Today, Saturday August 6th, marks what would have been Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday. While best known as the star of the groundbreaking sitcom I Love Lucy, Lucile Ball was also instrumental in getting Star Trek off the ground. If Gene Roddenberry is the father of Star Trek, then Ball is sort of Trek’s godmother.
Lucille Ball, Desilu and Star Trek
In 1950 Lucille Ball, along with her husband Desi Arnaz, created Desilu Productions. The company grew with the huge success of their sitcom I Love Lucy and after the their divorce in 1960 Ball bought out Arnaz’s interest in the company. Fast-forward to 1964 and Desilu hired Herb Solow to foster new projects and one of the first new shows was Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek.
After making two pilots for Star Trek, Solow had got finally got a commitment from NBC in 1965, but there was a snag. At the time networks began to change the way they paid for TV shows, now only covering 80% of costs and leaving the rest to the studios. In addition Star Trek was working out to be an expensive show to make, budgeted at $200,000 per episode as opposed to an average of $160,000. This meant that Desilu would have to cover $40,000 (around $275,000 today) for each episode, and more if they went over budget. So their only hope to make a profit would be via foreign sales or syndication–a risky proposition at the time. Inside Desilu there was considerable debate as to whether or not to take that risk on Star Trek (and Mission: Impossible, another expensive show which Solow had sold to CBS).
Lucille Ball in 1965
In his book "Inside Star Trek: The Real Story" (written with Star Trek producer Bob Justman) Solow describes a fateful meeting with Ball:
I had the series order from NBC. I had a die-hard group of professionals to make the series. I had a lot of sleepless nights. Now all I needed was the financial support of the studio elders, the very conservative Desilu loyalists. This would all start, and end, with America’s favorite redhead, Lucille Ball herself.
Before the board meeting I’d laid it out to the owner of Desilu: "You’ll always have a show, Lucy, with the same actors, the same staff, the same people to write and direct. Everyone will be happy. The studio will keep renting space to other shows. So fame isn’t a problem and money isn’t a problem. But wouldn’t you like to rebuild Desilu’s prestige, importance, and value as a major player? Wouldn’t it be great to have two exciting and successful Desilu television shows on the air?"
So it was up to the third Lucy. Forget about Lucy Ricardo’s "Vita-meeta-veg-emins" and those chocolates coming down the conveyor belt and Lucy crushing grapes with her feet. Forget Ricky Ricardo and his "Ba-ba-loo" band. Don’t even think about Fred and Ethel Mertz. Forget about all the fluff about President Lucy, the brilliant executive, the Hollywood Mogul. On this day, she could be the real Lucy, the one who represented talent, hated confrontation, and held the future of a lot of people in her grasp. "Say ‘yes,’ Lucy and we’ll all go to work."
Lucy nodded. And we all went to work. The inmates had the key to the asylum.
In 1967, while Star Trek was still in production and still losing money, Ball sold Desilu to Gulf+Western, the the parent company of Paramount Pictures. With the Paramount lot being right next door to Desilu they just knocked down the wall and merged the studios. In the end, Lucy’s gamble paid off for Paramount as they eventually began to reap big rewards off Star Trek in syndication. And the rest, as they say, is history.
So today we at TrekMovie remember Lucille Ball for having faith in Star Trek along with Gene Roddenberry, Herb Solow, Robert Justman, and the rest of the "inmates." Without Lucy, we may have never been taken to the final frontier.
Closing credit logos for Desilu and Paramount seen in Star Trek reruns
Wow, never heard of that connection before!
Well, I love Lucy. Happy 100th, Ms Ball!
What’s going on with my comments?
I just said that I liked the article! …
No doubt. I’m glad she gave it a go. Happy hundred, Lucy!
1 — Yup. And later stories tell of Ms. Ball’s commitment to keeping both “Star Trek” and “Mission Impossible” in production when the accountants at Desilu admonished her about both series’ production costs and lack of profit. Ms. Ball said simply, “I like ’em; they’re staying,” or words to that effect.
