Monday, October 22, 2012

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz: Divorce or Not?

Pardon the possible grammatical errors/ lack of logical flow etc.. I just typed all these 3000 words out at once in a hurry and didn't read through. I don't know why, but it's important for me to publish this. I'll polish this essay up really soon because there are still many perspectives unexplored. 

I was always envious about Ricky and Lucy Ricardo's marriage in I Love Lucy. I remember how delighted I was when my American Pluralism professor told me that the two onscreen lovebirds were married in real life. Well, he did not tell me the other part: they filed for divorce after the running of Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour ended.

I was crushed when I found out about it.

I remember feeling sick to my stomach for days. It was like having a strong belief about true love and the rug was all of a sudden pulled from under me. From the perspective of an audience, I could see the evident love between Desi and Lucille Ball Arnaz; their true love transcended their roles of Ricky and Lucy Ricardo.

As a result, I often simplified their problems and asked myself, "why couldn't they work their differences out? Why couldn't they stay married? Love conquers all, doesn't it?" Thankfully, I was too hooked to I Love Lucy and particularly, Lucille Ball, to back out of my addiction. I ordered many biographies about the Desilu Love Story and spent time pouring over the material.

One thing I remained the same before and after, I never once negatively judged Desi even though I adored Lucille so much. I knew from the way that he looked at her that he loved her very deeply. In fact, most of the Desi-Lucille pictures have Desi staring lovingly at Lucille as she gazed somewhere else. Is the tenderness faked? I should say not.

Just like their daughter, Lucie Arnaz, I find myself having to defend Desi on too many occasions on my Instagram page. It pains and angers me deeply that people automatically assume whoring to be the cause of the divorce. What they are doing is generalizing and simplifying a whole lot of problems that amounted to divorce. It's my wishful thinking to hope that more people will find out about the surmounting problems, but honestly, I don't blame them because these days, the Generation Y is looking for easily accessible and ready information. I'll try my very best to summarize the extensive love story. If you're looking for some kind of exposé about Lucille (or Desi), you're not at the right place. My whole point is to appeal to my readers to view things from their viewpoints, not to reveal some scandal. Here goes:

First and foremost, the main problem that led to a divorce was really demanding work. Alcohol was a by-product of the stress faced. We really have to understand why Desi often used alcohol to seek refuge. I don't think any of us can really comprehend how huge Desilu Inc. really was. The president of Desilu made it one of the largest media production companies, equivalent to competitors CBS, NBC, Paramount and so on. I'm not exaggerating, but its success was really due to Desi's genius. And remember, he started out his life in the US penniless.

Before he employed a person or dedicated a job to his present employees, he made sure that he knew the job scope inside out. As a president, he had life-altering decisions to make because the fate of thousands of employees were under him. And you all know how eternally loyal Desi and Lucille were to people; so, neither wanted to fail the employees. In between his presidential duties, he had to produce many pilots and television shows. He was the executive producer of I Love Lucy and after I Love Lucy writers finished with a script, he would scan through and give very valuable advice on how to alter the material to make the storyline funny- and he was always right. Wait, did I mention that he was the co-star of I Love Lucy too? That meant endless hours of rehearsals From Monday to Thursday with the Queen of Rehearsal, Lucille Ball. Lucille and Vivian Vance loved to examine their characters, so that would mean that the cast would often have to hold informal meetings to rewrite certain scenes.

Lucille played the part of a good wife by always publicly complimenting her husband, but in those days, the writers, crew, producers and the people behind the scenes NEVER mattered. It broke Desi's heart that the American public didn't recognize his talents, that he was the backbone of the fame of American's Favorite Redhead. Hell, even the television producers discriminated against him! They had refused to let him be the co-star of I Love Lucy because he was Cuban and had an accent. They thought he was just a noisy bongo player (Hello? Desi was a blue-blooded prince in Cuba and was very intelligent!). Thankfully, Lucille campaigned hard for him, but you know, I believe he never got over the explicit discrimination.

Desi loved Lucille desperately in spite of him knowing that career, not him nor her family was her top priority. Other than having to play second fiddle to Lucille in the audience's eyes, he had to play second fiddle to her career, and really, that just destroys someone.

