Friday, August 14, 2009
While Lucille Ball was reigning as the Queen of Television, her second cousin, Suzan Ball, was making her own splash in Hollywood. The sultry beauty was signed to Universal-International in 1952, at a time when U.I. was hiring a flurry of contract stars: Mamie Van Doren, Tony Curtis, Anita Ekberg, Rock Hudson, Hugh O'Brian, and Piper Laurie were just a few of Ball's contemporaries at the studio.
Suzan Ball was undeniably beautiful, but hers was a hard beauty in the Jane Russell/Faith Domergue mold; in retrospect, it's amazing that Howard Hughes didn't snap the brunette bombshell up before Universal! Ball's striking good looks didn't have Russell's redeeming warmth or humor; witness the uncomfortable glamour pose above, where Ball seems utterly contemptuous of the yards of tulle, chiffon and crinoline she's wrestling with.
While filming the programmer East of Sumatra (1953), Ball injured her leg during a dance sequence. This and a subsequent car accident led to an medical examination which revealed tumors in Ball's right leg. From here, her life took on the romantic, tumultuous and melodramatic qualities of any turgid love story being filmed on Universal's back lot. Involved in a torrid affair with the married Anthony Quinn, Ball broke off that romance for a more promising relationship with fellow contract player, Richard Long.
Despite Ball's worsening condition, Long proposed marriage; the planned December 1953 ceremony had to be postponed due to an operation to amputate Ball's malignant leg. They eventually would marry, in April 1954, with Ball wearing a prosthetic limb. But despite the best efforts of sentimental fan magazine writers, hopeful movie fans, and even Universal themselves (who rented the couple a lavish home, presumably picking up the tab), there was no fairy tale ending. Heavy medication turned Ball into a "female Jekyll and Hyde," and Long took refuge in an affair with her nurse. As she lay dying on August 5, 1955, with husband Richard Long by her side, Ball's last whispered word was "Tony," a reference to her former lover, Quinn.
Suzan Ball was 21 years old.