Just one more — major — reason to love Lucy.
I Love Lucy ;)…..Thaks for Star Trek / Gracias por Star Trek.
Thank you, Lucy.
Yes thank you Lucy- I met her when I was a little girl. I was about 7 or 8 at the time. We were at a very nice restaurant on top of a skyscraper in Dayton Oh. Black tie event- She was kind to me. I told her how much I enjoyed her tv shows and she said “Well, honey that’s good because you have a lot of reruns to enjoy!” LOL I won’t forget that.
She (Desilu) did “I Spy’ with Culp and Cosby as well.
I like the story I’ve heard, (and I think it was in her words if I’m not mistaken) of how she was told the name of the show and thought Star Trek was about the travels of a movie star. She evidently didn’t really know what she was signing off on and was surprised when she saw it.
Lucy gave a quote from those days I still use and adhere to myself, “if you want to get something done give the assignmentt to someone who has no time. They’ll find a way to get it done”.
True words. Happy birthday Lucy.
It was for Lucy that Star Trek was explained as “Wagon Train to the Stars.”
Thank you, Lucy!
Thank you Lucy, and all who followed from her first steps.
Keep the Dream alive.
I love Lucy! Thank you much wherever you are!
You might have used certain words that can not be said on this website. They include po_n, hea_th insur_nce, and certain um, miracle drugs for men.
Lucy, you don’t have any explaining to do. Thanks for Star Trek. And if you want to check out her work today, there’s a “I Love Lucy” marathon on the Hallmark Channel. Plus Turner Classic Movies has dug through the vault to run some of the movies she has appeared in.
Star Trek loves Lucy, indeed.
Thank you, Lucy.
Wow. I’ve heard a ton of Trek trivia over the years, but I must admit I’ve *never* heard of the direct influence Lucille Ball had over the literal decision to make Star Trek. If she truly thought it was a show about the travels of a celebrity, it has to be one of the happiest accidents in entertainment history.
While the project was in early development Ball did think “Star Trek” was about USO tours with “stars trekking to the south seas” but by the time they needed her to pull the trigger on the show they had shot two pilots and she was well aware it was a scifi show.
I’m sure Lucy was cool with sci-fi, too. Remember the episode where her and Ethel dress as Martians?
We love you, Lucy!!!
For those who never heard this common knowledge before, I REALLY suggest reading the best Start Trek memoir, “Inside Star Trek: The Real Story”.
Put down the phony histories, the fake timelines, the imaginary technical manuals, the self-serving celebrity biographies, and read how your favorite show actually got made by the behind-the-scenes people who actually made it.
IIRC I read one story about her regarding to the Star Trek set. At one time, the set crew forgot to clean up sand from the set, so Lucy stepped up to sweep sands away from the set.
Cool story, thanks for sharing this one in particular.
Happy Birthday, Lucy! This year marks not only the 60th anniversary of ‘I Love Lucy’, but also the 45th anniversary of ‘Star Trek’, not just the original series. Happy Anniversary, ‘Lucy’ and ‘Trek’!
An anecdote from Solow’s book is quoted in Memory Alpha’s article on “The Cage”, telling that Solow delivered Roddenberry’s script to Lucy in her dressing room before the pilot was shot. Much later, when he found her in the same room to tell her NBC’s reaction the pilot, he noticed the script lying undisturbed where he’d left it.
Lucy may not have been interested in what Star Trek was about, but consider that a studio head who was more of a micro-manager might well have killed it or ruined it with tinkering. Lucy hired and trusted the judgment of great talent. The results speak for themselves, not only in Star Trek but in many other shows that became classics and were remade in one form or another in later decades.
I’ve always loved Lucille Ball as a comedian, and even more so since I found out that she was largely responsible for getting Star Trek made and onto TV screens in the US and abroad. That lady was bright and funny. Happy Birthday, Lucy. You are truly missed. RIP.
