For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation. Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on RCN TV with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.
In celebration and appreciation of Hispanic Heritage Month, we here at the Showplace are honoring the tremendous achievements and accomplishments of trailblazing entertainers of Latin origin.
This week…Desi Arnaz.
To most people, he’s known as the straight man and real-life (as well as the fictional) first wife of I Love Lucy’s Lucille Ball.
However, Desi Arnaz is one of the most innovative television pioneers in the industry and created techniques that are still used to this day.
Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III was born in Santiago, Cuba in 1917 — the son of the town’s mayor and grandson of the popular Bacardi Rum Company.
Forced from his home due to civil unrest, Desi worked numerous jobs in Florida before forming his own band and getting a major boost from established Hispanic bandleader Xavier Cugat.
According to his autobiography entitled, “A Book,” Arnaz claims to have sparked the line-dancing craze in America, out of desperation when his late-arriving band proved to be less than capable to perform at a famous nightclub in Miami.
Arnaz’s popularity would grow as a bandleader around the country–performing in person and on the radio until he started getting roles in films. While occasionally landing a role in a major picture, most of his movies, by his own admission, were so poorly produced and then received, that he referred to them in his autobiography as “D films.”
However, it was on the set of the film, Too Many Girls, where he met, and subsequently married, Ball. He also began studying film techniques and, without any formal training, used his on the job learning when CBS pitched a television show idea to his wife.
Determined to spend more time with her husband, Ball insisted that Desi star and produce the show himself. While CBS and the show’s sponsor, Phillip Morris, balked at Arnaz playing Lucy’s on-screen husband (claiming now one would believe they were married), the couple toured across the country performing acts which proved that United States citizens would “buy in” to the comedy created by the real-life married duo.
Because of various production issues, Arnaz soon realized that the best possible way of shooting the “Lucy” show would be to record the program on film and to use three cameras, later editing together the best shots. This revolutionary idea paved the way for programs–previously recorded live on one or, at most, two cameras–to be preserved and later rebroadcast again. Thus, syndication was born!
These techniques also allowed mistakes by camera to be deleted and gave directors time to pick and choose the best shots instead of having to pick one on the fly.
Despite this practice later being used by nearly every situation comedy to this day, CBS also rejected this technical theory as ridiculous and implausible. So convinced that it would work, Desi and Lucy sent out to prove this theory by forming their own production company, called “Desilu Productions”, and making these shooting techniques a reality.
Arnaz’s brilliant business savvy and behind-the-scenes work ideas continued to grow Desilu and produced many successful early television series. In addition to I Love Lucy, Arnaz oversaw the productions of The Untouchables, The Ann Sothern Show, Our Miss Brooks, Westinghouse Playhouse, The Lucy Show and many others.
At its popularity’s peak, Desilu (the name derived from a combination of “Desi” and “Lucy) was the second most successful TV production company in the world.
Three years after Lucy divorced Desi, Arnaz slowly began to cut back on his television work, selling his half of Desilu to his now ex-wife. His contributions to the industry should not be overlooked. One could argue that his ideas and the tenacity he showed to prove that his theories would work changed the landscape of television forever.
You can see The Lucy Show, which Arnaz helped create and develop and on which he as executive producer, on RCN TV. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on RCN TV, check out the weekly listings here on our website.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of RCN or any other agency, organization, employer or company.