Loving and Fighting Furiously: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

Let me preface this by saying I set myself up for failure on this one. So much as been written about Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz -- books, movies, TV specials, great blog posts. I can't possibly include all of the vast information I have at my fingertips, so if you're at all intrigued by my post, good news: there is a wealth of material out there. The Ball-Arnaz relationship was messy and sometimes hurtful, but it all came from two people who loved each other more than they could say. Their marriage brought them a legacy that transformed them into icons, yet they weren't the Ricardos -- they were Lucy and Desi, fallible people who ultimately couldn't stay together.

"Man, that's a hunk of woman!"

That's what a handsome 23-year-old Cuban said when he saw a gorgeous 28-year-old redhead in 1940. Wearing a tight gold lamé gown with a slit down the center to show off her legs and sporting a fake black eye and loose hair, Lucy had been filming for Dance, Girl, Dance when Broadway director George Abbott called her over to his table at the MGM commissary where he was eating with his cast from Too Many Girls, a show the studio was going to film with Lucy as its star. Later that day, Lucy had to be reintroduced to Desi, who didn't recognize her with her sweater, slacks, clean face, and pulled-back hair.

Maureen O'Hara, Lucy's Dance, Girl, Dance co-star, wrote this in her autobiography: “While we were in line getting lunch, Lucille started complaining about her next movie a musical called Too Many Girls. She was worried about it because her new leading man was a younger actor who had never been in front of a movie camera. She called him ‘that Cuban -- Desi Arnaz.’ Lucille hadn’t met or even seen Desi yet, but I had had the pleasure of catching his act and meeting him several months earlier in New York. Just as I was telling her how talented and gorgeous he was, Desi walked into the commissary with his agent, Doc Bender. I whispered to Lucille 'But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.’ Lucille followed my eyes and I could almost hear the bells ringing in her head. The first words Lucille uttered when seeing Desi for the first time were, ‘Oh my God.’ It was love at first sight for her.”

Their first date was that very night. "We went to a nightclub," Lucy recalled, "but instead of joining the conga line we sat at a small table, talking and talking. I might as well admit here and now I fell in love with Desi wham, bang! In five minutes. There was only one thing better than looking at Desi, and that was talking to him." Ball's cousin Cleo Smith said when Ball saw Desi, "she just came home and said, 'That's it. That's for me.'" In his autobiography, Desi talked about how he and Lucy met again a few days later at Eddie Bracken's beach house. "As I walked down to the beach, I saw Lucille. 'Hi! How’s my rumba teacher?' she said. I laughed and said, 'Hello.' 'I had a wonderful time at El Zarape,' she said, looking right through me with those damned big beautiful blue eyes. 'Thank you, so did I.' She patted the sand and said, 'Sit down.' I sat down and never went back to Freckles [his nickname for his date]."

Within a few days, Lucy broke up with steady beau Alexander Hall. For six months, the relationship flourished, although absolutely no one believed it would work. "'He's another Valentino,' the studio bosses predicted. ... Because of Desi's great sex appeal, naturally the RKO bosses wanted to keep him single. His five-year contract, signed before he came to Hollywood, prohibited him from marrying for that length of time," Lucy wrote. Desi's past romances were well-known, including dalliances with Betty Grable and Lana Turner, so many figured Lucille Ball was just another notch on his belt. They really had no idea.

"Boy, I melted right into his arms," the actress gushed. "We were criticized for kissing and hugging so much in public, but we were both so gone we didn't care." They were clearly mad for one another, but both admitted marriage was out of the question. RKO wasn't doing anything for Desi, causing him to go out touring with his band, while Lucy shot film after film, leaving them constantly separated. Besides that, they were wildly different. Desi had a very privileged upbringing while Lucy struggled with money until she arrived in Hollywood. Desi was a romantic with a joy for life and a knack for spending money. He also believed that the husband was the superior in marriage, something Lucy couldn't totally yield to. She was strong-willed, goodness knows, and very much a realist. She was also bothered by the six-year age difference.

Desi summed it up well when he reflected, "It's amazing that two people from such different backgrounds and geographical origins ever got together. That was perhaps part of our attraction and also, I am sure, the cause of many of our arguments, fights, and other problems." One night at El Morocco, the couple agreed that they couldn't get married, the moment actually caught on camera (see above). The next night, Lucy left New York for a personal appearance tour. Desi's parting telegram to her just made things worse: "Just wanted to say I love you, goodnight, and be good. I think I'll say I love you again, in fact I will say it. I love you love you love you love you." The heart-stopping Cuban often wrote Lucy beautiful notes during their numerous separations.

"I miss you so very much and I'm awfully sorry if I was mean the other night but I love you so much I guess I lost my head. Darling, it was wonderful talking to you tonight but awful when I hung up and was left alone."

"Sweetheart, it is wonderful to know exactly what one wants. These few weeks away from you have been very sad and painful but they have showed me that I want you and you always."

