Desi Arnaz

Desi Arnaz
Desi Arnaz

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, 1957.
Born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III
March 2, 1917(1917-03-02)
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Died December 2, 1986(1986-12-02) (aged 69)
Del Mar, California, United States
Occupation Actor, musician, producer
Years active 1936–82
Spouse Lucille Ball (1940–60) (divorced) 2 children
Edith Mack Hirsch (1963–85 (her death)

Desi Arnaz (March 2, 1917 – December 2, 1986) was a Cuban-born American musician, actor and television producer. While he gained international renown for leading a Latin music band, the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, he is probably best known for his role as Ricky Ricardo on the American TV series I Love Lucy, starring with Lucille Ball, to whom he was married at the time.


Early life

Desi Arnaz was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III in Santiago de Cuba to Desiderio Alberto Arnaz II (1894–1973) and his wife Dolores de Acha (1896–1988). His father was Santiago's youngest mayor and also served in the Cuban House of Representatives. His mother's father was Alberto de Acha, one of the three founders of Bacardi Rum. According to Arnaz himself, in his autobiography A Book (1976), the family owned three ranches, a palatial home, and a vacation mansion on a private island in Santiago Bay, Cuba. Following the 1933 revolution, led by Fulgencio Batista, which overthrew President Gerardo Machado, Alberto Arnaz was jailed and all of his property was confiscated. He was released after six months when U.S. officials, who believed him to be neutral, intervened on his behalf. The family then fled to Miami, Florida, where Desi attended St. Patrick Catholic High School.

Film career

In the US Desi Arnaz turned to show business to support himself. In 1939, he starred on Broadway in the musical Too Many Girls. He went to Hollywood the next year to appear in the show's movie version at RKO, which starred Lucille Ball. Arnaz and Ball married on November 30, 1940. Arnaz also played guitar for Xavier Cugat.[1]

Arnaz appeared in several movies in the 1940s, notably Bataan (1943). He received his draft notice, but before reporting he injured his knee. He completed his recruit training, but was classified for limited service during World War II. He was assigned to direct United Service Organization (U.S.O.) programs at a military hospital in the San Fernando Valley. Discovering the first thing the wounded soldiers requested was a glass of cold milk, he arranged for movie starlets to meet them and pour the milk for them. Following his discharge from the Army, he formed another orchestra, which was successful in live appearances and recordings. He sang for troops in Birmingham Hospital with John Macchia and hired his childhood friend Marco Rizo to play piano and arrange for the orchestra. When he became successful in television, he kept the orchestra on his payroll, and Rizo arranged and orchestrated the music for I Love Lucy.

I Love Lucy

A scene from "Lucy Goes to Scotland",1956

On October 15, 1951, Arnaz starred in the premiere of I Love Lucy, in which he played a fictitious version of himself, Cuban orchestra leader Enrique "Ricky" Ricardo. His co-star was his real-life wife, Lucille Ball, who played Ricky's wife, Lucy. Television executives had been pursuing Ball to adapt her very popular radio series My Favorite Husband for television. Ball insisted on Arnaz playing her on-air spouse so the two would be able to spend more time together.

The original premise was for the couple to portray Lucy and Larry Lopez, a successful show business couple whose glamorous careers interfered with their efforts to maintain a normal marriage. Market research indicated, however, that this scenario would not be popular, so Jess Oppenheimer changed it to make Ricky Ricardo a struggling young orchestra leader and Lucy an ordinary housewife who had show business fantasies but no talent. (The character name "Larry Lopez" was dropped because of a real-life bandleader named Vincent Lopez, and was replaced with "Ricky Ricardo".) Ricky would often appear at, and later own, the Tropicana Club which, under his ownership, he renamed Club Babalu.

Initially, the idea of having Ball and the distinctly Latino Arnaz portray a married couple encountered resistance as they were told that Desi's Cuban accent and Latin style would not be agreeable to American viewers.[2] The couple overcame these objections, however, by touring together, during the summer of 1950, in a live vaudeville act they developed with the help of Spanish clown Pepito Pérez, together with Ball's radio show writers. Much of the material from their vaudeville act, including Lucy's memorable seal routine, was used in the pilot episode of I Love Lucy. Segments of the pilot were recreated in the sixth episode of the show's first season.

