Lovebirds Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were the masterminds behind the 50s sitcom I Love Lucy. Despite looking like the perfect couple on screen, their private life was far from perfect. Here are some of the most hidden details about the stars of the classic show.
Best Friends Or Worst Enemies?
It is believed that Lucille didn’t get along with Vivian Vance. In fact, during the first season, Lucille was skeptic about Vance’s ability to be a comedic presence. However, as the show progressed, the two became dear friends.
Some Remember, Some Don’t
One of the most fascinating details about Desi’s performing style was that he could memorize an entire script with just one read. Despite such short preparations for scenes, his incredible memory never let him down. However, one of Desi’s co-stars was quite the opposite. William Frawley, who played the role of Fred Mertz, struggled to memorize his lines after numerous script readings. He would reportedly rip sheets out of the script, complaining that he was given too many lines.
The Odd Couple
Vivian Vance, who portrayed Ethel, was one half of the other notable couple on the show. The other half was Fred, played by William Frawley. However, probably the most staggering detail about their relationship was that there was actually 22 years separating them in age. The huge age gap was often the catalyst for disagreements between the pair on set. According to most of the cast, Vance and Frawley didn’t get on well at all and tensions were constantly apparent.
Similar to Desi, co-star William Frawley also suffered from alcoholism. The condition became detrimental to his performances and the producers threatened his position on the show if he didn’t try and get sober. The situation was so dire at one point that the director would advise him to put his hands in his pockets during filming. This is why in many scenes, you won’t see his hands. The technique was to ensure that his hands wouldn’t shake as a result of his withdrawal symptoms.
Some of the stipulations in the casts’ contracts were nothing short of bizarre. Take Vivian Vance, for example. She claimed that part of her contract stated that she was required to always be 10 pounds heavier than her co-star, Lucille. It was the sort of intervening from producers that you never want to see. Surely an actor’s health should take priority ahead of their performance. Despite the rumor never being confirmed, Lucille and Vivian were seen on many occasions joking about it.
Run Away With Me
Over a decade before they hit the big time with I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz took the ultimate leap of faith in 1940 and eloped. “The most daring thing I had ever done,” Ball claimed. What made it even crazier was that both parties lied about their ages. The 29-year-old actress told Desi that she was actually 26. And Desi, who was 23 at the time, claimed to be 25. And even though they had a void divorce, the couple kept going as they approached stardom.
In 1952, Ball announced that she was pregnant, much to the producers’ dismay. This is because the term “pregnant” was, at the time, still a taboo. So when the producers also made Lucille’s character pregnant, they used the term “expecting” instead. Amazingly, Ball was the first actual pregnant woman to ever play a pregnant woman on TV. The idea of pregnancy was an intimate concept. However, Ball was defiant that she wanted to show her growing belly with pride.
As a result of Ball’s pregnancy, the producers felt that extra measures needed to be taken in order to make sure that the audience was not offended by what was considered at the time, a contentious topic. Every episode involving Lucy as a pregnant lady had to be double checked by a priest, a minister, and even a rabbi. This was so that the show remained safe and inoffensive for as many viewers as possible. Oh, how times have changed.
Eventually, Lucille Ball gave birth and as a result, one of the episodes also depicted Lucy giving birth. The episode “Little Ricky” was such a huge hit that it attracted 44 million viewers. More people watched it than the inauguration of President Eisenhower. Throughout the entire run of the show, I Love Lucy consistently had some of the highest ratings of its time. It was so popular that the series finale, “The Ricardos Dedicate A Statue” ranked number one in the Nielsen ratings.
The Grape Incident
Believe it or not, Ball nearly died while filming an episode of I Love Lucy. On the set of the episode, “Lucy’s Italian Movie,” Ball ended up choking on a grape. What made the incident even more ludicrous was that the rest of the crew had no idea that what Lucy was doing wasn’t actually part of the script. Once filming was finally complete, only then did the crew realize that Ball was in a life-threatening situation.
