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Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball

3.85  ·  Rating Details ·  845 Ratings  ·  75 Reviews
For more than fifty years Lucille Ball has been television's most recognizable and beloved face. As Lucy Ricardo she was the ultimate screwball housewife, getting herself into and out of scrapes with unmatched comic finesse. Indeed, she was so funny, and so central to the cultural landscape, that we often overlook Ball's role in shaping that turf: as producer of her own sh ...more
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published August 19th 2003 by Knopf (first published January 1st 2003)
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Summer Lane
Aug 19, 2012 Summer Lane rated it it was amazing
Lucille Ball is my mom’s idol. She loves that woman. She has every biography, every cookbook and every salt and pepper shaker you can imagine emblazoned with a red heart and two stick figures happily smooching. I Love Lucy is the most famous comedy of all time. I never watched television growing up – modern tv, that is – so I have a deep appreciation for past entertainment that not a lot of people my age do. Therefore, it was only a matter of time until the bug of curiosity bit me and I picked u ...more
Jan 26, 2009 Susan rated it it was ok
I still haven't finished this book, and I don't think I am ever going to do so. Too many other novels are calling my name...maybe this summer, but probably not. I'm giving it between a 2 and a 3, but I'm leaning more toward the 2. How can you make Lucy boring?!
Apr 13, 2015 Amie rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It wasn't boring per se, but just didn't feel drawn into it. Lucy was an incredibly interesting woman, a study of contradiction. But, as another reviewer mentioned, it felt like the author listed her entire filmography, with co-stars, and that got old. But I did enjoy it. By the end though, I was kind of reading to be done so I could move on to something else.
Aug 23, 2011 Kevin rated it it was amazing
Early in the run of "I Love Lucy, Ball" gave co-star Vivian Vance a hard time. Vance decided, "If by any chance this thing actually becomes a hit and goes anywhere, I'm gonna learn to love that bitch." She did, and so did the rest of the world. But according to Kanfer's excellent, compulsively readable biography, Ball (1911-1989) was much easier to love from afar (as was Kanfer's previous subject, Groucho Marx).

Despite all the laughter the gifted red-headed comedienne produced, her personal lif
Nov 22, 2014 Jack rated it it was ok
A rather sad tale of superstardom and the search for happiness. Lucy was the original "type A" personality as well as a "mean girl"! The story of how the original 3 camera sitcom was born with Lucy, Desi and the I Love Lucy show was fascinating. I was also curious about how the kids fared in this environment and it was amazing to see where both ended up today based on the upbringing they had (or didn't have!). A depressing read on most counts and the writer seems not to have found anyone to talk ...more
Aug 14, 2007 Becky rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Lucille Ball Fans
Shelves: non-fiction
An avid fan of I Love Lucy, I love bios and I particularly like bios of people I admire. Lucille Ball is perhaps the funniest women in American TV (maybe all TV), but she had some serious issues (hers and that of first husband Desi Arnaz). If you had an entirely positive view of Lucy, this book will tarnish that, so beware.
Michael Rivera
Jul 07, 2007 Michael Rivera rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lucy fans
I learned that Lucille Ball was the total opposite of the Lucy character. Not the most pleasant person to work with and quite demanding.
Margo Johnson
This book was recommended to me by an avid "I Love Lucy" fan. I was intrigued by her description of a real life woman and her husband as less than ideal. Like the biography I read about Laurence Olivier, I was left with a feeling of disappointment.
Lucille Ball was born on August 6, 1911. She began her career in her mid-teens as a chorus girl and model. Her career started to gain traction in the late 1930s. She began to appear in movies with the Three Stooges, Bob Hope, William Holden and Henry F
Sep 05, 2010 Riley rated it liked it
As currently on my desire of reading biographies, I jumped back into the entertainment industry. The selection involved seeing the book and thinking, “I bet that would be an interesting read”. A few tid bits I found funny/interesting;

- Desi’s back ground in Cuba was more privileged that one would think. He was no slum kid from Havana. Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III was the son of a prominent and wealthy Cuban Politician. His father was not only the mayor of a major port, he owned three la
C.S. Burrough
Apr 03, 2014 C.S. Burrough rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
TV comedy mostly irritates the hell out of me, with a few notable exceptions, one in particular being Lucille Ball.

