At 24, Lucille Ball had signed a Communist Party membership card to please her socialist grandfather, Fred Hunt. Unknowingly, she had also signed on for a nightmare.
The I Love Lucy show aired during the McCarthy era, and in 1953 ruthless right wingers were determined to use the “scandal” to destroy the show and its star. It took all of Desi Arnaz’s PR wiles to quell the storm. He joked that “The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that isn’t legitimate.”
In Ball of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball, Stefan Kanfer wrote, “Lucy and Desi made no more public statements, going about their business as if nothing had happened, resentful of fair-weather friends and acquaintances who made themselves scarce, and grateful to the handful who went out of their way to express their support. First to pay a call was comedian Lou Costello. Lucy thought of him as an acquaintance more than a pal; she had only been on his radio show a few times. But there he was sitting in the garden, and when Lucy asked him why he was in evidence, Costello replied: ‘You just go about your business. I’m just hanging out here for the day. I thought you might need a friend about now.’ Jack Oakie, Lucy’s costar in the old days, showed up; so did Lionel Barrymore, crippled by arthritis, who visited in a wheelchair.”
A force more powerful than even the House Un-American Activities Committee finally vaporized the storm clouds entirely, and that was the Nielsen and Trendex overnight ratings. I Love Lucy was still the number one show, and a Los Angeles Times headline cheered: “Everybody Still Loves Lucy.” President Eisenhower invited the couple to the White House, and all was well.
But not with Lucy, not entirely. “She could never quite relax after her experience with the congressmen and the fallout that came from their investigation,” Kanfer wrote. “A signature on an old piece of paper had been enough to justify her most pathological fears: one’s livelihood and social position could indeed vanish overnight, and in the end (not) money nor love nor public relations would be powerful enough to keep the jackals away.”