Desilu Productions

With Ball, he founded Desilu Productions. At that time, most television programs were broadcast live, and as the largest markets were in New York, the rest of the country received only kinescope images. Karl Freund, Arnaz's cameraman, developed the multiple-camera setup production style using adjacent sets that became the standard for all subsequent situation comedies to this day. The use of film enabled every station around the country to broadcast high-quality images of the show. Arnaz was told that it would be impossible to allow an audience onto a sound stage, but he worked with Freund to design a set that would accommodate an audience, allow filming, and also adhere to fire and safety codes.

Network executives considered the use of film an unnecessary extravagance. Arnaz convinced them to allow Desilu to cover all additional costs associated with the filming process, under the stipulation that Desilu owned and controlled all rights to the film. Arnaz's unprecedented arrangement is widely considered to be one of the shrewdest deals in television history. As a result of his foresight, Desilu reaped the profits from all reruns of the series.

Arnaz also pushed the network to allow them to show Lucille Ball while she was pregnant. According to Arnaz, the CBS network told him, "You cannot show a pregnant woman on television". Arnaz consulted a priest, a rabbi, and a minister, all of whom told him that there would be nothing wrong with showing a pregnant Lucy or with using the word pregnant. The network finally relented and let Arnaz and Ball weave the pregnancy into the story line, but remained adamant about eschewing use of pregnant, so Arnaz substituted expecting, pronouncing it 'spectin' in his Cuban accent. Oddly, the official titles of two of the series' episodes employed the word pregnant: "Lucy Is Enceinte", employing the French word for pregnant, and "Pregnant Women Are Unpredictable", although the episode titles never appeared on the show itself.

In addition to I Love Lucy, he executive produced The Ann Sothern Show, Those Whiting Girls and was briefly involved in several other series such as The Untouchables. He also produced the feature film Forever, Darling (1956), in which he and Ball starred.

The original Desilu company continued long after Arnaz's divorce from Ball. Among the later Desilu shows: The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, and Star Trek. When Ball sold her share of Desilu to what became Paramount Television, Arnaz went on to form his own production company from the ashes of his share of Desilu, and with the newly formed Desi Arnaz Productions, he made The Mothers-In-Law for United Artists Television and NBC, this ran for two seasons from 1967-68. Arnaz's company would be succeeded-in-interest by the company now known as Desilu, Too. Both Desilu, Too and Lucille Ball Productions work hand-in-hand with MPI Home Video in the home video re-issues of the Ball/Arnaz material not currently owned by CBS (successor-in-interest to Paramount Television, which in turn succeeded the original Desilu company). This material includes Here's Lucy and the aforementioned The Mothers-In-Law, as well as many programs and specials Ball and Arnaz made independently of each other.


Arnaz and Ball decided that the show would maintain what Arnaz termed "basic good taste", and were therefore determined to avoid ethnic jokes as well as humor based on handicaps, mental disabilities, and so on. Arnaz recalled that the only exception consisted of making fun of Ricky Ricardo's accent, and noted that even these jokes worked only when Lucy, as his wife, did the mimicking.

Arnaz was patriotic. In his memoirs, speaking of the United States, he wrote: "I know of no other country in the world" in which "a sixteen-year-old kid, broke and unable to speak the language" could achieve the successes he had. Over the show's nine-year run, the fortunes of the Ricardos mirror that of the archetypal 1950s American Dream. At first, they lived in a tiny, if pleasant brownstone apartment. Later, Ricardo got his big chance and moved, temporarily, to a fashionable hotel suite in Hollywood. Shortly after returning to New York, they had the opportunity to travel to Europe. Finally, Ricky and Lucy moved into a house in the wealthy Westport, Connecticut, countryside.


with Lucille Ball in Los Angeles, 1953.

Arnaz and Ball's marriage was turbulent, and she initiated divorce proceedings in 1944, but returned to him before the interlocutory decree became final. He and Ball are the parents of actress Lucie Arnaz (born 1951) and actor Desi Arnaz, Jr. (born 1953).

Arnaz's marriage with Ball began to collapse under the strain of his growing problems with alcohol and womanizing. According to his memoir, the combined pressures of managing the production company as well as supervising its day-to-day operations had greatly worsened as it grew much larger, and he felt compelled to seek outlets to alleviate the stress. Arnaz was also suffering from diverticulitis. Ball divorced him in 1960. When Ball returned to weekly television, she and Arnaz worked out an agreement regarding Desilu, wherein she bought him out.

