Picks and Pans Review: Lucille: the Life of Lucille Ball

updated 11/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/14/1994 AT 01:00 AM EST

by Kathleen Brady

If only Lucille Ball's life could have been as carefree as Lucy Ricardo's. But in this engaging biography, that madcap character often seems to exist solely to mock her creator's own thwarted dreams. Beginning with Ball's grim, lonely childhood in Upstate New York and continuing to her brittle, isolated old age, Brady paints a portrait of a woman far more complicated than even Lucy ever dreamed.

Her wild streak appeared early. Frisky and flamboyant, the teenage Lucy took up with a local gambler. Her passion to perform was so strong that, to keep her from running away, her family scraped to send her to a New York City drama school.

Nothing came easy for Lucy. More than 60 films and dozens of studio makeup artists, costumers and publicists could not make her a movie star. When she fell in love, it was with a world-class womanizer, Desi Arnaz, who would deprive her of dignity as he hardened her heart. She tried desperatelv to conceive during their marriage and suffered three miscarriages before becoming a mother at 39.

So it's hard to hate the later Lucy, a tyrant, lousy mother and a wife so frustrated by her husband's blatant disregard that she once hit Desi with a hammer and knocked him out cold. And always Brady offers the softer side: After her friend and mentor, director Ed Sedgwick, died, his widow came to depend on Lucy, "who cleaned her house, bought her clothes and supported her in old age."

In the end, the author suggests, Lucy and Desi "took emotional refuge in the Ricardos, whom they both recognized as people nicer than themselves." So will the reader, who will cherish the Arnazes nonetheless. (Hyperion, $24.95)

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