It Didn’t End Well
Although Lucy and Ricky were an inseparable pairing for six amazing seasons, Lucille and Desi’s off-screen relationship was far from perfect. It seemed that, like many celebrity couples, all the fame and fortune wasn’t enough to keep the couple going strong. The off-screen tensions didn’t seem to affect the couple’s performance. However, as soon as the show came to an end, so did their marriage. On March 3rd, 1960, the day after the finale aired, Ball filed for divorce.
In the aftermath of their divorce, things didn’t get any easier for Lucille and Desi. Two years later, the man formally known for his role as Ricky refused to work on their production company, Desilu. He ended up selling all of his company shares to Ball for $3 million. As the years went on, the bitterness did not subside. In his autobiography, Desi admitted that “the work ceased to be fun, I was happier cleaning birdcages and chasing rats.”
Drowning His Sorrows
One reason that Lucille and Desi’s marriage didn’t stand the test of time is because some of the latter’s weaknesses included alcohol and other women. This, unsurprisingly, made the couple’s relationship seriously problematic. Desi also admitted in his autobiography that “the more our love life deteriorated, the more we fought, the more unhappy we were, the more I drank.” It seemed like the couple’s vices, particularly Desi’s, are what ultimately created a downward spiral that eventually ended in divorce.
Things only seemed to get worse for Desi. For many years, the actor smoked five Cuban cigars a day. This extreme sort of habit ultimately took its toll on his health and eventually, Desi was diagnosed with lung cancer. Then, in 1986, he fell into a coma. And although Lucille was there by his side, this wasn’t enough. Desi died in his daughter’s arms. “He was a good daddy, but a lonely man at times, one who chose a difficult path,” she wrote.
High School Dropout
Although Lucille hit the big time in the 50s, she struggled to get herself a decent education. Unfortunately, she dropped out of high school at the age of 15 and as a result, did not receive a high school diploma. This was mainly because Lucille was so determined to get into the world of acting. It seems though, that these early sacrifices would ultimately pay off, as the young lady blossomed into one of the most recognized names of her day.
The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far
One of the main contributors towards her early success was her mother’s undying support. In fact, whenever “Lucy” was getting ahead of herself on set, there was always one person behind the scene shouting “Uh-Oh!” It turns out that this person was actually Lucille’s mom. She was with her daughter every step of the way. The words could be heard on most of the episodes and sound producer Glen Glenn even used her mother’s catchphrase for other sitcoms.
It’s In The Name
There are many interesting stories surrounding the name choices on I Love Lucy. Originally, Lucy’s partner was going to be called Larry Lopez. However, the producers didn’t like it as they thought that “Larry and Lucy” didn’t sound right. Also, Lucille took much inspiration from her own friends and family names. For example, Fred was named after her brother, and Ethel was named after her friend Ethel Merman. Another interesting name detail was that Lucille originally performed under the name Diana Belmont.
Coming To America
During his teens, Desi and his family actually came to America in search of a better life. However, the network executives were hesitant to produce a show starring an actor with such a thick accent, especially alongside an American redhead. As a result, the couple decided to invest $39,000 of their own money to start production of the show – specifically, the first few episodes. Despite Desi’s initial struggles in America, his perseverance is ultimately what saw him through.
Interestingly, the show wasn’t always called I Love Lucy. Before the show was given its iconic name, Lucille portrayed a character by the name of Liz on a show called My Favorite Husband. Lucille’s on-screen partner wasn’t Desi, but a man played by the actor Richard Denning. It was shortly after when the show became the more famous I Love Lucy. Ultimately, Lucille decided that the best move was to bring Desi on the show instead. This was so she could perform more naturally.
Sold Out Every Time
What made I Love Lucy even more authentic was the fact that every single episode was filmed in front of a live audience. The sitcom was so popular that every single audience was sold out, with 300 guests attending each production. What made the show so special was that it would be shot from start to finish, with numerous “one-shot” scenes being taken. The couple admitted that they performed better when they were in front of an audience.