Arnaz married his second wife, Edith Mack Hirsch, on March 2, 1963, and greatly reduced his show business activities. He served as executive producer of The Mothers-in-Law, and during its two-year run, made four guest appearances as a Spanish matador, Señor Delgado. He was widowed in 1985, when his wife Edith died.

Although both Arnaz and Ball remarried to other spouses after their divorce in 1960, they remained friends, and grew closer in his final decade. "'I Love Lucy' was never just a title", wrote Arnaz in the last years of his life.[3]Family home movies later aired on television showed Ball and Arnaz playing together with their grandson Simon shortly before Arnaz's death.

Later life

Arnaz appeared with his son in the 1974 television special, "California, My Way".

In the 1970s, Arnaz co-hosted a week of shows with daytime host and producer Mike Douglas. Vivian Vance appeared as a guest. Arnaz also headlined a Kraft Music Hall special on NBC that featured his two children, with a brief appearance by Vance. To promote his autobiography, A Book, Arnaz, on February 21, 1976, served as a guest host on Saturday Night Live, with his son, Desi, Jr., also appearing. The program contained spoofs of I Love Lucy and The Untouchables. The spoofs of I Love Lucy were supposed earlier concepts of the show that never made it on the air, such as "I Love Louie", where Desi lived with Louis Armstrong. He also read Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" in a heavy Cuban accent (he pronounced it "Habberwocky"). Arnaz, Jr. played the drums and, supported by the SNL band, Desi sang both "Babalu" and another favorite from his dance band days, "Cuban Pete"; the arrangements were similar to the ones used on I Love Lucy. He ended the broadcast by leading the entire cast in a raucous conga line through the SNL studio.

Arnaz and his wife eventually moved to Del Mar, California, where he lived the rest of his life in semi-retirement. He owned a 45-acre horse breeding farm in Corona, California, and raced thoroughbreds. He contributed to charitable and non-profit organizations, including San Diego State University. Arnaz would make a guest appearance on the TV series Alice, starring Linda Lavin and produced by I Love Lucy co-creators Madelyn Pugh (Madelyn Davis) and Bob Carroll, Jr.


Arnaz was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1986. He died several months later on December 2, 1986, at the age of 69. Lucille telephoned him two days before his death, on what would have been their 46th wedding anniversary. They shared a few words, mostly "I love you." She said, "All right, honey. I'll talk to you later."

Arnaz was cremated and the whereabouts of his ashes are unknown. His death came just five days before Lucille Ball received the Kennedy Center Honors.

Desi was survived by his mother, Dolores, who died in 1988 at the age of 92.[4]


Desi Arnaz has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one at 6327 Hollywood Boulevard for contributions to motion pictures, and one at 6220 Hollywood Boulevard for television. There is a Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center museum in Jamestown, New York (birthplace of Lucille Ball) and a Desi Arnaz Bandshell in Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Celoron, New York (childhood home of Lucille Ball).


As actor

As producer

  • 1967: The Mothers-In-Law (executive producer) (56 episodes, 1967–1969)
  • 1968: Land's End (TV) (producer)
  • 1966: The Carol Channing Show (TV) (producer)
  • 1961: The Untouchables (executive producer) (3 episodes, 1961–1962)
  • 1962: The Lucy Show (executive producer) (1 episode, 1962)
  • 1958: The Ann Sothern Show (executive producer) (93 episodes, 1958–1961)
  • 1960: New Comedy Showcase TV series (executive producer) (unknown episodes)
  • 1957: The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (executive producer) (13 episodes, 1957–1960)
  • 1958: The Texan TV series (executive producer) (unknown episodes)
  • 1958: The Fountain of Youth (TV) (executive producer)
  • 1952: I Love Lucy (executive producer) (131 episodes, 1952–1956) (producer) (26
  • 1956: I Love Lucy Christmas Show (TV) (producer)
  • 1956: Forever, Darling (producer)
  • 1955: Those Whiting Girls TV series (executive producer) (unknown episodes)

