CBS gave Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz the opportunity they’d worked years to get when they offered them their own primetime television show — I Love Lucy — in 1950. However, there was a catch. Ball, who was already a rising star in Hollywood, would play the wife. But the network didn’t want Arnaz as the husband.
The network worried that America wasn’t ready for an interracial couple on television. So, instead of kowtowing to those demands, they decided to make the pilot episode themselves. To do so, they created DesiLu Productions and put up $5,000 of their own money. They were beholden to no one — not the network or a particular sponsor, according to Entrepreneur.
Fans loved I Love Lucy, and it became one of the most popular comedies on TV. And while the show amassed more and more viewers, DesiLu was expanding its reach. Desi Arnaz ran the business while Lucille Ball raised their children. He produced hit shows like “The Ann Sothern Show,” “The Untouchables” and “Sheriff of Cochise,” the magazine said. And when the company needed capital, it sold the syndication rights to I Love Lucy for nearly $20 million in today’s money.
I Love Lucy ended in 1957, and their marriage fell apart shortly thereafter. Desi Arnaz’s philandering and drinking caused a rift in their marriage and they split in 1960.
But what would they do with DesiLu Productions?
‘I Love Lucy’: Lucy Buys Out Desi Arnaz After Split
Within a year, Lucille Ball had remarried and was starring in her own TV show Here’s Lucy. At that time, Lucy and Desi still shared ownership of DesiLu Productions from their time at I Love Lucy. But the arrangement was fraught.
So Lucy bought out Desi for $2.5 million, making her the first female head of a Hollywood production company.
While this was a major achievement, it couldn’t have come at a worse time. DesiLu Productions was struggling. They needed money fast or they would be insolvent very quickly. Add on top of that more competition and smaller studios began popping up around LaLa Land, and it seems DesiLu was done for.
But Lucille Ball decided she needed help. She’d need someone to help to find good shows and get them on the air. She hired CBS executive Oskar Katz, who turned out to have the golden touch when it came to television shows.
Katz found Star Trek and Mission Impossible, and Lucille Ball used her considerable clout to get the shows on the air. By 1967, DesiLu was back in the black and had two of the most popular shows at the time on the air. She sold her stake in DesiLu that year to Paramount Studios, which is still making Star Trek and Mission Impossible movies nearly 60 years later.