I Am Lucille Ball, by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos
Does making people laugh make one a hero? I don’t think so, unless one was a comic in a World War II concentration camp or gulag who kept the prisoners in stitches, that is. But Lucille Ball did not face that kind of difficulty. To be sure, she was a very funny lady and she deserves to be remembered well, and for episodes of “I Love Lucy” to be shown as they are on repeats more than 50 years after the show was on television. But while that is a demonstration of her talent, it is not heroic. She was persistent in seeking fame, and faced difficulties because it was considered shocking that she would have an interracial (?) marriage with a Cuban on the television. But if someone else can view Desi Arnez as a hero for having loved Lucy, even after their divorce, Lucy could be viewed as a hero for loving him, only the book does not portray it that way, looking at her as a hero because the production company she owned with Desi ended up producing some important shows like Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. This is talent, to be sure, but it is not exactly heroism.
This book gives a chronological look at the life and career of Lucille Ball, beginning with her difficult childhood where she talked with chickens and coped with a grandmother who believed that enjoying oneself was a sin (does the author mention this because he has a misguided view of religion?). The author looks at the rejection that Lucille Ball faced until her bright personality and her willingness to draw attention to herself gave her a role in film, vaudeville, and television that played to her expressiveness and comic talent. There is even a funny in-joke that compares Lucille Ball negatively to Bette Davis that is likely to be familiar to adults, but perhaps not to the children reading this book. The book shows some of the funnier scenes from the I Love Lucy show as well as the difficulties they had filming it in front of a live audience, which was a good decision, but the book ends after the show does focusing on Lucy as a television producer and does not really include anything else of the later life she had after the television show ended, showcasing the author’s unwillingness to deal with old age and death.
The essential question this book provides is one that appears lamentably common in the author’s body of work devoted to children: does celebrity status make one heroic? Any star can be an activist and can use fame to promote something. Any star can, and often does, want to prove a point that is beyond the comfort level of the audience or the executives. None of this makes someone a hero. Lucille Ball was talented as an actress, as a comedienne, and as a talent scout recognizing shows worth producing. These are talents worth recognizing, worth respecting, and worth emulating, but they do not make someone a hero. Did they even change the world? It depends on what you mean–it certainly changed the world of entertainment. Perhaps that is enough. It certainly is enough for the author, who considers any talented athlete, musician, actor/actress, or even showrunner to be notable enough to consider as a hero or heroine. And that seems to cheapen heroism considerably. How large of an impact does it take to change the world? If it is small enough that entertainers can regularly do it, then children should not fear being able to change the world themselves.