Fan worldwide remember Desi Arnaz for his legendary role of Ricky Ricardo on “I Love Lucy,” opposite Lucille Ball. During his lifetime, Desi Arnaz would have one of the most successful careers in Hollywood that many would aspire to replicate. However, things weren’t always that glamorous for Arnaz. As a Cuban immigrant, Arnaz had to work for many years before making it in the industry.
Even though Arnaz passed away in 19986, his spirit and memory continue with his children. In an interview with the Archive of American Television in 2011, his daughter, Lucie Arnaz, revealed details about her father’s Cuban upbringing.
Born in Santiago, Cuba, in 1917, Arnaz spent most of his life growing up in Cuba until it came crashing down in 1933. That year, the Batista Revolution’s arrival forced his family to flee their home and go into hiding.
“They lost their homes. Their livestock was killed. Their pets were slaughtered. They crushed the piano and burned all the family photos,” Arnaz said about the revolution. “My grandmother— his mother— hid with relatives and my dad and his father escaped with nothing to Miami, where they had to start over again basically from scratch.
Desi Arnaz Flees to America Amid Cuban Revolution
Once in Miami in 1934, Arnaz and his father cleaned canary cages and lived out of a warehouse until one day when his father encouraged him to pursue music.
“Eventually, grandpa said, ‘I know you play the guitar. I wanted you to be a doctor or a lawyer, but I guess you’re going to have to get a job as a musician,” said Arnaz. “So dad got a musician’s job and eventually was discovered by Xavier Cugat.”
Cugat— the “king of rumba,” encouraged Desi Arnaz to move to New York to pursue music full-time. Once there, Arnaz worked with Cugat for six months before returning to Miami. Once there, he introduced the famous conga dance one night when his band was performing. He quickly realized the audience wasn’t enjoying it and as a way to distract them, he remembered the dance routine. As a result, it became wildly popular in the U.S.
When that job ended, he got a job at a club called La Conga. While working, he was noticed by Richard Rogers and Larry Hart. At the time, Rogers and Hart were the best musical-comedy writing team who recruited Arnaz to star in the Broadway musical, Too Many Girls.
“Then they sent him to Hollywood, with a film when they made it into a movie, Arnaz said. “And it was in Hollywood where he met my mother, who was cast to star in the movie.”
One year after meeting, Desi Arnaz would marry Lucille Ball. Together they would create one of the most lucrative production companies known as Desilu Productions. Long after its dissolution, many in the industry would follow their blueprint in hopes of having the same success.