Favorite Stars in ‘B’ Movies Blogathon- Lucille Ball, “Queen of the Bs”

Today Lucille Ball is widely regarded as a legend and the Queen of Comedy. Prior to her legend-making role as Lucy Ricardo in the pioneering sitcom I Love Lucy, Lucy was considered royalty in a less esteemed field–Queen of the ‘B’ movies. A ‘B’ movie does not necessarily mean that it is bad or lesser, it is just a film not given the prestige of A-list above the title type stars, the big directors, and the big budgets. During the studio era, films were often shown on a double bill. A newsreel, cartoon, and short film or serial would be shown first, followed by the B movie, and ending with the headliner, or an A film. B movies were also known as “programmers.”

Lucille Ball, Queen of the Bs

Lucille Ball toiled away for a few years in uncredited and small bit roles at RKO before she was finally given a small supporting role in the A-list production, Stage Door (1937), starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. This film put Ball on the map and RKO started giving her leading roles in their B-list productions. Her first starring role was as Annabel Allison in The Affairs of Annabel (1938), co-starring Jack Oakie. In the film, Oakie plays Annabel’s agent who keeps getting her involved in one zany publicity scheme after another to promote her latest acting project. ‘Affairs’ was followed up by the sequel, Annabel Takes a Tour (1938). RKO originally intended to turn the Annabel films into a serial, but the project was aborted when Jack Oakie wanted more money.

After Annabel, Lucy starred in one B film after another, Go Chase Yourself (1938). In this film, Lucy plays the wife of a man who is mistaken for a bank robber and ends up in a high-speed police pursuit. In another film, The Next Time I Marry (1938), Lucy plays a woman who is set to inherit $20 million if she marries an American. She is in love however, with a Count from another country. Lucy meets an American man and convinces him to marry her. Eventually she ends up trapped in a trailer a la The Long Long Trailer (1954). In an excellent B film, Beauty for the Asking (1939), Lucy plays an entrepreneur who ends up inventing a new face cream after being dumped by her boyfriend, Patric Knowles. Lucy also appeared in another fantastic B-movie, Five Came Back. In this film, she plays a loose woman who ends up being a passenger on a plane that crashes in the jungle. After the plane is fixed, it is revealed that only 5/9 passengers can return home.

Lucille Ball in another B movie, Look Who’s Laughing (1941)

Lucy continued to appear in B films at RKO through the early 1940s. In fact, by the early 1940s, she had appeared in so many B movies, she earned the nickname, “Queen of the Bs.” One of the most pivotal B movies that she appeared in was Too Many Girls (1940), co-starring a young 23-year old Cuban named Desi Arnaz. Lucy and Desi met on set and it was love at first sight. She would later appear in the very charming A Girl, A Guy and A Gob (1941), co-starring a young and adorable (!) Edmond O’Brien, and George Murphy who plays a character named Coffee Cup. This is a great movie and I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, despite how awesome A Girl, A Guy and A Gob is, it was not a film that was going to elevate Lucy to A-list star status.

Despite appearing in dozens of starring roles by the early 1940s, Lucy had yet to get that one part that would change her career. There was no Morning Glory (1933; Katharine Hepburn’s first Oscar-winning role), or Of Human Bondage (1934; Bette Davis’ breakthrough part), or Captain Blood (1935; Errol Flynn’s breakthrough, star-making role) in her future. Lucy had proven herself a capable comedienne. She also had demonstrated excellent dramatic skills in films such as Dance Girl Dance (1940). This woman had “it.” She was gorgeous. She was talented. She had everything that any of her contemporaries had. So why couldn’t RKO make her a real star?

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in Too Many Girls (1940). Lucy and Desi would marry and buy RKO in 1957.

In 1943, Lucy left RKO and moved to MGM. Despite the move, she continued to appear in one film after another that really didn’t do much for her career. The biggest impact MGM made was dying her hair its signature shade of red. Later, she worked at a variety of different studios and made a lot of great films: Lured (1947), The Dark Corner (1946), Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949); but nothing made her a star. It would take her CBS radio show, My Favorite Husband, where she portrayed the first incarnation of Lucy Ricardo (albeit with a different name, Liz Cooper) to finally give her the break she needed. The success of My Favorite Husband led to being offered a television show. And thanks to Lucy and Desi’s tenacity, that television show ended up being I Love Lucy–which finally gave her the break she wanted and deserved.

