Arnaz, Desi, 1917-1986

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Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III (March 2, 1917 – December 2, 1986), better known as Desi Arnaz, was a Cuban-American actor, musician, bandleader, comedian and film and television producer. He is best known for his role as the witty Ricky Ricardo on the American television series sitcom I Love Lucy, where he co-starred with his then wife, dramatic and comedic actress Lucille Ball (1911–1989). Arnaz and Ball are generally credited as the innovators of the syndicated rerun, which they pioneered with the I Love Lucy series.

Arnaz and Lucille Ball co-founded and ran the television production company called Desilu Productions, originally to market I Love Lucy to television networks. After I Love Lucy ended, Arnaz went on to produce several other television series, at first with Desilu Productions, and later independently, including The Ann Sothern Show and The Untouchables. He was also renowned for leading his Latin music band, the Desi Arnaz Orchestra.

After leaving Cuba in 1933 due to the arrival of the Batista government, Desi and his mother fled to Miami, Florida, where his father later joined them. Desi Arnaz joined Xaiver Cugat’s band in 1934 and toured with the group before striking out on his own. Earning renown as the “Miami Rhumba King,” the musician and eventual bandleader went north to perform in New York nightclubs. In 1939 he starred in the Broadway production of “Too Many Girls.” When RKO Pictures in Hollywood purchased the play in 1940, Arnaz made his motion picture debut in the film version. He reprised his role as the lead character, playing opposite Lucille Ball (1911-1989). Their meeting began a relationship that led to their marriage later that year. The couple purchased property in the Chatsworth area of the San Fernando Valley, which they named the Desilu Ranch.

With the advent of World War II, Arnaz entertained the troops with his band, and he enlisted in the US Army in 1943, serving until 1945. Between 1945 and 1951, Arnaz worked in radio and film and also performed in clubs as a bandleader. During this period he and Lucille sought projects in which they could perform in together. Ball, then starring in a radio program called “My Favorite Husband,” was approached by CBS, which was interested in moving the radio show to the newly developed medium of television. Formed initially to manage Arnaz’s band, Desilu Productions was expanded to become the banner under which the couple produced their first hit in the new medium. Lucille Ball negotiated a deal with CBS allowing her and Arnaz to play the fictitious husband and wife team of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in their new TV show, “I Love Lucy.”

Running from 1951 until 1956, “I Love Lucy” was only one show on the roster of Desilu Productions. With the purchase of RKO studios in 1956, Arnaz expanded the company’s facilities to allow for increased production. Between 1951 until 1962, Desilu produced such shows as “Our Miss Brooks” (a vehicle starring Eve Arden who later started in “The Mothers-In-Law”). Other notable productions included “The Untouchables,” “Guestward Ho,” and “The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse.” The couple divorced in 1960 and Ball bought Arnaz out in 1962; afterwards, Ball assumed complete control of the production company. Desi chose semi-retirement and pursued his interests in breeding and raising racehorses, splitting his time between his two homes in Baja California, Mexico, and Del Mar, California. In 1963, he married Edith Mack, a union that lasted until her death in 1983.

Signaling a return to television, Arnaz formed “Desi Arnaz Productions Incorporated” (DAPI) in 1965 as his new production entity. With the development of “The Mothers-In-Law” (MIL) in 1966, and its subsequent appearance in prime time during the 1967 season, Arnaz assumed the role of the show’s director and also appeared in four of the episodes as Señor Raphael Del Gado. In production from 1967 until 1969, “The Mothers-In-Law,” starring Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard, ran for three seasons on NBC.

As it turns out, his guest roles on “The Mothers-in-Law” were Desi's last sitcom work until his appearance twenty years later on “Alice” in 1978. His only other major television appearances after the “Lucy” shows were on episodes of “The Men from Shiloh,” “Bonanza,” a pilot that ran as part of the “Perry Mason” series, a pilot that ran as an episode of another Raymond Burr series, "Ironside" (Dr. Domingo), as guest-host on “Saturday Night Live” in 1975, and on a Bob Hope special in 1976.

The 1970s marked a second retreat from television production, but Arnaz stayed busy nonetheless. In 1971, a San Diego State University graduate student named Jim Yanizyn, who was writing his M.A. thesis on “The Mothers-In-Law,” contacted Arnaz. This contact led to Arnaz’s decision to donate the initial materials related to “The Mothers-In-Law” to San Diego State University, and a reception was held in the summer of 1971. Retuning to SDSU in 1972 as a visiting professor, Arnaz taught classes in studio production and acting for television. He also served as the United States ambassador to Latin America under Richard Nixon. Arnaz’s autobiography, A Book, was published in 1976, and it spent a number of weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Desi Arnaz completed his last film, “The Escape Artist,” in 1983 and died from cancer on December 2, 1986 at the age of 69.

