I love Lucy and the I Love Lucy Cast, and no doubt so do you! Starting in 1951, I Love Lucy became an enduring and beloved classic of television around the world.
The show ended in 1957 but our love for Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, Little Ricky, and Fred and Ethel Mertz continued for decades. The show won five Emmy Awards and spawned countless merchandise like clothes, comics, and even jewelry.
It also has the pleasure of being the first TV show to air reruns after going off-air in 1957. Yes, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball invented the syndicated rerun as producers.
In 1957 and for three years after came the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show from 1962 through to 1968, Here’s Lucy from 1968 to 1974, and Life With Lucy in 1986.
It’s still aired in over 80 countries, and more than 21 languages. But it wasn’t always like this.
Keep watching to find out all the ugly details about the I Love Lucy cast, including Little Ricky.
Lucille Ball’s Early Life Was Full of Tragedy
Lucille ball was born in 1911 near Jamestown, New York. At an early age her father died from a complication after contracting the flu and later typhoid. During the time her father was sick, her mother was pregnant with Lucille’s little brother, Freddy.
Unable to handle Lucille, she would tie Lucille up with a dog leash in the backyard. Despite begging passersby for release, no one ever helped her. A short time later when her father contracted typhoid, the family went into quarantine, pushing her feelings of rejection and isolation further.
Her mother remarried Ed Peterson a short time after Lucille’s father died and they moved in with her grandparents in New York.
Playing with a .22 caliber rifle brought home by Lucille’s grandfather, they were shooting cans when Johanna a neighborhood friend got startled and shot another friend, Warner, in the spine.
The boy lived, but the family was wiped out in lawsuits.
At First, Lucille Ball Couldn’t Even Score a “B” Role
As a teenager on the move, Lucille Desiree Ball desired fame and fortune, with her name in the stars. When she was 15 years old, she started making her way to New York City regularly to try out for acting roles.
The teen was told again and again she had no talent for acting, but she didn’t give up. Taking on a stage name, Diane Belmont, she worked odd jobs while she kept looking for stage work.
With a keep eye for the market, Ball realized her niche and went for it. She noticed that the big-time producers like Eddie Cantor and Sam Goldwyn, one of the MGM studio founders, complained often that “the really beautiful girls didn’t want to do some of the things I did,” she said. “I didn’t mind getting messed up.”
Of course, she was talking about what she came to be known for as an I Love Lucy cast star and beyond — physical comedy.
In 1933, Lucille Ball was hired as the Chesterfield Cigarette girl and started using her real name again. After three years, she started honing what she needed over 39 films and mostly unacredited roles. Finally, she landed a role as Kitty Collins in Follow the Fleet alongside Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.
“B” movies are low-budget films with relatively unknown actors used to keep the costs down. During that era they were often used before a the main film in a double feature. After working with Astaire and Rogers, she went back to making many more of such B movies, becoming the “Queen of the B-Plusses” as she jokingly put it.
Due to the endless exposure brought by B movies, Lucille Ball was a household hit in America by 1940.
Marriage and Infedelity: Trouble on the Home Front
She met Desi Arnaz on the filming of Too Many Girls. It was only a small role he was playing, but they were starstruck by each other. In short time the couple secretly eloped on November 30, 1940, but Desi was drafted into the military for World War II.
At the time, Arnas was already engaged to someone else when he had met Ball. “Too many girls”, indeed!
By 1944, Desi was out of the Army and touring with hisband. This year, though, marked the first, though not the last, time that Ball filed for divorce. He learned a thing or two about romances on the go during his time in the military and seemed to take the expression “A girl in every port” to a new level as he toured with his Desi Arnaz Orchestra.
While Ball and Arnaz were able to reconcile, to a point, Arnaz kept on cheating.
To keep an eye on Arnaz and get him off the road, Lucille insisted in 1950 that Arnaz be cast as her husband in the upcoming I Love Lucy TV show.
Kieth Thibodeaux who played “little Ricky” wasn’t surprised as he got older and later found out that her reason for getting his cast was to manage him. He was quoted as saying “Desi was really a great guy when he wasn’t drinking, but as kids we’d definitely stay away from him when he was drunk.”
