Forget Lucy … We Love Desi

Long before there was Pitbull, there was the original “Mr. 305.” Desi Arnaz is Miami’s most famous Cuban entertainer of the 20th century, best known for his portrayal of Ricky Ricardo on “I Love Lucy.” On screen, he played a struggling band musician. Off screen, he was the epitome of hard work.

Desi Arnaz was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III on March 2, 1917, in Santiago, Cuba. His family was wealthy—his father was a member of the Cuban House of Representatives and his grandfather was an executive at Bacardi Rum. After the 1933 revolt that brought Fulgencio Batista to power, his family fled to Miami. Arnaz attended St. Patrick Catholic High School and Saint Leo Prep (near Tampa) to help improve his English, and also spent a year at Miami High, before going into show business to support himself.

His music career began in 1936 when he joined the Siboney Septet as a guitar player. The group played at the Roney Plaza on Miami Beach, where famous bandleader Xavier Cugat recruited Arnaz to join his orchestra. His big break came when he was cast in the Broadway show “Too Many Girls” in 1939, which led to his first film role in the movie adaptation of the stage show. In the early 1940s, he returned to Miami with his own band and introduced the conga line to American audiences before he took on his most enduring role: the on-screen husband of his real-life wife, Lucille Ball. “I Love Lucy” ran on CBS from 1951 to 1957 and continued as a series of specials through 1960.

“I Love Lucy” elevated Arnaz to a level of stardom and success many people admired for years. His iconic character helped make the show one of America’s all-time favorites. At about the same time, Arnaz and Ball founded Desilu Productions, which produced “Star Trek,” “The Untouchables,” “Mission: Impossible,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and other shows from 1950 to 1967. Its roster also included “I Love Lucy,” for which it retained ownership rights. That meant Desilu, and not CBS, controlled the rights to syndication-—where the show lives on today.

At the center of it all: Arnaz, a successful entertainer and businessman.

Arnaz, who died in 1986, was a man of many talents, leading a professional life that proved to the world that any determined, hard-working individual can thrive—even in show business.

2ton
josh@2ton.com
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