Happy Birthday, Desi Arnaz: Remembering the ‘I Love Lucy’ Icon

by Caitlin Berard

In 1939, a 22-year-old Cuban-American named Desi Arnaz was cast in the Broadway musical Too Many Girls. The young singer had no idea that he had just set off a chain of events that would define the rest of his life. Desi Arnaz would go on to become one of the most beloved television stars in history. And today, fans around the world celebrate the trailblazing actor’s 105th birthday.

Born on March 2, 1917, Desi Arnaz is co-star and producer of the award-winning show I Love Lucy, a series he created with his long-time love, Lucille Ball. At its peak, I Love Lucy had the attention of an astounding 75% of the country, drawing 44 million viewers per episode. Since then, the hit sitcom has collected an impressive list of accolades, including being voted the “best show of all time.”

The series about an unconventional couple and their unconditional love, I Love Lucy changed the landscape of television forever. Lucille Ball, star of I Love Lucy and real-life wife of Desi Arnaz, said of the show, “no one wanted [Desi] to play my husband because he was Cuban, and they wanted a real American couple.”

Rather than let the opinions of others dictate their future, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball opted for making history. After finding massive success with Lucy, Desi and Lucille set out on their own. The first step was starting their own production company, Desilu.

With Desi and Lucille at the helm, the company went on to produce some of the most iconic shows in all of television. Though Desi Arnaz passed away in 1986, his memory will live on forever with his work.

Amy Poehler Creates Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Documentary

The final episode of I Love Lucy aired way back in May of 1957. However, fans of the television darlings are still getting new Desi and Lucy content today. The most recent offering is a documentary directed by Amy Poehler entitled Lucy and Desi.

Inspired by the lives and careers of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Poehler set out to give a never-before-seen look into the couple’s time in Hollywood. “I think a lot of people truly don’t understand how ahead of their time they were,” explains Poehler. “How they were true mavericks in a system that certainly wasn’t encouraging immigrants and people of color and women to run studios and to be the bosses and to be high status in the 1950s.”

Poehler goes on to discuss her approach to creating the film. Rather than a typical documentary, the director’s goal was to give an intimate portrayal of Arnaz and Ball. “I’m always very interested when we start to turn people into icons and we really flatten them out,” Poehler said. “We forget that they’re human — human people… Every time we got back to the humanness of it all. Pioneers, outsiders who took big risks and who also had to maintain a very public relationship at the same time.”