Lucille Ball represented a tangible alternative to the lifestyle that so many women felt trapped by. Already a movie and radio star, Ball co-founded Desilu Productions with her husband in 1948 and started I Love Lucy when she was forty years old. She was truly the star; every episode revolved around her, showcasing her talents as a physical comedian, actress, and occasionally vaudeville performer.
It was at her insistence and diligence that Desi was cast as Ricky in spite of network executives’ worries about the public’s reaction to his Cuban heritage. Rather than letting pregnancy get in the way of her career, she made it work in her, and the show’s favor. She was the first openly pregnant woman ever to perform on television, and she and Arnaz refused to hide her pregnancy on the show, instead using her food cravings and their hopes and worries as new parents as sources of comedy. She was an example of a pregnant woman who continued to work, and was shown to be capable despite her physical limitations.
It was the combination of Lucy and Lucille that made such an empowering example for women. The public’s knowledge of Ball and Arnaz’s marriage and creative partnership outside of the show lessened the gap (sometimes artificially so) between the identities of their on and off screen characters. Lucy was a woman whose life seemed almost in reach, and, by extension, Lucille’s life became more grounded in reality. Together, Lucy and Lucille showed women what was possible in their lives by being sympathetic to their struggles but also suggesting that they are capable of overcoming those struggles.