Looking back at the early career of Lucille Ball in pictures

Two decades before changing television forever, she was a rising Hollywood starlet.

The Everett Collection

It was called I Love Lucy for a reason — its star was impossible to hate. Lucille Ball altered the landscape of television in the 1950s, redefining the sitcom format, trailblazing for women in Hollywood, and blossoming into a true boss mogul. Oh, and she slayed us with laughter along the way.

By the time I Love Lucy premiered, Ball was 40 years old and a seasoned veteran of stage and screen. She worked her way up from cigarette girl in NYC to a contract player at RKO. In the 1930s, she popped up in dozens of films, typically playing dancers, flower girls, nurse or college girl.

By the end of the decade, she was auditioning for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Imagine if that had happened!

To celebrate this absolute legend, let's take a look back at her first decade in Hollywood, the 1930s. 

Hop To It

Image: The Everett Collection

Ball walks her pet rabbits in the summer of 1938, though the caption notes the bunnies were "studio issued."

Suited for the Summer

Image: The Everett Collection

Lucy sports a lightweight wool beige pantsuit with brown and yellow trim, hopping into a car in the summer of 1938. You're going to have to trust us on the color; it's a black-and-white photo.

Hair to Stay

Image: The Everett Collection

Lucy shows off her darker hair in 1938. As you'll see below, she was formerly a blonde.

Ready for the Cover

Image: The Everett Collection

Lucy poses with costar John Sutton during The Affairs of Annabel, 1938. 

Thanks, Mom!

Image: The Everett Collection

Ball stands by her acting coach, Lela Rogers, who just so happened to be the mother of Ginger Rogers. RKO Studios, 1937.

A Rose by Any Other Name

Image: The Everett Collection

Ball works in a flower shop circa 1936. She often played flower clerks in movies in her early career.

Race to Fame

Image: The Everett Collection

RKO starlets Lucille Ball and Betty Grable cruise at the auto races in Los Angeles, 1936.

A Fancy Wardrobe

Image: The Everett Collection

Ball shows off her fashion sense, 1936.

An American Girl in 'Paris'

Image: The Everett Collection

Ball had a supporting role as a girlfriend in That Girl from Paris, a 1936 picture that tried to turn opera legend Lily Pons into a movie star. It also featured main characters named Whammo, Windy and Hammy. Oh, the '30s!

Ginger and Fred

Image: The Everett Collection

Lucy landed an early role alongside Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Follow the Fleet, 1936.

Drama, Queen

Image: The Everett Collection

Ball shows off her serious side in this striking 1935 selfie.

Fits like a Glove

Image: The Everett Collection

Ball was dressed for success in 1935.

Fresh Off the Western Air

Image: The Everett Collection

Lucy steps off a plane in 1935. Welcome to Hollywood, kid!

Blonde Ambition

Image: The Everett Collection

Ball shows off her fancy do in 1935.

Candy Girl

Image: The Everett Collection

Lucy was a Chocolate Girl, second from the right, in the 1934 flick Kid Millions.

Godiva Locks

Image: The Everett Collection

Speaking of chocolate, Lucy looks a lot like Lady Godiva in this 1933 shot.

When in Rome

Image: The Everett Collection

Lucy landed one of her earliest roles with an uncredited appearance in the 1933 movie Roman Scandals.

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DenisRives 15 months ago
She also did a Stooges short, 3 Little Pigskins
Andy 16 months ago
If you can find it, I recommend "Beauty for the Asking". Lucy plays a woman who gets dumped by her boyfriend then later fired from her job, then starts a major cosmetics company. It was the first "non-Lucy" role I'd seen her do and I remember enjoying it. (She also had an incredibly sexy voice in this!)
jholton30062 57 months ago
Not to put too fine a point on it, Lucy was hot. They downplayed her beauty in "I Love Lucy," but even then she was gorgeous.
teire jholton30062 57 months ago
She was very glamorous.
Lantern 57 months ago
Check the book titled "Lucy at the Movies" by Cindy de la Hoz (published about 10 years ago). This is an in-depth look into Lucille Ball's movie career, almost all pre-dating I Love Lucy.
teire 57 months ago
Love Lucy, finally visited Jamestown, NY, and the Lucy-Desi museum there a few months ago, very worth it. Her (and Desi’s, and their kids’) ties and commitments to her home town are admirable and very touching.
stephaniestavropoulos 57 months ago
My sister was a big fan of ILL. I'm not sure if she knew when it was, but she and my brother-in-law would have been married 37 years on Lucy's birthday. I love and miss you sis!:::
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