‘I Love Lucy’ Star Desi Arnaz Went From ‘Prince of Cuba’ to King of Hollywood — and Risked it All

Through the passage of time, what we usually get from the history of Classic TV are the shows themselves — not necessarily their backgrounds in terms of how they came about, the ways in which they actually changed television, or behind-the-scenes drama that took place while on-screen magic was being created. For instance, when it comes to I Love Lucy, and especially husband-and-wife stars Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, there is simply so much that went on before, during and after the show. Particularly in the case of Desi, an incredibly interesting, often tumultuous life that somehow gets lost to pop culture history.

“If I were to write the story of Desi Arnaz’ life, I would title it The Prince of Cuba,” muses singer/stand-up comedian/pop culture historian/author Geoffrey Mark, whose tomes include The Lucy Book: A Complete Guide to Her Five Decades on Television and Ella: A Biography of the Legendary Ella Fitzgerald. “Most people don’t know this, but Desi was born into incredibly good circumstances. His grandfather went up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt and was high in Cuban politics. His maternal grandfather was one of the co-founders of the Bacardi rum industry. His father was the first mayor of their town — Santiago de Cuba is where he was born. His uncle was the chief of police of the town, and then his father went into larger politics on the island of Cuba.

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“Havana,” he continues, “was the political center of Cuba back then, and Santiago de Cuba was the cultural center of the island. It’s where the music came from and all the arts centered there, not that there weren’t night clubs and things in Havana for the tourists. But on the island, if you were creative, if you were an artist, a musician, a singer, a painter, a writer, you probably spent more time in Santiago.”

As he explains it, Desi’s family had mansions, ranches, yachts, livestock, and sports cars. “He was,” observes Geoffrey, “born into plenty.”

For much more on Desi Arnaz, please scroll down.

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