The frequent partings took their toll, jealousy becoming the main result. Lucy knew Desi was a ladies' man and girls went gaga over him, and Desi, well, he didn't really have a reason to suspect Lucy of cheating other than his own possessiveness. It all came to a head when Lucy's appearance in Milwaukee went from one day to five, leaving Desi impatiently waiting in New York for her return. After a fight over the phone, Lucy chartered a private plane and held off reuniting with Desi so he could "cool his heels." She even did an interview titled "Why I Will Always Remain a Bachelor Girl," which is hilarious because just a few hours later, Desi told her why he was so upset with her delays -- he had arranged for them to get eloped in Connecticut! "But I thought we decided that we couldn't get married," Lucy said. "That's right, but we are," Desi replied.

With her clothes still in Milwaukee with her maid Harriet, Lucy only had a black wool dress to wear for the ceremony. Both of them were nervous about matrimony, Desi's hands shaking all the way to Connecticut. "In many ways, marrying Desi was one of the boldest things I ever did," Ball admitted. "I had always gone with older men. I had also achieved some kind of stability in Hollywood, and Desi with his beautiful girls and good times seemed headed in another direction. Yet I sensed in Desi a great need. Beneath that dazzling charm was a homeless boy who had no one to care for him, worry about him, love him. And I wanted him and only him as the father of my children." Forgetting a wedding band, Arnaz sent his business manager to get a cheap brass one at Woolworth's. Although Desi later bought her a platinum ring, she wore the original for the entirety of their marriage. Another souvenir of that day was a lipstick-covered marriage certificate, which the newlyweds couldn't help but kiss over and over. It was November 30th, 1940.

"Friends gave our marriage six months; me, I gave it a week."

This comment from Lucy illustrates just how precarious the relationship was. Desi concurred, saying "When we got married, nobody gave it more than two weeks. There were bets all over the country, with astronomical odds against us." Passionate arguing was followed by passionate making up, and their careers still kept them split apart. After six months of married life, they established roots in San Fernando Valley, buying a ranch in Chatsworth. Desi and Lucy poured their hearts into the place, spending their free time making it into a home. Desi dug out a swimming pool, built a barbecue and bathhouse, and planted lemon and orange trees; Lucy redecorated inside and planted a lush garden. Everything was named Desilu, from their station wagon to a goulash created by Desi.

While this was all rosy and fine, the couple couldn't escape their tremendous fighting. Friends and family were exhausted by it, and at one point Desi built a "rumpus room" in the backyard, which was a place where he could go and sleep when their fights got really bad instead of wasting money on hotel rooms. One time Desi declared that their marriage was over and left to stay with his mother. A few days later, Lucy looked outside to see her husband standing in the front yard, looking lost and crying. She started crying herself and ran into his arms. Did I mention this was just the first year of their marriage?

When the United States entered WWII, Desi immediately joined the army, feeling that it was his duty to serve the country that gave him so many opportunities. While he was away, more letters were exchanged between him and Lucy. Here are two snippets:

"Lucy, sweetheart, you have no idea how happy you've made me, really and fully happy. You're a wonderful baby, and I adore you. I don't mistrust you, baby, but I am jealous. I can't deny that."

"My baby, you called about an hour or so ago. I'm kind of lonesome tonight, kind of lost. Desi, darling, please don't worry about me. Believe me, I wouldn't do anything to make you unhappy. If you are going to do the right thing as conscientiously as I am, we have nothing to worry about. Please believe me. All my love, forever and ever, your wife."

In 1942, Lucy suffered a miscarriage -- her greatest desire was to have children, and the constant separations were certainly not providing her with that. Two years later, the marriage was at a low-point. Desi stopped coming home and tabloids published stories about his drunken escapades. Lucy saw one option: divorce. She wanted a reconciliation more than anything else and she got it, stating that "for a long time, [he] came home every night and we both tried very hard to make things work. I no longer expected to be as happy as I had been as an ecstatic new bride, but I did look for a measure of peace and security. I closed my eyes, put blinders on, and ignored what was too painful to think about. I tried to view my troubles less seriously, and worry less. I tried to curb my temper."

In 1945, Desi was released from the army and attempted to resurrect his movie career. Ever since Too Many Girls, Lucy had wanted to do a film with him again, but it'd be years before that. With nothing happening at RKO, Desi went back to music. Frustrated with her roles and her agent, Lucy left MGM and became a freelancer. 1948 saw the start of her radio show, My Favorite Husband, a program she was hoping to do with Desi but CBS didn't think he was right for the part (re: he wasn't American). The next year, to solidify their relationship, the couple had a second wedding. “I thought that perhaps, after all the troubles we had in the past, this might prove to her that I really loved her very much, and that I wanted to anchor our marriage down in all ways," Desi recalled. “When I saw Lucy coming down the aisle, I got as much of a thrill as the first time we got married, perhaps even more. The church and all made it seem so much more real. Lucy looked lovely, with those big blue eyes looking straight at me.” This time, they were wed in a Catholic ceremony in a church, something Desi's mother said they should do since they wanted children. Whether or not that was the cause, Lucy did find herself pregnant soon after, only to lose the baby.

