Unlike Robert Taylor, who would have turned 100 today, or Ginger Rogers, whose centennial was last July 16, Lucille Ball is actually going to be remembered on the occasion of what would have been her 100th birthday this Saturday, Aug. 6. Turner Classic Movies‘ “Summer Under the Stars” series continues with 14 Lucille Ball movies. All of them have been shown before on TCM. (See the full Lucille Ball movie schedule further below.)
As an actress working mostly at RKO (1935–1942) and at MGM (1943–1946), Lucille Ball has been a TCM regular, as the Time Warner library encompasses films made at those two studios. On Saturday, TCM will also show the United Artists’ release Lured, a crime drama directed by Douglas Sirk, and co-starring George Sanders, and two comedies Ball made during her tenure at Columbia in the late 1940s: Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949), co-starring William Holden, and The Fuller Brush Girl (1950), a reboot of The Fuller Brush Man (1948), which starred Red Skelton.
Of the ones I’ve seen, the most interesting Ball film actually belongs to Katharine Hepburn and July centenarian Ginger Rogers: Gregory La Cava’s Oscar-nominated Stage Door (1937), the tale of several aspiring stage actresses that features machine-gun-style dialogue (screenplay credited to Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller, from a play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman) and a remarkable cast. In addition to Hepburn, Rogers, and Ball, there are Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Andrea Leeds, Ann Miller, Gail Patrick, Constance Collier, and Franklin Pangborn. Ah, and Adolphe Menjou, too – but no cast is perfect.
The melodrama Without Love (1945) is one of the weakest Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy vehicles, but the low-budget The Affairs of Annabel (1938) and Annabel Takes a Tour (1939), in which Ball is a screen star and Jack Oakie is her publicist, are quite entertaining. (The awesome Ruth Donnelly is in them as well.) Jack Hively’s Panama Lady (1939) is another effective B effort; one with a shockingly violent scene. Handsome Allan Lane co-stars.
Vincente Minnelli’s good-looking The Long Long Trailer (1954) feels like a Technicolor I Love Lucy for the big screen, as Ball and husband Desi Arnaz are once again paired up in wacky domesticity. (They were divorced in un-wacky fashion in 1960.) Edward Buzzell’s Best Foot Forward (1943) is a bore – when it should have been anything but, what with Lucille Ball playing Lucille Ball – but “The Three B’s,” a Harry James musical number featuring June Allyson, Gloria DeHaven, and Nancy Walker, is a blast.
The film version of Ethel Merman’s Broadway hit, the musical comedy was initially intended as a star vehicle for Ann Sothern; at the time, columnist Louella Parsons wrote, “Think of all that gorgeous Cole Porter music in Du Barry. Annie can sing, although she never has on the screen and with two stage hits bought for her [Panama Hattie, also from an Ethel Merman stage hit, was the other one], she’ll be a Merman of the movies and no pun intended.”
As it turned out, Sothern decided she did not want to star in Du Barry Was a Lady. That’s when Lucille Ball stepped in to enjoy one of the biggest box office hits of her movie career. Even so, Ball – like Sothern – failed to become “a Merman of the movies,” finding herself playing second leads in several of the studio’s major releases later in the decade.
Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:
6:00 AM DU BARRY WAS A LADY (1943) A night club employee dreams he’s Louis XV, and the star he idolizes is his lady love. Director: Roy Del Ruth. Cast: Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Gene Kelly. Color. 101 min.
8:00 AM PANAMA LADY (1939) An oil man forces a cabaret singer to work for him after she tries to rob him. Director: Jack Hively. Cast: Lucille Ball, Allan Lane, Steffi Duna. Black and white. 65 min.
9:30 AM WITHOUT LOVE (1945) A World War II housing shortage inspires a widow to propose a marriage of convenience with an inventor. Director: Harold S. Bucquet. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball. Black and white. 111 min.
11:30 AM MISS GRANT TAKES RICHMOND (1949) An inept secretary goes to work for a bogus real estate firm thinking it’s for real. Director: Lloyd Bacon. Cast: Lucille Ball, William Holden, Janis Carter. Black and white. 88 min.
1:00 PM THE FULLER BRUSH GIRL (1950) A daffy door-to-door saleswoman blunders into a murder investigation. Director: Lloyd Bacon. Cast: Lucille Ball, Eddie Albert, Carl Benton Reid. Black and white. 84 min.
2:30 PM THE LONG LONG TRAILER (1954) Life on the road isn’t what it’s cracked up to be when a honeymooning couple invests in an oversized motor home. Director: Vincente Minnelli. Cast: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Marjorie Main. Color. 96 min.
4:30 PM BEST FOOT FORWARD (1943) A movie star wreaks havoc when she accepts an invitation to a military academy dance. Director: Edward Buzzell. Cast: Lucille Ball, William Gaxton, Virginia Weidler. Color. 94 min.
6:15 PM DANCE GIRL DANCE (1940) A ballet dancer and a burlesque queen compete for a wealthy suitor. Director: Dorothy Arzner. Cast: Maureen O’Hara, Louis Hayward, Lucille Ball. Black and white. 90 min.
8:00 PM STAGE DOOR (1937) Women at a theatrical boarding house try to make their big break happen. Director: Gregory LaCava. Cast: Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou. Black and white. 92 min.
9:45 PM THE BIG STREET (1942) A nightclub waiter, who’s in love with a selfish showgirl, gets to prove his love when she’s injured. Director: Irving Reis. Cast: Henry Fonda, Lucille Ball, Barton MacLane. Black and white. 89 min.
11:30 PM EASY TO WED (1946) In this remake of Libeled Lady, a tough newspaper editor hires a gigolo to compromise a woman suing his paper for libel. Director: Edward Buzzell. Cast: Van Johnson, Esther Williams, Lucille Ball. Color. 110 min.
1:30 AM LURED (1947) A woman helps the police catch the serial killer who murdered her best friend. Director: Douglas Sirk. Cast: George Sanders, Lucille Ball, Charles Coburn. Black and white. 103 min.
3:15 AM THE AFFAIRS OF ANNABEL (1938) A screen queen suffers through harebrained publicity stunts schemed up by her press agent. Director: Ben Stoloff. Cast: Jack Oakie, Lucille Ball, Ruth Donnelly. Black and white. 67 min.
4:30 AM ANNABEL TAKES A TOUR (1938) A movie star on tour gets thrown into a variety of wacky publicity stunts. Director: Lew Landers. Cast: Jack Oakie, Lucille Ball, Ruth Donnelly. Black and white. 67 min.
Photo via Doctor Macro