Here's an extract from Desi Arnaz's biography, A Book. It tells us a lot of things:

A couple of months before moving to 1000 North Roxbury, beverly Hills, Lucy and I had a long talk about our future. I told her, "We have two alternatives. We can sell four years of the I Love Lucy shows we have done for Philip Morris for at least three million dollars, I'm sure, After we give Uncle Sam his cut, we'll invest the rest safely and conservatively, which should bring us at least one hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year in income, without touching the capital.

"After we finish Forever, Darling, and you'd want to do a special or another picture once in a while, you could. If you didn't feel like it, you wouldn't have to do anything. I would still have to run Desilu, produce our own shows and supervise the ones we'd film for others, but without having to also spend fifty hours a week just on I Love Lucy/ It would be a breeze.

"And now that we have two wonderful children, after waiting all these years, it'd be a shame not to be able to spend more time with them, enjoy watching them grow. Desi will be two and a half and Lucie four this summer. We could teach them to fish, ride a horse, and I could take all of you to Cuba to meet your thousands of relatives. What do you think?"

"You said we had two alternatives. What is the other one?" she asked.

"I hate to even consider it. We must get to be as big as MGM, Twentieth Century-Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Columbia or any of the other big studios. That means hiring a lot more people, top creative people, if I can get them, to help carry the load, rent or buy a bigger studio. Motion Picture Center doesn't even have a back lot or the facilities we would need to compete, on an equal footing, with the big giants. They are all coming into television now and I'm beginning to feel the pressure when I go to Madison Avenue to try to sell a show."

Lucy asked me, "If we quit after we sell our shows, what happens to the people who have been working with us?"

"Well, let me tell you a story, During our first three years I stole a few people from CBS. Paley did not like that at all and made me give him my word that I would not raid CBS for any more of their personnel. I kept my word to Mr. Paley, but not long after that some of his people started flirting with some of our personnel. So when we signed the contract to do at least two more years of I Love Lucy for Philip Morris, I inserted a clause which forbade CBS from stealing any Desilu personnel. So don't worry about them. Our people are the top people in the business. Before we lock up the place, they'll have as good or better jobs, either at CBS or someplace else."

"I don't want to quit," she said.

"Okay, then we'll just have to get bigger or lose the whole ball of wax."

Before you start blaming Lucille for not wanting to quit and live an presumably happily ever after life with Desi, you really have to understand why she clung on desperately to her career. As a young girl, Lucille had a lot of insecurities. She lost her beloved father at a young age and shortly after, her brother, Frederick Henry Ball was born. The lack of attention showered on her made her develop the trait of wanting to receive approval from people; hence, she chose acting, where people would either worship her, or hurt her as badly. But that was years later. When she was a mere child, she was being ill-treated by her stepfather's parents. Thereafter, she finally rejoined her family. Naively, she thought that she would enjoy a stable life, but a misfortune that was unfairly pinned by the county on her grandfather made the entire family bankrupt. She watched her grandfather disintegrate psychologically and his health depleted alarmingly. Having experienced all these at childhood, a person would have many insecurities.

Fast-forwarding to the I Love Lucy days, just when she thought that she finally had everything: a loving husband, two lovely children and career success, the carpet was jerked under her: she was accused of being a communist! In those post war days, being accused of communism is akin to being accused of terrorism today. I'm dead serious. Communism had been a threat to the United States even years after World War II. Once you were being accused, you'd lose your job, people would shun you, and even kick you out of the country. No one, and I stress no one, ever got the chance to prove themselves loyal the the country when their names were tainted with the big "C". No one, except Lucille Ball. She was so famous and well loved that the Americans collectively cleared her name. She heaved a huge sigh of relief, but just think how emotionally detrimental it is for a woman to be accused of being disloyal to a country. With that put at the back of her mind, she clung on more desperately to her career. I feel that she wanted to continue the success of I Love Lucy as a gift to the Americans who had so much faith in her. And she realized that her career was the most stable factor in her life that she could really depend on.
Even though Desi spent some 12 to 16 hours at work daily, Desi never neglected his two children. If you have watched Lucy and Desi: A Home Movie, a documentary that is produced by their daughter, Lucie Arnaz, you'll understand what I mean. In fact, Lucille was known to have an emotional distance from her children. She loved them very much, but she just had trouble expressing it.

