Friday, 2 March 2018

Desi Arnaz born 2 March 1917

Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III (March 2, 1917 – December 2, 1986), better known as Desi Arnaz or Desi Arnaz, Sr., was a Cuban-born American actor, musician, and television producer. He is best remembered for the hugely popular television sitcom "I Love Lucy" (1951 to 1957), which he produced and in which he portrayed ‘Ricky Ricardo.'  

He was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III in Santiago, Cuba on March 2, 1917, the son of a wealthy landowner who was also the mayor of Santiago. The 1933 Batista revolution landed his father in jail and stripped Desi's family of wealth and power. Following his father's release, the family fled to Miami, where Desi worked a variety of odd jobs to help support his family.  

After reaching Florida, Desi took admission at St. Patrick Catholic High School. In an attempt to improve his English, he attended Saint Leo Prep, situated near Tampa in 1934. At the same time, he used to play guitar at the Roney Plaza Hotel. 

In 1936, he got his first professional musician's job as a guitarist for the Siboney Septet. He later took a cut in pay to work for Xavier Cugat in New York. Six months later, he returned to Miami to lead a Latin combo of his own, with help from Cugat. It was there where he introduced the Conga Line to American audiences. It soon became a national phenomenon and led to a return to New York, where he was offered a role in the successful 1939 Broadway musical "Too Many Girls."  

In 1940, he signed with RKO and travelled to Hollywood to star in the film version. There he met his co-star and future wife, Lucille Ball. They were married later in 1940. Desi went on to make three more films with RKO and one, the classic war film "Bataan," with MGM before being inducted into the Army during WWII. During his two years in the service, he was responsible for keeping stateside troops entertained.  

After being discharged, he went back into music, forming a new orchestra. It was an instant success and he went on recorded several hits during the late forties. His single “Babalu” is regarded as his signature song.

He also served as orchestra leader on Bob Hope's radio show from 1946 to 1947. The orchestra stopped recording in 1949, after which Desi worked with his wife Lucy to start up their joint production company Desilu and its first major project, the television sitcom "I Love Lucy," which ran for six years on CBS and became the most successful television program in history.   

Desi's orchestra remained together as part of the TV program. As producer of the "I Love Lucy series," Desi originated many techniques that are now standard procedure in series television, including the use of several cameras to film the performance, preceding performances with a warm up man, filming before a live audience, and the re-running of films of old episodes. At the time, normal practice was to broadcast live from a studio in New York. Desi's innovations allowed "I Love Lucy" to be filmed at Desilu in Hollywood and broadcast from New York via film. The existence of a broadcast quality film print for each episode also opened the way to syndication of the series, which is still widely aired today.

 Even after "I Love Lucy" ended, Desilu Productions continued as a successful and influential company. Desilu produced "December Bride", "Make Room for Daddy", "Our Miss Brooks," "The Untouchables," and other shows. Desi's marriage to Lucille Ball broke up in 1960. 

He retired from active participation in show business and sold his half of Desilu to Lucy for $3 million, which made her the most powerful woman in show business. He eventually moved to Del Mar, California with his second wife, Edith, where he lived the rest of his life, occasionally turning up on television or film.

He used to smoke four to five Cuban cigars a day. This habit of Desi led him towards suffering from lung cancer from which he succumbed in Del Mar on December 2, 1986. 

 Desi Arnaz has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: One at 6327 Hollywood Boulevard for contributions to motion pictures, and one at 6220 Hollywood Boulevard for television.

(Compiled and edited from various sources, mainly from a bio by Edward Parsons)

Here's Desi in the RKO movie "Too Many Girls"


boppinbob said...

I was going to do a quickie about me as it is my birthday today, but my only claim to showbiz is that my grandfather was a violinist and my grandmother was a superb singer who frequented many venues around Battersea after the First World War. My father was a self taught pianist and a great yodeller to boot! Myself, well I've won a few talent contests over my 63 years but never made the grade. Still you can catch me at the "Ship Anson" pub in Old Portsmouth tomorrow night when I will do my mean Buddy Holly impression! But I digress.....I share my birthday with many a notable person including Desi Arnaz whom I used to watch on our black & white telly.

So for “The Best of Desi Arnaz: The Mambo King” go here;

1 Babalu 3:32
2 Cuban Pete 3:08
3 Peanut Vendor 2:25
4 Holiday in Havana 2:43
5 Carnival in Rio 2:58
6 A Rainy Night in Rio (feat. Jane Harvey) 2:14
7 Guadalajara 2:40
8 I Come From New York 3:00
9 Mi Vida (feat. Jane Harvey) 2:43
10 Tico Tico (feat. René Touzet) 3:00
11 Rumba Matumba 2:34
12 Tia Juana 2:37
13 You Can in Yucatan 2:11
14 Straw Hat Song 2:48
15 Brazil 2:39
16 El Cumbanchero 3:00
Bonus tracks
17 Perhaps perhaps Perhaps
18 Tres Palabras
19 Vereda Tropical
20 Siboney
21 Tabu
22 Cachita
23 Green Eyes
24 Lady of Spain
25 Brasil
26 Union Triste

Above album and bonus tracks all accrued from redmp3

Pudge said...

Bob: Let me be the first on your excellent blog to wish you a very Happy birthday.
Also, thanks for today's great post.

Jake said...

Happy birthday ! And when in the pub, have a drink on me.

Mario Alberto said...

Happy Birthday,Bob.Thanks for the music.

Andrew said...

Happy birthday. For some reason when I click on the link to Babalu I'm hearing Tiny Parham's 'Washboard Wiggles'. Strange.

. said...

Hope it's not too late to wish you a happy birthday, Bob. I was mainly commenting to compliment you on your Desi Arnaz piece. He's always fascinated me and I wrote about him more than a decade ago on the Geezer Music Club, but with much less information and detail. Good job!

boppinbob said...

Hi Andrew, that's very strange as the link is certainly to my Babalu mp3. Works fine for me.