In 1950, the Arnazes did have a child: Desilu Productions, Inc.

To test audiences' reactions to them, they created a vaudeville show and toured with it, Desi performing songs and Lucy trying to break into the act. Some of the bits made it to I Love Lucy, such as "Cuban Pete," one of my personal favorites. Everyone adored the show, but once again, Lucy and Desi were devastated by a miscarriage. During this time, she instructed her agent to find a television show for them; working with her husband was going to happen, one way or another.

And then they got the best news: Lucy was pregnant again. For months, she did nothing but My Favorite Husband and knit. "The best year of my marriage to Desi was just before and after the birth of our first child," she reflected. "We exchanged no harsh words and experienced no upsets of any kind. Desi hovered about me, attentive to every need. ... The more conservative he became, the happier I grew. This was the way I'd always hoped our marriage would be." Four months into her pregnancy, they received word that their TV show was a go at CBS. Although today it's common for movie actors to cross over into TV and vice versa, going into television in the 1950's was an enormous risk for people like Lucy. If the show didn't work out, she could kiss her film career goodbye. It was a gamble for Desi, too. Doing I Love Lucy "would mean each of us would have to give up our respective radio programs, and Desi would have to cancel all his band engagements. ... But this was the first real chance Desi and I would have to work together," Ball wrote.

While Lucy rested to make sure they kept their baby, Desi worked tirelessly to get everything worked out, from their facilities in Hollywood (a break from the traditionally New York-based shows) to finding the right Ethel Mertz to ensuring that the scripts were just right for the talents of his wife. Making their happiness complete was the birth of their daughter Lucie in July of 1951. After 11 childless years, little Lucie was like a miracle. Six weeks after the birth, Lucy had to leave her new baby to begin filming I Love Lucy.

Although she often received all of the praise, Lucy clearly thought her husband deserved more than his share: "I had always known Desi was a great showman, but many were surprised to learn he was a genius with keen instincts for comedy and plot. He has a quick, brilliant mind; he can instantly find the flaw in any storyline; and he has inherent good taste and an intuitive knowledge of what will and will not play. He is a great producer, a great director." As I wrote in my post on the episode "The Young Fans," I believe Desi is completely underrated. Considering the high level his wife was working at, the fact that he was her best partner says a lot. Everything she said or did was absolute gold, but Desi's reactions made it even better.

Desi never won an Emmy for his work -- he wasn't even nominated! Lucy, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley were consistently nominated, with Lucy taking home the prize twice and Vance once. As a producer, Desi had to console himself with two Emmys for Best Situation Comedy. One of the show's writers, Madelyn Pugh Davis, said "He always knew she was the star. Never in all those years did I ever hear him say, 'Where's my part?' He just thought she was it, and if she was taken care of, that was all that counted. He protected her. People were always asking her to do commercials and things, and he'd say, 'No, she doesn't do that.'" Desi loved that ILL gave Lucy the outlet for her talent; no movie ever properly displayed her talents, and now the world was finally seeing what Lucille Ball could do. During filming of the infamous episode "Lucy Does a TV Commercial," Desi recalled how hard it was for him and another actor to keep their composure: "The scene where Ross Elliot and I had to watch her rehearse the commercial was so funny that both of us got sores from having to chew the inside of our cheeks to keep from laughing."

In 1952, after finishing 40 episodes of ILL, the Arnazes thought their success was all over -- Lucy was pregnant again and there was no way the TV executives would allow Lucy Ricardo to be with child. Right? Producer Jess Oppenheimer wanted to take the chance, leading to one of the biggest TV events in history when Lucy gave birth to a son on the small screen and in real life. The ratings for "Lucy Goes to the Hospital" beat President Eisenhower's inauguration the next day! While Ball recovered, CBS aired old episodes of the show, but with a newly filmed scene at the start that had Ethel, Fred, and Ricky reminiscing about a past adventure. These episodes eventually gave rise to the idea of the rerun. Frequent director William Asher later said of this time "When they were having the baby and we did the show about the birth of Little Ricky, Desi was terribly emotional about her. He really was crazy about her. You could feel how they felt."

One of the sweetest moments on ILL was when Lucy tried repeatedly to tell Ricky she was pregnant. After an episode full of failed (and hilarious) attempts, she goes to his show at the Tropicana and has a waiter pass a note to Ricky asking him to perform "We're Having a Baby, My Baby and Me." Unaware that his wife made the request, Ricky goes from table to table to find the lucky couple; when he sees Lucy, it slowly hits him. In reality, it hit Desi and Lucy, too. All of their emotions about having another child suddenly came to the surface, resulting in genuine tears. If you listen closely, you can hear crew members yelling, "The song! Do the song!" Desi got so caught up, he forgot that Ricky was supposed to start singing. Once the take was over, they thought they'd have to do another, more professional take, but the audience was adamant that the first one was perfect. Just try watching this scene and not getting the feels.

