Latin Roots/Yankee Roots
Desiderio Alberto Arnaz III, y de Acha was born into a prominent family in Santiago de Cuba, but when the family’s fortunes were dramatically reversed by the Batista Revolution in 1933, Arnaz immigrated to Florida the following year. After performing for a time with a rumba band in Miami and with the famed Xavier Cugat Orchestra in New York, Arnaz got his first big break in 1939 when, at age twenty-two, he was cast on Broadway in Rodgers and Hart’s Too Many Girls. The following year he was signed to repeat his role in the film version of the musical, which costarred Lucille Ball.
Lucille Desirée Ball’s origins were less patrician. She was born in Jamestown, New York; her mother was a pianist and her father, a telephone lineman. An avid performer from early childhood, she enrolled in drama school in New York City at age seventeen, but failed to impress the instructors. After working as a waitress and fashion model, and, occasionally, as a Broadway chorus girl, she was hired to appear as a Goldwyn Girl in the 1933 film Roman Scandals. Some forty more films followed during the next six years, before she met Desi Arnaz, shortly after his arrival at the RKO studios. They were married on November 30, 1940. Read more about Latin Roots/Yankee Roots »
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The Cast, Crew, and Set
In the television adaption of My Favorite Husband, Ball and Arnaz became Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Vivian Vance, with a distinguished Broadway résumé, and William Frawley, a veteran of more than 100 films, were hired as the Ricardos’ landlords, neighbors, and best friends, Ethel and Fred Mertz. Keith Thibodeaux (b. 1950), billed as Richard Keith, would later become “Little Ricky.”
My Favorite Husband’s producer and head writer, Jess Oppenheimer (1913–1988), and writers Madelyn Pugh-Davis (1921–2011) and Bob Carroll, Jr. (1918–2007) transferred to the new show; Bob Schiller (b. 1918) and Bob Weiskopf (1914–2001) joined the writing team in 1955. Marc Daniels (1912–1989) was the show’s first director, followed by William Asher (b. 1921) and James V. Kern (1909–1966). Oscar-winning cinematographer Karl Freund (1890–1969) was the director of photography. He and Daniels are generally credited with filming I Love Lucy using the three-camera technique in front of a live audience that subsequently became the standard for situation comedies.
Desilu Productions rented a sound stage for filming I Love Lucy and constructed permanent—and realistic-looking—sets. During I Love Lucy’s first seasons, the episodes took place mostly in the Mertzes’ brownstone apartment building, located at the fictional address 623 East 68th Street—which would actually have been in the East River! Read more about The Cast, Crew, and Set »
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I Love Lucy—On the Move
By 1954, after more than one-hundred episodes set in New York, the ratings had slipped, and Oppenheimer felt that the show needed “something new.” That novelty was created by changing locations during the show’s final three seasons and by elevating Ricky’s professional reputation and the Ricardos’ social standing. As a result, the writers created a thirty-episode chronicle in the fourth season of the cast’s trip to California, prompted by the prospect of a starring role for Ricky in a Hollywood movie and providing opportunities for appearances by a number of leading screen stars.
This location change was followed by a seventeen-episode visit to Europe in the fifth season, when Ricky’s orchestra, with Fred as the band manager, goes on tour, taking Lucy and Ethel along. During the sixth season they travel to Florida and Cuba when Ricky’s band is invited to play at Miami Beach’s Eden Roc Hotel. After returning to New York, Ricky’s professional prominence increases again, and the scene is changed once more, this time to “the country”—Westport, Connecticut. Read more about I Love Lucy—On the Move »
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The famous “I Love Lucy” theme song was written by composer Eliot Daniel (1908–1997) as a personal favor for producer Jess Oppenheimer. Daniel was not credited for the music because he was at the time under an exclusive contract to Twentieth-Century Fox Film Corporation. The lyric, by Harold Adamson (1906–1980), was sung on the show only once, in Episode No. 60, “Lucy’s Last Birthday.” The original copyright registration deposit copies of the song are included in the Music Division’s holdings.
The band members who supplied the incidental music for the show and who were featured in the scenes from the Tropicana nightclub (and later the Club Babalu) were real-life members of the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, and the featured pianist (and sometime arranger) was Arnaz’s longtime friend and colleague, Juilliard-trained Marco Rizo (1920–1998). Preserved at the Library of Congress as part of the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Collection are the original orchestral scores and parts used by the Arnaz Orchestra from the 1940s until the 1960s. Among these are many of Arnaz’s signature pieces, including his iconic “Babalu.” Read more about Theme Songs »
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I Love Lucy initially centered on the relationship between bandleader Ricky (the “I” in I Love Lucy) and Lucy Ricardo and their friends, the Mertzes. However, it soon developed into the relationship between millions of American television viewers and their Monday-evening neighbors.
I Love Lucy enjoyed enormous popularity during its six-season run—so much so that, beginning in the 1950s, it generated a line of I Love Lucy merchandise—including paper dolls, jewelry, clothing, knickknacks, and a comic book series. In recent years, the show and its members, creators, and producers have been the subjects of numerous books—biographies, chronologies, coffee-table, trivia, and even The I Love Lucy Cookbook.
In 1955 I Love Lucy achieved a significant television first―it became the first television series to be broadcast as reruns, a phenomenon made possible because it was produced on film and not the grainier kinescope, as were most other programs of its time. The show continues to be rerun and is now also available on DVD.
Following the completion of the final half-hour I Love Lucy episode broadcast on May 6, 1957, Desilu Productions, Inc., produced a series of thirteen additional Ricardos-and-Mertzes shows The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, (later rerun as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour), broadcast between November 1957 and April 1960. Other Desilu productions included Star Trek, The Andy Griffith Show, Mission Impossible, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. However, I Love Lucy was the company’s first and greatest achievement. It has been dubbed into twenty-two languages and seen in eighty countries. More than a half-century after the final episode was first broadcast, viewers around the world continue to Love Lucy. Read more about Legacy »
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