10 fascinating facts about Desi Arnaz

The Cuban-born American entertainer was much more than Ricky Ricardo.

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Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III was born on March 2, 1917, in Santiago de Cuba. Emigrating with his family to America during the Cuban Revolution, the young man would shorten his name, cut his teeth in show business, and go on to become one of the 20th century's most iconic entertainers.

So much more than Ricky Ricardo, Desi Arnaz possessed a keen entrepreneurial spirit and was a singular innovator among television's multitude of talented pioneers.

From his roots in Cuba to Desilu Studios and beyond, here are 10 fascinating facts about Desi Arnaz.

1. His family fled persecution in Cuba.


Arnaz hailed from a Cuban family that possessed wealth and power—but it was a riches to rags story early on. His father was mayor of Santiago de Cuba and served in the Cuban House of Representatives. However, the Cuban Revolution of 1933 changed all that. After the family's property was confiscated and Arnaz's father served six months in prison, a teenaged Arnaz and family fled to Miami.

2. He led an orchestra in real life.


Regularly rocking the Tropicana Club as orchestra leader Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy, Arnaz was in fact a real orchestra leader, leading the internationally renowned Latin band The Desi Arnaz Orchestra. Ricardo's orchestra on the series was in fact Arnaz's real-life one, which also scored the show's background and transitional music.

3. Desilu Studios was established for 'I Love Lucy.'


In 1950, Arnaz and Lucille Ball, then his wife, established Desilu Studios to develop a television project for CBS which would eventually become I Love Lucy. The couple held the majority stake in the company from its inception until 1962, when Arnaz sold his share of the business to Ball. By 1967, Desilu was the No. 1 independent television production company in the U.S. Ball ended up selling Desilu in 1967 to Gulf+Western, and the studio was renamed Paramount Television.

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4. He is credited with the modern sitcom format.


Along with cinematographer Karl Freund, Arnaz is credited with pioneering the multiple-camera production technique. I Love Lucy was trailblazing in its use of three concurrently filming cameras, multiple sets and a live studio audience. It also was one of the first television programs to be shot on 35-mm film, rather than broadcast live to local markets and later disseminated via low-quality kinescope recordings.

5. He is credited with the invention of the rerun.


Although network and sponsor executives balked at the extravagance of shooting a television series on high-quality film, Arnaz and Ball insisted, offering to pick up the tab for the extra expense under the condition that Desilu retain the majority of ownership of the I Love Lucy film rights. Arnaz's unprecedented arrangement is widely considered one of the shrewdest moments of foresight in television history, with Desilu eventually reaping profits from all reruns of the series.

6. He suggested Lucille Ball return to television.


At the suggestion of Arnaz, Lucille Ball made her television comeback in 1962 with The Lucy Show. By this time, the couple was divorced, Desilu was struggling and CBS was dubious that Ball could replicate her earlier success. Taking a gamble, the network ordered a full first season from Desilu and Ball would go on to win two Emmys by the time the show wrapped in 1968.

7. He returned to television with 'The Mothers-In-Law.'


After selling his share of Desilu to Lucille Ball in 1962, Arnaz greatly reduced his work in show business. He did, however, serve as executive producer of sitcom The Mothers-in-Law, which aired on NBC from September 1967 to April 1969. Arnaz made four guest appearances on the show as Spanish matador Señor Delgado.

8. He hosted 'Saturday Night Live' and wrote a book.


To help promote his autobiography, A Book, Arnaz hosted Saturday Night Live on February 21, 1976. His son, Desi, Jr., also appeared and the program, which spoofed I Love Lucy and The Untouchables. One skit, "I Love Louie," purported to be an early concept of I Love Lucy, in which Ricky Ricardo lives with jazz legend Louis Armstrong.

9. He has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Arnaz has two stars in his honor along the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One is located at 6301 Hollywood Boulevard for his contributions to motion pictures. The second is located at 6250 Hollywood Boulevard for his contributions to television.

10. He was always close with Lucile Ball.


Despite having had a turbulent marriage that ended in divorced in 1960, Arnaz and Lucile Ball remained friends and grew close again towards the end of his life. In fact, Ball telephoned Arnaz just two days before he succumbed to lung cancer at the age of 69 in 1986. The date of the phone call coincided with what would have been their 46th wedding anniversary.

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