Those who are familiar with Dezi Arnaz, (born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III, on March 2nd, 1917), probably remember him for his role as Ricky Ricardo on the I Love Lucy TV hit. But not everyone is aware of his other accomplishments. For example he was the one who introduced the congo line to the American public!
He was also one of the most powerful television producers in the business, when TV was in the early stages. Some of the technological approaches he used way back in the early 1950s are still central to television's continued cultural and economic force in today's world. He actually has two stars on Hollywood's "Walk of Fame". One for his contributions to TV. The other for his work, mainly behind the scenes, in movies.
Dezi Arnaz was a child of wealth growing up in Santiago. His family had been some of the first to receive Spanish land grants in Cuba in the 1700s. His father was the youngest mayor of Santiago to ever hold the office. He then went on to serve in the Cuban House of Representatives. Being around the movers and shakers of the area while growing up might very well have influenced the young Dezi in aspects of his business development later in life.
The revolution that rocked the island nation in 1933, and led by Fulgencio Batista, saw the over-throw of the American backed president. The Arnaz family lost all their power and money, Dezi's father spent 6 months in prison, after which the family was finally able to come to the USA. US officials had intervened on the senior Arnaz's behalf. They moved to Miami.
Dezi started his career as a musician in 1936, playing guitar and percussion in a Latin orchestra in Miami. Next, he moved to New York City and began his association with his mentor, Xavier Cugat . But he soon moved back to Mimai to lead his own band. Not long afterward, the congo line became a new dance craze that swept the nation.
In 1939, at the age of 22, Dezi starred in the Broadway musical, Too Many Girls . He went to Hollywood to star in the film version of the same show in 1940, which just happened to also star Lucille Ball . The couple fell in love and were married the same year.
Dezi received his draft notice in 1943, made it through boot camp with an injured knee, and was eventually classified for limited service. He found himself directing U.S.O. programs at a military hospital for 2 years. After that period he left the Army and formed another orchestra, which he kept on his payroll as long as he was a producer!
Lucy had a very successful radio show titled My Favorite Husband , which TV execs wanted to adapt to the new market. She insisted Dezi play her on air husband, but the idea of an interracial couple met with disapproval. So the couple formed a touring vaudeville act with the writters from her radio show, and a Spanish clown named Pepito Perez . The act went over very well, and much of the material developed in the act was later used on the I Love Lucy pilot. The couple formed Desilu Productions .
Desi and his cameraman, Karl Freund, developed a multi-camera production technique using adjacent sets, that are still the standard for today's sitcoms! He was also told it was impossible to film a TV show with a live audience. But he and Freund overcame all hurdles, and did in fact film I Love Lucy with a live audience present.
When network officials said filming the show was too expensive, and unnecessary, Dezi convinced them to let Desilu cover the added expences, with the stipulation that all rights to the film would be owned and controlled by Desilu. This first was probably one of the shrewdest business deals ever made in television! I Love Lucy has consistantly ran for over 57 years! With Desilu reaping the profits.
I Love Lucy was also the first TV show with a pregnant star and the pregnancy woven into the story line. When the TV big wigs balked at the idea, Dezi consulted a preist, a rabbi, and a protestant minister, who all agreed it was fine. The execs finally gave in, but would not allow the word "pregnant" in the script. The Ricky charater said "specting" with his Cuban accent.
Besides I Love Lucy, Dezi Arnaz produced, December Bride , The Mothers-In-Law , The Lucy Show, Those Whiting Girls , The Danny Thomas Show , The Andy Griffith Show , and the 1959 series, The Untouchables . Which were all in the top of their markets. He also produced the motion picture, Forever, Darling , starring the husband and wife team.
The couple had 2 children, but their marriage started to collapse under the strain of Dezi's serious problems with alcohol, drugs, and womanizing. In his memoir he said, the combined pressures of managing the production company and supervising its day-to-day operations had greatly worsened as it grew much larger. The couple divorced in 1960. When Ball returned to weekly television, she bought him out in Desilu. They managed to remain friends.
Desi married Edith Mack Hirsch, on March 2, 1963, and vastly slowed down his show business activities. He was executive producer of The Mothers-in-Law, and during its two-year run, made four guest appearances as a Spanish matador, Senor Delgado. Among other things, he also appeared on Saturday Night Live , in the 70s, and led the cast in a congo line.
Dezi Arnaz passed away from lung cancer on December 2, 1986. He was 69 years old. His body was cremated, and the ashes scattered.