For 40 million viewers across America, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were the perfect image of a happily married couple.
Even decades later, reruns of the show feature the kind of love that still inspires women to search for “their Desi.”
But you can’t believe everything you see on TV.
It’s true that Ball and Arnaz shared a bond that impressed their friends and family, but their life at home wasn’t as cheery as it looked on I Love Lucy.
Love at First Sight
Desi and Lucy were never a typical couple, but they seemed downright mismatched when they met on the set of the movie Too Many Girls in 1940.
She was 28, and a b-actress at the beginning of her movie career.
He was 23, a Cuban-American bandleader, and – as Lucy admits – not her type.
But the couple fell head over heels in love with each other, and started a whirlwind romance.
Arnaz was actually engaged to another woman when he met Lucy, but just six months later the couple were married.
One of I Love Lucy‘s directors remembered the pair as “the kind of marriage that has failure written all over it,” and their relationship definitely had a rocky start.
Trouble in Paradise
Early in their marriage, Ball struggled to keep Arnaz happy, as his hectic schedule sent him on tours across America.
“Lucy always wanted to please him,” a friend of Lucy’s told Closer.
“If he wanted something, she would get it for him. If they were seated and he needed more room, she would slide over. I found it surprising because she was such a strong, independent lady, but when it came to Desi, she was very old-fashioned.”
By 1944, the marriage was already on the rocks. The couple even briefly separated after Ball filed for divorce, on account of Arnaz’s drinking and womanizing.
But the birth of their first child, Lucie, seemed to calm Arnaz down, and gave him a reason to stay close to home.
Soon, Ball would have an even better reason: their own TV show.
I Love Lucy
When CBS offered Ball a chance to star in a new TV show, she took inspiration from her own married life for the project.
She fought to include Arnaz as her husband on the show, despite backlash because of his Cuban heritage (and his strong accent).
By including the everyday features of Desi and Lucy’s love story, I Love Lucy broke a number of TV boundaries.
Not only were the pair a happily married interracial couple, but Ball also featured her pregnancy on the show, at a time when the word “pregnant” wasn’t even allowed on TV.
Arnaz capitalized on the success of the show, founding Desilu Productions and earning millions in royalties and fees in just a few years.
But the stress of working on the show – and playing second fiddle to Ball – brought out his bad behavior again.
Falling out of Love
Arnaz’s drinking problem and his cheating became so publicized that Ball wasn’t even phased by reading about it in gossip magazines.
Richard Keith, who played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, remembered visiting the couple during one of their famous fights.
“We heard a lot of loud arguing and cursing and glass shattering and screaming, and we were scared. [Their son] Desi Jr. turned to me and said, “There they go again.”
Arnaz later confessed to biographer Bart Andrews that “by 1956 it wasn’t even a marriage anymore.”
“They were just going through a routine for the children,” Andrews explained. “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.”
But the couple still shared a love that lasted long after their marriage was over.
Still in Love
Ball and Arnaz finally went their separate ways in 1960, and they would both remarry later in life.
Ball was happily married to comedian Gary Morton, but her daughter Lucie says it was “a different kind of happiness” than her marriage to Arnaz.
Arnaz remarried to a woman named Edith Hirsch, who his friends loved to point out had a striking resemblance to Ball.
Despite the divorce, Ball and Arnaz remained close friends for the rest of their lives.
“They spoke so lovingly of each other, you almost forgot they weren’t together anymore,” actress Carol Channing said.
Even when the pair wouldn’t speak to each other, Ball would ask her friends “Have you heard from Desi lately?”
“I married a loser.”
While it’s obvious that Ball and Arnaz still had feelings about each other, the actress wasn’t afraid to be blunt about their divorce.
“That was his problem,” she said about the split in an interview with Barbara Walters.
“I married a loser before,” she said.
“He could work very hard, he was brilliant, but he had to lose. He had to fail at everything he built up.”
Reportedly, Arnaz’s last words to Ball before his death from cancer in 1986 were, “I love you too, honey. Good luck with your show.”
I still never get tired of their show, how about you?