Fast forward to 1957, Lucy and Desi, now the owners of the highly successful Desilu Studios television production company, were able to purchase the failing RKO Studios–the very studio that couldn’t make Lucille Ball into a movie star. Thanks to the new medium of television, Lucille Ball, the former “Queen of the Bs” was now “The First Lady of Television” and the “Queen of Comedy.”


13 thoughts on “Favorite Stars in ‘B’ Movies Blogathon- Lucille Ball, “Queen of the Bs”

  1. I agree with your post– Lucille Ball was a wonderful actress, and it’s a shame no studio could or would maker her into an A-List star. She not only had proven comedy talent, but also real dramatic acting chops (as in Lured, The Dark Corner, or Easy Living with Victor Mature). It took the small screen for her to become a superstar. She was a one-of-a-kind talent and we were blessed to have her perform!


  2. John L. Harmon

    A nice tribute to Lucille Ball before she became Lucy ricardo to the world!

    I haven’t seen too many of Lucy’s films, but thank you for reminding me of the dark corner. That is one I’ve been interested inseeing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoyed reading this salute to one of my favorites, Kayla. You named numerous movies that I’ve never seen — I definitely want to check out A Girl, A Guy and A Gob, Beauty for the Asking, and Five Came Back. I recently bought Dance, Girl, Dance after hearing it discussed on a podcast, so I’m looking forward to that one, too. Good stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brian Schuck

    Kayla, thanks so much sharing this great overview of Lucille Ball’s film career with the blogathon! I’ve seen her noirs, The Dark Corner and Lured, but it’s apparent that there are some very worthy comedies that I need to catch up on, like Miss Grant Takes Richmond. I was also surprised to see that she was in Five Came Back; I keep running across this film and have been intrigued by it, but didn’t realize Ball was in it.

    Of course, as a huge fan of the original Star Trek, I will always revere Lucille Ball as the savior of the show. She kept investing in it through two expensive pilots, and against the advice of nearly everyone, and was instrumental in bringing it to TV.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Miss Grant Takes Richmond is great. It definitely showcases Lucy’s skills as a comedienne and foreshadows her iconic Lucy Ricardo character. If you’re interested in her comedies, I highly recommend you check out “The Fuller Brush Girl.” It features Lucy in a very funny role with Eddie Albert providing support. Lucy and Eddie have a great scene where they get drunk hiding inside of a wine barrel.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great rundown of Lucille Ball’s career! I’m so glad she and Desi stuck with each other long enough to bring us I Love Lucy and get Ball the fandom she deserves.

    I think the only B picture of Ball’s I’ve seen is The Dark Corner, which surprised me with how good and how rewatchable it is. Sometimes B noirs rely on more shock value than I appreciate, but that one has some great character development going on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love Lucy and Desi. It’s a shame that ultimately they weren’t able to make their marriage work. If you liked “The Dark Corner,” I highly recommend “Lured.” Lucy plays a taxi dancer who is enlisted to help investigate the murder of her friend and she’s fantastic.


  6. Excellent overview of Lucille Ball’s film career. She was so good in Stage Door and Five Came Back. I always wondered why MGM didn’t give her better films that may have made her an A list star. She was good in DuBarry Was a Lady, but the film itself was kind of lackluster. I loved her in Best Foot Forward. Another one of her RKO films was The Big Street, costarring Henry Fonda. I haven’t seen it in years, but it was a good, strong role for her.


    1. Lucy was excellent in The Big Street. She was definitely cast against type in that one and she was really good. Stage Door and/or The Big Street should have been her big break.

      I agree about DuBarry Was a Lady. It is more notable for having Gene Kelly in a supporting role in addition to Lucy.

      Even in a bad film, Lucy was usually the best part.


  7. Michael

    An entertaining look at Ms. Ball’s early career. Having grown up on re-runs of I Love Lucy and her physical comedy it is always a bit of a shock to see her in some of these early films. She could be quite glamourous. Were it not for the comedy path her career took, I could easily see her as an A-list dramatic lead.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s