Having conquered television, the Arnazes went back to the movies and made The Long, Long Trailer for MGM, which became one of the biggest hits of 1954. Encouraged by that, Lucy and Desi wanted to make another film together; MGM head Dore Schary was happy to comply, offering the couple a highly profitable deal in exchange for MGM getting plugs on ILL by way of Ricky Ricardo getting offered a film role at the studio. In 1956, their movie Forever, Darling was released to disappointing reviews and bad box office returns. The film has some good moments, including James Mason and Louis Calhern, and the Technicolor is gorgeous, but there's definitely a spark missing from Forever, Darling. The title song, however, became very popular in the Arnaz family -- Desi would often sing it at anniversaries and weddings, including his daughter Lucie's. When he finished the song, he hugged and kissed a crying Lucy, although they had been divorced for years by that time. You can see Desi singing the tune in an episode of ILL here.

As their Desilu empire expanded, Lucy and Desi realized they needed to cut back on their work.

In 1957, ILL changed into The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour; each episode featured one or two celebrity guests and for the next three seasons, the number of episodes was enormously cut down. It was during this time that the Arnaz marriage really began to crumble. The couple made one final effort to get their act together by taking a European vacation with their kids, but it was an unmitigated disaster. "Big Desi was restless, uncommunicative, and bored," Lucy remembered. "When he wasn't drinking, he spent most of his time on the phone with the studio or checking the Del Mar racetrack, where his horses were running. I was completely disenchanted, bitter, and unforgiving...and the kids saw and heard way too much." When they came back to California, Lucy and Desi weren't speaking to each other. The atmosphere on the set was tense and cold, which was made even worse since Desi was both actor and director for the last few episodes of the show.

Lucy later wrote that she "never realized we never really liked each other. We had a great attraction going for each other in the beginning but we didn't approve of each other. He disapproved of my moderation and my conservatism. I was square, he said. I disapproved of the way he worked too hard, played too hard, and was never moderate in anything. ... I had lost my good humor and sense of proportion. When you're too mad and too rattled to see straight, you're bound to make mistakes. You can't go on and on for years being miserable about a situation and not have it change you." Desi finally asked Lucy for a divorce.

The filming of their last episode of ILL was very emotional. Ernie Kovacs and his wife Edie Adams were the guest stars, and Edie's performance of "That's All" had the whole place tearing up. The final scene was a fitting end: Lucy and Ricky one-up each other until they call a truce and seal it with a kiss. As Desi wrote, "This was not just an ordinary kiss for a scene in a show. It was a kiss that would wrap up twenty years of love and friendship, triumphs and failures, ecstasy and sex, jealousy and regrets, heartbreaks and laughter…and tears. The only thing we were not able to hide was the tears. After the kiss we just stood there looking at each other and licking the salt. Then Lucy said, 'You’re supposed to say cut.' 'I know. Cut, goddamn it!'"

The next day, Lucy went to court and the marriage was dissolved within two months. That was just a technicality, though. William Asher believed that Lucy "always loved him. And there's no question that he loved her always. Later, he married her double. Edie [Mack Hirsch] was a marvelous girl in her own right, but she sure as hell looked like Lucy." He also said, "Maybe I'm the romantic, but there was a great, great love there, there really was. Desi was very unhappy about the breakup, and I think she was too. I don't think either one of them ever got over it." Desi and Lucy would be entwined for their rest of their lives, despite marrying other people. Lucy's marriage to comic Gary Morton and Desi's to Edie Hirsch both outlasted their 20 years together, and by all accounts, these marriages were quieter and happier... but Desi and Lucy never lost their deep, earth-shattering love for one another.

"It took a long time for me to realize that Lucy and I were really divorced," Desi admitted. "We had grown up together, lived together, raised children together, shared a business and a hit show together. Now the together was gone, and I was left with just me. Lucy married Gary in 1961. I wasn't thrilled. Mostly I didn't want my kids to have another dad. And I couldn't see Lucy with another man. But I gave my blessing because I wanted Lucy to be happy. There was nothing else I could do but try to be happy for her." Warren G. Harris said that "[a]t her own request, Lucy was not invited to the wedding [of Edie and Desi]. She still carried a torch for Desi. It would have been too painful to watch him marrying anyone, even a woman she approved of."

In 1975, Desi reminisced about the early days of their relationship: "I had my guitar with me and the first day and part of the night I kept strumming the guitar and mumbling to myself. She told me later, 'I was getting a little nervous with you and that guitar of yours in a corner, mumbling to yourself. I thought, my God, he’s already tired of me.' What I was doing was writing a song for her. Lucy was very pleased. It became a ritual that at each of our anniversaries in the future I sang that song and also sent her red and white carnations. To this day, after fifteen years of being divorced, I send her red and white carnations on our anniversary."

