It’s been over 60 years since the final episode of “I Love Lucy” aired, but throughout the decades, fans have continued to fall in love with Lucille Ball’s depiction of the naïve red-headed housewife who always got herself into trouble.
But there are a lot of hidden details about the 1950s sitcom and the actress herself that will make you question everything you thought you knew about their history. From the actual making of the famous series that bore her name, to Ball's incredible work ethic, even fans of the actress might not know the things that made this series such a hit, even after it went off the air.
Ball’s Mom Was Heard in Almost Every Episode
Lucille Ball’s mother, DeDe Ball, sat in on the taping of every episode. In fact, she was her daughter’s greatest source of encouragement. And fans might recall hearing someone exclaiming “uh-oh” very loudly in the studio audience. Well, that was usually DeDe.
Ball and Vance Weren’t Always Tight Friends
Although Ball and Vance became very good friends, Ball didn’t like the idea of working with someone who was as beautiful as her. So, she had Vance placed in make-up and outfits that made her look less desirable. Vance even put on extra pounds so that Ball would look like she had a better body.
George Reeves Was Not Credited
When “Adventures of Superman” actor George Reeves guest-starred on the show, his name was not mentioned onscreen at Ball’s request. This was because she didn’t want to disappoint younger viewers by revealing that their favorite superhero was just an actor.
The Censors Banned the Word "Pregnancy"
The network and TV producers were so conservative in the 1950s that they had the show replace the word pregnancy with the word "expecting" to avoid a scandal. The reason for this was that they felt that the word pregnancy invoked thoughts about the act that caused it.
Ball Nearly Died in the Grape Vat Scene
The scene where Ball stomped on grapes at a vineyard was epic. But fans don’t know that Ball nearly lost her life at the hands of grape crusher Teresa Terelli. The non-English speaking performer misunderstood a cue and started holding the actress down headfirst in the vat of grapes and Ball almost drowned during taping.
Arnaz Had a Photographic Memory
Arnaz had a photographic memory, which was a serious advantage for him as an actor since he was able to learn the lines of an entire script after one read-through. As a result, producers and directors never had to worry about the actor messing up his lines.
Frawley Had a Skip Work Day Clause
William Frawley had a clause in his contract that stated that he could skip work whenever the New York Yankees were playing in the World Series. To that effect, the actor was written out of two episodes so he could meet his requirements as a baseball fan.
Ethel Called Fred an “Old Coot”
Right before the start of an episode, William Frawley, who played Fred, overheard Vivian Vance, who played his onscreen wife Ethel, tell Ball that no one would believe her being married to an “old coot” like him. Frawley held a grudge against Vance since that day.
Carole Lombard’s Ghost Inspired Ball To Do the Sitcom
Ball claimed that the spirit of her friend and mentor, Carole Lombard, visited her on more than one occasion and that she motivated her to make “I Love Lucy.” Of course, people were iffy about the claims because Lombard was killed in an air disaster in 1942.
Arnaz Married Ball’s Body Double
Three years after he split from Ball, Arnaz married his ex-wife's body double, Edith Eyre Hirsch. Years later, the show’s producer, William Asher, told People: “[She] was a marvelous girl in her own right, but she sure as hell looked like Lucy.”
Fans Almost Prevented Ball From Divorcing
Ball and Arnaz’s marriage was on the rocks by 1955, but the actress decided not to file for divorce until 1960 because she was afraid her fans would react badly to the news. Then in 2018, Closer Weekly alleged that Ball was sorry for “[disappointing] millions of people” with news of the divorce.
Arnaz Allegedly Got Arrested in a Brothel
Arnaz used alcohol to mask the humiliation of being overshadowed by Ball. And reporter Jim Bacon told People that the drunken actor once got arrested while singing Cuban songs outside of a brothel. But as far as anyone knew, he was never drunk on set.
Ball Almost Had Her Nose Broken
During the famous fast candy factory conveyor belt scene, real-life chocolatier Amanda Milligan smacked Ball so hard that she almost broke her nose. But the comedian proved to be quite a trooper and she finished the scene despite the pain.
Ball Tried to Humiliate Arnaz in Front of Others
Writer Bob Weiskopf told People that Ball would share humiliating stories about her husband with their co-stars while he was in the room. “I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, this guy’s a saint,’” Weiskopf stated. “I would have punched her in the nose.”
Arnaz’s Cheating Made Things Awkward On Set
Ball once received an advanced copy of Confidential magazine, which ran a story on Arnaz’s cheating habits. She read the article in front of everyone on set. Charlie Pomerantz, who played Hy Averback in the episode “The Hedda Hopper Story,” remembered the event. “Everybody was frozen on the set,” Pomerantz told People. “[Lucille] finally came out [of her dressing room], tossed the magazine to Desi and said, ‘Oh, hell, I could tell them worse than that.’”
Arnaz Was Called the "Cuban Arm"
Arnaz was charming and flirtatious despite being a married man. In fact, writer Madelyn Pugh Davis told People: “We used to call him the Cuban Arm because he’d put his arm around you and say, ‘Listen, amigo…,’ And you were done for.”
