Lucille Ball 'Hated Every Minute' of Running Desilu Productions
Lucille Ball and and husband Desi Arnaz became superstars on I Love Lucy as well as industry moguls with their studio Desilu Productions. Though Arnaz made the majority of the business decisions, Ball took over their company when the couple divorced after 20 years of marriage. According to her daughter Lucie, the famous redhead enjoyed performing much more than balancing the books.
Lucie Arnaz said her dad was more business-minded
Ball and Arnaz launched Desilu Productions in 1950. In addition to creating comedies like The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and their iconic series I Love Lucy, the studio also brought shows like Mission: Impossible and Star Trek to the small screen. Lucie later explained that her dad was the one in the relationship with the business acumen, but Arnaz stepped down from heading the production company after he and Ball split.
“My father ran Desilu Productions,” Arnaz shared in 2019, as reported by WTOP. “My mother and father divorced in 1959 and she bought him out. She was then forced to be the head of the studio. Mostly she let the suits run the studio. … She hated every minute of it.”
Lucie previously noted her mom’s distaste for the paperwork and number-crunching involved with being a studio head and preferred to stick with performing. In an interview with the Television Academy Foundation, Lucie said her mother was never very gifted in the ways of business.
“She hated the business side,” Lucie said of her mom in 2016. “She gets a lot of credit for [being the] first woman to run a studio. Hated that whole thing. Hated it. Just wanted to be Lucy. Just wanted to do her show and not be worried about any of that business stuff. That was my father’s domain.”
Lucille Ball made some good calls at Desilu Productions
Ball knew she had a good team in place at Desilu Productions after buying out Arnaz and sought their counsel on most matters.
“She kept all the same people that he had hired, brilliant people,” Lucie remarked. “And took their advice for the most part. She relied on them, as well she should.”
Though Ball may not have embraced her role as studio head, she knew a good show when she saw it and took a stand when necessary.
“They asked about budgets and the shows that would have to be eliminated, and two of them were Star Trek and Mission: Impossible,” Lucie recalled. “She said, ‘I like those … do we have to cut those two?’ They said, ‘OK we’ll try,’ and the rest is history.”
‘I Love Lucy’ was ‘brilliantly written’
It’s easy to understand why Ball wanted to devote her energy to acting. Her iconic role as Lucy Ricardo marked her place in comedy history. Lucie also credited the I Love Lucy staff of writers for giving her parents such great material.
“This is truly one of the great comedy shows of all time,” Arnaz told WTOP. “It’s like studying Laurel & Hardy, Buster Keaton or Chaplin. That show was so well put together. It wasn’t just my mother’s brilliance or my father’s great straight man and their wonderful chemistry together, it was brilliantly written.”
Lucie noted how writing teams have multiplied in members compared to the bare-bones days of I Love Lucy.
“They had two writers for four years, Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Davis, who wrote all those shows,” she explained. “Then they added just two more for the rest of the shows, Bob Weiskopf and Bob Schiller. When you think of the shows today, most of them are written by committee; there’s an entire writer’s room contributing storylines and ideas.”
Ball’s daughter also pointed out why I Love Lucy remains a fan favorite. “They never made fun of anybody,” Lucie said of the cast. “It wasn’t humor that is current events humor. … It was just about friends, family and the kinds of wants and desires that everybody has through the decades for generations, so it still holds up today. We still laugh at it today.”
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