Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sunday Morning Vault: Desi Arnez--I Love Lucy (1953)

   Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball are one of the most iconic couples in the history of television. There was a chemistry between them that was obvious on screen, and along with Vivian Vance and William Frawley created a show that has endeared itself to millions of fans now for 60 years. What many do not know is that Arenz and Ball both were shrewd business people who were pioneers in television production as well. 

      In the early 50's television shows were done live from New York, then sent to other station via kinescope images which was unstable, and in just the time it took to send the images to other networks, the picture quality began to deteriorate (which is why there are so few complete shows from that era). Arnez and Ball lived in California and did not want to have to travel to New York, so they convinced CBS to put the show on tape, which was more costly. Arnez also insisted on using three cameras instead of the one that was always used.  CBS, nor the show's potential sponsor, Philip Morris, wanted to pay the extra cost. The couple formed Desilu productions and offered to pay the balance of the cost, provided that after the first showing of the sitcom, Arnez/Ball would retrain total control on the film. In agreeing to do this, Desilu began syndicating the show and of course all of the money went to their new business.

       The two of them were hands on executives from the beginning of the company, which became sole ownership of Ball's after their divorce in 1960. The list of shows developed by the company reads like a who's who of popular TV in the 60's: Star Trek, Make Room For Daddy, The Andy Griffith Show, Mission Impossible, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Lucy Show, Family Affair, My Three Sons, The Untouchables, I Spy, Mannix, Our Miss Brooks, Gomer Pyle USMC and That Girl were only a few of the shows under the Desilu banner....

       Arnez himself came from a family of wealth in Cuba. His father was the youngest mayor in the history of Santiago, and also served in the Cuban House of Representatives. His mother's father, Alberto de Acha was one of the three founders of Bacardi Rum. His childhood and early teenage years were ones of privilege. However after the Bastista led revolution in 1933 all of their property and money was confiscated as the elder Arnez was put in jail. The US government, who determined Arnez to be neutral, negotiated for his release and the entire family was moved to Miami. 

    Desi started out in show business to support himself and starred on Broadway in the musical "Too Many Girls". He was offered a part in the film version of the play and he went to Hollywood where he met Lucille Ball, and the couple married in 1940. His band recorded and toured and along with film roles, was doing very well. The idea of him being in a show with Ball was her idea for them to be able to spend more time together. His recording and touring began to slow and finally stop between the acting and the running of Desilu productions. 

      Arnez's version of the title song is delightful and brings back memories of not just Desi, but his Lucy who together made entertainment history....enjoy and happy Sunday!!


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