You see, Desi was a genius with a good heart. Summarizing this individual with the words a "cheat" or a "drunk" really does a disservice to him.

With this insane workload that even superman cannot accomplish, there was only one way to go: down. In the late 1950s, Desi's physical health depleted so much that Dr. Rabwin advised him to cease I Love Lucy. Lucille realized that her husband might die, so she finally agreed that the format of their Lucille Ball- Desi Arnaz show would be changed to monthly hourly shows. This was the second step that led to the detriment of their marriage. Lucille was someone who hated boredom. She was a diligent woman who worked hard to get where she was. She never believed in luck. Having to stop work all of a sudden was torturous for her. But she wanted Desi to recover from his colon problem. He had his colon full of diverticula, and continuous pressure and tension would make it worse. (So, just imagine, she loses her job and starts staying at home. By the time she tries to, her children aren't close to her anymore. When she wants to spend more time with her husband, he has so much work commitment. That melancholy will definitely affect a marriage.)

You may say that Desilu Inc. was successful because of Lucille's phenomenal talent. I do agree with you, but no one else ever knew how to portray her in the right light. Look, she spent a decade trying to become a Hollywood movie legend, but no one ever knew how to merge her beauty and comedic talent. The only person in the world who could make Lucy Ricardo such an appealing actress was Desi Arnaz. Lucille knew that, and she often said to her cousin and friends that she was never someone until she became Mrs. Arnaz and Mrs. Ricardo. Since there were AR in both surnames, she started using surnames with AR in her future television shows as the name "Arnaz" brought her good luck. I would say that neither of the two lovebirds would have been a global success without each other.

Next, I know that the argument that "Desi's from Cuba, he's been taught that having as many women as the hair on his head is part of a man's masculinity" is old and a lot of people dismiss it without realizing that this is about understanding another culture. Strong romantics who believe that remaining faithful is the foundation of an everlasting relationship. I am a strong romantic, and I don't think I can ever get over this kind of betrayal... unless I have been brought up in a Latin culture to turn a blind eye because such misdeeds are harmless; what matters most is that my Latin man loves me. Now, do you see the difference in placement of importance of love and sex in different cultures? We really have to respect that this occurrence is part and parcel of differences in civilizations -that's why we have a whole academics genre dedicated to it, otherwise known as Sociology. Since I was brought up to despise certain societal actions; for instance, that eating snakes' brains is just disgusting, that consuming eggs that contain baby chicks that aren't fully formed is an atrocity. I really count my blessings to have taken Sociology in university because my wonderful and capable professor taught me two most terms that changed the way I view issues:

1. Ethnocentrism: A tendency to use our own group's way of doing things as a yardstick of judging others. Even though its positive consequence is that it creates in-group loyalties, we are basically practicing discrimination against other out-groups.

2. Cultural Relativism: We suspend our own perspectives in order to grasp the perspective of others. After all, while we are judging other cultures, other cultures may be judging our way of life too. How does it feel to be judged? Cultural relativism is a way of life and since this is something easier described than attained, I'm still aiming for this on a daily basis.

With this argument substantiated, opponents will say, "well, Desi was in United States, he should have followed our culture!" Culture, what culture? Surely, you don't mean the Hollywood culture, where Humphrey Bogart once said rather indelicately to Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball in a party, "look at all the beautiful people, no wonder they all fuck one another." This point also brings me to the age-old argument of "nature or nurture". Psychologists are on the side of the former, while sociologists are on the opposing side. Me? I believe in both. I believe that Desi had a high sex drive and that's just innate (ahem, so had Lucille. Otherwise, they wouldn't have been so sexually attracted all along), but I also believe that him being brought up that way just made him who he was and he was helpless to completely change that. I have strong reasons to believe what we learn in childhood make us who we are. Have you heard of feral children? Those are the ones being raised by animals in forests. When we try to rescue them by introducing them into civilization years later, teaching them language, we realize that we've missed the window of opportunity and it's just too late- they cannot adapt. Feral children who are brought to societies suffer a tragic end. Society makes us human, society teaches us values and strengthens our beliefs. How is it possible for Desi to change what he had always believed was right?

