Weird History

True Stories From Lucille Ball's Troubled Childhood

I Love Lucy is one of the most beloved sitcoms of all time, but the life of Lucille Ball was full of almost as much suffering as success. Ball came from an economically disadvantaged background, with a variety of toxic familial and romantic relationships. It took hard work, resilience, and a little luck for Ball to thrive beyond the difficulties life handed her.

Perhaps inspired by the struggles of her youth, Lucille Ball became one of the world's favorite comedians. We all know the remarkable happiness she brought to the world, but these lesser-known stories from Ball's youth are full of rebellion, conflict, and tragedy.

  • Her Father Passed When She Was 3 Years Old
    Photo: George Rinhart/Contributor / Corbis Historical/Getty Images

    Her Father Passed When She Was 3 Years Old

    On August 6, 1911, Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, NY, to Henry "Had" Durrell Ball and Desiree "DeDe" Evelyn Hunt Ball. A few years later, Had caught a case of typhoid fever after he ate ice cream made from unpasteurized dairy.

    Had passed on February 28, 1915, when he was 28; his daughter was 3 years old.

  • Her Stepfather's Stern Parents Raised Her Until She Was 11

    In 1918, Ball's mother, DeDe, got remarried to a man named Ed Peterson, who reportedly disliked young children. Ball's maternal grandparents ended up raising Ball's younger brother, Fred, while Ball went to live with Peterson's stern parents.

    According to Ball, her stepfather's parents did not have enough income to afford basic goods, including school supplies. Ball reunited with her mother when she was 11 years old.

  • Her Father's Passing Gave Her A Fear Of Birds
    Photo: RKO Pictures/CINELANDIA Magazine / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Her Father's Passing Gave Her A Fear Of Birds

    Though Ball was only 3 years old when her father departed February 28, 1915, she developed distinct and traumatic memories on that fateful day. Ball recalled that a framed picture fell from the wall, and a bird found its way into the house through a window.

    The bird got stuck, flapping around frantically. This experience gave Ball an enduring fear of birds as she grew older.

  • Her Childhood Friend Accidentally Shot A Young Boy

    On July 4, 1927, Ball's grandfather took her, Fred, and Fred's friend named Johanna to shoot a rifle at tin cans. Tragically, their young neighbor suddenly sprung up when it was Joanna's turn to fire, and the bullet struck the boy's spine.

    The boy became paralyzed, and his family successfully sued Ball's grandfather, devastating his finances. Ball later said, "My grandfather never worked again. The heart went out of him. It ruined Celoron [a town in New York] for us; it destroyed our life together there."