She had that distinct something. I only needed look at her to be triggered into fits of belly laughter. It's a rare gift, we tend to think. But as with so many such greats, Ball's comedic craft was actually the result of decades of hard work. There was little spontaneity in what she excelled at, it was the product of gruelling repetition, so many times did she practice every smalles
Sep 26, 2012 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Quite late did I come to appreciate Lucille Ball. By chance on a recent road trip and overnight stay in Jamestown, New York I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Jamestown was her hometown and where her remains were interred. This is Jamestown, New York not the first English Settlement in Jamestown, Virginia. My wife and I then took the time to visit two homes where she grew up and the modest marker at the family burial plot.

More than 60 years after the beginning of "I Love Lucy" her prog
I'm beginning to see a pattern in the lives of all old Hollywood stars. They had troubling home lives (some kind of parental problem), restless childhood and teenage years before pursuing stardom, working hard to be stars, working hard to maintain said stardom, and the stardom eventually being the root cause of their unhappiness. This poses the question: Is fame really worth it? I don't know. If someone were to call Lucille Ball up from heaven or purgatory or wherever she currently is, would sh ...more
Sep 08, 2009 K rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 07, 2015 Mary rated it really liked it
Very interesting look at the life of Lucille Ball. I've never been a big fan of Lucy's, although I respect her greatly as a businesswoman and producer (I mean, she greenlit "Star Trek.")

To his credit, the author pulls no punches in showing Lucy's many contradictions: longing for love yet incapable of expressing it in a healthy way; desperately wanting children yet farming them out for long hours spent in the studio; a pioneering woman in entertainment who wanted to call the shots at every set s
Jul 23, 2011 Melissa rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
An interesting look at the ups and downs of life as Lucille Ball

"As a movie actress Lucille Ball was, in her own words, “queen of the B-pluses.” But on the small screen she was a superstar–arguably the funniest and most enduring in the history of TV. In this exemplary biography, Stefan Kanfer explores the roots of Lucy’s genius and places it in the context of her conflicted and sometimes bitter personal life. Ball of Fire gives us Lucy in all her contradictions. Here is the beauty who became a m
Feb 28, 2013 Ron rated it really liked it
To any child of the forties or fifties, the main character of this book needs no introduction. Perhaps the level of talent behind the persona does, however. I suspect that the author does about as good a job as anyone can in melding an attempt to both separate the two, while at the same time integrating them and coming out with a unified real person. Kanfer's story telling and biographical depiction of Lucille Ball was fun and easy to like. Harder to enjoy is his description of family life at th ...more
Jan 03, 2010 Emily rated it liked it
This was a really interesting book. I think Lucille Ball is just hilarious; I saw this at the library and just thought it might be fun to learn a little more about her.

The most interesting things I learned in this book were her acting projects before and after 'I Love Lucy'. Of course she had many, I had never heard of them or considered what else she might have done. The author works hard to be unbiased, and often provides us with other biographers' interpretations of events.

Interesting read,
Jan 27, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it
Very interesting from beginning to end - both the biography and the star's life. "Ball of Fire" collects from all the works that have come before it and presents a clear and complete history of the world’s favorite comedienne. Kanfer retells not just the glamorous high points of why Lucy is a beloved star, but also the moments of insecurity and brusqueness that were familiar to Hollywood insiders. Kanfer carries this balanced view through the entire book, finishing with a recap of how Lucy affec ...more
Lucille Ball is one of my favorite female comedians of the 1950's. I thought it would be really great to read a biography about her to see how she started out in her road to fame. It showcases her early childhood years all the way until her death. It not only gives her history on her background of fame , but the struggles she had to endure to get where she is today. This books covers detail about her marriages throughout the years, behind the scenes look at what went on behind the cameras which ...more
Aug 06, 2012 Jordan rated it liked it
I have been watching I Love Lucy for as long as I can remember, and I just adore Lucille Ball! I have always been interested in her and the other shows/movies she has been in, and I was excited to learn more about her. This book provided a vast amount of information, it was pretty detailed and thorough in many places, however, it seemed to lack in the relation of this information. I found it a bit tedious at times, and not as enjoyable as I'd hoped. Overall, the book presented a good deal of inf ...more
Jan 02, 2012 Eva rated it did not like it
Shelves: bios-memoirs
How can it be that Lucille Ball had this lively magnetism and energy and yet this book, devoted to her story was so long, boring, and dull?

