Anyone who watched I Love Lucy would have thought that Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz shared the perfect kind of marriage. But behind the veneer of happiness was a tragic love story that will break your heart. Even today, people watch reruns of the show and dream about how they could find a love as they shared. But it was a TV show after all and nothing like their real marriage.
When the pair first met it was love at first sight. Ball was a 28-year-old B-actress at the time starting her movie career. Arnaz was a 23-year-old Cuban-American bandleader. And he was, as Lucy admits, not her type one bit. But they began a whirlwind love like a fairy tale. But there was trouble in paradise.
As Lucy’s director said, it was “the kind of marriage that has failure written all over it.”
Arnaz was never happy. And with his hectic schedule, Lucy tried her best to give him joy.
“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.”
In the mid-1940s, their marriage was teetering on the edge of collapse. Arnaz was an alcoholic and a cheat. And Ball filed for divorce.
But then their first child, Lucie, was born and Arnaz found purpose in life. And then they got their TV show. They’d have to fake it in front of America.
CBS producers fought against having Arnaz in the show. He was Cuban and had an accent. But she fought hard for him and won. The show went on to break boundaries, including their interracial relationship and her being pregnant on the show.
But Arnaz couldn’t stand being second to Ball on the show. And his lousy behavior reared its ugly head again.
Ball started to read about her husband’s terrible acts in gossip magazines. And Richard Keith, who played Little Ricky on the show, witnessed 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 admitted to his biographer Bart Andrews that “by 1956 it wasn’t even a marriage anymore.”
And Andrews explained more.
“They were just going through a routine for the children,” Andrews said. “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.”
They divorced in 1960. And both would remarry again.
Ball later talked to Barbara Walters about their divorce.
“I married a loser before,” she said. “(Arnaz) could work very hard, he was brilliant, but he had to lose. He had to fail at everything he built up.”
Before he died in 1986 from Cancer, Arnaz told Ball, “I love you too, honey. Good luck with your show.”