I’ll always love Lucy. She is timeless.
And, of course, Lucy’s son in law played Sybok! :)
Wish she’d done a guest shot. Maybe Cirano Jones coulda been a whacky redhead chasing tribbles all over K-7. Dunno. I can only imagine.
Decloaking . . .
All hail LUCY in the sky with Trek in her eyes.
And thanks to Anthony for giving her her much deserved, and seldom given, due.
Great post! Make a nice change from our usual news bulletins. Great artcile guys!
I would like to be the first to say they should put Lucille Ball in the next Star Trek movie, perhaps a hologram of some sort Spock wears around his neck…
If she’d lived as long as her great friend Bob Hope, she’d have celebrated her 100th for real
Thanks Lucy!! :)
Thank you Lucy!!!!
So, Lucy’s son in law is Spock’s brother?
Lawarnce Luckenbill married Lucy’s daughter.
I love Lucy and the family.
Live long and prosper.
Something else Lucy is not often credited for is the recording for post-production technique. She had the producers of her show go with a three camera shoot during tapings so they could choose the best shots and edit them into the show. Thanks Lucy. Let er’ roll!
I’ve never heard that story before…very ‘fascinating’, to coin a phrase. Happy 100th Lucy, and thanks Anthony for a really great story.
Ha…”TOS was a low-budget show” my ass!
Finished reading Inside Star Trek by Mr Solow and Justman
Of course the other Star Trek tie which everyone missed on this page is the fact that little Lucy is married to Sybok (Lawrence Luckinbill)! (They are family friends)
#40- agreed, i have read it a few times and its always enjoyable, and is a reminder (to paraphrase Mike Okuda, I think) of not only our heros on the screen, but the real heros behind the scenes that made it all happen.
Not only was Star Trek fostered by Desilu, but other great shows like the Dick Van Dyke Show and The Andy Griffith Show which are now considered to be some of the great classic show of American tv.
#16. Basement Blogger…
No way… probably because I was using mobile internet on my laptop for a while… I updated my data and is ok now!…
And, thank you Lucy!
Correct me if Im wrong, but didn’t Desilu also do the Dick Van Dyke show? That was another successful series and I seem to remember Desilu being part of it.
Herb Solow also put together a documentary based on “Inside Star Trek: The Real Story”. It’s out there, if you’ve still got a VHS player that works.
I remember there was a story from James Goldstone on that, who directed the second pilot WNMHGB. About how the production was running over schedule and Lucy came down to the set to pitch in to help.
I believe it’s in the same book that Herb Solow tells another story about Lucy coming down to help sweep the stage in between shots during the filming of the first “Trek” pilot to help keep them on schedule.
Also, a good friend of mine acted in one of the color “Lucy” shows back in the day. He said that she was a real pro and did not tolerate fools easily. If you were going to work for her, you’d better know what you’re doing.
There was a complex shot that involved a lot of people and floor effects. My friend was supposed to run full tilt through a breakaway wall which was more of a stunt. Well he timed it right and did what he was told, but someone left a 2 X 4 behind the breakaway wall where it shouldn’t have been and my friend was knocked out cold. He woke up with Lucy holding his head in her lap. The crew member that left the 2 X 4 behind caught holy hell!
A couple of weeks later my friend went to pick up his check. It was 3 – 4 times more than he expected to be paid. He thought it was a mistake so he asked to speak with Lucy. She told him that she had made a stunt adjustment and added a bonus for him being such a pro on the set.
47. Great story and congrats on getting the lucky number. :)
The answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything… adjusted for inflation.
47 being the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything? You must mean 42, surely?
OK, I forgot about the inflation bit…;)
Lucille Ball – one cool, talented, intelligent and not too bad a looking lady either!
That is a great story. Love that kind of stuff.