World War II was raging in Europe and folks in the US were getting antsy in 1940 when Lucille Ball first laid eyes on Desi Arnaz.
The fiery redhead and the Cuban band leader were instantly attracted to one another when they met on the set of the movie, Too Many Girls.
It was a title that would come back to haunt their relationship.
Desi played the part of the Latin Lover well.
It was a union that would give America one of its most passionate love stories and would also change the television industry for ever.
She was 28, he 23 when they met on that movie set where Desi was reprising his Broadway role for film.
He played a bandleader – not so much a stretch, and Lucy was one of the big names in the film.
Her relationship with a younger man perplexed her friends as Lucy had always dated older, taller men, and to top it off, he was engaged.
But, love, as always, has a mind of its own, and the odd couple fell passionately in love.
People were surprised at Lucy’s eagerness to please Desi Arnaz; she seemed to dote on him in an old fashioned way. It was a departure from the strong and independent Lucy that everyone knew.
When the filming was done, Lucy went on tour to promote the film and Desi went back to his band, his night clubs, and his women.
Lucy’s jealous side came out when she heard he’d gone back to Betty Grable, and the lady who would one day be America’s favorite redhead marched over to Desi’s place, raised sand, and stunned his flabbergasted mother when she called him a “Cuban sonofabitch.”
Desi immediately proposed, and that November in 1940, a mere six months after they’d met on the set, they eloped.
Betty was most unhappy.
Desi went on tour, and his absences took their toll. But life wasn’t so easy for the couple when he was working near home either. She had to be UP and ready for make UP at 3 or 4 in the morning just about the time Desi was rolling in from the club.
Meanwhile, Lucy got knocked UP, and Desi stayed around – for a bit.
Several miscarriages and a couple of separations would ensue before their first child, Lucie Arnaz was born.
The longest separation was in 1944, and Lucy actually filed for divorce, but reconciled after Desi agreed to look for projects they could do together.
About that time, CBS decided to convert Lucy’s popular radio show into a TV show. The execs were hesitant when Lucy suggested her real-life husband play the part of her TV husband – seems that heavy Cuban accent would be more than the American public could bear.
Or so they thought!
To prove them wrong, Lucy took Desi on the road as a vaudeville act in 1951, and the audiences love it.
Lucy had what she wanted, a career and a husband she could keep an eye on.
Convinced that if Desi went on the road with the band he’d be catting around all the time, but at home, she was sure they would have a better chance of making it.
Desi, his shrewd business sense camouflaged by his accent, created Desilu, the first independent TV production company and convinced CBS to produce the show on film in an era when re-runs were unheard of, and talked them into giving him ownership of the films. Every episode, which he would eventually sell back to them for $5 million in 1961!
Along with the new show, the couple had a new baby; Lucie was born in 7/17/1951, just three months before the show was aired. Lucy was sure fatherhood would keep Desi on the straight and narrow, and it did – for a while.
I Love Lucy debuted in October of 1951. In short order, 40 million Americans were in front of their televisions every week to see what the Ricardos were UP to.
Two years later, the TV couple broke ground again when the show became the first in history to show a pregnant woman!
They couldn’t say pregnant however, so they said it in Spanish, sort of – enceinte.
Lucy, Desi, and Little Ricky, who’s birth coincided with the real advent of their son, Desi Arnaz, JR, were America’s favorite family, and all seemed well. But, there were issues. Desi would say in his book, aptly titled A Book, that the pressures of running the company, being Mr. Ball, and the pressures of stardom pushed him to booze and broads.
After 20 years of a marriage that was filled with passion and pitfalls, Lucy had had enough.
She filed for divorce in 1960.
America was heartbroken – everyone loved Lucy.
The couple moved on to other loves, but remained close, never really getting over their break UP.
Good friend Carol Channing said, “They spoke so loving of each other, you almost forgot they weren’t together anymore.”
Shortly before he died from lung cancer in 1986, his last words to Lucy were, “I love you too, honey. Good luck with your show.”
It was too late, and there had been too many girls.