Why ‘I Love Lucy’ Star Lucille Ball Called Desi Arnaz ‘Brilliant’ but a ‘Loser’

The 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy is still considered in a class by itself. Starring the famous redhead Lucille Ball and her bandleader husband Desi Arnaz, the show ran for six seasons and was the first to be filmed before a live audience.

Their 20-year marriage was quite different off camera than how it was portrayed on television. Dealing with fame, alcoholism, and infidelity, Ball had plenty to say about Arnaz in a rare interview after their divorce.

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

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz created a family and an empire

Ball and Arnaz eloped just a few months after meeting each other on the set of Too Many Girls in 1940. The couple had two children, Lucie and Desi Jr. In the hopes of keeping Arnaz close to home, Ball insisted he portray her husband on the now infamous sitcom when CBS offered her a television deal. Soon the husband-and-wife team were considered Hollywood royalty.

Though their relationship onscreen appeared to be almost perfect, Ball and Arnaz had major marital issues when the cameras stopped rolling. Rumors of Arnaz’s excessive drinking and womanizing constantly swirled, often causing volatile arguments between the two.

“[At their home] there was always tension,” Keith Thibodeaux, who played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, revealed. “One time, Desi Jr. and I were playing in the backyard … We heard a lot of loud arguing and cursing and glass shattering and screaming, and we were scared. Desi Jr. turned to me and said, ‘There they go again.’ I was about 9, 10 years old.”

I Love Lucy aired its last episode in May 1957. Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960.

Barbara Walters interviews a comedy icon

Legendary journalist Barbara Walters got to sit down with Ball in person in 1977. Arnaz was still alive at the time, and Ball was being interviewed with her second husband, Gary Morton. Walters broached the subject of her marriage to Arnaz which, prompted Ball to explain that they built their success from scratch.

“We had nothing,” Ball told Walters, noting that Arnaz often didn’t get the credit he deserved for creating Desilu Productions. “Then we built up a lot of things, but even while we were building they would not believe he was doing the building. And he was doing the successful building of a very well-run empire. I was doing the acting and having the children – I had no part of it. I took that on much later.”

Ball revealed that Arnaz was subjected to prejudice due to his Cuban heritage and many industry execs didn’t acknowledge all of his accomplishments.

“I knew what he had suffered, really, and how he did not deserve that,” the I Love Lucy icon recalled. “Just because he was Cuban and once a bongo player did not warrant calling him any of those names. And he worked very hard and got a lot of respect for what he did, and they forgot about that.”

Lucille Ball said Desi Arnaz ‘had to lose’

When Walters brought up the couple’s split, Ball clearly placed the blame on Arnaz’s self-destructive ways.

“That was his problem,” the comedy star shared. “I couldn’t understand it … It seemed like we had everything … We certainly did have everything and worked very hard to get it. Two beautiful children. What else can you ask for.”

Walters then referred to Ball’s marriage to Morton, where the former TV personality described a strong difference between her first and second husbands.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz with their two children, Desi Jr. and Lucie
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz with their two children, Desi Jr. and Lucie | CBS Photo Archive/Archive Photos/Getty Images

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“He’s not a loser,” Ball said of Morton, then commented on Arnaz. “I married a loser before. He could win, win, high, high, high stakes. He could work very hard – he was brilliant, but he had to lose.”

After Walters remarked that Morton seemed to be very “sweet,” Ball interjected, “So was the other man sweet, and generous, overly generous,” Ball said of Arnaz. “But he had to lose. He had to fail at everything that he built up. Everything he built he had to break down. And he still claims he’s the same way.”

Arnaz died in December 1986. Ball died in April 1989.