Desidario Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III was born in Santiago de Cuba
on March 2 1917. His family owned 3 ranches, and his father was the Mayor of
When Desi was 15 his father was elected to the Cuban congress, but
as the family prepared to move to Havana, Gerardo Machado's dictatorship was
ended by the Batista uprising (known as the Revolt of the Seargents). The Arnaz
estates were seized and burned, and Congressman Arnaz was sent to prison.
Desi and his mother (Dolores) moved to Miami, Florida, with barely
the clothes on their backs. Young Desi took on a series of odd jobs to help the
family, but it was music that would make him a success.
After 6 months in prison, Desi's father was tried and released. He
promptly joined his family in the U.S.
Famed bandleader Xavier Cougat saw Desi perform with the
Siboney Septet and offered him a job as soon as he finished high
school. Once he began to play with the band, his salary was $25 per week.
After touring with Cugat for a year, Desi got permission to launch
Desi Arnaz and his Xavier Cugat Orchestra. The band soon became
popular, creating the "Conga" craze of the time in Miami's and then New York's
In 1940 Desi played "Manuelito" in the successful Broadway musical
Too Many Girls. The finale of Act 1 featured Desi leading the entire
cast in a Conga dance that brought the house down.
When RKO Studios decided to make a movie of Too Many
Girls, Desi was the only cast member picked to star in the film. It was on
that set that Desi met Lucille Ball, and they were married during the promotion
of the film.
Although Too Many Girls was not a box office success, it
gave Desi a 2-year contract with RKO, which lead to a costarring role in
Father Takes a Wife (with Gloria Swanson) and the lead in the comedy
Four Jacks and a Jill (with Ray Bolger and Anne Shirley). Desi also
made a few war movies, taking patriotic roles in The Navy Comes
Through (with Pat O'Brien, George Murphy, Jane Wyatt and Jackie Cooper),
and Bataan (with Robert Taylor and George Murphy).
Desi served 2 years in the U.S. Army beginning in 1943.
True to his "Latin Lover" image, Desi had widely known infidelities
with pin-up queen/actresses Betty Grable and others. Lucille ball filed for
divorce in 1944, but they reconciled when he left the Army in 1945 and began to
look for projects together.
In October 1951 I Love Lucy premiered on CBS. In 1952 the
show was the first to reach 10 million viewers, and a year later 44 million
tuned in for the show in which little Ricky is born.
Desi and Lucy made two films for MGM: The Long, Long
Trailer in 1954, and Forever, Darling in 1956. Their company,
Desilu Productions, became a major player in the TV world, producing popular
programs such as The Loretta Young Show, The Untouchables and
The Red Skelton Show.
In May 1960, Desi and Lucy's divorce was finalized.
Desi married Edie Mack in 1962, and they were together until she
died in 1983.
In 1982 Desi starred in The Escape Artist, and the
following year entered a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.