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Living was anything but easy for Lucille Ball when she made the 1949 sports drama, Easy Living. In fact, she was in the middle of a career slump when she agreed to take a secondary role as the sympathetic other woman, a secretary in love with aging football star Victor Mature. Ironically, the day before she started filming, her luck had already changed. She just didn't realize it at the time.
Easy Living was a homecoming of sorts for the star. She had started her career at RKO Studios, rising from bit player to leading lady, before leaving for MGM in hopes of stardom. MGM hadn't known quite what to do with a beautiful slapstick comic, however. After a few years of stealing films in supporting roles and providing glamorous set dressing in their musicals, MGM let her go. But freelancing in late '40s Hollywood was hardly a picnic. With few decent film roles, Ball had signed on for a tour in Elmer Rice's hit comedy Dream Girl. The production brought rave reviews and whetted her appetite for working in front of live audiences, but when she was hit with an incurable virus shortly after the Los Angeles opening, it cut the production short, depriving her of a much needed career boost. Ball considered herself lucky to land her less than stellar role in Easy Living.
By this point, she had started appearing on radio to pay the bills. The head of CBS' radio network was impressed with her comic skills and began looking for a comedy series for her. When she turned down Our Miss Brooks, suggesting that her friend Eve Arden was better suited for the role of a wise-cracking high-school teacher, the network offered her the role of a bank executive's wacky wife in My Favorite Husband. The pilot was rushed onto the air with little fanfare because Our Miss Brooks wasn't ready, but it scored a surprise hit nonetheless. While the network started putting the rest of the series together, Ball returned to RKO for what would be her last film there.
Seven years earlier Ball had bid farewell to her RKO contract with Seven Days' Leave (1942), which also had paired her with Mature. At the time, however, her leading man, on loan from 20th Century-Fox, was angry that RKO hadn't borrowed his current girlfriend, Rita Hayworth, to star opposite him. He took out his disappointment on Ball, whispering obscene words to her during their love scenes and making lewd gestures just out of camera range. Many days she had fled to her dressing room in tears after the director called, "Print!" Mature was a little more settled on Easy Living, however, having recently married for the third time. His career would take off later in the year when Samson and Delilah became 1949's top-grossing film.
By the time Ball returned to RKO, the studio was also facing hard times. With Howard Hughes now its owner, the studio's star roster had dwindled since the days when Ball had been happy to support the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. Instead, the studio had only one bonafide star in Robert Mitchum, often borrowing actors like Mature and leading lady Lizabeth Scott (as Mature's greedy wife) to fill out its casts. Two first-class talents remaining on the lot were director Jacques Tourneur, the man behind such stylish films as Cat People (1942) and Out of the Past (1947), and cinematographer Harry J. Wild, who had shot such acclaimed films noirs as Murder, My Sweet (1944) and Cornered (1945). They helped give Easy Living a glossy surface that showed off Ball's and Scott's contrasting physical appeal effectively.
That wasn't enough for audiences, however, who found a football film that spent most of its time in locker rooms and apartments (Tourneur had never even seen a football game when he accepted the assignment) barely worth their time. Easy Living did poorly at the box office, though Ball could content herself with garnering the picture's best reviews. More important to her career, however, was the success of My Favorite Husband on radio and the better box office performance of another film she made in 1949, the slapstick comedy Miss Grant Takes Richmond, both of which pointed to her future as one of television's greatest comediennes.
Producer: Robert Sparks
Director: Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay: Charles Schnee
Based on the story "Education of the Heart" by Irwin ShawCinematography: Harry Wild
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Alfred Herman
Music: Roy Webb
Cast: Victor Mature (Pete Wilson), Lizabeth Scott (Liza Wilson), Sonny Tufts (Tim McCarr), Lucille Ball (Anne), Lloyd Nolan (Lenahan), Paul Stewart (Argus), Jack Paar (Scoop Spooner), Jeff Donnell (Penny McCarr), Don Beddoe (Jaegar), Charles Lang (Whitey), Jim Backus (Dr. Franklin).BW-77m. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller