Ball was born to Henry Durrell Ball (September 16, 1887 – February 19, 1915) and Desiree "DeDe" Evelyn Hunt (September 21, 1892 – July 20, 1977) in Jamestown, New York. Although Lucy was born in Jamestown, New York, she sometimes claimed that she was born in Butte, Montana. Shortly before her father's death her family moved to Anaconda, Montana at age 3 where her father passed away, and then to Wyandotte, Michigan. Her family was Baptist, and her ancestry included Scottish, French, Irish, and English. Some of her genealogy leads to the earliest settlers in the colonies, including Edmund Rice, an early immigrant to Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Her father, a telephone lineman for Bell Telephone Company was frequently transferred because of his occupation, and within three years of her birth, Lucille had moved many times, from Jamestown to Anaconda, and then to Trenton. While DeDe Ball was pregnant with her second child, Frederick, Henry Ball contracted typhoid fever and died in February 1915. Ball recalled little from the day her father died, only fleeting memories of a picture falling and a bird getting trapped in the house. From that day forward, she suffered from ornithophobia.
After her father died, Ball and her brother Fred Henry Ball (July 17, 1915 – February 5, 2007) were raised by her mother and grandparents in Celoron, New York a summer resort village on Lake Chautauqua just west of Jamestown. Her grandfather, Fred Hunt, was an eccentric who also enjoyed the theater. He frequently took the family to vaudeville shows and encouraged young Lucy to take part in both her own and school plays. Four years after the death of her father, Ball’s mother DeDe remarried. While her step-father, Edward Peterson, and mother went to look for work in another city, Ball was left in the care of her step-father’s parents. Ball’s new guardians were a puritanical Swedish couple who were so opposed to frivolity that they banished all mirrors from the house except for one over the bathroom sink. When the young Ball was caught admiring herself in it she was severely chastised for being vain. This period of time affected Ball so deeply that in later life she claimed that it lasted seven or eight years, but in reality, it was probably less than one. Edward Peterson was a Shriner. When his organization needed female entertainers for the chorus line of their next show, he encouraged his twelve-year-old stepdaughter to audition. While Ball was onstage, she began to realize that if one was seeking praise and recognition this was a brilliant way to receive it. Her appetite for recognition had thus been awakened at an early age. In 1927 her family suffered misfortune when their house and furnishings were taken away in a legal judgment after a neighborhood boy was accidentally shot and paralyzed by someone target shooting in their yard, under Ball's grandfather's supervision. The family then moved into a small apartment in Jamestown.
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