Lucille Ball: Mistress of Comedy and Counter-Espionage

Lucille Ball (1911-1989)
Lucille Ball (1911-1989)

Lucille Ball (1911-1989) was not only one of the undisputed geniuses of comedy, starring in I Love Lucy, Life With Lucy, and more than 80 motion pictures, but she also played an unplanned and unscripted role in counter-espionage.

In 1942 Lucy was driving home from MGM, where she was filming Du Barry Was a Lady with Red Skelton. It was about 2 a.m., when she suddenly heard music. She said, “I reached down to turn the radio off, and it wasn’t on. The music kept getting louder and louder, and then I realized it was coming from my mouth. I even recognized the tune. My mouth was humming and thumping with the drumbeat, and I thought I was losing my mind. I thought, What the hell is this? Then it started to subside. I got home and went to bed, not sure if I should tell anybody what had happened because they would think I was crazy.”

The next day she shared the experience with Buster Keaton, who asked her if she had been to the dentist recently. As a matter of fact, she had just received several temporary lead fillings a short time earlier. Keaton told her that she was picking up radio broadcasts on those fillings; one of his friends had a similar experience and traced it to the dental implants.

Lucy couldn’t wait to put this theory to the test. At the next opportunity she returned to the location, and again heard sounds, but this time it wasn’t music. She described it as starting softly, “…and then de-de-de-de-de-de. As soon as it started fading, I stopped the car and then started backing up until it was coming in full strength. DE-DE-DE-DE-DE-DE DE-DE-DE-DE!” She recognized it as Morse code.

This happened in the early days of the U.S. involvement in World War II. A Japanese submarine had been spotted off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and everyone was watching for anything out of the ordinary that might suggest an attack on the U.S. mainland was imminent. Lucy immediately made a report to the MGM Security Office, who, in turn, reported the incident to federal authorities. The ensuing investigation revealed a covert Japanese radio station run by spies.

See Lucy tell the story to Dick Cavett here.

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