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Probably because of the dreamy mental state induced by Sassafrassa and Madeline, Lucille is not too clear about dates, events and people. In New York, she headed straight for John Murray Anderson's dramatic school. At the sound of her voice ("I used to say 'horrses' and 'warter' "), her teacher clapped hands to his forehead. Anderson tactfully told Lucille's mother that her daughter should try another line of work. Lucille made a stab at being a secretary and a drugstore soda jerk, but found both occupations dull. She answered chorus calls for Broadway musicals with a marked lack of success. When she even lost a job in the chorus of the third road company of Rio Rita, a Ziegfeld aide told her: "It's no use, Montana. You're not meant for show business. Go home."
Periodically, Lucille did go home to Jamestown. But she returned again & again to the assault on New York. She managed to get into the chorus of Stepping Stones, and held on until the choreographer announced that she wanted only girls who could do toe work ("I couldn't even do heel work"). Lucille turned to modeling, progressed from the wholesale garment houses through department stores to the comparative eminence of Hattie Carnegie. She still has a warm feeling for people in the garment trade, because "they're the nearest thing to show business in the outside world. They're temperamental and jealous. I like them." She had a great many admirers. One of them, Britain's Actor Hugh Sinclair, says: "She disarmed you. You saw this wonderful, glamorous creature, and in five minutes she had you roaring with laughter. She was gay, warmhearted and absolutely genuine."
As a model, Lucille called herself Diane Belmont, choosing her name in honor of Belmont Park Race Track, where fashion shows are sometimes staged. But it was another few years before Lucille finally got her break. She was walking up Broadway past the Palace Theater when she met Agent Sylvia Hahlo coming down from the Goldwyn office. Sylvia grabbed her and cried breathlessly: "How would you like to go to California? They're sending a bunch of poster girls there for six weeks for a picture. One of the girls' mothers has refused to let her go."
$50 to $ 1,500. The movie was Roman Scandals, starring Eddie Cantor, and it was six months instead of six weeks in the making. Lucille was grimly determined to keep her foot in the Hollywood door. She got a succession of bit parts in such movies as Moulin Rouge and The Affairs of Cellini, worked for three months with the roughhouse comics known as The Three Stooges ("It was one continuous bath of Vichy water and lemon meringue pie").
When RKO picked up her contract, she gradually emerged as a queen of B pictures, then began making program movies with Comics Jack Oakie, Joe Penner and the Marx Brothers (Room Service). Her salary rose from $50 a week to $1,500 and her hair, already turned blonde from its original brown, now became a brilliant but indescribable shade that has been variously called "shocking pink" and "strawberry orange." While she was in Dance, Girl, Dance, and being hailed by Director Erich Pommer as a new "find" (by then, she had been playing in movies for six years), she met a brash, boyish young Cuban named Desi Arnaz.