Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s marriage was the kindling that lit I Love Lucy’s perpetual flame. Their on-air chemistry, which mirrored the couple’s real-life dynamic, was part of what made the duo so magnetic. But it wasn’t all glitz and glamour in the Ball-Arnaz household.
Their marriage had its fair share of bumps in the road, from arrests outside a brothel to passive-aggressive insults. Apparently, it was the actor who played Ricky Ricardo who really had some ‘splaining to do.
Lucy Lobbied For Ricky For More Than One Reason
People did an exclusive interview in 1991 with several of Ball and Arnaz’s colleagues. The shocking tell-all laid out little-known facts about the iconic couple’s partnership. Their high-profile union began in 1940 on a film set; they eloped later that year.
However, the two performers quickly realized their schedules made it nearly impossible to meet. Arnaz’s career as a bandleader would have him coming home when Ball was getting into hair and makeup. Lucy’s long-time publicist Charles Pomerantz recalled Ball as having said, “We just can’t keep meeting in the Sepulveda tunnel.”
Eventually, the couple decided to pursue artistic endeavors that would allow them to spend more time together. So, when CBS proposed a TV show to Ball, she demanded they cast Arnaz as her on-screen husband.
Though their charismatic energy did wonders for the show, Ball wasn’t just thinking about comedic timing when she lobbied for Arnaz.
Arnaz Was A Notorious Womanizer
Bob Weiskopf, a writer for Ball and Arnaz, told People that Ball wanted Arnaz on the show “because she knew that if he went on the road with the band, he’d be catting around all the time.” Indeed, Arnaz’s inimitable charm made him irresistible to his wife and lots of other women along the way.
Keith Thibodeaux, the actor who portrayed Little Ricky, recounted when Ball visited the Indian Wells Country Club. “She went to the lounge to have a drink, and Desi walked in with a couple of women on his arm. When he saw Lucy at the bar, he turned around and took off.”
Still, this infidelity was nothing new to Lucy. When Confidential magazine published a story on Arnaz’s womanizing ways, Ball insisted on reading the story while on set. “Everybody was frozen on set,” Pomerantz told People. “She finally came out, tossed the magazine to Desi, and said, ‘oh, hell, I could tell them worse than that.’”
Maybe she was referring to a specific night in Palm Springs, during which Associated Press reporter Jim Bacon said, “[Arnaz] didn’t do anything but sit on the floor naked and sing ‘Babaloo’ with all these whores around. If he was out carousing, he wouldn’t call in one whore; he’d call in 18.”
They Kept Their Passive Aggression Public
Considering how public their relationship was, it’s unsurprising that their fights were, too. According to People, when speaking of infidelity in their marriage, Desi reportedly said, “what the hell’s the matter? I love her. When I go out with women, they’re usually hookers. Those don’t count.”
Meanwhile, Ball would find her own subtle ways to undermine and disrespect Arnaz publicly. “There were a lot of occasions when Lucy insulted Desi–usually indirectly,” Weiskopf said. “She’d mention to someone else what had happened in a poker game over the weekend in Palm Springs. In front of him, she’d talk about what stupid plays he had made.”
The one thing Ball chose to handle discreetly was Arnaz’s long struggle with alcoholism. Though, by the end of their marriage, Arnaz’s drunken antics were becoming too flamboyant to sweep under the rug.
“She told me that by 1956 it wasn’t even a marriage anymore. They were just going through a routine for the children. She told me that for the last five years of their marriage, it was just ‘booze and broads.’ That was in her divorce papers, as a matter of fact,” said author Bart Andrews.
Their Love Lasted A Lifetime
Despite their tumultuous past, the two remained friends after their divorce. They both remarried and stayed in touch throughout the years. Their daughter, Lucie, recalled her mother’s last conversation with her father.
Before Arnaz died of lung cancer in 1986, Ball spoke to her ex-husband over the phone. “I put the phone up to Dad’s ear in the bed,” Lucie said. “I said, ‘it’s the redhead.’ He just listened, and I heard what he said. She just said the same thing over and over again. It was, ‘I love you. I love you. Desi, I love you.’ You could even hear the intonations of the voice change, how she meant each one.”
William Asher, director of I Love Lucy, told People, “Maybe I’m the romantic. But there was a great, great love there, there really was. Desi was very unhappy about the breakup, and I think she was too. I don’t think either one of them ever got over it. Things happen. It was very sad. But they’re together now.”
And if their real-life connection was any indication, they’re probably together, somewhere, making each other laugh—or making each other pull their hair out (probably both).