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Desi Arnaz: 1917-1986: Bandleader, Entertainer, Producer - Always Loved Lucy

ball television people desilu

With the show's runaway success, the couple grew into an entertainment empire. In addition to I Love Lucy, Desilu produced such television hits as Our Miss Brooks, The Untouchables, and The Danny Thomas Show. The two appeared together in the films The Long, Long Trailer and Forever Darling. They made a fortune on reruns—the first of a current show in television history—that catered to new television owners who had missed the first episodes of the show. Desilu bought RKO Studios, where the couple had first met, in 1957. In its heyday, Desilu grossed about $15 million per year and employed 800 people.

The success took its toll on the couple, and they struggled to maintain their happy persona on the air.

Arnaz worked long hours and spent weekends on his boat in the company of various females, his wife not among them. He drank heavily and his health was jeopardized by a colon condition. He also was known to explode in "abusive fits of anger," according to People. One tale of the pair's volatility included Ball aiming a gun at Arnaz's head and pulling the trigger, only to have a tiny flame light from the end of the barrel, with which Arnaz then casually lit his cigar. "It got so bad that I though it would be better for us not to be together," Ball reportedly said in divorce court in 1960, according to People. After twenty years of marriage, America's favorite couple was splitting up—and there was no kiss-and-make-up reconciliation at the end of the show.


I Love Lucy ran until 1959, and Ball and Arnaz continued as business partners after the divorce. They both remarried, Arnaz to his neighbor, Edie Hirsch. Ball went on to star in The Lucy Show, and Arnaz retired to his 45-acre horse ranch in Corona, California, though he took the occasional cameo role. In 1962 he sold his rights to Ball, who then ran Desilu on her own, producing such popular television shows as Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. Arnaz produced the television series The Mothers-In-Law in 1967. In his autobiography, titled A Book, published in 1976, Arnaz wrote: "All I can say is that I loved her very much and, in my own peculiar way, I will always love her…. I Love Lucy was never just a title." Ball visited Arnaz's bedside before he died of lung cancer in 1986.


Sources

Books


Arnaz, Desi, A Book, Buccaneer Books., 1976.

Larkin, Colin, editor, Encyclopedia of Popular Music, MUZE UK Ltd., 1998.


Periodicals


American Heritage, December 1998, p. 20.

People, February 12, 1996, p. 74.


—Brenna Sanchez

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