(Larry Getlen’s article appeared in the New York Post, 5/21; via the Drudge Report;  Photo: the New York Post.)

Before she became America’s sweetheart, Lucille Ball’s path to stardom was filled with gangsters, nude photos and even turning tricks, according to a new book.

In the late 1950s, Darwin Porter, student body president at the University of Miami, arranged “Lucy & Desi” Day at the school, a celebration of the country’s most popular entertainers and favorite couple, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

But when he arrived to take them to the event, the snide and bickering couple he found resembled anything but America’s sweethearts.

“She shouted denunciations at him, at one point calling him [an ethnic slur]. She accused him of having sex with two prostitutes the night before,” writes Porter in his new book with Danforth Price, “Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz: They Weren’t Lucy & Ricky Ricardo,” (Blood Moon Productions, out now).

“He didn’t deny that, but claimed, ‘It doesn’t mean a thing, my fooling around with some hookers. Peccadilloes don’t count.”

The book, which is Volume 1 of the authors’ Ball/Arnaz bio, is 576 pages long and covers the years until the end of their marriage, documenting their careers, hardships, and many, many lovers in all their gossipy glory. Volume II is set for release later this year. Lucille Ball met Desi Arnaz in 1940 at RKO Pictures. While “I Love Lucy” showcased the fun-loving, madcap couple, behind the scenes, there were extramarital affairs and plenty of scandal.

Ball — born Aug. 6, 1911 in Jamestown, NY — yearned to perform from a young age. Taking acting lessons in New York City as a teen, she was overshadowed by fellow student Bette Davis, who she found “snobby and intimidating.” She also studied dance under Martha Graham for several days before Graham asked her to drop the class. “You’re hopeless as a dancer,” Graham told her. “You’re like a quarterback taking up ballet. Perhaps you could find work as a soda jerk.”

At 14, Ball wound up in a relationship with 23-year-old Johnny DaVita, who, the authors write, ran illegal booze in from Canada and functioned as the town gigolo. 

She later moved in with DaVita, who occasionally beat her, and shaped parts of her personality around his gangster ways.

“Living with DaVita catalyzed some personality changes in her,” the authors write. “She developed a foul mouth to match his own and those of his hoodlum friends.”

Later, while auditioning for roles in Times Square under the stage names Montana Ball and Diane Belmont before settling on her given name, she scrounged to survive, including partaking in nude modeling and turning the occasional trick. She often ate food left over by diners in local cafes, and brought a handbag with a plastic liner on dates so she could take home half-eaten steaks. 

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