Lucille Ball Resented the Publicity Her Son Desi Jr.’s Affair With This Older Actor Caused

I Love Lucy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz divorced in 1960 after 20 years of marriage. Ball and Arnaz were considered Hollywood gold even after their split, maintaining a solid fan base throughout their years in show business.

The couple’s two children, Lucie and Desi Jr., started to make names for themselves in the spotlight. Yet when Ball and Arnaz’s son began a romance at 17 with an actor six years his senior, headlines took a scandalous turn.

Desi Arnaz Jr., Lucille Ball and her husband Gary Morton
Desi Arnaz Jr., Lucille Ball and her husband Gary Morton | Frank Edwards/Fotos International/Getty Images

Desi Arnaz Jr. had a romance with Patty Duke

In 1970, Desi Jr. was just 17 years old when he began a romantic relationship with actor Patty Duke. The 23-year-old was known for her roles in The Miracle Worker and The Patty Duke Show. Ball was reportedly very unhappy about the on-again, off-again relationship.

At the time, Duke was also involved with actor John Astin. Already divorced from assistant director Harry Falk Jr., Duke spontaneously married Michael Tell around the same time as her sporadic relationship with Desi Jr. Decades later, Duke revealed she had undiagnosed bipolar disorder at the time which led to her manic impulsivity.

Duke discovered she was pregnant shortly before she tied the knot with Tell, yet wasn’t sure of the paternity. She split from Tell after only 13 days or marriage, going on to marry Astin after his divorce in 1971. Duke gave birth to son Sean and led the public to believe he may be Desi Jr’s.

Patty Duke
Patty Duke | Henry Gris/FPG/Getty Images

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Speculation continued on Duke’s baby, with paternity still in question due to the several men she was seeing at the time. Ball, who was used to a wholesome reputation, resented her family name being part of a scandal.

Lucille Ball resented the negative attention on their family

Though she was an expert at being in the spotlight, Ball reportedly hated the media attention on such a private matter.

“I worked for years for a quiet personal life,” the famous redhead said, according to the book Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz by authors Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert. “I brought Patty to the house, feeling very maternal about her, saying ‘Look at this clever girl, what a big talent she is.’ Now I can thank her for useless notoriety.”

The I Love Lucy star felt that Duke took advantage of her son’s naiveté and was causing their family unnecessary strife.

“[Patty’s] living in some fantastic dreamworld, and we’re the victims of it,” Ball remarked. “Desi Jr. being the tender age of 17 when they met, she used him.”

Protecting the Ball-Arnaz name

While Ball was against the relationship, she was kind toward Duke even while paternity was still unknown. The comedic icon ended up feeling suckered.

“She hasn’t proved or asked for anything,” Ball said of Duke. “I asked Desi Jr. if we wanted to marry her, and he said no. My daughter helped outfit the baby, whom Patty brought to the house. But did she ever say thank you?”

Desi Jr. felt his mother’s disdain, attributing it to her fear of tarnishing their family’s reputation.

Desi Arnaz Jr.
Desi Arnaz Jr. | Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

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“The basic concern of my mother and stepfather (Gary Morton) has been protection of the family name,” Desi Jr. explained. “Don’t do or say anything that might expose us in a bad light. I never felt it was all that important.”

Duke later revealed that Astin was Sean’s biological father, though DNA tests proved that paternity belonged to Tell. Even after the truth was announced, Desi Jr. maintained a close relationship with Sean Astin.