When Lucy co-starred with longtime friend Bob Hope in The Facts of Life, she had a nasty accident on set which knocked her unconscious and put her in the hospital for a short time. Desi rushed to be by her side, and later sent a telegram to Hope that read "I played straight man to her for nine years and never pushed her. Why couldn’t you control yourself?" Desi also supported Lucy by coming to a press luncheon for the film (see above photo). He still helped Lucy career-wise, too -- according to her autobiography, he was the one who suggested she go back to television. He had read Irene Kampen's Life without George, a book about two widows trying to raise their kids without their husbands, and he thought it was perfect for his ex-wife. On the first day of filming, Desi gave Lucy a kiss and a four-leaf clover made out of antique jade. Candy Moore, the actress who played Lucy's daughter on the new show, said “It was a fabulous piece of jewelry. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that he adored her to the extent that he was thoughtful enough to give her such a smashing gift. She cried. They had a lot of tenderness and love between them.” The Lucy Show was a hit, and Desi served as its executive producer for the first 15 episodes until it became too awkward having Desi and Gary on the set at the same time.  

In 1962, after 11 stressful and exhausting years, Desi stepped down as president of Desilu and had Lucy buy him out to the tune of $3 million. She then became the first woman to ever run a major TV studio until she sold Desilu to Paramount Pictures in 1967. Interestingly, Lucy always played a widowed woman on her TV shows after ILL. I'm not sure if this was because she wanted it that way or she didn't think the public would accept someone else playing her TV husband. Reportedly, Lucy made sure her characters' last names had an "AR" in them in a nod to Desi's last name, hence Lucy Ricardo, Lucy Carmichael, and Lucy Carter.

Over the years, Lucy and Desi stayed close.

The last time they were filmed together, they were swimming around in a pool with their grandson Simon, daughter Lucie's son. This moment was captured as a home movie, and watching it honestly made me cry for a good 10 minutes. Soon after this, Desi became confined to his bed and would pass away from lung cancer on December 2, 1986. He was 69. Five days later, Lucy received the Kennedy Center Honors. Desi had written a short letter for the occasion, which was read to the audience by Robert Stack. If you ever want a good cry, definitely watch this. Desi had ended his letter with this heartfelt statement: "I Love Lucy was never just a title."

Lucie later wrote about the last time her parents spoke to one another: “I got on the phone with my mother and said, ‘He is barely speaking. He didn’t eat any of the dinner we fixed. He hasn’t eaten in three days. I don’t even know if he’ll understand what you’re saying, but I’ll put the phone up to his ear.’ She said, 'Oh, okay.’ She was always trying to be so brave. You could hear her voice cracking. I put the phone up to dad’s ear in the bed. And he gave me a look that said, 'Who is it?’ And I said, 'It’s the redhead.’ He just listened, and I heard what she said. She just said the same thing over and over again. It was muffled, but you could clearly make out it was the same thing over and over again. It was, 'I love you. I love you. Desi, I love you.’ You could even hear the intonations of the voice change, how she meant each one, the interpretation. ... And he said, 'I love you, too, honey. Good luck with your show.’ I had told him in passing, 'Mom’s going to be on a variety show tonight, she’s going to give somebody an award.’ I’m sure he didn’t realize what show it was, it was just important for him to say that. I couldn’t say anything to her. I just said, 'I’ll talk to you later.’ And I hung up the phone. Really, my mother was the last person he talked to, because he died about forty-eight hours later. Until I went back to my little diary, I never put it together that the date this happened was November 30 -- the same date as their wedding anniversary.”

Three years later, Lucy died from an abdominal aortic dissection after months of ill health. The world mourned the loss of their screwball redhead, but her husband Gary tried to look at it optimistically: "I guess she's happy now. She's with Desi." The Arnaz marriage was nowhere near perfect. Desi was a womanizer and over the years he couldn't get through the day without drinking; Lucy had a bad temper and wasn't always the warmest person. But at the end of the day, they were absolutely crazy for each other. They never let one another ago, and in the end, they didn't have to.

Marcella Rabwin, longtime family friend: "He would sit with me and cry. He actually cried, sometimes. Talking about how much he loved her, and how terrible it was that they were divorced. And he loved her to his dying day."

Howard Cady: "Work went smoothly until the discussions of his breakup with Lucy. It was apparent that he still loved her very much. He would get very emotional as he realized he'd been a rotten husband and had not treated her well. Desi became extremely tense and increasingly nutty, in the sense that he would get desperate for a drink."

Carole Cook: "I think, Lucy and Desi were so intertwined, emotionally...their life, their professional life and their private life, it was hard for either one of them to give up the other completely. And I doubt if they did. When she talked about Desi, when he was no longer coming to the house, she cried. And she would say, 'That was the love of my life.'"

