Many Girls, she met and fell in love with Arnaz, an actor and musician. The two eloped. Toward the end of the '40s, she began taking rolls that would lead to her success in slapstick. In 1948, she took a spot on a radio comedy show, entitled My Favorite Husband, in which she played a scatterbrained housewife, which led to an offer from the television networks. Much like the character in her beloved sitcom, Ball hatched a scheme to get the Hollywood executives to sign Arnaz on before she would agree to it. The rest is history.
Ball first entered drama school in New York (where she was a classmate of Bette Davis). There she was advised to choose another career because she was told never make it in acting. She modeled hats at a department store before getting her big break as a Chesterfield Girl, and eventually landed a movie studio contract.
After several attempts at saving her highly publicized and troubled marriage, Ball remarried producer/actor Gary Morton (he produced a bulk Ball's shows after I Love Lucy) and stayed married to him until her death in 1989. She is survived by a son, Desi, and a daughter, Lucy, both of whom played her children at different times throughout her television series.