I'm not saying whoring is right; neither am I saying that it's wrong. I'm merely appealing for people to step in his shoes and empathize, AND NOT JUDGE.

By the way, Lucille had already learned to live with Desi's philandering during the first 10 years of marriage. Whoring was not the direct cause of the divorce. And what makes you think that Lucille didn't look for attention outside of her marriage, too?

Does it really matter what wrong they did? Is it necessary to have to list down the exact misdeeds of each party and lay the blame on either? Do we even have the right to point fingers at anyone? To answer my own questions: I didn't care if they stayed married or not, but it meant the world to me to know that they loved each other till their dying breaths.

Like Lucille Ball once put it, they once loved each other passionately, but they had never really liked each other. They were on the opposite sides when it boiled down to many fundamentals that would hold a marriage together. Lucille was conservative, Desi was liberal. Lucille believed in hard work, Desi indulged in luxuries. In fact, like it or not, I feel that the divorce did them good. They were never meant to live together. After the divorce, Desi and Lucille finally got to see the past without any negative feelings, and they realized how each had always loved the other so much. They started appreciating each other and finally learned to like each other. The combination of "love" and "like" finally came true, and the separation worked out for them. They still talked on the telephone almost every single day of their lives after the divorce, and Desi would send Lucille her favorite red and white carnations on their two wedding anniversaries, her birthday, her children's birthdays and other special occasions. He often advertised on the newspaper how he supported her on her career after the post Lucy Ricardo days.

They reconciled on their last wedding anniversary, 30 November 1986. Desi was on his deathbed, with his daughter, Lucie accompanying him. The telephone rang, and Lucie answered. Desi gave a look that said, "who is it?" and Lucie said, "it's the redhead." He just listened, and Lucie heard what he said. She just said the same thing over and over again. It was muffled, but she could clearly make out it was the same thing over and over again.

"It was, 'I love you. I love you. Desi, I love you,' You could even hear the intonations of the voice change, how she meant each one, the interpretations. And I just sat there, trying not to show him I was listening, because I had to hold the phone. And he said, 'I love you, too, honey. Good luck with your show.' I had told him in passing, 'Mom's going to be on a variety how tonight, she's going to give somebody an award.' I'm sure he didn't realize what show it was, it was just important for him to say that. I couldn't say anything to her. I just said, 'I'll talk to you later.' And I hung up the phone. Really, my mother wad the last person he talked to, because he died about forty-eight hours later.


"Until I went back into my little diary," concludes Lucie, "I never put it together that the date this happened was November 30- the same date as their wedding anniversary."

3 comments:

  1. WOW! That was amazing! I know how you felt, I, after watching "I Love Lucy" since I was 5 or 6, was crushed to find out they divorced in 1960. I found this out when I was 10. I was SOOOOOOOOO happy to find out they loved each other to their last days. I agree, even though Lucy was awesome, nobody gave Desi enough credit. I really feel sorry for him because without him, "I Love Lucy" would have never existed or gotten so big. I love Lucy and Desi! Your right, all people think of today when they hear Desi Arnaz is how he became an alcoholic. Nobody will ever know how much he worked and worked to help Desilu and his family. I think of it as this- they were still married, but didn't live together. I am sort of glad they got divorced because I think it made them love each other even more. I want to compliment you again on this terrifically awesome essay!!!!! Keep up the good work!!!!

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    1. Hey, thank you for your compliment. I'm glad someone has read through this tremendously looooong essay. There's just no way else to defend Desi. I thoroughly agree with you that the divorce did them good: in fact, they learned to like each other after the divorce. It is sad, yes, but that's about the only way that they could maintain this love. I wish people would just love the two of them and accept them for who they were.

      THANKS AGAIN!

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    2. Your welcome! It was a great essay! I really try to find ways to defend Desi too! I love both of them for who they are because they were really great people. I just wish Desi got more credit for what he did. Don't get me wrong, Lucy was great, but when people think of "I Love Lucy" their first thought is Lucille Ball and how wonderful she was. Desi was great to and deserves more credit than he got. It is so good you wrote this because now people know the truth about their divorce.

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