FOR 45 YEARS, TELEVISION HAS been the appliance which, left on long enough, will inevitably bring us the redhead. Here she is, swilling Vitameatavegamin on I Love Lucy. There she goes, accidentally dousing costar Gale Gordon with cold water on The Lucy Show. But when Lucille Ball died after heart surgery in 1989 at the age of 78, the world believed it had heard the last from the lady herself. All that remained, it seemed, were reruns.
Leave it to Lucy to have the final word. Early this month, book publishers had already made offers—expected to be in the $1 million range—for the rights to Ball's autobiography. News of the 312-page memoir, written in the early '60s by a longtime associate working with Ball, became public on New Year's Day. But the tangled tale of how the book got to the auction block has yet to be fully unraveled.
Ball's still-untitled book traces her life from her hardscrabble childhood in Jamestown, N.Y., through her divorce from Desi Arnaz in 1960 and marriage to comic Gary Morton in 1961. Working with the book's writer, Howard McClay, her publicity director, who died in 1980, Ball set down her memories with so little fanfare that Morton said two weeks ago, "The first I read about it was in USA Today." The manuscript apparently lay forgotten until 1994, when McClay's son Michael, 46, found an old photocopied version in a file drawer in his parents' home. "The manuscript had her handwritten notes in the margins," says McClay, an advertising consultant in Studio City, Calif., who recently published his own coffee-table book, I Love Lucy. "Sometimes she'd draw a big X through a page and just write, 'NO!' "
McClay says that when he found the book, he sent a copy to Ball's daughter, actress Lucie Arnaz, 44, at her home in Katonah, N.Y. Publishing sources, though, say he was soon approaching publishers on his own. Sue Carswell, a senior editor at Pocket Books, says she passed on the manuscript in 1994 because "it was boring. There was no humor." Mel Parker, a vice president at Warner Books, says Warner made an offer in "the low six figures" in '94. But then a question of ownership of the manuscript arose between McClay and Arnaz, and peddling of the book was put on hold. Shortly thereafter, the two teamed up, reaching an agreement to share in the proceeds from any sale of the book. Arnaz would be the one, as McClay puts it, "to carry the banner," editing the work and writing a preface. Last fall, Arnaz hired literary agent Dan Strone, at William Morris in New York City, to shop the book. News of the memoir finally broke when Publisher's Weekly columnist Maureen O'Brien revealed the upcoming rights auction this month.
For now, Arnaz is not commenting on the book—Strone says his client does not "want to be perceived as being in the Lucy business"—though she did tell O'Brien that it has detailed information about Ball's childhood and attitude, postdivorce, toward Desi. Lucie's brother, actor Desi Arnaz Jr., 43, also has nothing to say.
And Lucy fans? Most will probably agree with biographer Kathleen Brady, author of Lucille (1994), who says simply, "I can't wait to read it."
On Newsstands Now
- Amy Robach: 'I'm Lucky to Be Alive'
- Paul Walker: Inside His Tragic Death
- Julia Roberts: Choosing Family Over Hollywood
Pick up your copy on newsstands
Click here for instant access to the Digital Magazine