‘I Love Lucy’: Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball Hid Their Age Difference Using Sneaky Trick

by Joe Rutland
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It’s hard to detect any age difference on “I Love Lucy” between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. They look the same age, but they’re not.

In truth, Ball was six years older than Arnaz. But they both went along with the gag, so to speak, by claiming they both were born in 1914. That’s not true.

Ball was born in 1911 and Arnaz was born in 1917, according to IMDb. How did they get away with the ruse, though? Both just kept their actual birth years silent. Watching the episodes, it’s kind of hard to see an age difference.

But it was clearly obvious between co-stars William Frawley and Vivian Vance, who played Fred and Ethel Mertz. Frawley was 64 in real life; Vance was 42.

Yet in looking at pictures taken on the “I Love Lucy” set, sometimes you can see Arnaz begin to have gray hair appear in that thick black hair of his. Ball, though, was forever a redhead after changing her hair color prior to TV success.

Frawley, Vance Weren’t First Choices For ‘I Love Lucy’ Roles

As hard as this might be to believe, Frawley and Vance were not the first choices to play the Mertzes on the show. The ones who were in line at first are two names TV viewers will know immediately, but for different shows.

Gale Gordon and Bea Benadaret were the first picks. Benadaret, though, could not do it at the time as she was under contract with “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.” Gordon also was not available at the time.

Actor James Gleason was the second pick (no relation to comic legend Jackie Gleason). He didn’t work out. Eventually, Frawley got the call.

But let’s not stray away from Gordon and Benadaret just yet. After Ball and Arnaz divorced, she still needed a foil for her antics. On “The Lucy Show,” early episodes had character actor Charles Lane play Mr. Barnstall in that role. The chemistry between the two, though, was not there.

Gale Gordon Becomes Perfect Foil For Ball On ‘Lucy Show’

At some point, Ball decided to put Gordon on the show in 1962 in the role of her boss, banker Theodore J. Mooney. Gordon was brilliant as the foil for Ball. His over-the-top reactions, combined with Ball’s rather dim-witted secretary portrayal, were magic.

After “The Lucy Show” ended on CBS in 1968, Ball started another show called “Here’s Lucy.”

On that one, Ball had Gordon play Uncle Harry to her real-life kids who were co-stars on the show. Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. played Lucy’s grown-up children, yet found themselves in the midst of their mom’s crazy schemes. Gordon, again, played his role flawlessly.

He and Ball remained close friends even after Gordon didn’t join “I Love Lucy.” In Ball’s final TV series run, the short-lived “Life With Lucy,” Gordon did his best to rekindle the flame of a foil.

Audiences, though, weren’t interested anymore and the show ended after just a few episodes. Gordon’s influence on sidekicks or foils on future situation comedies is immeasurable.

Bea Benadaret Gained Fans As Kate On ‘Petticoat Junction’

What about Benadaret? She completed her contractual obligation on the husband-and-wife show with Burns and Allen. Benadaret received two Emmy Award nominations for her work, but did not win.

After Burns and Allen ended their show in 1958, Benadaret was looking for a new gig. In the 1960s, there was a new show being produced called “The Beverly Hillbillies.” She did a screen test for the “Granny” role, but it went to actress Irene Ryan instead. Benadaret ended up playing Pearl Bodine, Jethro’s mother, for a couple of seasons.

Benadaret also was the voice of Betty Rubble on ABC’s “The Flintstones.”

But “Hillbillies” show creator Paul Henning remembered Benadaret when he was preparing for “Petticoat Junction” to also hit the airwaves on CBS.

Henning was looking for someone to be the owner of the Shady Rest Hotel in Hooterville. The role also called for an actress to even be a mother to three daughters, the Bradley girls. Benadaret was a perfect fit and Henning signed her on for the role of Kate Bradley. Henning had been looking for a vehicle to feature Benadaret’s talents. In 1963, “Petticoat Junction” was slotted right behind “The Beverly Hillbillies.” It was a consistent Top 30 show between 1963 and 1967, when Benadaret had to end her run.

She died from lung cancer in 1968. Henning replaced Benadaret with “Timmy & Lassie” and “Lost In Space” star June Lockhart. The show, though, just didn’t have the same zest as when Benadaret was on there. CBS eventually canceled the show.

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