Nearly 60 years after it last aired, I Love Lucy is still a fixture on TV. In fact, the sitcom still attracts 40 million annual viewers to this day, thanks to its regular re-runs. It even spawned its own stage show at Los Angeles’ Greenway Court Theater for a three-month run in 2011. But behind the laughs lie some incredible secrets that you never knew – from the real-life dramas and fights between the cast, to the incredible clause that William Frawley had written into his contract. So sit back as we reveal 40 little-known facts that every I Love Lucy fan should know.
40. Ball couldn’t keep up with Harpo Marx
Harpo Marx made a memorable cameo on the show, but his presence was a challenge for Lucille Ball. Indeed, Marx declined to rehearse his famous mirror scene, making the scene incredibly difficult for the two to perform off the bat. And, as a result, the four-minute moment actually took the pair hours to film.
39. Ball had a thing for numbers
It’s not uncommon for people today to see significance and meaning in apparently coincidental events. And back in the 1950s, Ball had a similar bent towards the unexplained. A highly superstitious character, the actress was obsessed with numerology. In fact, it has been claimed that Ball believed that the pairings of the letters “A” and “R” were lucky. She even reportedly named her sitcom equivalent “Lucy Ricardo” because the letters appeared there together.
38. Producers had somebody else in mind for Ricky
Although I Love Lucy would eventually revolutionize TV, the series actually had its beginnings in another medium. In 1948, Ball began acting in the radio show My Favorite Husband which starred Richard Denning as the comedienne’s fictional spouse. When it came to adapt the series to television two years later, Denning was set to reprise his role. That is until Ball recommended her real-life partner instead.
37. Ball only wanted Arnaz on the show because she was tired of his philandering
Through his role as Ricky Ricardo, Desi Arnaz went from bandleader to television star. But it seems Ball had ulterior motives for recommending her husband for the show. In reality, the actress was frustrated with Arnaz sleeping around while on tour and thus wanted him to work closer to home. “Her strategy must have worked, because she got pregnant right away,” publicist Charles Pomerantz told People magazine in 1991.
36. Ball and Arnaz’s relationship was a mess before the show began
Married since 1940, Ball and Arnaz played the perfect couple on-screen. Off-set, however, the pair were less harmonious and their fraught relationship would lead to a petition for divorce and temporary separation in 1944. “That’s the kind of marriage that has failure written all over it,” director William Asher opined to People. “You’re separated a while, and before you know it, those giblets begin to jump.”
35. Ball wasn’t a natural redhead
Inseparable from her screen presence, Ball’s red hair would become the most iconic part of the actress’ appearance. Remarkably, it wasn’t even the star’s natural color; before I Love Lucy, Ball made her name as a brunette. It wasn’t until stylist Sydney Guilaroff suggested the shade that Ball became synonymous with the look. On-set, the color would be lovingly maintained by Irma Kusely.
34. The pilot episode was considered lost for years
As was customary for TV shows in the 1950s, an initial pilot of I Love Lucy was made to entice potential advertisers. For decades, this episode was thought to be lost – that is, until 1989, when a heavily damaged copy was unearthed and broadcast for the first time. Later, original announcer Bob LeMond would re-record narration from the episode for a 2002 DVD release.
33. The show was filmed in front of a live audience
Sometimes, filming in front of an audience isn’t possible. And yet, the producers of I Love Lucy constantly strove for the real deal. As a result, almost every episode of the show was shot before an eager crowd whose enthusiastic laughter could at times last for over a minute. So great were the audience’s guffaws that CBS would even use recordings of the giggles as canned laughter in other shows.
32. Arnaz refused to portray Ricky as a tax cheat
Having emigrated to America following the 1933 Cuban Revolution, Arnaz was immensely proud of his adopted country. As such, he was wary of anything that would show immigrants bringing harm to the nation. On one occasion, the I Love Lucy scriptwriters pitched the actor a storyline that saw Ricky committing tax evasion. Unimpressed, Arnaz promptly shot the idea down.
31. Vance declined her own show due to her hatred of Frawley
It’s incontrovertibly true that Vivian Vance (who played Ethel Mertz) had little love for her on-screen husband William Frawley (Fred Mertz). So much so, in fact, that the actress refused to star in a spin-off dedicated to the Mertzes due to their off-screen animosity. After I Love Lucy transitioned into a series of one-hour episodes in 1957, Arnaz came up with the standalone series. And while Frawley liked the idea, Vance clearly couldn’t stand another second in her co-star’s company.
30. Jerry Hausner hated working on the show
Cast as Ricky’s agent, Jerry Hausner had a central part in I Love Lucy’s production. Nevertheless, the actor had few fond memories of appearing in the show. Claiming that Ball and his co-stars could never remember his name, Hausner hated the entire experience. “You don’t think in terms of whether you’re happy or not when you’re doing it,” he told The Washington Post newspaper in 1990. “You’re making a living.”
29. Lucy and Ricky’s beds grew further apart as the series progressed
Throughout the course of the series, producers tried to downplay the romantic aspect of the Ricardos’ relationship. However, this became trickier following the arrival of Little Ricky, the couple’s baby. In order to distract from the reality of Ricky and Lucy’s sex life, network heads came up with a simple solution: pull the characters’ single beds further apart. Certainly, this puritanical idea seemed to appease advertisers.
