Desi Arnaz
Desi ET interview 1982
Desi Arnaz in 1982 "Entertainment Tonight" TV show interview.
Vital information
Birthname: Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III
Born: (1917-03-02)March 2, 1917
Birthplace: Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Died December 2, 1986(1986-12-02) (aged 69)
Deathplace: Del Mar, California, U.S.
Actor, musician, producer
Years active: 1936–1982
Family and Personal information
Spouse(s): Lucille Ball
(m. 1940–1960; divorced)
Edith Mack Hirsch
(m. 1963–1985; her death)
Related to: Desiderio Alberto Arnaz II father (1894–1973)
and Dolores de Acha (1896–1988) (mother)
Lucie Arnaz (daughter, born 1951)
Desi Arnaz, Jr. (son, born 1953)
Alberto de Acha (grandfather)[1]
Character/Show information
Appeared on/
involved with:
I Love Lucy/The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour
Episodes appeared in: All of both series
Also served as co-executive producer of both series
Appears as: Ricky Ricardo
I Love Lucy Wiki Script

Desiderio Arnaz (better known as 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 best known for his role as Ricky Ricardo on the American TV series I Love Lucy, starring with then wife Lucille Ball, to whom he was married at the time. He and Ball are generally credited as the inventors of the TV series episode rerun in connection with the show.[2]

Early lifeEdit

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)[3], Desi's 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.[4] 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 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.[4] 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[5] (near Tampa ) to help improve his English.

Film careerEdit

When Desi emigrated to the United States, he soon turned to show business to support himself. In 1939, he starred on Broadway n the musical Too Many Girls. He went to Hollywood the next year to appear in the show's movie version at RKO Pictures, which starred Lucille Ball. Arnaz and Ball married on November 30, 1940. Arnaz also played guitar for fellow Cuban bandleader/musician Xavier Cugat.[1]

Arnaz appeared in several movies in the 1940s, notably Bataan (1943). He received his U.S. Army 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 LucyEdit

On October 15, 1951, Arnaz was given a role to co-star 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, comedienne/actress 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.[6] 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 ProductionsEdit

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 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 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 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. 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, both producing its own shows and providing production facilities to other producers. Among the later shows produced at Desilu were: 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-TV, this ran for two seasons from 1967 to 1968. 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.

Marriage and familyEdit

Arnaz and Ball's marriage (1940) 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). Amid the continued pressure of allegations of infidelity on Desi's part, and the day-to-day grind of working together on a hit TV series, the two, Desi and Lucille, seperated in 1959, while The Desi-Lucy Comedy Hour, which was a continuation series based on I Love Lucy. The divorce was finalized on May 4, 1960, after The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour wrapped up production in its fourth and final season. When Lucille 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.[7] Family home movies later aired on television showed Ball and Arnaz playing together with their grandson Simon shortly before Arnaz's death.

Later lifeEdit

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 NBC's 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. At this time, Desi also began to teach classes at SDSU in studio production and acting for television.

Desi and his second wife Edith eventually settled in Del Mar, California.


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.[8] 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 in 1988 at the age of 92.[9]


Desi Arnaz has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one at 6301 Hollywood Boulevard for contributions to motion pictures, and one at 6250 Hollywood Boulevard for television.[10]

There is a Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center museum in Jamestown, New York, and a Desi Arnaz Bandshell in the Lucille Ball Memorial Park in Celoron, New York.


  1. 1.0 1.1 A Book; Arnaz, Desi
  2. Desi Arnaz & Lucille Ball: The Geniuses Who Shaped The Future Of Television. Entrepeneur (October 8, 2009). Retrieved on 2013-01-28.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause. Viking Adult, 2008, p. 122 (footnote).
  5. 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.
  6. Silver, Allison. "Sotomayor: More 'Splainin' to Do", The Huffington Post, July 16, 2009. Retrieved on 2010-06-18. “CBS executives originally did not want Ball, a sassy redhead, married to a Latino on the program” 
  7. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
  9. Social Security Death Index
  10. Hollywood Walk of Fame info re Desi Arnaz's stars

External linksEdit

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