Although I Love Lucy never left TV audiences short on laughs, it was pretty public knowledge the show's two stars didn't lead such a fun-filled life off-camera. While there's no denying Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz loved each other, there were always whispers their marriage was far more tumultuous than their hit sitcom ever depicted.
In a 1991 issue, People magazine interviewed some of Ball and Arnaz's close acquaintances about their off-camera issues. Here are 15 secrets you probably never knew about their relationship.
1. They were already ‘separated’ when the show started.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz at a charity dinner circa 1945 | Archive Photos/Getty Images
When the idea for I Love Lucy came to fruition, the married duo was already living two very separate lives — Ball was a rising star while Arnaz was constantly travelling with his band. “That's the kind of marriage that has failure written all over it,” I Love Lucy director William Asher told People. “You're separated a while, and before you know it. those giblets begin to jump.”
2. Lucy lobbied for Desi to be on the show.
Lucy and Desi at home circa 1950 | FPG/Getty Images
I Love Lucy was the TV concept of a radio show Ball had been on called “My Favorite Husband.” When it came time to cast for television, she insisted that Arnaz be cast as her spouse. Longtime writer Bob Weiskopf told People “she wanted him because she knew that if he went on the road with the band, he'd be catting around all the time. She wanted him at home, where she felt the marriage would have a better chance of lasting, which of course it did.”
3. Lucy had a couple miscarriages before her first child was born.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz with their two children Desi Jr (left) and Lucie | Hulton Archive/Getty Images
In addition to casting Arnaz in the show, Ball thought starting a family would help keep him at home instead of off causing mischief with his band. But having children proved to be a long and painful process. “Lucy had two or three miscarriages before she gave birth to little Lucie,” long-time friend Lillian Briggs Winograd told People. Lucie Arnaz was born three months before I Love Lucy's debut in 1951, and Desi Jr. was born in 1953.
4. Having children curbed some of Desi's behavior — for a minute.
Lucy and Desi with Desi Jr. in 1953 | KM Archive/Getty Images
Bart Andrews, who wrote three books about Ball and Arnaz's relationship, told People, having children did, in fact curtail some of Arnaz's bad behavior for a spell. “Some of Desi's womanizing was alleviated from the moment little Lucie was born,” he told the publication. “I think he felt more sensitive about those things and stopped some of that. For a while, at least.”
5. Desi was the savvy one.
Lucy and Desi during happy times | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
“I could see what she saw in him,” singer Phyllis McGuire told People. “He was flashy, lovable, absolutely charming. And that accent…” Arnaz was also incredibly savvy when it came to business deals. “When they were beginning I Love Lucy, Desi bargained for ownership of those 179 episodes,” co-screenwriter William Lue said. “There was no concept of reruns in those days. A few years later Desi sold them all back to CBS for millions.”
6. Desi knew Lucy was the star.
Lucy and Desi on set in the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode ‘The Moustache’ in 1952 | FPG/Getty Images
Through their troubles, Arnaz reportedly never doubted that his wife was the one audiences were tuning in to watch. “He always knew she was the star,” comedy writer Madelyn Pugh Davis told People. “Never in all those years did I ever hear him say, ‘Where's my part?’ He just thought she was it, and if she was taken care of, that was all that counted. He protected her.”
7. The couple tried not to fight in front of everyone.
Desi Arnaz and his wife Lucille Ball | Leonard Mccombe/ The LIFE Picture Collection/ Getty Images
While it was common knowledge the Ball-Arnaz marriage was not a very happy one, those close to the comedy duo told People they tried not to squabble in front of other people. “There were never any knock-down-drag-out fights around the set,” Weiskopf said, adding that Arnaz's upper-crust upbringing made him more likely to keep matters private. “He'd be the last person in the world to drag out the dirty linen in front of anybody.”
