‘I Love Lucy’: Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball Once Built Home on Golf Course with Money He Won in Poker Game

by Joe Rutland

Desi Arnaz was a player back in his day…a poker player, that is. Arnaz, the “I Love Lucy” co-star with Lucille Ball, took it to the house.

Literally. As in, Arnaz built a house off of winnings from a poker game at the Thunderbird Golf Club. But there’s a little more to the story, according to IMDb.

Back in 1957, Arnaz, who played bandleader Ricky Ricardo on “I Love Lucy,” opened up the Desi Arnaz West Hills Hotel in Indian Wells, Calif. It was a 42-room place with a restaurant featuring his own personal recipes.

Remember that Arnaz was a native of Cuba, so imagine all of those Cuban cuisines pouring out of the hotel’s kitchen to guest after guest.

‘I Love Lucy’ Star Desi Arnaz Built-Up Real Estate Portfolio

Yet, where is the house? It seems that Arnaz was building up quite a real estate portfolio at that time. That’s not surprising due to the massive success “I Love Lucy” had on CBS.

Desilu Productions and Desilu Studios, both owned by Arnaz and Ball, were raking in money hand over fist. They also established having reruns of “I Love Lucy” be available for TV stations to run when they needed programming.

Arnaz took a lot of his money and put it toward real estate ventures. Because he was spending so much time with them, he and Ball decided to build a home at the Thunderbird Golf Club. In fact, it was on the 17th hole’s fairway. It turns out that Arnaz won the land in a poker game he was part of at that time.

Imagine being part of a high-stakes poker game like that one. Forget your $1 or $5 chips. Nope, these cats were playing high roller poker and going for the jugular.

Arnaz Was A Pioneer In TV But Lost His Luster After Lucy

Desi Arnaz actually was quite a pioneer in the television industry. His name doesn’t come up a lot when people talk about those who contributed to the business. That’s because his personal life, which included numerous affairs and alcoholism, led to a divorce between Ball and Arnaz.

The public loved Lucy and Arnaz got pushed aside in the entertainment industry.

But a lot of people don’t realize that Arnaz played a role in continuing the changes in how television shows were being filmed on studios or theater stages. In the 1950s, a lot of TV shows simply used one camera to follow around the main show’s star in skits.

One example is watching comedian Jackie Gleason portray bus driver Ralph Kramden on Dumont’s “Cavalcade of Stars” and CBS’s “The Jackie Gleason Show.” In using one camera, it stayed locked on Gleason and followed his movements around “The Honeymooners” sketch set in the show’s early days. By the time the “Classic 39” episodes were filmed, Gleason had moved on to the three-camera technique, too.

Three-Camera Technique Was Around Before Arnaz

Arnaz continued to use what was created in 1947 and is called the three-camera technique. Besides having a center camera to shoot straight ahead on a set, cameras were put on the left side and right side of that center camera. That way, a show could run all three cameras at once and then edit which shots they wanted in an episode.

It’s a technique that is still used to this day. Modifications probably have been made at times, yet that technique helps with TV shows on studios today.

Yet Desi Arnaz, despite his close association with “I Love Lucy” and Lucille Ball, was pretty much an outcast from many people’s minds after his divorce from Ball. He never truly reached the same level of success in his career. What he left on television, though, cannot be forgotten.