Most people know Lucille Ball as the star of “I Love Lucy,” a beloved comedienne and actress who was one of the most popular and influential stars in Hollywood.
What most people don’t know is that, had it not been for Eli (Hizzownself), her career might very well have been tragically cut short.
The time: circa 1944. The place: Hollywood. Eli, a young serviceman who would soon be off to India and China, had gone to a USO dance at the Hollywood Canteen. There, they would bring actors and actresses in to dance with the troops, serve them at the bar, and otherwise keep them entertained and occupied. Eli recalls that “it was very nice to be so close to these people,” who would also do various routines on a small stage. A ramp, lined on both sides with seats for the guests, led from the audience down to the stage; as performers walked down the ramp, they would be at or below eye level with the people seated on either side.
Eli was there, next to a starlet (possibly Dorothy Malone) that he recognized as having just appeared in her first movie. The young woman was smoking a cigarette, and (as it happens) she chose the exact moment Lucille Ball walked by on the ramp to flick the butt away. The smoldering butt landed in Miss Ball’s big, puffy hairdo, where it continued to burn, a wispy plume of smoke drifting skyward. Eli, thinking quickly, reached down and plucked the cigarette from Miss Ball’s hair, with her none the wiser.
Having his head set on fire didn’t help Michael Jackson’s career one bit and may even have contributed to his early demise. It is no stretch of the imagination to assume that things would have been at least as bad for Lucille Ball - then a B-movie actress for RKO Radio Pictures - had her hair burst into flames. If Eli had not intervened, who knows what disaster might have overtaken her and her eventual career? “Lucille Ball o’ Fire” doesn’t have nearly the same cachet as “I Love Lucy.”