As the stars of the hit show I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were picture perfect, hilarious, and adored by millions. But off-screen, the couple had significant struggles. Now we know about Desi Arnaz’s many infidelities and addictions. Keep reading to learn more about them…
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had a high-profile relationship both on and off-screen and dominated the ratings with their 1950s comedy TV series, I love Lucy, that told the story of a fiery redhead married to a Cuban bandleader.
The comedy duo met on the set of the 1940 comedy film Too Many Girls and were married in the same year.
In 1951, the pair starred together as married couple Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. In the show, Arnaz was playing a fictionalized version of himself. Sitting at the top of the ratings during its run until 1957, the award-winning show was also a vehicle for spin-off series like The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, that ran from 1957 to 1960, the series finale serving as a real-life divorce filing from Lucille.
It was then fans became aware that Arnaz wasn’t the same sweet, supportive husband to Lucille as his character Ricky to the beloved Lucy.
This wasn’t the couple’s first split.
According to Country Living, Lucille filed for divorce in 1944, “allegedly because of Desi’s infidelity and drinking problem. They later reconciled after talking and agreeing to pursue more projects where their professional lives would intersect.”
Before I love Lucy, Arnaz was on the road as a bandleader, “…coming home at 3 or 4 in the morning,” and Lucille was voicing a CBS radio show, My Favorite Husband, a show that was developed for TV with the title I Love Lucy, Lucille insisting that Arnaz also star. In an interview following the death of Desi Arnaz (who died at the age of 69 in 1986) and Lucille (who died at 77 in 1989), the pair’s long-time screenwriter Bob Weiskopf is quoted by People: “At the time the consensus was, What the hell do we want with a Latin bandleader who can’t speak English?’ But she wanted him because she knew that if he went on the road with the band, he’d be catting around all the time. She wanted him at home, where she felt the marriage would have a better chance of lasting, which of course it did.”
The couple had their first child, Lucie Arnaz in 1951 and then Desi Arnaz Jr. in 1953, the latter whose birth was part of the I Love Lucy storyline.
Daughter Lucie, who appeared on The Lucy Show a few times with her mom, told People, “They did the show so they could be together because my dad was always on the road and they never saw each other. So my parents thought, ‘Well, this is going to save our marriage, and we can have a family.’” But the growing family wasn’t enough to thwart Arnaz’s extramarital affairs, or habits.
In the book Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lucille is quoted as saying, “He was like Jekyll and Hyde. He drank and he gambled, and he went around with other women. It was always the same–booze and broads. I’d seen it coming. I was always hoping things would change. But Desi’s nature is destructive”
Meanwhile, in the same book, Arnaz suggests that his wife’s hope of time together actually backfired. He said, “I think one of the problems was that we were both working too hard and were together too much. There was really no chance to be away from each other and let things cool off.”
In 1955, a tabloid released a story titled “Does Desi Really Love Lucy?” and presents allegations that Arnaz had been unfaithful to Lucille. This includes claims that Arnaz was a frequent patron of a popular Hollywood escort agency.
The Daily Beast reports that Scotty Bowers, a gas station attendant turned Hollywood pimp, “outs” a client list of deceased actors in his controversial memoir titled “Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Life of the Stars.”
Bowers claims that his A-list clients include Rock Hudson, Perry Mason, James Dean, Edith Piaf, and Arnaz.
Bowers said that Arnaz was set up with two to three women a week. “His type was any nice-looking girl who was a quick lay.” The Hollywood pimp, who died at 96 in 2019, adds that one day at a party, he was confronted by a furious Lucille, who slapped him and said: “How dare you pimp for Desi!”
In their time together and apart, Lucille and Arnaz were one of Hollywood’s earliest power couples. In addition to acting, they also founded Desilu Productions in 1950, that’s best known for TV series I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, the detective series Mannix (1967 to 1965), the crime drama Untouchables (1959 to 1963), the spy series Mission Impossible and the hugely popular Sci-Fi show Star Trek (1966 to 1968).
After they divorced, Arnaz was married to Edith Mack Hirsch (1963 to her death in 1985), and Lucille wed comedian Gary Morton, who was 13 years younger than her. The two stayed married until her death in 1989. Arnaz and Lucille remained very close.
Their son, Desi Jr. is now 70 and a retired actor and musician. When he was younger, he dated actor Patty Duke, a relationship not approved by his mother.
Their first born, daughter, Lucie, is now 71. She is an actor and singer who’s appeared on several TV shows, including her own short-lived series The Lucie Arnaz Show (1985). Speaking with People about her parents’ relationship, Lucie recalled the death of her dad, her mom with him only two days before. “I could hear her say, ‘I love you.’ She said it five times in a row. And he was nodding and saying, ‘I love you too, honey.’” She continued, “He died in my arms. None of us realized it at the time, but the day they last spoke was Nov. 30, their wedding anniversary.”
Lucie adds, “They gave the country this wonderful creation, but they never got what they wanted–to stay together. (But) they loved each other until the end.”