Comic actress Lucille Ball wielded enormous influence, both in terms of scope, production and technology, over television situation comedies with her Emmy-winning series "I Love Lucy" (CBS, 1951-1957), which helped elevate her from hardworking film actress to one of the biggest stars of the small screen. Born Lucille Desiree Ball in Jamestown, New York, she was the daughter of Bell Telephone Company lineman Henry Ball, whose job required that the family relocate on several occasions during Lucille's childhood. In 1915, Henry Ball died from typhoid fever, forcing Lucille, her mother and her newborn brother, Fred, to return to New York, where they lived with her maternal grandparents. She was introduced to performing through her stepfather, Edward Peterson, who encouraged her to join the chorus line at an event for the Shriners, of which he was a member. Attempting to encourage her daughter's artistic ambitions - and hoping to thwart a budding romance with a local tough- Ball's mother enrolled her in the John Murray Anderson School for the Dramatic Arts in New York City, where Bette Davis was among her fellow students. The experience proved wholly discouraging - she was openly advised against a career in acting by the school's teacher - and returned to the family's home in Jamestown. Three years later, Ball returned to New York City, where she worked as a model for fashion designer Hattie Carnegie; a bout of rheumatoid arthritis sent her home again for a two-year period, but a determined Ball returned to New York City again in 1932. After adopting the stage name Diane (or Dianne) Belmont, she worked on Broadway in various chorus roles, which led to her first screen role when she replaced a chorus girl in the Eddie Cantor vehicle "Roman Scandals" (1933). Ball soon moved to Hollywood, where as a contract player for RKO Pictures, she appeared in minor roles in the Three Stooges short "Three Little Pigskins" (1934) and the Marx Brothers' "Room Service" (1938), as well as three films with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, including "Top Hat" (1935). Ball soon graduated to supporting roles in "B" pictures, including the surprise box office hit "Five Came Back" (1939), and "Too Many Girls" (1940), a musical co-starring Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz, whom she would marry that same year. Ball's big break would come three years later, when she signed with MGM to star in its adaptation of the musical "DuBarry Was a Lady" (1943). The film also featured Ball's debut as a redhead, a decision reportedly made at the behest of the studio's publicity department. For the remainder of the decade, she worked steadily in features for the decade, bouncing between musicals like "Thousands Cheer" (1943) and "Ziegfeld Follies" (1946), both with Gene Kelly, and numerous comedies, including "Without Love" (1945), with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, as well as the occasional drama like the noir "The Dark Corner" (1946) for director Henry Hathaway. During this period, Ball also starred in "My Favorite Husband," a popular comedy for CBS Radio; when the network decided to move the series to television, Ball insisted on starring opposite Arnaz and revamping the series to reflect -in the broadest possible terms - their own lives. CBS was initially reluctant to sign Arnaz, but after the couple toured in a vaudeville version of the concept that proved popular with audiences, CBS agreed to their terms, and "I Love Lucy" debuted on television in 1951. Produced by the couple's own company, Desilu - the first television production company headed by a woman - "Lucy" was not only a sizable hit with viewers and a five-time Emmy winner (including three for Ball herself) but the ideal showcase for Ball's comic talents, which encompassed both flawless timing and delivery but also physical comedy and slapstick. The show was also the first television comedy to film on 35mm - a decision made to allow Ball and Arnaz to remain in Hollywood and prevent broadcast of blurry kinescopes of each episode to East Coast viewers - the first to utilize more than one camera in a comedy format, and the first to film before a live audience, all of which would become industry standards in the half-century to follow. The success of the series allowed Desilu to purchase studio space, where shows like "The Jack Benny Program" (CBS/NBC, 1950-1965) and "The Andy Griffith Show" (CBS, 1960-68) would film, but also produce other series, which would include "The Untouchables" (ABC, 1959-1963) and "Star Trek" (NBC, 1966-69). Despite this unparalleled success, Ball and Arnaz had been unhappily married for decades, and when "Lucy" ran its course in 1960, the couple officially divorced two months after filming its final episode. She would buy out his shares of the company in 1962 and eventually sell the company itself in 1967 for $17 million. During this period, Ball continued to act, most notably in the minor Broadway musical "Wildcat," which mainly served to provide her with a theme song, "Hey, Look Me Over," and an introduction (through co-star Paula Stewart) to actor Gary Morton, who would become her second husband in 1961. There were occasional appearance in feature films like the screen version of "Mame" (1974), which was widely panned. More successful were two subsequent sitcoms: "The Lucy Show" (CBS, 1962-68), for which she won two Emmys, and "Here's Lucy" (CBS, 1968-1974), which featured longtime friend and screen foil Gale Gordon and her real-life children, Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Lucie Arnaz. Ballwould remain a favorite guest on numerous episodic and talk shows for much of the late '70s and 1980s before giving a dramatic turn as a homeless woman in the made-for-TV feature "Stone Pillow" (CBS, 1985). This led briefly to her fourth sitcom, "Life with Lucy" (ABC, 1985), but the sight of the 75-year-old Ball performing slapstick couldn't keep the series from being cancelled after just two months. Ball would make her final public appearance at the Academy Awards in 1989, where she and Bob Hope were given a standing ovation while presenting an award. On April 18, 1989, Ball was hospitalized after complaining of chest pains. She was determined to have an aortic aneurysm and underwent heart surgery and the transplant of a new aorta. She appeared to recover from the surgery without complications, but on the morning of April 26, she slipped into unconsciousness and was declared dead from an abdominal aortic aneurysm that same day. Her long career and legacy was paid tribute through numerous posthumous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1989 and induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2001.