Beloved musician and prominent TV personality Desi Arnaz was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States as a teenager. He began his prolific career shortly thereafter, landing a role on the Broadway musical “Too Many Girls” in 1939. Acting eventually took Arnaz to Hollywood, where he met Lucille Ball, the woman who would become both his wife and his chief business partner.
Desi and Lucy took their places as America’s favorite couple when their hit sitcom “I Love Lucy” premiered in 1951. Desi Arnaz’s onscreen persona embodied a progressive version of Latino-American masculinity. Ricky Ricardo was an intelligent, successful businessman, playing the rational straight man to Lucy’s unending supply of comedic antics. Their strong partnership set the tone for generations of husband-wife regardless of ethnic background, breaking multiple boundaries with wit and talent. Though Desi and Lucy divorced in 1960, they remained close friends for decades.
Pioneering the Three Camera Setup
Though famous onscreen, Desi Arnaz was also a very successful and innovative television producer. Throughout “I Love Lucy’s” incredibly successful six-season run, the actor-producer oversaw every aspect of production, including the difficult task of coordinating the first sitcom filmed in front of a live audience. In the early 1950s, the technical challenge of simultaneously operating three cameras and a studio audience in real time was considered insurmountable… But Desi Arnaz found a way.
“Bless Desi Arnaz for creating [the] three camera,” remarked filmmaker Penny Marshall, who’s career is indebted to Arnaz’s advances in television production. “You could find out what’s funny or not with an audience. They’re faster than anything.”
Desi Arnaz went on to build his Desilu Productions into one of the era’s most important studios. The powerhouse production company was the driving force behind such notable projects as “The Untouchables,” “Mission Impossible,” “Mannix” and “Star Trek,” furthering Arnaz’s legacy as an accomplished businessman both on and off the screen.