‘I Love Lucy’ Pilot, Filmed on Desi Arnaz’s Birthday, Was Lost For Decades

by Joe Rutland
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For nearly 40 years, the pilot episode for “I Love Lucy” was lost. It took looking in the home of a friend of Desi Arnaz to fix the mystery.

So, the pilot for what would be a show for television history books was filmed on March 2, 1950. That date coincided with Desi Arnaz’s birthday.

No one could put their hands on a copy of it until one showed up in the home of Pepito Perez, according to the Lucy Desi Museum. Perez, who died in 1975, was a creative collaborator with Arnaz.

It was a 35 mm print located in Perez’s home that would ultimately find its way to television in April 1990. Lucie Arnaz, Ball and Arnaz’s daughter, hosted a TV special on CBS about the pilot episode.

Take a look at some scenes and the opening and closing credits for this “I Love Lucy” pilot episode.

From this pilot, the tales of the Ricardos as well as Fred and Ethel Mertz would be shown before millions of TV viewers.

It wasn’t just true in the 1950s. It’s still the case today as a new generation of people begin finding out why people laugh at Lucy, Ricky, Ethel, and Fred so much.

‘I Love Lucy’ Star Cried After Costar Vivian Vance Died

Now Lucille Ball forged a long-term friendship with Vivian Vance, who played Ethel Mertz on “I Love Lucy.” Vance also appeared on Ball’s follow-up show, “The Lucy Show,” during its first few seasons before bowing out.

Vance died on Aug. 17, 1979, after battling bone cancer. She was 70.

Ball visited Vance just a few days before she died.

“She cried about losing Viv for months after that,” Lucie Arnaz said. “Viv was, in many ways, like a sister to my mother. She could talk to Mom like nobody else, and I don’t think my mother could confide in many people the way she would with Viv.”

Arnaz recalls seeing her mother devastated and crying when she left the room.

“The pain on her face shook me to my core,” she said. “She was in tears. She couldn’t speak. I think Viv gave up after that.”

Lucille Ball died on April 26, 1989, from an abdominal aortic aneurysm. She was 77.

Childhood Pain Acts As Inspiration For Ball’s Comedy

Ball, though, found her youth to be filled with sadness. After her father died when she was 4 years old, Ball’s mother moved in with her parents in Jamestown, N.Y.

Finances were tight and they reportedly stayed that way until “I Love Lucy” became a huge success.

During an interview, Lucie Arnaz shared her thoughts on her mother’s upbringing.

“The worst thing you can do is suppress pain, and she made a career out of suppressing all her pain,” Arnaz said. “She was really stuck at a young age emotionally, and she probably stopped any sort of serious emotional growth around that 5- or 6-year-old stage. And yet, that’s why she was such a great comic.”

Arnaz said Ball could find a gift in the pain.

“An overcoming of that pain in performing, if you’re lucky, gives you a gift that you can give to people,” she said.

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