28. Ball and Arnaz were not a happy couple
As the series skyrocketed, Ball and Arnaz’s relationship became more unstable. And not even the arrival of children could mend their broken marriage. Speaking to People, Keith Thibodeaux (one of the actors who played Little Ricky) remembered witnessing horrible arguments during a playdate with the couple’s kids. “We heard a lot of loud arguing and cursing and glass shattering and screaming, and we were scared,” he recalled. “Desi Jr. turned to me and said, ‘There they go again.’”
27. Arnaz had a special nickname
In life, Arnaz was a charming man and he continued to womanize in spite of his growing family. In fact, the actor’s effect on the opposite sex led women on the show to give him a very special nickname. “We used to call him the Cuban Arm because he’d put his arm around you and say, ‘Listen, amigo…,’” confessed writer Madelyn Pugh Davis to People. “And you were done for.”
26. Arnaz’s philandering led to an awkward moment on-set
At the peak of the show’s popularity, Confidential magazine ran a tell-all story that made Arnaz’s womanizing common knowledge. Before the piece’s publication, however, Ball received a copy which she proceeded to read in her colleagues’ presence. “Everybody was frozen on the set,” recalled Pomerantz to People. “She finally came out [of her dressing room], tossed the magazine to Desi and said, ‘Oh, hell, I could tell them worse than that.’”
25. Ball’s increasing success led Arnaz to play mind games on her
Although Arnaz’s business savvy drove I Love Lucy to success, Ball received all the fame. And this fact drove her jealous husband to take his insecurities out on her in petty ways. For instance, the actor would occasionally disappear from their house for hours just to make Ball think he was out sleeping around. “He just couldn’t take that she was so much more important,” declared actress Shelley Winters to People.
24. Ball and Arnaz’s arguments spilled into the studio
As Ball and Arnaz’s animosity continued to grow, the couple’s arguments were no longer kept behind closed doors. In an interview with People, writer Bob Weiskopf remembered moments when Ball would share humiliating anecdotes about Arnaz with her co-stars while her husband stood idly by. “I thought, ‘Jesus Christ, this guy’s a saint,’” he stated. “I would have punched her in the nose.”
23. A drunk Arnaz was once arrested outside a brothel
Due to his wife’s continually growing fame, an envious Arnaz turned to alcohol to numb the pain. But while Weiskopf argued Arnaz “was never drunk on the set,” the actor’s drinking problem would lead the star to trouble elsewhere. Reporter Jim Bacon alleged in the People interview that a soused Arnaz was once arrested while belting out Cuban songs in front of a brothel.
22. Ball didn’t want to divorce Arnaz because of her fans
By the mid-’50s, Ball and Arnaz’s marriage had completely broken down. Fueled by the latter’s drinking and philandering, the relationship was now just a marriage of convenience. But Ball would hold off filing for divorce until 1960, partly due to concern for how her fans would react. As claimed by Closer Weekly magazine in 2018, the actress reportedly expressed regret that her and Arnaz’s separation “disappointed millions of people.”
21. Arnaz wed his ex-wife’s body double
After 20 years of fractious marriage, Ball and Arnaz called time on their relationship in 1960. However – for the latter at least – it seems there was still some amount of love left. Three years after the divorce, Arnaz wed Edith Eyre Hirsch – a woman who used to work as Ball’s body double. “[She] was a marvelous girl in her own right, but she sure as hell looked like Lucy,” said Asher.
20. Ethel and Fred weren’t such a happy couple off camera
Though they played loving couple Ethel and Fred on screen for years, Vance and Frawley had a rocky relationship on set. And that may be because, before production began, Frawley overhead Vance telling Ball that no one would believe her being married to such an “old coot.” Unfortunately, Frawley never forgot this, and their relationship never recovered.
19. Desi Arnaz had to convince producers to hire Frawley
And Vance wasn’t the only one icy towards Frawley. Due to Frawley’s history of alcoholism, CBS itself didn’t want to take a risk employing such an unstable actor. However, Arnaz convinced the producers to take him on anyway – but only on the condition that Frawley abided by his rules.
18. Frawley had a surprising clause in his contract
Yet while Frawley never disappointed Arnaz, the actor did miss the occasional day of work. But the baseball fan was excused, thanks to a clause written in his contract that allowed him to skip filming whenever the New York Yankees played the World Series. He was removed from two episodes as a result.
17. Arnaz had a clever trick to help him learn his lines
Besides showing a knack for the production side of I Love Lucy, Desi Arnaz was also a uniquely gifted actor. Thanks to his photographic memory, Arnaz could learn an entire script in only one read-through. Certainly, this ensured that Arnaz never missed a line.
16. The censors banned the use of a particular word
Naturally, 1950s attitudes towards sex were more conservative than today’s. But I Love Lucy’s censors took these attitudes to extreme measures when they considered Lucy’s second season pregnancy too scandalous to be named as such to viewers. In fact, the show instead had to replace “pregnancy” with “expecting”; the French word “enceinte” was even used in the title of one episode in order to keep in line with TV bosses.