As writer

As director


  • 2001: I Love Lucy's 50th Anniversary Special (TV) (performer: "California, Here I Come", "Babalu (Babalú)") ... aka "The I Love Lucy 50th Anniversary Special" – USA (DVD title)
  • 1958: The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (1 episode, 1958) ... aka "We Love Lucy" – USA (syndication title) – Lucy Wins a Race Horse (1958) TV episode (performer: "The Bayamo")
  • 1952: I Love Lucy (3 episodes, 1952–1956) ... aka "Lucy in Connecticut" - USA (rerun title) ... aka "The Sunday Lucy Show" - USA (rerun title) ... aka "The Top Ten Lucy Show" – USA (rerun title) – Lucy and Bob Hope (1956) TV episode (performer: "Nobody Loves the Ump" (uncredited)) – Ricky's European Booking (1955) TV episode (performer: "Forever, Darling" (uncredited)) – Cuban Pals (1952) TV episode (performer: "The Lady in Red", "Similau")
  • 1956: Forever, Darling (performer: "Forever, Darling" (reprise))
  • 1949: Holiday in Havana (writer: "Holiday In Havana", "The Arnaz Jam")
  • 1946: Desi Arnaz and His Orchestra (performer: "Guadalajara", "Babalu (Babalú)", "Tabu (Tabú)", "Pin Marin") ... aka "Melody Masters: Desi Arnaz and His Orchestra" - USA (series title)
  • 1942: Four Jacks and a Jill ("Boogie Woogie Conga" 1941))
  • 1941: Father Takes a Wife ("Perfidia" (1939), "Mi amor" (1941))
  • 1940: Too Many Girls (performer: "Spic 'n' Spanish", "You're Nearer", "Conga") ("'Cause We Got Cake")


  • 1960: A Book (autobiography up to 1960)
  • 1976: Another Book (1960 onward—never completed beyond outline)[citation needed]
  • 1994: Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz By Coyne Stephen Sanders and Tom Gilbert (author) (Whole life, and focuses prominently on the Business affairs of Desilu Productions)(PNT)

See also


  1. ^ A Book; Arnaz, Desi
  2. ^ "Sotomayor: More 'Splainin' to Do". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2010-06-18. "CBS executives originally did not want Ball, a sassy redhead, married to a Latino on the program" 
  3. ^ Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
  4. ^ Social Security Death Index

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Desi Arnaz, Jr. — Desi Arnaz, Jr. Arnaz and his father in a 1974 television special. Born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV January 19, 1953 (1953 01 19) (age 58) …   Wikipedia

  • Desi Arnaz Jr. — Desi Arnaz junior (* 19. Januar 1953 in Los Angeles; eigentlich Desiderio Alberto Arnaz, IV) ist ein US amerikanischer Schauspieler und Musiker. Desi Arnaz junior wurde als Sohn von Desi Arnaz und Lucille Ball in Hollywood, Kalifornien geboren,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Desi Arnaz — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda con Lucille Ball en Los Angeles, 1953. Desi Arnaz, nacido Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha, III (n.Santiago de Cuba, 2 de marzo de 1917 m.Hollywood, Estados Unidos …   Wikipedia Español

  • Desi Arnaz — (* 2. März 1917 in Santiago de Cuba; † 2. Dezember 1986 in Del Mar, Kalifornien; eigentlich Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha, III) war ein kubanischer Musiker, Schauspieler, Komiker und Fernsehproduzent, der vor allem in den USA große Erfolge… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Desi Arnaz — en compagnie de son épouse Lucille Ball en 1953 Desi Arnaz (Santiago de Cuba, 2 mars 1917 Hollywood, 2 décembre 1986) est un acteur et chanteur américain. Il a grandi à Miami et devint chanteur et guitariste. Il collabora durant six mo …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Desi Arnaz Jr. — Desi Arnaz Jr, (né Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV, le 19 janvier 1953 à Los Angeles, Californie) est un acteur et musicien américain. Fils d’un célèbre couple du show business, Desi Arnaz et Lucille Ball, sa naissance a été l’une des plus… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Desi Arnaz — (Santiago de Cuba, 2 de marzo de 1917 Hollywood, 2 de diciembre de 1986). Actor y cantante estadounidense . Pasó su infancia en Miami, donde comenzó a trabajar como cantante, y guitarrista. Durante seis meses, estuvo como aprendiz en la orquesta… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Desi Arnaz — n. (1917 1986, born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III) United States comedian actor and television producer, husband of Lucille Ball (he and Lucille Ball were the parents of actors Desi Arnaz, Jr. and Lucie Arnaz) …   English contemporary dictionary

  • Desi Arnaz — Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Desi Arnaz junior — (* 19. Januar 1953 in Los Angeles; eigentlich Desiderio Alberto Arnaz, IV) ist ein US amerikanischer Schauspieler und Musiker. Desi Arnaz junior wurde als Sohn von Desi Arnaz und Lucille Ball in Hollywood, Kalifornien geboren, zwei Jahre nach… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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