‘I Love Lucy’: Only Lucille Ball Was Allowed to Mock Desi Arnaz’s Accent on the Show

I Love Lucy broke the television comedy mold in more ways than one. Besides being the first major show filmed in Los Angeles, the CBS sitcom also broke multiple barriers and stereotypes over its six-season run. Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) was the first visibly pregnant television character to advertise her condition on the show. And the “mixed-marriage” between Lucy and Ricky was highly controversial, too.

Ball had to fight network execs to get them to cast her real-life husband Desi Arnaz as her I Love Lucy co-star. That persistence paid off in ratings. However, the audience drew a line with who could make fun of Arnaz’s accent and who couldn’t.

Lucille Ball insisted audiences would accept Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images)

I Love Lucy premiered on Oct. 15, 1951 and quickly became one of the most popular comedies on television. However, the star of the show had to fight hard to get her real-life husband cast as her television husband. She had to convince the studio that Arnaz was her ideal counterpart both on and off the screen.

CBS execs fought back, claiming the red-headed Liz Cooper from the radio show My Favorite Husband, which I Love Lucy is based up, would never marry a “foreigner.” Arnaz was Cuban-American with a thick accent that casting agents didn’t think was right for the show.

To convince execs they were wrong, Ball and Arnaz took their show on the road as a vaudeville performance. The reception was so positive that CBS agreed to sign Arnaz on to the show. That decision paid off when I Love Lucy became incredibly popular very quickly.

Only Lucy Ricardo could make fun of her husband’s accent

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

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Even though show audiences weren’t used to seeing so-called mixed marriages on television, that doesn’t mean they were comfortable with mocking them. On the show I Love Lucy, the star often poked fun at Ricky’s strong accent for a laugh. But when other cast members did the same, the live studio audience didn’t react well.

This unwritten rule applied throughout the series. Lucy’s gentle mocking got all the laughs while everyone else’s teasing was met with “stony silence,” Mental Floss reported.

It’s almost like they realized Lucy’s jokes about Ricky’s English pronunciations came from a place of deep love.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had a complicated relationship off screen

There’s no denying that Ball and Arnaz loved each other. However, that wasn’t enough to keep their marriage intact. The couple divorced in 1960 after two decades of marriage due to Arnaz’s alleged alcohol abuse and infidelity.

The couple’s daughter said the divorce was “horrible” with lots of “anger and screaming.” She said, “We didn’t have any abuse, but we did go through some pretty hard stuff and that’s why my parents didn’t stay together.”

Despite the drama, the pair remained friends until Ball’s death in 1989 even after they both married other people. “I Love Lucy was never just a title,” Arnaz said until his dying day. Even if she made fun of him sometimes.