Desi Arnaz, a musician, producer and actor best known as Ricky Riccardo from the 1950s sitcom I Love Lucy, as well the real-life husband of co-star Lucille Ball, is being honored in Saturday’s Google Doodle to celebrate his 102nd birthday.
Arnaz, whose full name was Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha, was born on March 2, 1917, in Santiago, Cuba. His father was the city’s mayor and later a member of the Cuban House of Representatives, but the Cuban Revolution of 1933 threw the family’s life into upheaval. The family lost its wealth and influence, eventually fleeing to Miami, Fla.
As a young man, Arnaz worked a series of odd jobs, but eventually his focus turned to music. After working under famed musician and bandleader Xavier Cugat, Arnaz started his own band – which is credited by Tuner Classic Movies with launching the Conga-line dance craze in the U.S.
In 1939, he was cast in the Broadway show Too Many Girls, and he was later cast in the movie version of the show – along with lead actress Lucille Ball. The two became a real-life couple, known for their rocky but passionate romance.
Arnaz spent years acting, directing and performing, and became well-known for the hit single “Babalu.” The defining moment of his career came in 1951 with the start of I Love Lucy, one of television’s first sitcoms.
The show, known for wacky hijinks and the push and pull dynamic between Arnaz and Ball, was enormously successful, and became a major touchstone of American culture. Throughout its six seasons, the show created many indelible images, such as Lucy spectacularly failing at a chocolate factory, and Arnaz’s catchphrase “Lucy, I’m home.” It also broke new ground by incorporating Ball’s pregnancy into the show’s storyline, making her pregnancy a public event instead of a secret.
Arnaz, who was also a producer of the show, helped create its high-quality production style and pioneered television business techniques, like re-runs and syndication. The show ended in 1957 and Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960. But you can still watch re-runs of their antics – and see signs of the show’s influence- on television to this day.
Google said in a statement that Arnaz was a “trailblazer” in the American television industry.
“Here’s to Desi Arnaz, whose beaming joy and laughter continues to bring delight to living rooms and viewers around the globe,” Google said.
Arnaz and Ball’s children, Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill and Desi Arnaz, Jr., also added in the statement that they are “thrilled” that Google is honoring their father.
“We are so proud that he is being recognized for his talent and his gifts of entertainment. Desiderio Alberto Arnaz III was a one-of-a-kind innovator and trailblazer, and we wish he could have lived to see this special acknowledgment of the lasting contributions he gave to the world,” the statement said.
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