Ball and Arnaz Fought a Lot
Keith Thibodeaux, the actor who played the couple’s onscreen son, little Ricky, recalled overhearing terrible arguments between the couple while he was playing with Ball and Arnaz’s real-life son offscreen. “We heard a lot of loud arguing and cursing and glass shattering and screaming, and we were scared,” Thibodeaux told People. “Desi Jr. turned to me and said, ‘There they go again.’”
Lucy and Ricky’s Beds Grew Apart
1950s’ advertisers were squeamish about the couple sleeping in the same bed on the series, so all of the bedroom scenes had two beds in them. And over the course of the series, the beds grew further and further apart to keep advertisers from pulling their ads.
Arnaz Played Mind Games With Ball
Ball was far more successful than Arnaz during their careers. This made him so jealous and insecure that he would play mind games with her. For instance, he wouldn’t come home for hours to make her think that he was with another woman. Actress Shelley Winters told People that: “[Desi] just couldn’t take that [Lucille] was so much more important.”
Jerry Hausner Didn’t Like Working on the Sitcom
Jerry Hausner played Ricky Ricardo’s agent Jerry. But in 1990, the actor told The Washington Post that he didn’t like working on “I Love Lucy” because none of the cast remembered his name. But he emphasized: “You don’t think in terms of whether you’re happy or not when you’re doing it. You’re making a living.”
Vivian Vance Disliked Her Onscreen Husband
Vance played Lucy’s best friend Ethel and she had an onscreen husband named Fred who was played by William Frawley. Unfortunately, Vance despised Frawley in real life, and when Arnaz offered her the opportunity to do a Fred and Ethel spin-off series, Vance refused.
Vance’s Husband Almost Ended Her Friendship With Lucy
Vivian Vance and Lucille Ball were close friends onscreen and offscreen. But Vance’s husband Philip Ober was so jealous of their friendship that he told his wife that Hollywood was gossiping about her being gay. And since Vance was very conservative, she ended up going to therapy because of the incident.
The Show Had a Live Studio Audience
Nearly every episode of “I Love Lucy” had a live studio audience. Unfortunately, they found the show so hilarious that they often laughed out loud for a lot longer than expected. But CBS found use for the incessant laughter by recording it and using it as a laugh track for other sitcoms. Some of these recordings are still used for modern multi-camera sitcoms.
Arnaz Refused to Play a Tax Evading Ricky
Arnaz refused to portray Ricky as a tax evader when “I Love Lucy” writers pitched him the idea. Although the actor was born in Cuba, he considered America his second home and he didn’t want to film anything that would inspire others to do something that would hurt the country.
The Pilot Episode Was Lost
The original pilot for “I Love Lucy” was lost for years. But in 1989, a copy was found, although it wasn’t in the best condition. However, the studio was able to clean it up and air it for the very first time. It was then added to the DVD collection in 2002.
Ball and Arnaz Had Marital Problems
Ball and Arnaz seemed to be in love onscreen, but things were more complicated offscreen. In fact, things got so bad that they temporarily separated in 1944. Despite their marriage woes, they kept it together while “I Love Lucy” was in production. But in 1960, the duo ended their marriage permanently.
Ball Made Arnaz a Star So He Would Stop Cheating
Publicist Charles Pomerantz told People in 1991 that Desi Arnaz would often cheat on his wife while touring with his band. So, she only made him a TV star so that he would be closer to home and stop cheating on her. Unfortunately, her plan wasn't enough to save their relationship.
Ball Was a Brunette
Ball may have made a name for herself as a redhead, but she was actually a natural brunette. Her stylist, Sydney Guilaroff, recommended she dye her hair red and Ball agreed. The actress’ trademark hair color was kept red thanks to Irma Kusely.
Arnaz Convinced CBS to Hire Frawley
William Frawley had a reputation among his coworkers for being an alcoholic and CBS was concerned about hiring an actor who could potentially be unstable. But Arnaz was able to convince the show’s producers to hire him anyway as long as Frawley obeyed him at all times. And this proved to be enough to get Frawley to comply, as he worked on the show without issues for six seasons and then he continued to work with the cast on “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour."
Ricky Was Almost Played by a Different Actor
In 1948, Ball acted in a radio show called “My Favorite Husband” alongside actor Richard Denning, who played her husband. When the radio series was adapted for television two years later, Denning was going to play the role of Ricky. But Ball wanted her real-life husband in the television role instead.
Vance’s Fake Lashes Were an Issue
Ball had several issues with Vivian Vance’s initial appearance and one of them was her co-star's fake eyelashes. It was said that she ripped them off of Vance’s eyes and then told her that only she couldn’t wear those types of lashes.
Ball Had a Superstitious Habit
Ball believed that putting the letters A and R together provided good luck. It’s the reason why her character’s last name had an “ar” in Ricardo. But while some might say that this was just coincidence, the show was very successful, so it stands to reason that she might have been on to something.
