BWW Book Reviews: I HAD A BALL: MY FRIENDSHIP WITH LUCILLE BALL
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by Michael T. Mooney
I HAD A BALL: MY FRIENDSHIP WITH Lucille Ball by Michael Z. Stern
When I was a couch potato kid in the 70's I couldn't imagine anything more fun than being part of Lucy Ricardo's crazy schemes. During "I Love Lucy"'s twice a day airings, I dreamed of stomping grapes in Italy, stuffing chocolates down my shirt, selling Vitameatavegamin, or disguising myself in crazy costumes to break into show business. I wanted to be friends with Lucy. Little did I know that on the other side of the country, Michael Stern was doing just that. Not Lucy Ricardo the TV character, but the real Lucy: Lucille Ball, the queen of comedy. In his book I HAD A BALL: MY FRIENDSHIP WITH Lucille Ball, Stern recounts how he went from fan to friend of the world famous redhead. In 1971, 10 year-old Stern attended a taping of "Here's Lucy", Ball's third television series. By chance he was sitting next to Lucy's mother DeDe, who attended every one of her daughter's shows. That casual encounter led to Stern's first backstage introduction to the star. Stern eventually became known on the lot as Lucy's 'number one fan' - a fact recognized by Ball herself. As time goes by Ball accepts this young fan into her personal life as well, until he becomes a welcome visitor in her Beverly Hills home.
Stern has a journalistic memory for detail. He remembers with amazing clarity the circumstances of his time spent with the star. For a biographical memoire, he unexpectedly avoids delving into his personal life except where it intersects with Ball's. Like husband Desi Arnaz six decades earlier with "I Love Lucy", Stern realizes that despite being the "I" in I HAD A BALL, it is Lucy who is the focus. He also skillfully skirts the trap of painting his icon with an overly sentimental brush. Stern's place in Ball's life was truly unique: neither business associate nor family. Despite the great difference in age, the two eventually managed a relationship that is the true definition of friend. Stern sees firsthand the great star experience the accolades and disappointments that came late in her career. Little has been written about Ball's final foray into television, "Life With Lucy". It's cancellation was hard to accept by Ball, thinking that the world had stopped loving Lucy. By then Stern had intimate access to his idol and he manages to show her vulnerability as well as her reluctant acceptance of aging.
Most of all, Michael Stern never lets us forget how lucky he is to have known this great lady. Although there have been many books about Lucille Ball, Stern's is unique as it's only agenda is to share with us his unlikely friendship with one of the world's most recognized women. As a fan myself, I truly appreciate this rare inside account of my favorite funny lady. Okay, I'm also a little jealous, too! But mostly the book made me feel content to know that a megastar like Lucy - often depicted as a 'tough cookie' - had the comfort that comes with such friendship. I HAD A BALL is a book for anyone who truly loved Lucy.