Arnaz as a musician, 1950.
Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III
March 2, 1917
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
December 2, 1986
Del Mar, California, U.S.
Cause of death
|Occupation||Actor, musician, producer|
Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha, III (March 2, 1917 – December 2, 1986), better known as Desi Arnaz or Desi Arnaz, Sr., was a Cuban-born American musician, actor and television producer. He is best remembered for his role as Ricky Ricardo on the American television series I Love Lucy, starring with Lucille Ball, to whom he was married at the time. Arnaz was also internationally renowned for leading his Latin music band, the Desi Arnaz Orchestra. He and Ball are generally credited as the inventors of the rerun in connection with I Love Lucy.
Arnaz was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha, III, in Santiago de Cuba to Desiderio Alberto Arnaz II (March 8, 1894 – May 31, 1973) and his wife Dolores de Acha (April 2, 1896 – October 24, 1988). His father was Santiago's youngest mayor and also served in the Cuban House of Representatives. His maternal grandfather was Alberto de Acha, an executive at Bacardi Rum. According to Arnaz, 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 Cuban 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 his brother-in-law Alberto de Acha intervened on his behalf. The family then fled to Miami, Florida, where Desi attended St. Patrick Catholic High School. In the summer of 1934 he attended Saint Leo Prep (near Tampa) to help improve his English.
When he moved to the United States, 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.
Arnaz appeared in several movies in the 1940s such as 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
On October 15, 1951, Arnaz co-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. 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. During his time on the show, he became TV's most successful entrepreneur.
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, and even Arnaz himself have been credited with the development of the multiple-camera setup production style using adjacent sets in front of a live audience that became the standard for subsequent situation comedies. 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 filming, 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 Christian 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 (starring Margaret Whiting and Barbara Whiting Smith) and was also involved in several other series such as The Untouchables, Whirlybirds, and Sheriff of Cochise/United States Marshal. He also produced the feature film Forever, Darling (1956), in which he and Ball starred.
In the late 1950s', Arnaz proposed a western television series to his then neighbor, Victor Orsatti, who formed a production company, Ror-Vic, in partnership with actor Rory Calhoun. Ror-Vic produced the The Texan, which aired on Monday evenings on CBS from 1958 to 1960. Episodes were budgeted at $40,000 each, with two black-and-white segments filmed weekly through Desilu Studios. Despite the name, the series was filmed not in Texas but mostly in Pearl Flats in the Mojave Desert of southern California. The program could have been renewed for a third season had Calhoun not desired to return to films.
The original Desilu company continued long after Arnaz's divorce from Ball and her remarriage to Gary Morton. Desilu produced its own programs and provided facilities to other producers. Desilu produced 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 (at Desilu) for United Artists Television and NBC. This sitcom ran for two seasons from 1967 to 1968. Arnaz's company was 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 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 physical handicaps or mental disabilities. Arnaz recalled that the only exception consisted of making fun of Ricky Ricardo's accent; 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, the couple moved into a house in wealthy Westport, Connecticut.
Arnaz and Ball's marriage was turbulent. Convinced that Arnaz was being unfaithful to her, and also because he came home drunk several times, Ball filed for divorce in September 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. Edith died in 1985.
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. Family home movies later aired on television showed Ball and Arnaz playing together with their grandson Simon shortly before Arnaz's death.
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, on February 21, 1976, Arnaz 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 to be 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 San Diego State University. He also taught classes at San Diego State University in studio production and acting for television. 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 a regular smoker for much of his life and often smoked cigarettes on the set of I Love Lucy. He continued smoking Cuban cigars into his sixties. 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 his ashes scattered. His death came just five days before Lucille Ball received the Kennedy Center Honors. He was survived by his children and his mother, Dolores, who died on October 24, 1988 at the age of 92.
- 1982: The Escape Artist .... Mayor Leon Quiñones
- 1978: Alice .... Paco (1 episode, 1978)
- 1976: Saturday Night Live (1 episode, as host, musical guest and skit player)
- 1974: Ironside .... Dr. Juan Domingo (1 episode, 1974)
- 1970: The Virginian .... El Jefe (1 episode, 1970)
- 1970: Kraft Music Hall .... Host (1 episode, 1970)
- 1967: The Mothers-In-Law .... Raphael del Gado (4 episodes, 1967–1968)
- 1961: The Red Skelton Show .... Guest / ... (1 episode, 1961)
- 1957: The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour .... Ricky Ricardo (13 episodes, 1957–1960)
- 1958: Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse .... Ricky Ricardo / ... (5 episodes, 1958–1960)
- 1959: Sunday Showcase (1 episode, 1959)
- 1959: Make Room for Daddy .... Ricky Ricardo (1 episode, 1959)
- 1951: I Love Lucy .... Ricky Ricardo (181 episodes, 1951–1957)
- 1956: I Love Lucy Christmas Show (TV) .... Ricky Ricardo
- 1956: Forever, Darling .... Lorenzo Xavier Vega
- 1953: The Long, Long Trailer .... Nicholas 'Nicky' Collini
- 1953: I Love Lucy .... Ricky Ricardo / Himself
- 1949: Holiday in Havana .... Carlos Estrada
- 1947: Jitterumba
- 1946: Cuban Pete .... Desi Arnaz
- 1943: Bataan .... Felix Ramirez
- 1942: The Navy Comes Through .... Pat Tarriba
- 1942: Four Jacks and a Jill .... Steve Sarto/King Stephan VIII of Aregal
- 1941: Father Takes a Wife .... Carlos Bardez
- 1940: Too Many Girls .... Manuelito Lynch
- 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)
- 1968: Land's End (TV) (creator)
- 1959: Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (1 episode, 1959) – Ballad for a Bad Man (1959) TV episode (writer)
- 1967: The Mothers-In-Law (24 episodes, 1967–1968)
- 1966: The Carol Channing Show (TV)
- 1959: The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour (3 episodes, 1959–1960)
- 1959: Sunday Showcase (1 episode, 1959)
- 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")
- 1976: Arnaz, Desi. A Book. New York: William Morrow, 1976. ISBN 0688003427 (autobiography to 1960)
- 1993: Sanders, Coyne Steven, and Thomas W. Gilbert. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. New York: Morrow, 1993. ISBN 9780688112172 (revised edition 2011 ISBN 9780062020017) (full dual biography focusing prominently on business affairs of Desilu Productions)
- Arnaz, Desi. A Book. New York: William Morrow, 1976. ISBN 0688003427
- Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause. Viking Adult, 2008, p. 122 (footnote).
- Horgan, James J. (1990). Pioneer College: The Centennial History of Saint Leo College, Saint Leo Abbey, and Holy Name Priory. Saint Leo College Press. p. 463.
Silver, Allison (July 16, 2009). "Sotomayor: More 'Splainin' to Do". The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 18, 2010.
CBS executives originally did not want Ball, a sassy redhead, married to a Latino on the program
- Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), pp. 110-112
- Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
- Social Security Death Index
- Hollywood Walk of Fame info re Desi Arnaz's stars
- Desi Arnaz at the Internet Movie Database
- Desi Arnaz at the Internet Broadway Database
- Desi Arnaz at AllMovie
- Guide to the Desi Arnaz Papers 1947–1976 Special Collections and University Archives, Library and Information Access, San Diego State University
- The Museum of Broadcast Communications: "Arnaz, Desi – U.S. Actor/Media Executive", by B.R. Smith
- FBI file on Desi Arnaz
- Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center
- Desi Arnaz at Find a Grave