Today Lucille Ball is known as the mother of the modern-day sitcom and a doyenne of physical comedy. However, in 1953, Ball was called to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee. During questioning, she admitted that she was a registered Communist.
She told the Committee that she registered as a communist for her grandfather in 1936. At the time, he was ill, and it was his greatest wish for her to follow in his socialist footsteps. Ball swore to the Committee that she was not an active member of the party. They forgave her and assured her that they understood her reasoning.
Her employer, CBS, took a similar stance. The millions of people who watched her popular show, I Love Lucy, also forgave her.
Ball said it wouldn't have detracted her from trying to win people over again even if they hadn't. She told reporters later:
"One of the things I learned the hard way was that it doesn't pay to get discouraged. Keeping busy and making optimism a way of life can restore your faith in yourself."
However, a 1989 bombshell shell report in The Washington Post said that not everyone in Washington D.C. let the fiery redhead off the hook.
Even though the House Committee cleared Ball of any wrongdoing, J.Edgar Hoover kept a close eye on the legendary star and kept a file on her throughout the 1950s. The investigation seemed to be done on the orders of the former director; the FBI said they never had an open investigation against the star.
The file obtained by the Post's staff was filled with various pieces of evidence that this was a personal investigation for Hoover. Inside the files were memos that were stamped "confidential." And many of them started with the words, "per your request." which leads people to believe that the FBI director was keeping tabs on Ball: for some reason.
Inside the file were stories about Ball's antics off-camera. One communist paper, The Daily Worker, claimed that the sitcom star spoke out against Senator McCarthy and his communist witch hunt but didn't blast him in the press. Another note had a story about a Hollywood writer who claimed to have attended a Communist Party fundraiser at Ball's house. While the legend wasn't in attendance, the party happened with her blessing.
Despite Hoover claiming to be a huge fan of Ball and her ex-husband, Desi Arnaz, the spying went on. He even wrote a loving fan letter to the star.
"In all the years I have travelled on trains, I have often wondered why someone did not pull the emergency brake, but I have never been aboard a train where it was done. The humor in you program last Monday, I think, exceeded any of your previous programs and they have been really good in themselves."
Hoover's ultimate target may not have been Ball but her ex-husband and co-owner of Desilu Studios, Arnaz.
The former FBI director was notorious for keeping files on high-profile people, especially ones that it was likely that he was going to have a face off with. And Arnaz was someone that he expected to go up against at some point.
Desilu produced a show called The Untouchables. The series told the story of former Treasury Secretary Eliot Ness for bringing down Prohibition gangs, but Hoover believed the FBI should be credited for those feats. He also had his men watch the show for inaccuracies.
The news about Ball's political affiliation is back in the headlines because of the Amazon movie, Being The Ricardos, being released on Dec. 10. It chronicles a week of production of I Love Lucy.