Internationally recognized for her trademark red hair, would you believe that the first lady of comedy was once a blonde?
Lucille Ball was actually born a natural brunette, but it wasn’t long before the young, aspiring performer transitioned to platinum to book more modeling jobs, as was standard procedure for several up-and-coming starlets and models during her time.
Her first time as a blonde was somewhere during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. Lucille modeled coats for a Seventh Avenue boutique before being hired to model at Hattie Carnegie’s dress shop at just nineteen years old.
So with this information in mind, we know that Lucille was actually blonde before she even came to Hollywood in 1933. Throughout the 1930’s, the “Jean Harlow look” was all the rage. Starlets were advised to bleach their hair and shave off their eyebrows. Nearly every studio across Hollywood at the time was attempting to recreate the success of Harlow in many of their new contract players by imitating her look.
For her first movie role, twenty-two year old Lucille donned a nearly knee-length platinum wig. She was one of the twelve Goldwyn Girls in Eddie Cantor’s film Roman Scandals. It was her first project upon entering Hollywood; she had been signed on the spot in New York where by chance she was discovered by agent Sylvia Halo, who had recognized Lucille as the girl on the Chesterfield cigarettes poster. From there, Lucille kept her blonde locks for the next three years, only going back to brunette for another film, but again went back to blonde soon after.
Newspaper article from 1938:
Newspaper article from 1941:
Lucille spent the majority of the 1930’s as a blonde. By 1935, she was signed to RKO Pictures, a studio she and her husband Desi Arnaz would come to own later in 1957. Lucille was not like her fellow contract players. Most starlets shuddered at the thought of looking like a clown in front of the camera with crazy comedic stunts. These jobs were left to Lucy, who was eager to work and just happy to be participating in anything the studios had to offer. Her star build up at RKO was an important part of her budding career. Although she started out with bit roles, as did most starlets, she was landing larger films. She appeared in minor roles in three Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers productions: Roberta, Top Hat, and Follow The Fleet. Through her time at RKO, Lucille developed an important friendship with Ginger and also Ginger’s mother, Lela Rogers. Lela Rogers soon became a driving force for the beginning of Lucy’s career. Lucille, along with the other aspiring actors on the lot, attended the drama classes taught by Lela, who also acted as Ginger’s manager and was an important influence at the studio. Later in the 1960’s, Lucille would resume those classes in Lela’s place, teaching other young, hopeful performers. When RKO’s plans were to terminate Lucille’s contract after only six months, Lela would have none of it. She believed in Lucy’s talent, and famously threatened RKO that if they were going to fire Lucy, Lela herself would also leave and begin managing Lucy as she did Ginger. Needless to say, the studio immediately rehired Lucille.
“[Lela] assisted a great many people and, in fact, literally saved Lucille Ball’s career. The studio told my mother they were thinking of letting Lucy go. My mother said firmly, ‘You fire Lucy … then I’ll quit. Lucille Ball is one of the most promising youngsters on this lot. If you’re stupid enough to do that, the minute you let her go, I’ll snap her up and take her to another studio and see that she gets the roles she deserves.’” -Ginger Rogers, “My Story”
After going through another brief brunette period in 1939, Lucille went blonde once again from 1940-1942 for a few more films, including Too Many Girls, Look Who’s Laughing, and Valley of the Sun. The last film she completed as a blonde was Seven Days Leave in 1942, before finally settling on that famous red shade we know today, first showcased in the MGM musical Du Barry Was A Lady from 1943.
In 1948, her hair was described as “strawberry blonde”:
You may not think “blonde” when you think of Lucille Ball, but she most assuredly deserves to be recognized as a classic blonde.