"To my favorite rumba partner
To my favorite sweetheart
To my favorite movie actress
To my favorite wife,
To that darling baby of mine,
To my favorite Valentine.
Your husband"

An excerpt from a song by Desi: "When I looked into your eyes / and then you softly said 'I do' / I suddenly realized I had a new world / A world with you / A world where life is worth living / A world that is so new to me / A world of taking and giving / Like God meant the world to be / Where good times will find two to greet / I found my new world with you, darling / When you said softly, softly, 'I do'"


Comedian Jack Carter, who introduced Lucy to Gary Morton: "Lucy loved Desi till the day she died. He was the father of her kids. Even after she married Gary, she'd still run these lovely home movies of her and Desi and the kids when they were little. Everybody was in them, smiling by the pool, running up real fast, waving hello, Lucy walking knock-kneed and doing her Lucy faces. She'd sit there giving commentaries. She loved watching those movies."

Marcella Rabwin: "She, I think, loved Desi Arnaz, more, than any famous lovers in history. There was a passionate involvement between her and this man, that was so deep that it scared me.  It was as if she could not live without him. She couldn’t stand to be near him and not to touch him. Oh, one night -- she adored his singing, his act that he -- whenever they’d have a party it wound up as a concert, you know. Desi’s got to be on. One night at the Desilu ranch they had a big barbeque. And when finally we finished the dinner and sat down around the living room with the fire going. Desi sits in his chair with his guitar and Lucy leaves the room for a minute. And when she came back, she had a tray full of little red votive candle holders with the candles all lit. And she started putting them around Desi as if they were footlights. And she just sat there and looked at him. She just worshipped this man."

Madelyn Pugh Davis: "We’d be in his office having a meeting. Whenever the phone would ring and he would begin talking, I always knew if it was Lucy, because his voice changed. You can tell a lot by the way a man talks to his wife -- or his ex-wife -- from the office, whether he liked her. And it was always very, very sweet."

Desi in 1976: "All I can say is that I loved her very much and, in my own peculiar way, I will always love her."

Desi: "Lucy and I would love furiously and fight furiously."

Lucy: "What do you say about a marriage that has ended? All those hopes and dreams, the children, the years, the fights and the love? I can’t put it into words and neither can Desi. We still loved each other desperately."

Lucie Arnaz in 1991: "They had one of those historical marriages, like Napoleon and Josephine, Richard and Liz -- destined to be trouble but destined for them to never find anyone as passionate or as fabulous."


This is my contribution to the fantastic Star-Studded Couple Blogathon. You absolutely must read the other entries here.

- Lucy's autobiography Love, Lucy
- Desi's autobiography A Book
- Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie, a marvelous documentary made by Lucie Arnaz
- all gifs, some photos, and some quotes from the tumblr heckyeahlucyanddesi


  1. This is beautiful, just beautiful. I too overwhelmed to say anything else except this is a beautiful and touching tribute, and it couldn't be any better. Wow.

    1. Oh goodness, thank you! I loved doing this post -- diving into the story of Desi and Lucy is so emotional, I was afraid of not capturing it the way it should be. Thanks for giving me the opportunity, Phyl!

    2. Very nice. You told me things I didn't know. Thank you.

  2. Such a great post, and I love all the images, too. Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. Thank you for reading! I have at least 20 photos I didn't get to share -- they'll definitely be showing up on this blog someday. Luckily, Lucy and Desi were really prolific, so we get plenty of amazing pictures.

    2. What an absolutely beautiful tribute to Lucy and Desi's love. It was absolutely riveting to read. Bravo!

    3. Thank you so much! I'm very happy to hear that you enjoyed it. And I'm so sorry to be replying so late! Blogger stopped notifying me of comments, and this post receives a crazy amount of spam comments, so a lot of new, genuine comments have been getting overlooked. My apologies again!

  3. Marriage can't be always perfect, but love can be forever. This was a very emotional post, that made a tear or two roll through my cheeks. Congratulations on writing this, it's the best piece I've read about Lucy and Desi.
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)

    1. Desi and Lucy are so near and dear to me -- if you thought I did their story justice, that means a lot to me. Thank you for the sweet words, and thanks for reading!

  4. What a beautiful post. I was definitely feeling emotional toward the end of this one. Their love story is a tragedy in many ways but also very passionate and beautiful. I didn't know much about their relationship and your post was extremely informative and captivating!

    1. Thank you! It's sad that they weren't able to stay married, but things were just too volatile. Desi never contested the divorce in court -- he never even hired a lawyer! -- because he knew he had to let Lucy be happy. Their new spouses were just what they needed, so in a way, it all worked out for the best.

