‘I Love Lucy’: Lucille Ball Blamed Desi Arnaz’s Infidelity and Drinking for Their Divorce – He Blamed Something Else

The legendary sitcom I Love Lucy is still binge-watched to this day despite its finale over 60 years ago. Featuring the comedy icon Lucille Ball and her bandleader husband Desi Arnaz, the show revolved around the onscreen marriage of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.

The couple had extreme highs and lows during their 20-year marriage, which ended in divorce in 1960. While Arnaz often made headlines for his womanizing and increasing penchant for alcohol, he pointed out another reason for the end of his wedded union to Ball.

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball of 'I Love Lucy'
Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball of ‘I Love Lucy’ | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

‘I Love Lucy’ keeps Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz under the same roof

Ball and Arnaz met on the set of the film Too Many Girls in 1940. Eloping later that year, two had conflicting schedules which meant extensive amounts of time apart. Almost immediately there were problems with Arnaz’s reported philandering. According to  Country Living, Ball filed for divorce in 1944 due to her husband’s excessive drinking and wandering eye.

The two reconciled with the agreement that they would opt for professional projects that would give them more time together. When Ball was offered a television deal by CBS, she insisted Arnaz play her husband in the comedy.

“She knew that if he went on the road with the band, he’d be catting around all the time,” writer Bob Weiskopf said. “She wanted him at home, where she felt the marriage would have a better chance of lasting, which of course it did.”

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Once I Love Lucy hit the airwaves, the couple became Hollywood gold. It wasn’t long before Desilu Studios became an empire with Ball and Arnaz at the helm.

Desi Arnaz’s behavior became too much for Lucille Ball

In the book Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, authors Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert included extensive commentary from the couple on their storied relationship. With Arnaz’s continued philandering and drinking, Ball revealed that he was often like living with two different people.

“He was like Jekyll and Hyde,” the famous redhead remarked. “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.”

Ball filed for divorce in 1960, charging Arnaz with “extreme cruelty” and subjecting her to “grievous mental suffering.” “I’ve tried so hard to be fair and solve our problems,” the comedy icon said at the time. “But now I find it impossible to go on.”

Despite their volatile relationship, their split was amicable and they remained friends and business partners.

A different view from Desi Arnaz

Apparently, Arnaz didn’t see his behavior a major problem. His daughter Lucie shared that his drinking “was part of his upbringing.” As for his infidelities, Arnaz considered them insignificant.

“Desi seemed unable to understand Lucille’s inability to forgive – or at least ignore – his numerous and apparently escalating extramarital transgressions,” Sanders and Gilbert wrote in their book. Evidently, Arnaz felt another aspect of their relationship may have caused their divorce.

“I think one of the problems is that we were both working too hard and were together too much,” Arnaz explained. “There was really no chance to be away from each other and let things cool off. It was really ironic. For the first ten years of our married life we had both worked like hell to solove the problem of being separated too much.”

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball
Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball | FPG/Getty Images

Even after the couple split, Arnaz played down his use of alcohol and still seemed surprise by Ball’s intolerance of his drinking.

“I had always been a drinking man,” the I Love Lucy star said. “That first night after we went out after that rehearsal of Too Many Girls at RKO, we both got bombed and had a ball. But now she was resenting it. As president of three studios and all that bullsh*t, I should be more dignified.”

Looking back on her marriage, Ball still looked at Arnaz’s self-destructive ways as the marriage’s downfall.

“I couldn’t understand it … It seemed like we had everything,” she told Barbara Walters in 1977. “We certainly did have everything and worked very hard to get it. Two beautiful children. What else can you ask for. … But he had to lose. He had to fail at everything that he built up. Everything he built he had to break down.”