From the guide to the Desi Arnaz Papers, 1947-1976, 1966-1974, (Special Collections & University Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Barbash, Bob. Desilu playhouse-- "Guns and guitar" / story and teleplay by Bob Barbash based on "Bandwagon" created by Desi Arnaz. Bowling Green State University, BGSU Libraries
creatorOf Desi Arnaz Papers, 1947-1976, 1966-1974 Special Collections & University Archives
creatorOf Ball, Lucille, 1911-1989. The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz hour show #7-- "The Ricardos rent their house to Danny Thomas." Bowling Green State University, BGSU Libraries
referencedIn American Vaudeville Museum collection, 1845-2007, (bulk 1910-1940) University of Arizona Libraries, Library Special Collections
referencedIn Prominent Personalities: Arnaz, Desi, from the Photographic File of the Paris Bureau of the New York Times, ca. 1900 - ca. 1950 National Archives at St. Louis
referencedIn Dorothy Kilgallen papers and scrapbooks, 1936-1965 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
creatorOf Allen, Fred, 1894-1956. Mail call, radio program [sound recording]. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn CHRISTMAS PREVIEW United States. National Archives and Records Administration
referencedIn Desi Arnaz collection, [19--?-ongoing]. Museum of Performance & Design
referencedIn California Cornerstones: Selected Images from The Bancroft Library Pictorial Collection Bancroft Library
creatorOf Ball, Lucille, 1911-1989. The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz hour show #10-- "Lucy's summer vacation." Bowling Green State University, BGSU Libraries
referencedIn Frederick R. Koch collection of photographs of stage and screen actors and entertainers, ca. 1920-1979. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
creatorOf Ball, Lucille, 1911-1989. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz collection 1915-1990 (bulk 1925-1990). Library of Congress
creatorOf Reynolds, Sheldon, 1845-1895. Desilu playhouse-- Thunder in the east / by Sheldon Reynolds. Bowling Green State University, BGSU Libraries
referencedIn J. Walter Thompson Company. Dan Seymour Papers, 1951-1974 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Marco Rizo papers, 1938-1999, 1950-1998 The New York Public Library. Music Division.
creatorOf Ball, Lucille, 1911-1989. The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz hour show #8-- "Lucy goes to Alaska." Bowling Green State University, BGSU Libraries
creatorOf Ball, Lucille, 1911-1989. The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz hour show #9-- "Lucy wants a career." Bowling Green State University, BGSU Libraries
creatorOf Desi Arnaz papers, 1947-1976 bulk 1966-1974. San Diego State University Library, SDSU Library and Information Access
referencedIn Kilgallen, Dorothy. Dorothy Kilgallen papers and scrapbooks, 1936-1965. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Barton, Frances Lee. [Culinary ephemera : radio and television]. Box 351. William L. Clements Library
creatorOf Ball, Lucille, 1911-1989. The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz hour show #6-- "Lucy goes to Mexico." Bowling Green State University, BGSU Libraries
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Official Military Personnel File of Desi Arnaz. 1942-1946 National Archives at St. Louis
Relation Name
associatedWith American Museum of Vaudeville corporateBody
parentOf Arnaz, Desi, 1953- person
associatedWith Arnaz family family
spouseOf Ball, Lucille, 1911-1989. person
associatedWith Cullen, Frank, 1936- person
associatedWith Desi Arnaz Productions corporateBody
associatedWith Desilu Productions corporateBody
associatedWith J. Walter Thompson Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Kilgallen, Dorothy person
associatedWith Kilgallen, Dorothy. person
associatedWith Koch, Frederick R. (Frederick Robinson), collector. person
associatedWith McNeilly, Donald, 1945- person
associatedWith Rizo, Marco person
associatedWith Rizo, Marco. person
memberOf United States. Army corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Republic of Cuba 00 CU
Del Mar CA US
Television comedies
Television programs--Plots, themes, etc
Entertainers--California, Southern--Biography


Birth 1917-03-02

Death 1986-12-02




Spanish; Castilian,




Ark ID: w6zm65zm

SNAC ID: 84282753