How Desi Arnaz’ Old Behaviors Affected His Working Relationship with Ex-Wife Lucille Ball

I Love Lucy is still cherished as one of television’s greatest sitcoms. Starring the legendary Lucille Ball and her musician husband Desi Arnaz, the series catapulted the couple to stardom.

During their tumultuous 20-year marriage, Arnaz was known for his infidelity and excessive drinking. Though the couple divorced in 1960, they remained friends and business partners but his alcoholism continued to be problematic.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | Archive Photos/Getty Images

Desi Arnaz’s behavior led to divorce from Lucille Ball

Ball previously commented on Arnaz’s volatile nature throughout their marriage prompting the inevitable divorce.

“He was like Jekyll and Hyde,” she said, according to the book Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz by Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert. “He drank and he gambled, and he went around with other women. It was always the same – booze and broads. I had seen it coming. I was always hoping things would change. But Desi’s nature is destructive.”

In their divorce proceedings, Ball charged Arnaz with “extreme cruelty” and subjected her to “grievous mental suffering.”

'I Love Lucy' stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
‘I Love Lucy’ stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | Earl Leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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“I’ve tried so hard to be fair and solve our problems,” the comedy icon explained. “But now I find it impossible to go on.”

‘The Lucy Show’ appointed Desi Arnaz as executive producer

After the massive success of I Love Lucy, Ball created another sitcom entitled The Lucy Show. Arnaz served on the show as executive producer despite Ball being remarried. Co-star Candy Moore commented on Arnaz’s unpredictable demeanor on the set.

“He seemed very grim and distracted in a strange way,” Moore said. “There was a part of him that wasn’t there any more. … Although he never really did anything, he seemed like he was seething and almost about to explode. He had a drinking problem. He was hung over.”

Writer Bob Weiskopf noted the sharp change in Arnaz’s persona when he was under the influence.

“When he was drunk, he was a different person,” Weiskopf revealed. “He would often get nasty.”

Lucille Ball tried to cover for her ex

Though Ball was no longer married to Arnaz, the two still had a strong personal and professional connection. The famous redhead would often try to protect her ex-husband from embarrassment.

“He would be on the set and fall asleep during rehearsals,” Moore recalled. “And she, rather than wake him up, would send the assistant director over to him and have him pretend to trip on his feet, so that Desi would wake up and think he woke up on his own.”

Though his colleagues and friends could see there was a problem, Arnaz stayed somewhat in denial.

“Desi was an alcoholic, although he wouldn’t admit it,” Desilu Productions executive Bob Weitzman remarked. “No matter how much you loved him, there was the problem that he did not represent the best qualities for his image, the company’s image, Lucy’s image, and the kids’ image. She’d call him on it. He just wouldn’t change his ways.”

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Ball and Arnaz eventually decided to dissolve their professional partnership, with Ball taking over as president of Desilu Productions and Arnaz relinquishing his roles as executive producer and studio head.

“When he left the studio, all he took from his desk was one of those photo cubes that had pictures of his kids in it,” Arnaz’s longtime assistant Johny Aitchison told Sanders and Gilbert. “He just took that, and he went out the studio gates. And that was it.”

How to get help: In the U.S., contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration helpline at 1-800-662-4357.