Desi Arnaz – A Conguero Who Broke Barriers
Full Name: Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III
Born: March 2, 1917
Santiago de Cuba, Cuba
Died: December 2, 1986 (aged 69)
Del Mar, California, US
Cause of death: Lung cancer
Occupation: Actor, musician, producer
Years active: 1936–1982
Spouse(s): Lucille Ball (m. 1940; div. 1960)
Edith Mack Hirsch (m. 1963; d. 1985)
Children: Lucie Arnaz, Desi Arnaz, Jr.
Born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz III on March 2, 1917, in Santiago, Cuba, Desi Arnaz fled Cuba to the United States with his family in 1933. Early success led to him being offered a role in the 1939 Broadway musical Too Many Girls, and he later starred in the film version, where he met his future wife, Lucille Ball. In 1949, Arnaz developed the hit television series I Love Lucy, which ran for six years.
Actor and musician Desiderio Alberto Arnaz III was born on March 2, 1917, in Santiago, Cuba. Arnaz was born to Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Alberni II (March 8, 1894 – May 31, 1973) and his wife Dolores de Acha (April 2, 1896 – October 24, 1988). His father was Santiago’s youngest mayor and also served in the Cuban House of Representatives. His maternal grandfather was Alberto de Acha, an executive at Bacardi Rum. According to Arnaz, in his autobiography A Book (1976), the family owned three ranches, a palatial home, and a vacation mansion on a private island in Santiago Bay, Cuba. Following the 1933 Cuban Revolution, led by Fulgencio Batista, which overthrew President Gerardo Machado, Alberto Arnaz was jailed and all of his property was confiscated. He was released after six months when his brother-in-law Alberto de Acha intervened on his behalf. The family then fled to Miami, where Desi attended St. Patrick Catholic High School. In the summer of 1934, he attended Saint Leo Prep (near Tampa) to help improve his English.
Born to a wealthy family, the Arnazes fled Cuba for Miami after a revolution in 1933. After working a number of odd jobs to help support the family, Desi got his first musician’s gig as a guitarist for the Siboney Septet.
After working briefly for Xavier Cugat in New York, Desi Arnaz returned to Miami to lead a combo of his own and introduce the Conga Line to American audiences. It was such a hit, both locally and nationally, that Arnaz returned to New York to start his own band. He was offered a role in the 1939 Broadway musical Too Many Girls and later starred in Hollywood’s film version. It was there that he met his future wife, Lucille Ball. They were married in 1940.
Desi Arnaz made three more films before being inducted into the Army during WWII. During his two years in the service, he was responsible for entertaining the troops. He formed a new orchestra after being discharged and recorded several hits during the late 1940s. During this time he served as orchestra leader on Bob Hope’s radio show from 1946 to 1947.
When he moved to the United States, Desi Arnaz turned to show business to support himself. In 1939, he starred on Broadway in the musical Too Many Girls. He went to Hollywood the next year to appear in the show’s movie version at RKO, which starred Lucille Ball. Arnaz and Ball eloped on November 30, 1940. Arnaz also played guitar for Xavier Cugat.
Desi Arnaz appeared in several movies in the 1940s such as Bataan (1943). He received his draft notice, but before reporting, he injured his knee. He completed his recruit training, but was classified for limited service in the United States Army during World War II. He was assigned to direct United Service Organization (U.S.O.) programs at a military hospital in the San Fernando Valley. Discovering the first thing the wounded soldiers requested was a glass of cold milk, he arranged for movie starlets to meet them and pour the milk for them. Following his discharge from the Army, he formed another orchestra, which was successful in live appearances and recordings. He sang for troops in Birmingham Hospital with John Macchia and hired his childhood friend Marco Rizo to play piano and arrange for the orchestra. When he became successful in television, he kept the orchestra on his payroll, and Rizo arranged and orchestrated the music for I Love Lucy.
‘I Love Lucy’
In 1949, Desi Arnaz turned his efforts to developing the hit television series I Love Lucy, which ran for six years on CBS and became the most successful television program in history. Arnaz and Ball had a clear goal in mind when the series began development. Not only did they request the the show be shot on film as opposed to the cheaper kinescope, but they also retained full ownership of the program under their production company, Desilu Productions. The show aired in 1951.
Initially, the idea of having Ball and the distinctly Latino Arnaz portray a married couple encountered resistance as they were told that Desi’s Cuban accent and Latin style would not be agreeable to American viewers. The couple overcame these objections, however, by touring together, during the summer of 1950, in a live vaudeville act they developed with the help of Spanish clown Pepito Pérez, together with Ball’s radio show writers. Much of the material from their vaudeville act, including Lucy’s memorable seal routine, was used in the pilot episode of I Love Lucy. Segments of the pilot were recreated in the sixth episode of the show’s first season. During his time on the show, he became TV’s most successful entrepreneur.
The show touched on many personal and taboo issues of the time, including marriage and pregnancy. And as a couple both on and off camera, Arnaz and Ball’s show had parallells to their actual marriage, giving birth to their son on the show on the same day that Ball gave birth to their son in real life. The novelty of the series, coupled with Arnaz and Ball’s strong chemistry, proved to be a success. I Love Lucy became the No. 1 show in the country for four of its six seasons. The series ended in 1957.
Arnaz and Ball’s marriage was turbulent. Convinced that Arnaz was being unfaithful to her, and also because he came home drunk several times, Ball filed for divorce in September 1944, but returned to him before the interlocutory decree became final. Arnaz and Ball subsequently had two children, actress Lucie Arnaz (born 1951) and actor Desi Arnaz, Jr. (born 1953).
Arnaz’s marriage with Ball began to collapse under the strain of his growing problems with alcohol and womanizing. According to his memoir, the combined pressures of managing the production company, as well as supervising its day-to-day operations had greatly worsened as it grew much larger, and he felt compelled to seek outlets to alleviate the stress. Arnaz was also suffering from diverticulitis.
Desi’s marriage to Lucille Ball ended in 1960. He sold his share of Desilu Productions to Ball in 1963. After that, Arnaz made a few forays into television, working largely behind the scenes. He served as a producer on such shows as The Mothers-In-Law in the late 1960s.
Although both Arnaz and Ball married other spouses after their divorce in 1960, they remained friends, and grew closer in his final decade. “I Love Lucy was never just a title”, wrote Arnaz in the last years of his life. Family home video later aired on television showed Ball and Arnaz playing together with their grandson Simon shortly before Arnaz’s death.
Desi Arnaz was a regular smoker for much of his life and often smoked cigarettes on the set, as well as on-camera in I Love Lucy. He smoked Cuban cigars into his sixties. Arnaz was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1986. He died several months later on December 2, 1986, at the age of 69. Lucille Ball telephoned him two days before he died.
With his second wife, Edith, he lived in Del Mar, California. He died of cancer at his home there in 1986 at the age of 69.
Arnaz was cremated and his ashes scattered. His death came just five days before Lucille Ball received the Kennedy Center Honors. He was survived by his children and his mother, Dolores, who died on October 24, 1988, at the age of 92.
Desi Arnaz Performing “Jezebel” on “I Love Lucy”
Reposted from Biography.com
With additions from Wikipedia