15. Lucille Ball almost suffered a broken nose on set
One of the show’s best moments came when Lucy fell afoul of a fast candy factory conveyor belt. However, Ball probably had less fond memories of that particular scene, as her nose was almost broken after Amanda Milligan, a real-life chocolatier, smacked her a bit too hard. Ever the professional, though, Ball managed to finish her scene despite the pain.
14. And Ball almost lost her life in a grape vat
Speaking of on-set calamities, Ball experienced the grapes of wrath while filming on a vineyard. After being told to “wrestle” with Lucy, grape crusher Teresa Terelli – who spoke no English – misinterpreted the cue and proceeded to hold down Ball headfirst in a vat of grape mush. The poor comedienne nearly drowned!
13. Carole Lombard’s ghost gave Ball the confidence to make the show
In 1942 Lucille Ball’s friend and mentor Carole Lombard died in an air disaster. However, this didn’t stop the departed star allegedly giving her friend advice. After her friend’s demise, Ball repeatedly claimed Lombard’s spirit visited her. Moreover, the comedienne even asserted that an appearance from the Hollywood icon in a dream gave her faith in the risky decision to make I Love Lucy.
12. George Reeves was one of the only stars on the show not to be credited
In contrast, Superman actor George Reeves proved a more amicable guest star, though his contributions were uncredited on screen. But while this may sound like a case of showbiz squabbling, the snub was actually requested by Ball because she didn’t want younger viewers to know that their favorite superhero was actually an actor. Aww…
11. Vance’s jealous husband almost drove her and Ball apart
Off set, Vance and Ball enjoyed a warm and loving friendship. However, Vance’s abusive husband Philip Ober hated the pair’s closeness and even tried to convince her that Hollywood gossip said that they were a gay couple. His bitterness drove a distraught and deeply conservative Vance to therapy.
10. But Ball and Vance weren’t always so close
But despite their later friendship, Ball and Vance didn’t hit it off straight away. By all accounts, Ball detested the idea of acting alongside someone as pretty as herself. Consequently, Vance received unflattering costumes and make-up, while she also gained weight in order to appear less desirable than Ball.
9. Vance’s falsies caused a massive row on set
And besides her insistence on dressing Vance down, Ball had other issues with her co-star’s looks. Upon seeing Vance wearing fake eyelashes on set, Ball ripped the accessories from her co-star’s eyes and said – in no uncertain terms – that she was the only one who could wear them.
8. Ball’s real-life mom stars in every episode
Before the concept of a hype artist even existed, Ball received great encouragement from a surprising source: her mother. In fact, DeDe Ball – who sat in on every taping – can be heard in almost any episode loudly exclaiming “uh-oh” off camera during her daughter’s zanier moments.
7. The cast had one peculiar tradition
Many co-workers have strange traditions together, and the cast of I Love Lucy was no exception. In particular, the actors awarded each other a silver dollar when anyone received an unplanned round of applause from the audience. They even used a chart to keep track of each cast member’s progress.
6. I Love Lucy helped make reruns a thing
In order to ensure a better image for their show, Ball and Arnaz insisted on filming on then-unfamiliar 35mm stock. And though the celluloid strips were expensive, they had the added benefit of being easily replayable. Consequently, it became one of the first TV shows to have reruns broadcast.
5. The show promoted a dirty habit
Although advertising cigarettes on TV is frowned upon today, tobacco companies frequently paired up with family shows in the 1950s. Indeed, I Love Lucy was entirely sponsored by Philip Morris cigarettes and characters were regularly seen smoking the brand on camera. Surprisingly, few hacking coughs were caught on tape.
4. I Love Lucy caused stores to close across the country
Of course, I Love Lucy remains one of America’s most beloved sitcoms, but – at its peak – the show’s popularity eclipsed that of any series today. In fact, department stores regularly closed to coincide with the show’s broadcast. Meanwhile, authorities reported drops in telephone and water usage whenever it was shown.
3. And the series was once more popular than the president
Certainly, the strength of I Love Lucy’s popularity is beyond belief. And, believe it or not, but the show once beat a presidential inauguration in the ratings war. Following Ike Eisenhower’s 1953 swearing-in ceremony, Nielsen reported that 67.7 percent of American TVs tuned in to see it – less than the previous night’s I Love Lucy episode, which was watched by 71 percent of the TV-owning public.
2. Ricky’s accent was no laughing matter
As an interracial married couple, Ball and Arnaz were an uncommon pair for their time. As such, the two refused to mock their ethnic differences on screen, save for Lucy’s occasional jabs at Ricky’s Cuban accent. And Arnaz later noted when Fred and Ethel tried for the same kind of edgy humor, it always fell flat with the audience.
1. Producers feared that audiences wouldn’t accept Lucy and Ricky as man and wife
While nobody would now bat an eye at Ball and Arnaz’s mixed marriage, CBS was highly reluctant about the two appearing as man and wife. Specifically, the company thought that audiences wouldn’t go in for such a union on screen. Truly, it shows the remarkable way attitudes have changed for the better.