The Main Ingredient
In the episode “Lucy Does a TV Commercial,” Lucy promotes a health product called Vitameatavegamin. However, it was never revealed in the show exactly what ingredients the fictional health tonic consisted of. Well, look no further, we’ve got you covered. Although Lucille would pretend to get drunk from the product, it turns out that she was simply downing Apple Pectin. She wasn’t 100% comfortable drinking it, but admitted later on in her life that it was actually very funny.
Similar to the “Uh Oh” scenario, there have been numerous times that random sounds have crept into the show. In the episode “Lucy’s Last Birthday,” you need to listen carefully to pick up the lyrics from the show’s theme song. It’s the only the episode where you can actually hear them. The lyrics go as follows: “I love Lucy and she loves me. We’re as happy as two can be. Sometimes we quarrel but then. How we love making up again.”
When Lucille gave birth to their son, Desi thought it was important to give her a break before filming the next episode. As a result, he managed to make the network skip a couple of weeks of broadcasting and instead they played repeats of old episodes. This gave birth to what we know nowadays as the rerun. In fact, reruns of I Love Lucy are still being played to this day. Despite ending in 1957, it’s still watched by over 40 million each year.
Despite her break up with Desi, Lucille continued to reach dizzy new heights in her career. In 1962, she became the first woman to ever run a TV studio in the form of Desilu. Other popular shows that were filmed under Desilu included sci-fi hit Star Trek and The Untouchables. By 1967, Ball had transformed Desilu once again into a profitable company after selling her shares to Gulf+Western for $17 million, which is the equivalent of $122 million in today’s financial climate.
One Trick Pony
Although Lucille Ball had an absolute masterstroke when she and Desi created I Love Lucy all those years ago, the reality was that it was probably the only successful piece of entertainment she churned out in her career. It is safe to say that she didn’t have the most glamorous of careers. Her reputation as a one-trick pony was only furthered after starring in many B movies. For this exact reason, she was referred to as “The Queen Of B’s.”
There is no denying that I Love Lucy put both Lucille and Desi on the map as two of America’s biggest celebrities of their era. Initially, the producers planned to base the show on the couple’s actual lifestyle. However, they felt like the show should portray a typical, average American household. Lucille and Desi sincerely believed that the public wouldn’t be able to relate to their celebrity lifestyle. This was one of the original sitcoms, depicting normal characters living fairly normal lives.
Believe it or not, Lucille Ball wasn’t actually a redhead. It turns out that the actress was actually born a brunette, not going red until 1942. The reason she turned ginger was that she dyed her hair that color for the movie DuBarry Was A Lady. After that, she never went back. She also had a spell as a blonde when she first tasted the success of Hollywood, but this was to be short-lived. The reality was that many never experienced the real Lucille.
The cast of I Love Lucy have all tasted different levels of success from a critical standpoint. Unsurprisingly, Lucille has received the most acclaim for her role as Lucy, having been nominated for 13 Emmy Awards and winning 4 of them. In fact, all four main actors were well received for their performances. However, Desi was the only one to never receive an Emmy nomination. Even William Frawley and Vivian Vance received nominations, with the latter winning one of them.
Lucille enjoyed making history on numerous occasions throughout her career. One of the finest examples of this came when she became the first person to ever to appear on the cover of TV Guide. She also tops the list of celebrities with the most appearances on the cover, showing up a staggering 39 times. It makes perfect sense, seeing that I Love Lucy was regarded as the first true sitcom, and Lucille was the face of this revolutionary show.
Despite her exuberance and sheer confidence on screen, Lucille Ball was originally quite shy. In fact, she lacked so much confidence as a young lady that she was initially very pessimistic about her chances of becoming an actress. But everything changed one day when she had a vivid dream. She dreamt that actress Carole Lombard advised her to transition from radio to TV. Sadly, Lombard died in a plane crash in 1942. Nevertheless, Ball cites her as her main inspiration.