I love biographies, I love Lucy, ergo I should love this, but this was painful just terribly long and boring. Somehow the author was able to wipe all the sheen of Lucy's life and bog it down, making it long and tedious, it's like behind the music where you see the nitty gritty except I wasn't riveted.

Good thing is you can continue to Love Lucy without readin
Jul 07, 2012 Roo rated it did not like it
If I had to describe this book in one word: tedious. I felt like it was an assignment and that I "had" to read it. It doesn't seem like any detail of Lucy's professional life was missed, but I think the book would have benefitted from "skipping" some of the specifics. EVERY movie and EVERY costar was mentioned. Maybe it's because I was not a part of the Lucy era, and I didn't recognize many of the names. I actually (dare I say it) was grateful for the part of the book where Lucy died because it ...more
Jan 27, 2016 Adrienne rated it liked it
An avid lover of I Love Lucy, I chose this book because I wanted to lean more about the woman behind the famous red hair. Ball of Fire is an interesting read, with a view into Lucy's private world. At times, the names and places can seem unfamiliar to someone who does not have a vast knowledge of Hollywood's movers and shakers from her time, but all in all, Ball of Fire was a good read and I would recommend it for anyone wanting to know more about Lucy.
May 04, 2014 Angela rated it liked it
I like biographies a lot, and somehow I found this one a bit bland. I can't put my finger on why it felt this way. Perhaps it was the lack of actual subject quotes, as there are very few actual statements from Lucille.

However the subject was very interesting, and I stuck with it to learn about Lucille's rags-to-fame tale. You live on in our hearts, Lucy. You set the bar for every woman in comedy.
Jaime Contreras
This was a decent account of Lucille Ball's fiery life. What I liked about this biography is that it touches on her personal struggles, demons and victories. Always the rebel, Ms. Ball set her own path to success in front of the camera and behind the executive desk. I also enjoyed that the novel provided a perspective of what is was to be Lucille Ball, a bigger than life persona with a heart and a sharp mind It was a solid read that will satisfy her fans.
Jun 02, 2008 Marsha rated it it was amazing
I Love Lucy! Ah the memories - too many hours sitting in front of the telly watching her slapstick comedy. Could not get enough of her. The book revealed such a different side to her. She was savvy, shrewd, controlling, controlled and loved her husband far too much I think. I felt sorry for her - was the constant push for fame and money really worth it?
Sep 18, 2013 Rosemary rated it it was ok
... novelist Jane Smiley remembered a childhood of reruns that entered her house in the morning: "I associate it with the feeling of being pleasantly not at school. Perhaps I saw the small screen (which did not seem at all small to me, since I was sitting cross-legged right in front of it) as a window through which I could look at what people did 'at work' where my mother was.
p. 307
Eli Martinez
May 19, 2011 Eli Martinez added it
Recommends it for: Any Lucille Ball Fan
I LOVE LUCY! Lol, there's a reason why they chose to name the show that. It's very detailed, if you're into that sort of thing (and I am!) It goes a little into the early life of Ball, but focuses mainly on her rise to fame and snips of her subsequent life after show-biz. It's a must read for Lucille Ball fans.
Oct 10, 2012 Shay rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
It was interesting but I did like Love, Lucy better. I especially didn't like the last chapter of this book b/c I felt like it really wasn't needed. I felt like this book dropped a lot of names and most of who I didn't know who they were and it wasn't like they were really needed to be mentioned but were. I would have liked to see more photos through the years then the ones that were shown.
Amber Bolton
Jan 21, 2014 Amber Bolton rated it it was ok
I felt like I was reading more of an index book than a book about her life. It spent more time talking about each movie/show she ever did followed by the year and whoever starred in it. Not much of a personal look into HER. Disappointed.
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Stefan Kanfer is the author of fifteen books, including the bestselling biographies of show business icons: GROUCHO; BALL OF FIRE (Lucille Ball); SOMEBODY (Marlon Brando); and TOUGH WITHOUT A GUN (Humphrey Bogart). He has also written many social histories, among them THE LAST EMPIRE, about the De Beers diamond company, and STARDUST LOST, an account of the rise and fall of the Yiddish Theater in N ...more
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