In her later years, Lucille Ball was still eager to pursue her passion to make audiences laugh — but she was faced with some challenges along the way.
At 75, the “I Love Lucy” star took on the role of Lucille Barker in a new series, “Life with Lucy,” in 1986. The show chronicled how a grandmother manages to get into comedic predicaments while living with her daughter’s family.
“The ‘I Love Lucy’ legacy allowed ‘Life with Lucy’ to happen, but it was a terrible burden,” Ball’s former publicist, Thomas Watson, told Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, currently on newsstands.
“The show was written by the same people that worked on the original ‘I Love Lucy,’” he continued. “They were still writing for that Lucy, instead of a ‘Golden Girls’ kind of character or grandma.”
According to the outlet, the star was optimistic about her latest project. However, she wasn’t prepared for the negative reviews “Life with Lucy” received soon after it premiered.
“They were so bloody,” recalled Ann Dusenberry, who played Ball’s daughter in the series. “So bad and disrespectful. I was hurt for her. They showed no regard that she was an icon.”
“Life with Lucy” was supposed to run for 22 episodes. However, ABC pulled the plug after eight.
“It was so sad and disappointing,” admitted Watson.
Closer Weekly said Ball’s pal Michael Stern noticed she was devastated by the news.
“After an hour, I walked out with her,” he said. “She started bawling.”
“Life with Lucy” was Ball’s last credited role before she passed away in 1989 at age 77 from an aortic dissection. However, Ball was offered numerous roles well into the last three years of her life.
The one role Ball did cherish during her final years was that of grandmother.
“My grandmother was a regular girl from upstate New York,” the star's granddaughter told the magazine.
“She didn’t set out to be anyone’s icon,” shared Luckinbill-Conner, who described the actress as “a really good grandma” when she was growing up.
“I remember her giving me these incredible bubble baths,” she recalled. “She loved to wrap me up in towels and do my hair and makeup. She’d dress me in these silk pajamas and let me take a nap on her California king-size bed — it was just the most expansive, largest thing I’d ever seen in my life!”
Luckinbill-Conner, who at the time was due to give birth to Ball’s first great-grandchild, admitted she wishes the beloved comedienne was still around to meet her new baby. She insisted Ball would have given her firstborn the same amount of love and attention she did.
“She would make a whole adventure happen for me,” said Luckinbill-Conner. “Did I want to go out and swim? Did I want to play in the playhouse outside? Did I want to eat? It felt like my world and she was just living in it.”
Luckinbill-Conner insisted having Ball as a grandma was one of the best experiences she has ever had. She shared that even as a child, Ball shared no-nonsense life lessons on what it meant to be a successful woman.
“She wanted to be a mom, and she wanted to be a wife,” she said. “She also wanted to be an actress and a comedian, and she was determined to do it all. She was humble and she was a real person who just didn’t take no for an answer.”
Luckinbill-Conner isn’t the only one to have such fond memories of the “I Love Lucy” icon.
Watson, also told the outlet that one of his favorite memories was simply witnessing the love she had for her co-star and ex-husband, Desi Arnaz.
Ball and Arnaz’s on-screen collaboration ended with their divorce in 1960. The former couple spent 20 years together and welcomed two children: Lucie Arnaz, 67, and Desi Arnaz Jr., 66. The Cuban entertainer died in 1986.
“They were the best thing for each other and the worst thing for each other,” said Watson. “They could push all the wrong buttons and all the right ones. It’s just, they were better off apart at the end. For whatever reason, the first marriage didn’t work out. [But] she didn’t throw him away. They became good friends because they had kids in common.”
After the couple called it quits, Ball found love again with second husband Gary Morton. The pair tied the knot in 1961. Arnaz also remarried to Edith Mack Hirsch in 1963. And while the romantic relationship with Ball and Arnaz was over, their close bond and admiration endured until Arnaz’s passing at age 69 from lung cancer.
“That to me, is a real lesson in life,” said Watson about Ball and Arnaz’s relationship over the years. “Because a lot of times, when people get divorced or break up, they don’t ever want to see that person again, and they fight for years. They sort of forget that they once meant the world to each other. I can’t say that the day after the divorce they were that way. But after a cooling-off period that was relatively short, they went on with their lives as friends.”
Watson added that Ball and Arnaz were just like “steak and ice cream,” or two different meals you can love at the same time.
“They recognized the fact, 'OK, this is where we need to be now,'” he said. “But they never lost their affection for each other, ever.”