“TV started for me just as a means of keeping my husband Desi off the road,” She once said. “We were in our 11th year of marriage and wanted to have children.”
Despite all the cheating and tragedy she had already experienced in life, Lucille Ball’s determination paid off, Arnaz was able to stay off the road and get her desired family life started.
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Keep watching, because what we’ve talked about so far is nothing compared to what’s coming next!
Lucille Suffers The Deaths of Her Children
This too, though, was off to a rocky start. The two had been trying for children for a long time by this point, to no success but much tragedy. She had said that she “had two or three miscarriages” while trying for children.
Ball had one miscarriage in 1942, another in 1949, and a third in 1950, just as I Love Lucy was on the runway, powering for takeoff.
The losses were devastating, stressful, and everyone who knew of the miscarriages grieved alongside the mourning couple.
“To get my mind off my loss, I said to Desi and the agency, ‘We’ll try our proposed TV act in vaudeville.’” Pouring herself into her work must have paid off, as before filming the TV show and during the vaudeville performance, Lucille became pregnant and did give birth to her daughter Lucie Arnaz.
Two years later Desi Arnaz Jr. followed, giving Lucille Ball the distinction of being the first pregnant woman to appear on prime-time TV.
Desi Arnaz Jr. — Like Father Like Son
While he wasn’t on set for the I Love Lucy cast, during the years just after it finished, Desi Arnaz Jr. was a handful for Lucille.
Being sexually active at 15, he fathered a child. “She had a lot of problems with Desi Jr. because fo dope and everything,” Lillian Briggs Winograd said to tabloids sometime later. But added, “She never gave up on him.”
Even Desi Jr. knew he had problems but also he knew of Lucille’s endless support. “During teh days I was doing drugs, they tried to help me. My father had a drinking problem; my mother was a person just like anybody else. When I went through drug and alcohol recovery seven years ago, they went through it with me.”
Death and Divorce of I Love Lucy Cast Members
While Lucille almost legitimately died in the famous grape-crushing episode as a fellow actress nearly drowned her on purpose, that was only the beginning of close calls.
Due to Desi Arnaz’s infidelity, constant alcohol abuse, and mounting stress from day-to-day management of Desilu Productions, Desi Arnaz and Lucille ball split up for good in 1960. Ball returned to weekly television and worked out an agreement where she bought him out.
As sponsor of the show, Philip Morris cigarettes were in almost every scene, featured in commercial breaks, and even written into the script. They were een placed and used to resemble a “kind of dessert” a cast member reminisced.
Sadly, this took a toll on the health of all cast members. Eventually, Desi Arnaz’ addiction to cigarettes contributed to his development of Lung Cancer.
Near the end of his life, dying in a hospital in 1986, the two reunited one last time. They continued a close friendship since their divorce in 1960, and Arnaz’ last words showed how deep that mutual love went.
“I love you too, honey. Good luck with your show.”
At the funeral, Ball wept openly alongside her second husband, Gary Morton.
Arnaz wasn’t the only casualty, and Bell was all alone in her later years as the only surviving adult character.
Vivian Vance played Ethel mertz on the I Love Lucy cast, and Lucille and Vivian were teh very best of friends until Vivian’s death. In 1977, Vance suffered a stroke and died from bone cancer in 1979.
After that, Lucille said that she wouldn’t do another series. “I wouldn’t think of it — not since my Vivian’s gone. We enjoyed it so much we didn’t want to go home at night.”
Vivian Vance was posthumously given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1991.
Last of all, Lucille Ball died on April 26, 1989, a few days after an emergency heart surgery due to a ruptured abdominal aorta. They tried to resuscitate her for 47 minutes to no avail.
And so ended the TV production mogul and genius, commedienne, and cultural icon, as the last of the I Love Lucy cast.
Tell us what you think in the comments below: Could you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and deal with the ugly details of Lucille Ball’s life as well as she did? Or would you run for the hills?
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