‘I Love Lucy’ Stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Were First To Reach ‘Million Dollar’ Milestone in Television

by Jennifer Shea

“I Love Lucy” stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were innovators in many ways. And one of them was that the couple became the first millionaires in their industry.

Ball and Arnaz were the first television millionaires in America, according to the Lucy Desi Museum. Their production company, Desilu, founded with $5,000 of the couple’s own money, was worth $10 million by 1953, per IMDb.  

Toward the end of 1958, Desilu went public on the New York Stock Exchange at $10 per share. Ball and Arnaz each kept 25% of the stock. Arnaz had to use the money he made to pay off gambling debts and various other expenses, and only saw a profit of about $70,000 to $80,000.

‘I Love Lucy’ Stars Had High-Profile Divorce

The two hot-blooded stars had a tempestuous relationship. Both were jealous, and Arnaz struggled with alcoholism and womanizing. So four years after their marriage in 1940, Ball asked for a divorce, according to History.com.

However, the two patched things up and decided to push themselves even closer by working together. Then Ball got an offer from CBS to launch a sitcom. She insisted that Arnaz play her husband on the show.

“I Love Lucy” lasted from 1951 until 1957. “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” followed it from 1957 to 1960.

The couple finally divorced for good on March 4, 1960. But they had two children together, Lucie and Desi Jr., and they stayed close for the rest of their lives.

The divorce itself was messy and public. Ball once said her worst moment was “when I got divorced and disappointed millions of people by doing so.” And Lucie Arnaz told Closer Weekly that as her parent’s marriage was coming unraveled, their home life became unbearable.

“There was a lot of anger and screaming,” she said. “Their divorce was horrible. And then there was the alcoholism. I had preferred those things had never been there. We didn’t have any abuse, but we did go through some pretty hard stuff and that’s why my parents didn’t stay together.”

Desilu Became a Successful Production Company

For a while, Desilu Studios was the largest independent production company in the country.

The couple had originally founded Desilu to produce “I Love Lucy.” But over the years, it would go on to produce such hits as “The Untouchables,” “Mission: Impossible” and “Star Trek.”

Two years after Ball filed for divorce, she bought out Arnaz’s share in Desilu. And that marked another television milestone: Ball then became the first woman to run a major television company.