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By 1945, Lucille Ball was still unhappy with her career and waiting for that big break to come. While The Dark Corner wouldn’t be that opportunity – she’d have to wait for her hit television series for that – the film noir did provide her the chance to demonstrate perhaps her greatest dramatic performance.
The role came thanks to an old friend, Fred Kohlmar. At the time he was a producer with 20th Century-Fox, but in 1933, he had been the talent agent that had wooed Ball to Hollywood.
Despite being in the industry for years, Ball still got a case of the nerves on The Dark Corner set.
On the first day of filming, the action called for her to be at a typewriter. Not thinking anyone would see, she wrote:
“Dear Mr. Hathaway, if you knew how nervous I was today you wouldn’t dare shoot the picture and you would call the whole thing off… Lucy is a sissy. Lucy is a sissy. Lucy is a sissy.”
When she returned from a lunch break, to her surprise, she discovered that not only had Hathaway seen what she had typed, but he responded!
“Dear Lucy, would it help you to know that I’m nervous as hell myself? Love, H.H.”
While the director could be empathetic, he also expected professionalism – something which Ball found out the hard way.
Before shooting a scene, Hathaway wanted to rehearse, to establish how much track he needed for a tracking shot. After arriving late to the set, Lucy proceeded to use her script.
“What the hell is that?” Hathaway recalled saying. “Then I found out she didn’t even know the lines to start with. She hadn’t even looked at it.”
So he told her to go back to her dressing room, memorize her lines, and return when she was ready. Everyone waited until she returned. But she still didn’t have them down, so he told her to go back a second time. And was she embarrassed!
“There was a big ruckus about it cause she went to Freddy Kohlmar, and Freddy came down.”
Hathaway stood his ground with the producer, telling him, “She’s going to know her lines or you can take me off the picture.”
Years later, when he saw Lucy at a restaurant, he was surprised when the actress came up to him to apologize.
“She said, ‘I learned a lot [from you] because I expect the people who worked for me later to do the same thing that I wasn’t doing.’” Hathaway recalled. “I thought that was very sweet of her… She didn’t have to say anything. I think Lucy was one of the greats… she had the same potential as Chaplin.”