‘I Love Lucy’: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Were TV Pioneers for This Reason

by Joe Rutland

When listing pioneers in television, “I Love Lucy” stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz are in the conversation. One reason is interesting.

Ball and Arnaz were the first interracial couple to appear on TV. Before “I Love Lucy” first appeared on CBS, Ball made it very clear that she wanted Arnaz, her Cuban-American husband, on the show. She insisted that it happen, according to Good Housekeeping.

Their on-screen relationship is one that many television situation comedies have copied. Ball and Arnaz worked well on “I Love Lucy” even with their real-life marriage less than stellar.

Lucille Ball Insisted Arnaz Play Husband On ‘I Love Lucy’

By insisting Arnaz be her on-screen husband, Ball was taking a risk, especially in the 1950s. Yet she had the pull with CBS to make it work and “I Love Lucy” became a hit show for the network. One other point: Ball wanted to keep her eye on Arnaz, who had a reputation as a ladies man even during his marriage.

She figured that the show would be one way for her to keep an eye on him. It worked for a bit. “I Love Lucy” ran for six seasons on CBS, totaling 180 episodes. Ball and Arnaz profited quite well off of the show, being able to even put together Desilu Studios where “I Love Lucy” would be filmed.

The couple would also take part in “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour,” which was 13 one-hour specials that aired between 1957 and 1960.

In these shows, viewers got the “I Love Lucy” cast with Vivian Vance and William Frawley as Ethel and Fred Mertz. Keith Thibodeaux would play “Little Ricky,” but he would be billed as Richard Keith. Why not by his last name? Reportedly, Arnaz had trouble pronouncing the Louisiana Cajun-style last name.

Ball-Arnaz Marriage Finally Comes To An End In March 1960

As noted, the couple’s marriage was strained. The final episode of “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” featured comedic legend Ernie Kovacs and his wife, Edie Adams.

It was called “Lucy Meets The Mustache” and was filmed on March 3, 1960. On March 4, Ball filed for divorce from Arnaz. That would be the final time both would appear on the same show together.

It marked the end of quite a journey for Ball and Arnaz. They set many records during the run of “I Love Lucy.” But they broke quite an important barrier, one that would reverberate through TV and society for years to come.

Arnaz died on Dec. 2, 1986, at 69 years old of lung cancer. Ball died on April 26, 2989, at 77 years old.

Their on-screen work, despite their personal issues, remains popular with millions of people around the world thanks to reruns.