The Cast Had a Weird Ritual
Whenever one of the cast members received a big round of applause from the audience that was utterly unplanned, the rest of the cast would have to give this performer a silver dollar. They would even keep track of how many of these coins the actors got over the course of the series.
Filming the Mirror Scene Was a Nightmare
American comedian Harpo Marx did a cameo on “I Love Lucy” where he had to do a mirror scene with Lucy. But he refused to rehearse, which made it difficult for Lucille Ball to keep up with him. So, the four-minute scene took the comedic duo hours to shoot.
Producers Were Concerned About the Mixed Marriage
CBS had some concerns about Ball and Arnaz appearing as an interracial couple because they felt that the audience would gawk at their marriage. Fortunately, those days are long gone and networks would think twice before voicing concerns about an interracial marriage today.
She Was the First Woman to Run a Hollywood Studio
Ball was the first woman to run a major Hollywood studio. Desilu Productions was created in 1950 and was named after its founders, Lucille and Desi. Over the years, the studio brought big hits to the TV screen like “The Untouchables,” and “Star Trek.”
She Turned 40 Before the Show Aired
In those days, Hollywood had a tendency of turning their backs on women after they turned 35, but Ball gained superstardom when she was 40. In fact, she celebrated her 40th birthday just before the sitcom hit the airwaves, proving the staying power of women in the entertainment industry.
Ball Loved Gardening
Ball was a wife, a mother, a comedian, and an actress, but most people never knew that she was also an avid gardener. So, when she wasn’t busy making people laugh in front of the camera, she took comfort in the sanctity of her garden in her Hollywood home.
Viewers Weren’t Fans of Ethnic Jabbing
Lucy did take jabs at Ricky’s thick Cuban accent, but Ball and Arnaz refused to mock each other’s different ethnic backgrounds. In fact, Arnaz pointed out that whenever characters Fred and Ethel tried to joke about Ricky's heritage, the jokes wouldn't be well received by the audience, so these moments happened few and far between.
The Show Beat Out the President
“I Love Lucy” beat the presidential swearing-in ceremony of Ike Eisenhower in 1953. According to Nielsen, only 67.7 percent of Americans watched the U.S. transition of power while 71 percent of people had watched an episode of the sitcom. Months later, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was broadcast on American television and “I Love Lucy” once again drew a bigger audience.
The Show Caused Stores to Shut Down
“I Love Lucy” was so popular that stores closed down whenever the show aired so people could be at home watching the episode of the week. And authorities claimed that the use of water and telephones dropped whenever the sitcom was on.
The Show Promoted Smoking
Tobacco companies used family shows like “I Love Lucy” to sponsor their products. In fact, the sitcom sponsored Philip Morris cigarettes by having the characters smoke the brand onscreen. But in today’s world, advertising cigarettes on primetime obviously isn’t very popular.
The Sitcom Put Reruns on the Map
Ball and Arnaz pushed for the show to get filmed in 35mm stock, which was more expensive than the film commonly used. But this paid off because it allowed the show to be played over and over again. As a result, the sitcom put reruns on the map and inspired other shows to do the same.
She Kept Her Hair Color
Although she wasn’t a natural redhead, the color had become her signature look. So, even as Ball got older, she decided to continue coloring her hair red instead of allowing it to go gray. She kept this going until her death in 1989.
She Had Connections to Communism
In 1953, Ball had to testify to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) for having registered as part of the Communist Party alongside her mother and brother. She later told the media that the only reason she did this was because her beloved grandfather had insisted on it. But swore she never intended to vote with the communist party.
Ball Never Graduated High School
Ball dropped out of high school in Jamestown, New York, and enrolled in drama school in New York City. But when she didn’t book any theater gigs, Ball started working as a model under the pseudo-name Diane Belmont. This eventually led to her being discovered as an actress, which was a career path that soon paid off.
Ball Had Miscarried More Than Once
In addition to marital woes, Ball also had a tough time starting a family with Arnaz. In fact, Lillian Brigs Winograd, who was Ball’s friend, told People: “Lucy had two or three miscarriages before she gave birth to little Lucie.”
She Became a Mom Later in Life
Ball had her first baby, a daughter named Lucie Desiree Arnaz, when she was 40. Then she had Desi Arnaz Jr., when she was almost 42. And obviously, her kids were named after their two famous parents.
Desi Arnaz Jr. Became a Teen Dad
Ball was probably shocked to become a grandmother at an early age but that’s not as shocking as her son Desi Arnaz Jr., becoming a teen dad. “Years ago I was a playboy. From the time I was 13, I thought I was in love,” he told People. He had a daughter named Julia Howe when he was just 15.
People See a Lot of Lucy in Ball’s Great-Granddaughter
Julia Howe, who’s Desi Arnaz Jr.’s daughter, had a daughter named Desiree Anzalone. And some say that they see a lot of Lucille Ball in her, particularly in her gumption, her strength, and overall looks. But if you asked Anzalone, she didn't really see the resemblance like avid fans of the show do. Sadly, Anzalone passed away after a battle with cancer in 2020.