If you are a child of the 1960s, you probably remember Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and the I Love Lucy Show. If you are too young to know these names, perhaps you know Star Trek, But more on that later
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museum
Jamestown New York may not be a top tourist site, but if you are in the area, you might want to stop at the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Museum. Why is this museum located in Jamestown? Because Lucy was born in Jamestown in 1911. When her father died and mother remarried, she was sent to live with relatives on nearby Chautauqua Lake. After being told by acting coach that she would never get a job as an actress, she began modeling. Never trust anyone who tells you you can’t do anything. In the 1930s, she was discovered and moved to Los Angeles, where she played supporting and in some cases, leading roles in a number of movies.
While Lucy was building her career, Desi was born six years later in Santiago Cuba to a mother who was an heiress to the Bacardi fortune and father who was mayor of the city. This changed when Battista’s forces overran Santiago and Desi was forced to flee to Miami. By age 17, he was playing guitar and singing in Miami clubs and was discovered and recruited by the bandleader Xavier Cougat. After a year, he created his own band, recorded a number of records, played a key role in popularizing Latin music, bongo drums and, through his hit song Babalu, drove the Conga Line craze. He too was recruited as an actor, first on Broadway and then in Hollywood. Lucy and Desi fell in love when they co-starred in the movie “Too Many Girls” and were married in 1940.
In 1948, CBS signed Lucy to star in a radio sitcom, “My Favorite Husband”. Based on the show, and especially Lucy’s popularity, CBS invited Lucy to recreate the role in a new media, television. She agreed on one condition—that Desi play her husband. When CBS refused to cast a Latin married to an American woman, Lucy and Desi created their own production company (DesiLu) and took the act to vaudeville, where it was an immediate smash hit.
This prompted CBS to reconsider and to hire them both to star in “I Love Lucy”. The sitcom topped the rating charts virtually from its 1951 premier to its the last episode in 1957. One episode, “Lucy Goes to the Hospital”, which featured the birth of the couple’s actual son, smashed all records with a 94 percent share, which accounted for more than 71 percent of all U.S. households. She and the show also received critical acclaim, being nominated for dozens of Emmys and winning five for best Comedy Series (twice), Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress (Vivian Vance).
Along the way, the couple, seeking greater control of both the creative and the production process, accepted lower salaries in return for the ability to produce the show themselves. The show introduced Americans to Latin culture, broke cultural taboos, including casting a Latin as a star and not only showing, but writing an entire season around a pregnant woman (but they still slept in twin beds on the show).Their production company also pioneered a number of new production techniques including shooting to film rather than live broadcast and using multi-camera setups before live audiences.
In 1961, Lucy and Desi divorced, but remained close friends for the rest of their lives. Desi sold his interest in DesiLu to Lucy and started his own production company. While Lucy starred in a couple of other less popular sitcoms, DesiLu continued to dominate prime time television by producing dozens of hit series including The Jack Benny, Andy Griffith and Dick Van Dyke Shows, Make Room for Daddy, I Spy, The Untouchables and Star Trek (yes, this is where we answer the Star Trek question).
The museum has artifacts from throughout Lucy and Desi’s careers including clothes, cars, full-scale recreations of their Ney York and Beverley Hills apartments, gowns, bongo drums and dozens of costumes, including that from her classic performance as Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp.
The museum also profiles and credits dozens of individuals who helped make their series a hit. These included their writing and production staffs and of course, their classic co-stars, William Frawley and Vivian Vance. The only things missing were clips from the show, probably due to copyrights.