I Love Lucy. Who Doesn’t?

All dressed up. Photo by: elena-lu

I Love Lucy premiered on CBS on October 15, 1951.

The first four episodes put it in the top ten shows on the air.  In three months it was overshadowing Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts with its variety acts, then the most popular series on television.

By its second season, thirty-four million regulars viewers regularly tuned in to watch the madcap Lucy Ricardo, her husband Ricky, the fiery Cuban bandleader, and their neighbors the Mertzes go about their everyday lives that by the end of the day were turned inside out and upside down.

It was part of the pleasure that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz who played Lucy and Ricky were married to each other.

Looking back, if you love Lucy, not only the television character, but also the woman behind the comic persona, you have to admire Desi.

Without a doubt it was Ball’s innate comic genius that made her character Lucy as enduring as Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Yet, it was Desi who gave her the support and encouragement for her to shine.

And it was Desi whose business sense created their television empire.

They formed Desilu Productions in 1950 to prove that the public would accept them as husband and wife.  Within a few short years, the company expanded to include a studio, and it bought RKO Pictures, bringing the total number of sound stages in its domain to thirty-three, more than either MGM or Twentieth Century-Fox in the same period, with over two thousand people on their payroll.

Meanwhile the couple had been starring in an average of thirty episodes for each of the first six seasons of I Love Lucy.  It was a labor of love, but they were drowning in work.

To keep their heads above water, they changed the format to one hour, reduced the number of episodes, and renamed the program The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.  It lasted another three seasons.

It must be love. Photo by: elena-lu

Life preservers only work if one holds on.  Desi couldn’t.  His schedule was jam-packed with meetings, phone calls, paperwork, and rehearsals.  He had always been a drinker, and he began drinking more.  He enjoyed the Del Mar racetrack, making it a second home, and he took pleasure in the company of women.  When he was arrested for driving drunk in a well-known Los Angeles red-light district, it was only a matter of time before the couple broke up.

As unhappy as Lucy was, however, she wouldn’t let go.  She tried to rescue their relationship, insisting on family vacations, consulting with Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, doing whatever she thought might make a difference, but nothing changed.

The day after filming the very last episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour in 1960, she filed for divorce, charging her husband with extreme cruelty and subjecting her to grievous mental suffering.

Their divorce was a bombshell.  Despite gossip columnists hinting at it for months, their fans believed that Lucy and Desi could work out their problems.  Hadn’t they been doing so for years right in front of their very eyes?

Despite the harsh accusations and angry words, Lucy and Desi remained friends.  And sixty years later we continue to watch, to laugh, to love.

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved