Often, people think of ‘I Love Lucy’ icon Lucille Ball as a comedian. It’s all true, but she also was a history-making studio owner and producer. In 1958, Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz of their newly formed “Desilu Productions” bought up multiple studio lots for millions.
Desilu Was Possible because of ‘I Love Lucy’ Sale
Ball and Arnaz didn’t just buy up any studio lots after the success of I Love Lucy. They got the unique privilege of being able to buy up the lot where she was one under contract. It was a move quite unintentionally symbolic of Lucille Ball’s exponential growth in the film industry.
First, they bought two studios from RKO for $6.1 million. One was right next to Paramount pictures. The other was in Culver City, right next to Sony. That same year, Desilu sold the I Love Lucy rights to CBS for 4.5 million. At the time, this was a huge number in Hollywood, and that payout helped launch Desilu studios.
In 1962, in the wake of a divorce, Ball bought out Arnaz’s shares of Desilu productions. By doing so, she became the first female president of a Hollywood production company.
What Did Desilu Productions Produce?
On I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball’s comedic genius made her force to be reckoned with. Afterward, she continued to be a pioneer. Desilu productions produced and provided services for The Untouchables, December Bride, Whirlybirds, Our Miss Brooks, and perhaps most notably, the revolutionary Star Trek.
Lucille Ball had to fight tooth and nail to get Star Trek to air. She repeatedly went over her board of directors. The pilot was expensive, and NBC rejected it. Ball helped finance a second pilot, vetoing a unanimous no vote on behalf of her board. The Desilu board thought the show was expensive and a bit strange. The second pilot introduced William Shatner as Captain Kirk.
Star Trek was only on air for a year before Ball sold Desilu to Paramount. However, it’s unlikely the infamous now-franchise that made history with its diversity and storytelling would even exist without Ball. Given what Star Trek did for popularizing the genre, Sci-fi fans out there owe a LOT to Lucille Ball.
Whether it was her decisions during I Love Lucy, or her eye for successful shows like Star Trek, it’s clear Lucille Ball had a keen eye for what worked in the industry. Her purchase of those studio lots in 1958 launched a fruitful career in production for the star.