Desi Arnaz

Active - 1940 - Present  |   Born - Mar 2, 1917 in Santiago, Cuba  |   Died - Dec 2, 1986   |   Genres - Comedy, Film, TV & Radio

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Biography by Bruce Lawton

A musican, singer, songwriter, actor and television producer, Arnaz came to the US from Cuba when he was sixteen and became a professional bandleader of popular Latin music. He married actress Lucille Ball in 1940 and, in 1951, costarred with her in their long-running and successful television series, I Love Lucy, in which he played the charming but long-suffering husband/straightman, Ricky Ricardo, a successful nightclub owner and entertainer. Arnaz insisted that the series be photographed on 35mm film at a time when syndicated reruns were a thing of the future and a TV show was lucky to even be preserved as a 16mm kinescope. He hired top Hollywood cinematographer Karl Freund for the job and supervised the entire making of the series through his and Ball's company, Desilu Productions. Arnaz appeared in several films with and without Ball up until 1960 when they were divorced and she bought out his interest in Desilu. In 1982 he came out of retirement to play a corrupt mayor and father to Raul Julia in the film, The Escape Artist. He died of lung cancer in 1986.

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  • His father was jailed during the Cuban Revolution in 1933 and had his property and money confiscated.
  • Toured with band leader Xavier Cugat for a year before heading his own orchestra.
  • Cast by director George Abbott in the 1939 Rodgers and Hart Broadway musical Too Many Girls and reprised the role for the 1940 film version, which starred Lucille Ball.
  • Although they were married in real life, CBS didn't think Arnaz would be believable as Ball's husband in I Love Lucy. They toured the country with a revue to prove that audiences would accept them, then produced the pilot with their own money.
  • Credited with devising the three-camera technique of filming sitcoms.
  • Bought RKO Studios and turned it into Desilu Productions, producing series such as The Danny Thomas Show, Star Trek: The Original Series and The Untouchables.
  • Made his final big-screen appearance in the 1982 drama The Escape Artist.