  5. Im out of word's...they will always be my favorite couple...thank you

    1. Thank YOU! Doing this piece, I realized they might just be my favorite couple too... or at least tied with Tracy and Hepburn. It's lovely to hear that you enjoyed my post.

    2. I absolutely felt every bit of their love, pain, passion in your writings. Thank you so much. All I can say is wow, and in my tears of joy and sorrow...

    3. Wow, thank you! You're very kind.

      My apologies, by the way, for not responding more quickly. This post receives a lot of spam comments, so sometimes real comments get lost in the shuffle. :(

  6. A love for the ages! I was tearing up by the end of your post. Beautiful tribute, well done. Love the home movies, the links (especially to the Forever Darling song--didn't know that was a special song of the fam), and that Valentine pic. =)

    1. Thanks, Bonnie! I feel like I barely scratched the surface of this story -- there's so much info out there, it's insane. I guess we're not the only ones taken with Desi and Lucy!

  7. What a beautiful post. I cried. I loved the both of them. Bravo to you!!

    1. Thank you! It's nice to hear that you enjoyed it.

  8. What a beautiful post. Thank you so much for telling their story with the honestly and immense love it deserves.

    1. Thanks for the kind comment! This was one of my favorite posts and I'm happy others enjoy it as well. I really tried to do justice to their story.

  9. Very nicely written. I'd always heard how tumultuous this marriage was, but you gathered the facts well and showed why they lasted in their own inimitable way.

    1. Thanks, Steve! This is a relationship that I'm sure we'll still be talking about for years to come.

  10. Hello! Have had Lucy & Desi on the brain a LOT lately for some reason! Throughout all the decades, I had heard all the same info pretty much everyone else did regarding their marriage and the reasons that led to their divorce. But I was also aware of the fact that even though they did indeed divorce and go on to marry other people, that the tremendous love they had for each other was still always very much there. I found this piece today and just finished it, and I must say, it was very well done and extremely beautiful, especially with all the sweet and heartfelt photos and gifs. Thank you for such a gorgeous, honest, and respectful article on their sad but beautiful tale. It has always been my hopes that when they both left this earth, that they reunited in Heaven and were with each other as they always should have been here.

    1. Hi, Ann Marie! So sorry I'm just now responding. This article gets A LOT of spam and somehow your very gracious and kind comment got lost in the shuffle. My sincerest apologies.

      As for Lucy and Desi, there is so, so much info out there about them, but not all of it pays tribute to how complex their relationship was or how complicated they were as people. Their story is truly magical and I have no doubt that they found one another again. :)

  11. This has had me in tears for half an hour. Someone needs to make a movie for them. I really pray that they are together now and happy. A love like theirs will continue on forever, it will never die.

    1. Aw, Lucy and Desi often make me cry, too! I do believe that there is an upcoming movie being made about Lucy with Cate Blanchett, but it doesn't sound like it's gotten very far into production. They haven't announced who is playing Desi, which is my biggest concern. Fingers crossed, though, that they actually do justice to these amazing people!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I'm very sorry I didn't respond sooner, but as I said in a previous comment, this post gets an incredible amount of spam, so genuine comments often get overlooked.

  12. What a wonderful blog post this is! It brought back so many lovely memories of Lucy and Desi. Thank you for all the heartfelt work you put into it. I relished every word and picture.

    1. Thank you! I loved putting this post together, and I can't believe it's still getting such kind comments as yours. :)

  13. Hi Michaela,
    I absolutely love your wonderful tribute to Lucy and Desi! You poured your heart into this article and it shows. It always breaks my heart how Lucy and Desi could not stay together as a couple but they have transcended time and space by living on in the hearts of all who love them and in their wonderful show.
    I just posted an article on my blog about my visit to Jamestown, NY, Lucy's hometown, and the super fun Lucy and Desi Museum that they have there. I'd be honored if you'd check it out. I love your blog. Keep up the great work!


    1. I really appreciate your comment, thank you! I put this article together with a lot of love (and some definite tears!), so it's nice to hear that it shows.

      I'll certainly check out your article! I've wanted to visit Jamestown for such a long time, it'll be great to read about your experience.

    2. Sorry I'm replying late. I know you will love Jamestown when you visit! It's like Disneyland for Lucy fans, and you can definitely feel the love for her while you're there. Thanks for taking the time to stop by!

  14. I love Lucy and I love Desi too but God damn He had it all and lost it all..

    a huge empire he built with a beautiful, loyal woman who admired and deeply loved him,
    and he lost it all... he lost the best damn thing that he had and for what? So he can abuse alcohol and have one night stands with whores. He lost the greatest thing in the world for moments of tempted pleasure. Sin destroyed this love.... When Lucy said in an interview that she married a loser she was right.

    Ill never understand it. He could have had a heaven on earth with her if he knew better.
    Makes me really sad.

  15. BTW … the photo in between Desi with Ann Miller and Lucy (in “Too Many Girls”) and the one where he is lifting Lucy up in the air … the woman in the booth with Desi is. Betty Grable, NOT Lucy.

