Desi was of Spanish descent, born into a pretty wealthy family back in Cuba, but they had to exile to the United States after Fulgencio Batista took power in the 30's and stripped them of their wealth. He came to Miami, then in New York City met Xavier Cugat who inspired Arnaz to start up his own Latin band. Arnaz became pretty successful with his Latin orchestra and then did Broadway and roles in Hollywood pictures, where he ran into the woman that would change his life: Lucille Ball. They were married in 1940.
The idea to transfer Ball's successful radio show My Favorite Husband onto the new medium known as television, ran into a bit of problems at first, mainly the fact that Lucille insisted that her real life husband Desi be cast on the TV show. Racism being more pronounced then, CBS executives did not think America would want to see a Hispanic portraying Lucille's husband on TV. Ball and Arnaz proved their worth, touring the country on a live stage show version of the concept, and the executives were won over by positive live audience response. Ball hoped that this would also help her already strained marriage with Arnaz by bringing them closer together if they were able to live and work in California as a team.
-In 1951, before the perfection of videotape, nearly all television shows were live productions, fed from the East Coast because of time-zone differences. Philip Morris approved the idea of filming I Love Lucy, but the sponsor wanted a live audience, which had been effective on radio. Desi and cinematographer Karl Freund, a veteran of pre-World War II German expressionist cinema working in Hollywood, devised a plan for staging the show as a play, performing each act before an audience, and simultaneously filming with three or four cameras stationed in different locations. Because this technique increased network production costs, CBS asked the Arnaz and Ball to take a cut in salary to compensate for the increase. In negotiation, Arnaz agreed, providing Desilu, a company he and Ball had created, would then own the shows after the broadcasts. A few years later the couple sold the films back to CBS for more than four million dollars, a sum that provided the economic base for building what became the Desilu empire. The practice of filming television episodes also paved the way to TV reruns and syndication.
And the rest they say is history. Arnaz' revolutionary contributions to the television landscape were enormous and are still used today. His personal life with Lucille Ball however, was sadly marred by alcoholism and womanizing. OH THOSE LATIN MEN! HAHAHAHAHA! Twenty years of marriage, two children, and Ball had had enough. They divorced, but remained lifelong amicable friends. Arnaz remarried in 1963, and remained so until his wife Edith passed away in 1985. A lifetime of heavy smoking took its toll, and Arnaz himself succumbed to shitty lung cancer on December 2, 1986.
This simple and humble blog post is in honor of a Latino who made history as a TV star and astute producer/businessman. Sporting his trademark funny accent, going off in Spanish, and playing off Ball's crazy antics, Desi Arnaz is forever immortalized along with his other three co-stars on the most popular television show in history.
¡Gracias Ricky Ricardo!