TODAY   |  August 05, 2011

New photos released of legend Lucille Ball

Dawnie Walton of LIFE.com shows newly released photos of the late Lucille Ball to celebrate what would have been her 100th birthday.

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ANN CURRY, co-host: Lucille Ball was one of the most beloved stars of the 20th century . Even now, five decades after " I Love Lucy " went off the air, you can still find reruns on television. And tomorrow would have been Lucille Ball 's 100th birthday . Well, to mark this occasion, editors at life.com went through the magazine's archives and dug up a series of never-before-seen photographs of the legendary actress. And Dawnie Walton is the deputy editor for life.com. Dawnie , good morning.

Ms. DAWNIE WALTON (Deputy Editor, life.com): Good morning, Ann.

CURRY: How is it possible that one of the most beloved stars of all time, of the 20th century for certain, could actually have photographs that have never before been seen?

Ms. WALTON: Well, of course, you know, we've all loved Lucy for decades, but even 10 years before she became a huge success on " I Love Lucy " Life magazine always had its eye on her as sort of an up-and-comer in Hollywood , and so photographers would go out and shoot dozens of rolls of film on her. And of course none of those -- all those pictures can't make it into the magazine and so, you know, through life.com we were able to go through the archives, digitize those photos and find them and present them to a new audience.

CURRY: There are two photographs that have never before been seen anywhere, you haven't even published them...

Ms. WALTON: Right.

CURRY: ...and you sort of reserved them for our TODAY show viewers. So pay attention, everybody. One of these pictures is called " Groomed for Greatness ."

Ms. WALTON: Yes. That photo is Lucy in 1944 . And she is at an event for the president, it's the president's birthday. She's having her hair done. By the way, her hair -- she's not a natural redhead, she is a brunette, interesting thing people might not know about Lucy . But she's about seven years away here from "I Love Lucy ." And the fact is she had been kicking around for Hollywood for almost 20 years before she had this huge hit. She was well enough known, but she known as the queen of the B's for all the sort of B movies she had been in that didn't quite give her the level of fame she deserved.

CURRY: The second photograph that has never before been seen is called " Happy Birthday ,_Mr._President." Let's see .

Ms. WALTON: Right.

CURRY: Did we already show that picture? Let's take a look.

Ms. WALTON: That is -- right -- that's at the same event and she's performing in front of a crew of sailors.

CURRY: That one. Mm-hmm.

Ms. WALTON: I mean, she'd been in musicals at that point, " Follow the Fleet " and " Stage Door ," so she was well known, not as famous as, of course, she would become, but of course she was magnetic and she was beautiful and the guys just loved her.

CURRY: And there's an interesting image of her smoking a cigarette, which sort of is a different side of Lucille Ball , you sort of don't expect to see this image.

Ms. WALTON: Absolutely. Yes.

CURRY: And then -- and then -- let me see if we can show that picture. There it is.

Ms. WALTON: Yes. That is sort of -- in 1942 , that's one of the earliest photos that we have in the archives of her. And like you said, she is extremely sultry there. Sort of a different side of her than we've seen. We're used to the wacky sort of rubber-face Lucy Ricardo , but this is her sort of drawing on her past as a model and, you know, really just showing how beautiful she was.

CURRY: Lucy and a Fan" is the name of another photograph.

Ms. WALTON: Yes. That photo was from the set of a movie she made called " Du Berry Was a Lady" and that was really important because it was her first lead role in a movie. And that also starred another up-and-comer named Gene Kelly .

CURRY: Now we're coming up on some of my favorite images that I'm just now seeing...

Ms. WALTON: Yes.

CURRY: ...because of this revelation, and one of them -- a bunch of them are actually of Lucy and Desi .

Ms. WALTON: Yes, of course. From 1958 . That's them outside Desilu Studios , which was the TV production company that they owned and operated. And this was a year after " I Love Lucy " actually went off the air, but they kept the Ricardo characters alive.

CURRY: But we have to get to the one where she plays the vice president. It's a...

Ms. WALTON: Yes.

CURRY: And I guess, presumably, he's the president.

Ms. WALTON: Yes. This is actually a bit that they're doing for "The Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour," but in fact she actually was the vice president of Desilu Productions .

CURRY: There you go.

Ms. WALTON: And she was the first major female television executive. Huge deal.

CURRY: And the piece de resistance is this picture.

Ms. WALTON: Yes.

CURRY: She's taking the bull by the horns.

Ms. WALTON: She's taking the bull by the horns. This is the Lucy , of course, that we all know and love, the wacky, zany Lucy . And, you know, she kept the character alive through the years. It was the perfect role for her, the culmination of everything she'd ever done in her career, the physical comedy, the timing that she'd learned in radio, it was just an iconic character.

CURRY: Dawnie Walton , thank you so much . Happy birthday to Lucy .

Ms. WALTON: Thank you. Happy birthday, Lucy .