Vintage Hunk Birthday: Desi Arnaz

By: Mike McCrann

As March 2nd is Desi Arnaz's birthday, it seems fitting to include him in the Vintage Hunk category. Desi was the brilliant creator of the iconic I Love Lucy TV show and his decisions on this series (like using film instead of the usual kine scope) helped insure that Lucy would survive in all its pristine glory.

Desiderio Alberto Arnaz Y de Acha III was born in Cuba to a very prominent family. Following the 1933 revolution, the family fled to Miami and Desi entered show business to support himself. In 1939 he starred on Broadway in Too Many Girls. Going to Hollywood for the film version, Arnaz met co-star Lucille Ball and they were married in 1940. Arnaz had a few other movie roles including the good war film Bataan. But with movie work evaporating, Arnaz formed an orchestra and spent the new few years on the road causing a strain on the marriage.

Desi Arnaz2 When Lucille Ball was asked to adapt her radio hit series My Favorite Husband to TV, she insisted that Arnaz play her on-screen husband. The networks resisted the idea thinking that Desi's accent and Latin heritage would not go over with most Americans. The couple hit the road, testing out the new TV premise in a very successful vaudeville tour. Looking back it seems inconceivable that anyone would even consider I Love Lucy without Desi.

Desi Arnaz, as a businessman, was even more brilliant than the fine comic foil he provided for the vivacious Lucille Ball. In those days TV shows were mostly broadcast live with kine scope versions sent to the rest of the country. Desi Arnaz insisted not only on using film with multiple camera, but also hiring the great Academy Award winner Karl Freund (The Good Earth) for the job. The networks objected and Arnaz told them that he would cover the additional costs with the stipulation that Desilu would own all rights to the series. This single decision not only insured that I Love Lucy would last forever, but that Desi and Lucy would become millionaires.

I Love Lucy was a smash hit from day one and Desilu became a giant company eventually purchasing the old RKO Studio where Lucy had made her first films.

Desi Arnaz As an actor, Arnaz was one of the key ingredients to the successes and brilliance of I Love Lucy. His fractured English and exaggerated gestures were the perfect foils for Lucille Ball. Desi was also instrumental in the casting Vivian Vance and William Frawley as Fred and Ethel Mertz. Desi Arnaz would become one of the biggest names in TV production as Desilu produced a number of other hit series during the 1950s.

Lucy and Desi had two children who followed them into show business. Unfortunately the marriage would eventually collapse due to Desi's drinking and womanizing. When Desi and Lucy divorced all of America was a bit shocked as it felt like having your own parents split up.

Desi Arnaz3 Desi Arnaz died in 1986. Even though both of them had remarried, most observers felt that Lucille Ball never got over the sexy Cuban. I Love Lucy is the greatest sitcom in the history of US television mostly due to the brilliant Lucille Ball. But without Desi Arnaz as the perfect foil and without his great business acumen, the show might have vanished into the mists of history like most of that era's television.

Desi Arnaz was funny, sexy and is probably the most underrated TV performer in history. When Ricky demanded that Lucy "start splaining" you knew you were in for the best that TV comedy had to offer.