    1. Correct! I included that photo because underneath it I mentioned that he had dated Betty Grable.

  16. This article is absolutely amazing. Thank you so much for sharing this!

    I watched "I Love Lucy" for the first time when I was 7, and ever since, I have a huge place in my heart for these two. I've read every book, watched every movie and documentary, and done as much reading and watching as I can about these two. I used to want to stop reading or watching around the years 1953/54 because I recognized - even at the young age of 14 when I was really obsessed - that that was when their marriage took a nose dive. But now, as a 32 year old, I am growing to appreciate that these two had a love for each other that lasted far beyond their divorce. Reading about their lives after they separated and hearing friends' stories about how they always loved each other somehow touches me more deeply than just hearing about their initial love affair.

    Their love is undying, and I will never get enough of them.

    Thank you!

    1. Thank you for the comment!

      Their relationship was certainly one for the ages. I know what you mean about it being hard to read or hear about the difficulties in their marriage. I've been listening to TCM's Lucy podcast and on today's episode, their daughter Lucie had this realization while talking about how quickly her mother married Gary Morton that she might've done it to prevent herself from potentially getting back with Desi. It's just heartbreaking stuff, but inspiring and joyful at times too!

  17. I'm going to vent here, because this really hurts.

    I've only recently gotten into Lucy and Desi, Desi and Lucy's story. I'm reading a lot, watching a lot of material, listening to Lucy's podcast from 1964 (you can hear it in her voice, you can listen to the subjects she discusses, just how much love she still has for Desi.)

    I watched the Barbara Walters interview 2 days ago. You can clearly hear how mad Lucy was at Desi still, 17 years later, she called him a Loser because she truly loved him. She said as a reply to Barbara that she still doesn't understand it (why it happened.) She kept talking about him even when Gary was trying to say something, she cut him by saying "Desi was sweet too." You can clearly hear she's angry at him, but this only meant she still loved him. You can't be angry at someone without loving and caring for them.

    In every photo I look, you see how Desi's looking at Lucy with such passion. You don't see this look when he stares at his second wife.

    I read that Desi said that Losing Lucy was his biggest mistake, I'm not sure if that's correct though.

    I now know their story, how it ended, every time I read something, my heart aches. It's like when you watch a movie based on a true story, you know how it ends but you still hope, maybe this time it will have a different ending. That's what I feel regarding Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

    It really hurts as well, the feeling one receives from Lucie Arnaz, I wish she'd speak about her mom the way she speaks about Edith Hirsch, with such passion and admiration.
    In every interview you get the sense of a huge distance when she speaks about her mom, her ton of speech. In most of the photos they had, it's her, Desi jr. and Lucy, she never smiles, at least not a real smile. Always mentally distanced.

    Desi Arnaz was such an innovative, talented and a great person, I love it when people say he had a foresight back at those days. Regardless his personal life, he was an amazing artist and should have received credit for what he'd done - Yet another factor that aches when you think about it. Lucy gave him the chance by wanting him and no one else to costar near her, which he took with both hands and made an amazing job building what he built, later on joined by her.

    I wish I'd met them.

    I'm reading Love, Lucy right now and it's amazing. I liked the part on your post here, that you quoted Desi's A Book. I'm trying to see where I can get it so it gave me a glimpse.


    Most of your video links are private or deleted which is too bad, I was looking forward to watching some.

  18. Thank you for an outstanding, insightful biographical post. They were ad much a passionate, intense power-couple as Richard & Liz.
    If Desi could have stopped his infidelities and controlled or stopped his alcoholism they would have stayed together and had far less jealous bouts. Lucy had a sharp temper and could not forgive his issues. It just got to be too much for her.
    What an absolutely amazing romance and Life they had together. It transcends all the failings and tragedy of emotional overload.
    Thanks again for this very fine and sensitive overview. Five stars.
    Two comets in the firmament.

    1. Thank you! I can't believe people are still finding this article after all this time. It's also been amazing seeing the renewed interest in Lucy and Desi the past year thanks to Amy Poehler's new Amazon Prime documentary, TCM's podcast, and (I hate to say it, but it is there) Aaron Sorkin's Being the Ricardos. It's just thrilling to think that Lucy and Desi keep coming back with more people learning their story!

  19. July 2022 and just found this article on a Google search. Thank you so much for all your research and photos. Gave a great insight into their marriage and the after math

    1. Thank you! I can't believe that after all these years, people are still finding and enjoying this piece. Even crazier is I'm still finding out new bits about Lucy and Desi all the time! Their love story is just so expansive and deep.

      Thanks again for reading!

  20. Thank you for this beautiful tribute. I am obsessed with Lucy and Desi. The legacy and the gift they gave us can never be measured. You have confirmed what I have believed to be true in my heart, that their love is eternal and everlasting. Thank you, ever so much.


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