Weird History

How Lucille Ball Went From Rags To Riches Through Pure Hustle And Red Hair Dye  

Erin McCann
41.1k views 13 items

Before I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball encountered many hardships. Neither loss, poverty, nor harsh critique stunted young Lucille Ball, however. She believed in herself and had an unwavering desire to become an actress. Her looks helped her enter Hollywood, but her determination allowed her to flourish.

Ball was born in 1911, and her youthful curiosity sometimes impeded her. In fact, the aspiring star occasionally found herself relegated to the yard and attached to the clothesline so she wouldn't cause trouble. After her father's passing, Ball's mother remarried and moved away, leaving the young child in the care of her step-grandmother.

Ball decided to become an actress and moved to New York City at age 15. Things didn't go quite as planned, but she did find work as a model. This led to other opportunities, including appearances in 72 Hollywood films. Eventually, a lot of hard work and a little red hair dye changed Ball's life. She became a household name and turned her rags into riches.

The Teachers At Her Acting Sch... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list How Lucille Ball Went From Rags To Riches Through Pure Hustle And Red Hair Dye
Photo:  The Big Street/Warner Bros.
The Teachers At Her Acting School Didn't Believe She Had Any Talent

Ball knew she wanted to be an actress from a young age, and at 15 she enrolled in the John Murray Anderson School for Dramatic Arts in New York. Her love of acting didn't initially translate into talent, however, and the school repeatedly suggested Ball find another course of study. Ball's mother once received a letter from the school that read, "Lucy's wasting her time and ours. She's too shy and reticent to put her best foot forward."

Ball attributed some of her shyness to the fact that a young Bette Davis was among her classmates, leading her to feel a little less confident about herself. "I was a tongue-tied teenager spellbound by the school's star pupil," the actress admitted, but she refused to give up.

Although several Broadway chorus lines turned her down, Ball worked as a waitress until she finally landed a part in a stage production of Rio Rita in 1927.

She Changed Her Name And Start... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list How Lucille Ball Went From Rags To Riches Through Pure Hustle And Red Hair Dye
Photo:  Three Little Pigskins/Sony Pictures
She Changed Her Name And Started Modeling

Thinking a classier name might earn her more work, Ball adopted the name Diane Belmont, allegedly inspired by the famous Belmont Park horseracing track in Long Island. She also bleached her hair platinum blonde to match the styles considered most attractive at the time.

The changes failed to jumpstart Ball's acting career, but she did begin to land some modeling gigs. Ball started modeling hats for Hattie Carnegie and dresses on Seventh Avenue, eventually earning $35 a week for her work. She also booked some work posing for commercial illustrators and photographers.

Chesterfield Used Her Likeness... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list How Lucille Ball Went From Rags To Riches Through Pure Hustle And Red Hair Dye
Photo:  Stage Door/Warner Bros.
Chesterfield Used Her Likeness On Their Products

During her time as a model, Ball occasionally posed for painters and photographers. One man painted Ball in a borrowed chiffon dress and sold the work to Chesterfield Cigarettes in 1933. Soon after, Ball became the new face of the brand.

Billboards featuring her smiling face appeared all over town, making her increasingly popular. Agents finally considered her a person of interest.

She Temporarily Left Modeling ... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list How Lucille Ball Went From Rags To Riches Through Pure Hustle And Red Hair Dye
Photo:  RKO Pictures
She Temporarily Left Modeling Because Of A Possible Case Of Rheumatoid Arthritis

While working as a model in New York City, Ball pushed herself hard and eventually developed pneumonia. She refused to take time off, and became feverish during a fitting, complaining about intense pain in her legs. Doctors diagnosed Ball with rheumatoid arthritis, so she returned home to Upstate New York to recuperate.

It's entirely possible doctors misdiagnosed the young hopeful, though. They didn't have advanced tests to chart the inflammatory condition. Moreover, her pain went away after a few years and Ball showed none of the joint deformities usually caused by arthritis. Rheumatic fever, which causes joint pain and fever, may have struck the starlet. But she returned to her career as soon as she could.