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Lucille Ball followed in the footsteps of frequent film and TV co-star Red Skelton when she starred as a daffy cosmetics saleswoman who stumbles on a murder in this follow-up to his 1948 hit The Fuller Brush Man. Producer S. Sylvan Simon had originally planned to buy Skelton's contract from MGM to star the clown in a series of slapstick films at Columbia, but MGM had refused to play ball. Instead, Skelton made a cameo appearance as a show of support to his friend Simon and fellow redhead Ball.
In search of a star for what he hoped would be a film series, Sylvan turned to another old friend, Ball, whom he had directed in Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (1945) and Her Husband's Affairs (1947). When the latter, co-starring Franchot Tone, failed at the box office, Sylvan promised Ball to find her a better vehicle. Two years later, he brought her to his Columbia Pictures production unit for the slapstick gem, Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949). At the time, Ball had just signed to star in the CBS Radio comedy series My Favorite Wife, which would give her the chance to perfect the comic scatterbrain she would become famous for on I Love Lucy.
Ball's radio commitment left her free for film work, while a non-exclusive contract at Columbia paid her a then-impressive $85,000 per picture. And to sweeten the deal, the studio had created a low-budget musical, Holiday in Havana (1949) that allowed her and husband Desi Arnaz to work, however briefly, on the same lot.
The Fuller Brush Girl offered one other advantage. At the time, CBS was considering bringing My Favorite Husband to television. In her films for Simon, she got to work on the physical side of the character, showing off the slapstick skills she had developed working with Buster Keaton during his days as a gag man at MGM.
For their second film at Columbia, Simon brought back many of the production team who had worked so well with Ball on Miss Grant Takes Richmond, including director Lloyd Bacon, cinematographer Charles Lawton, Jr. and writer Frank Tashlin, this time taking sole credit. Leading man William Holden was now a rising star at Paramount, so the studio hired Eddie Albert, who was trying to rebuild his film career after serving his country in World War II. Eventually, he would achieve his greatest fame as the star of the CBS series Green Acres in the '60s. Another career highpoint was his Oscar®-nominated turn as Cybill Shepherd's father in The Heartbreak Kid (1972).
The amiable Albert proved a good match for Ball, who performed a series of comic routines tailor-made for her dizzy charms, including a slapstick turn as a switchboard operator and a comic striptease when she's chased into a burlesque house and has to pretend to be one of the performers. That routine brought fond memories to fans who remembered her strong performance as a competitive stripper in Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), one of the best films of her early Hollywood years.
The Fuller Brush Girl was a big hit for Ball, but it would prove to be her last slapstick film outing until after the success of I Love Lucy. When Simon died shortly after the film's release, Ball found herself without a champion at Columbia. Studio head Harry Cohn turned down every idea she proposed for a follow-up, including a slapstick script she found about a female baseball star and a proposed teaming with Arnaz. When Rita Hayworth walked out on her contract, Cohn briefly considered Ball for a project he had bought for Hayworth, Born Yesterday (1950), before giving the role to its stage originator, Judy Holliday. Ball was also among a long list of stars who turned down the lead in the Hollywood expos The Star (1952), which would eventually win Bette Davis an Oscar® nomination. By that time, of course, Ball was firmly ensconced on television, where I Love Lucy would make her television's most famous comedienne.
Producer: S. Sylvan Simon
Director: Lloyd Bacon
Screenplay: Frank Tashlin
Cinematography: Charles Lawton, Jr.
Art Direction: Robert Peterson
Music: Heinz Roemheld
Cast: Lucille Ball (Sally Elliot), Eddie Albert (Hubbell Briggs), Carl Benton Reid (Mr. Christie), Gale Robbins (Ruby Rawlings), Jeff Donnell (Jane Bixby), Jerome Cowan (Harvey Simpson), John Litel (Mr. Martin), Lee Patrick (Claire Simpson), Red Skelton (Himself).
by Frank Miller