8. Lucy always knew about Desi's infidelity.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz when they were newlyweds | Bettmann/ Contributor/ Getty Images
Ball's long-time publicist Charles Pomerantz told People about a time Ball snatched a magazine with an article about her husband's womanizing before retreating to her dressing room to read it. “Everybody was frozen on the set,” he recalled. “She finally came out, tossed the magazine to Desi and said, ‘Oh, hell, I could tell them worse than that.'”
9. Lucy and Desi had separate bedrooms.
Lucille Ball poses with her husband Desi Arnaz and a stuffed marlin, circa 1950 | FPG/Getty Images
Child actor Keith Thibodeaux, who played Little Ricky on I Love Lucy, recalled the Ball and Arnaz didn't even sleep in the same room at their Beverly Hills home toward the end of their marriage. “Once, at their home in Palm Springs, she told her chauffeur to drive her down to the Indian Wells Country Club,” he recalled to People. “She went to the lounge to have a drink, and Desi walked in with a couple of women on his arm. When he saw Lucy at the bar, he turned around and took off.”
10. The couple tried to divorce multiple times.
Lucy and Desi in the 1950s | Pictorial Parade/ Archive Photos/ Getty Images
In fact, Ball and Arnaz reportedly tried to get divorced even before I Love Lucy started filming because they spent so little time together. They almost got divorced a couple of other times during the 1950s, but it didn't happen. “They had tried like three times to get a divorce, but Lucy had always stopped it,” Winograd told People. “Finally she planned to move to Switzerland, take her kids and get out of Hollywood.” Ball, of course, stayed in New York to do Broadway — where she met her second husband, Gary Morton.
11. They kept in touch after getting divorced.
Gary Morton, Lucille Ball, Lucie Arnaz, Laurence Luckinbill, Edie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz | Ron Galella/ WireImage
As tumultuous as their marriage was, Ball and Arnaz remained in each other's lives after their divorce — even as they both got remarried to other people. “Even after she'd married Gary, whenever she'd see me, she would always take me over to a corner and say, ‘Have you heard from Desi lately?'” recalled veteran Associated Press reporter Jim Bacon. “She wanted to know how he was getting along. There was always that great, great love there.”
12. Desi got remarried to Lucy’s ‘double’.
Desi Arnaz and his second wife, Edith Mack Hirsch | Bettmann/ Contributor/ Getty Images
After divorcing Ball in 1960, Arnaz got remarried in 1963 to Edith Mack Hirsch — a woman who bore quite a resemblance to his first wife. “Edie was a marvelous girl in her own right, but she sure as hell looked like Lucy,” Asher told People. The duo stayed married until 1985, a year before Arnaz died.
13. Desi's alcoholism got worse over time.
Lucy and Desi at the Emmy Awards in 1957 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Arnaz may have died from lung cancer brought on by how much he smoked, but alcohol proved to be a vice that got visibly worse in the later part of his life. That was something Ball always wanted to keep out of the public eye, Winograd said. “People in Hollywood knew of Desi's philandering and drinking, but she always wanted to keep it private and never hurt him, even in the later years when she was so big and he was really down and out.”
14. How did Lucy's second husband compare to Desi?
Lucille Ball and Gary Morton in 1958 | Bettmann/ Contributor/ Getty Images
Close friends say Ball was happy and taken-care-of in her relationship with Morton, who was a New York-based stand-up comedian. Nevertheless, she always carried a torch for Arnaz. “I don't want to take anything away from her relationship with Gary,” Winograd said. “He made her extremely happy during the last 25 years of her life. But it was a different kind of happiness.”
15. Through all their troubles, they were still in love until the end.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz pose next to the gates of their Desilu Studios | Leonard McCombe/ The LIFE Picture Collection/ Getty Images
Although their marriage was rife with turmoil, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz kept their relationship going, even after getting divorced, because close friends believe they really were always in love. “Maybe I'm the romantic, but there was a great, great love there, there really was,” Asher told People. “Desi was very unhappy about the breakup, and I think she was too. I don't think either one of them ever got over it.”