Lucille Ball Uncovered World War II Spies — With Her Teeth
There’s an old episode of 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island where Gilligan gets knocked in the kisser, scrambling his fillings around so that his teeth can pick up radio signals. It’s just the kind of dumb plotline that fueled many early sitcoms, but maybe it was based on some perverse episode of comedy reality?
TikTok recently made the discovery that the grand dame of sitcoms herself, Lucille Ball, claimed to have tuned in to radio broadcasts through the lead fillings in her chompers. According to Lucy, she was driving home from MGM one evening when “all of a sudden, I heard music!”
The beat was really thumping so Lucy looked down to turn off the car radio — except it wasn’t on. The music got louder as she drove, understandably freaking her out as she realized the groove was coming from inside her mouth. Super-weird, right?
The next day on the studio lot, Lucy told the story to Buster Keaton, as one does. Keaton told her to chill, explaining the phenomenon of receiving AM radio through teeth fillings. The same thing happened to one of Keaton’s friends! Well, OK then. Her mouth hushed for about a week, but on a drive home via an alternate route, Ball’s bridgework once again picked up a signal. She described the pulses in her mouth: Da da da dut! Da da da dut!
“I stopped the car. Then I looked around.” Her pearly whites continued to vibrate with dots and dashes, which she now identified as Morse code. Holy smokes — this was 1942, the early days of World War II! Could she be picking up spies? “I backed the car up and it got stronger and stronger.” Eventually, Ball claims, her whole jaw was vibrating “and then I got the hell out of there.”
She rushed into the MGM security office the next morning, and according to Ball, “they found an underground Japanese transmitting radio station!” Except … did they?
Snopes isn’t so sure, since there are some funny things going on with Lucy’s story. After all, there’s not a whole lot of scientific proof that people actually can receive radio signals through their teeth when they’re not on a 60s sitcom. But enough people have reported similar anecdotal experiences that Snopes is willing to give Lucy that one.
The itchier part is the Japanese spies. In another telling of the story, Lucy claims that the FBI was called in, and “it was somebody's gardener, but sure enough, they were spies.” Two problems with Lucy’s claims here, says Snopes. First, “although World War II is perhaps the most voluminously documented event in human history, one searches in vain for any confirmation that Japanese spies operating an underground radio station were arrested in southern California in 1942.”
Then there’s Lucy’s own troubles with the FBI. Because she had been investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the FBI had quite a fat file on Ms. Ball — 156 pages, all told. But in all of that paper, there’s not a whisper of Lucy discovering a secret Japanese radio station during World War II. You’d think a story like that would have come in handy when pesky senators questioned her patriotism.
So make up your own mind. Completely true or not, Lucy’s story still makes more sense than most episodes of Gilligan’s Island.