There used to be a famous American sitcom that aired from 1951 to 1957. Maybe you’ve heard of it? It was called ‘I Love Lucy.’ You know, that show with Lucille Ball that made everyone fall in love with her and became one of the most successful TV shows in history. Of course, you remember ‘I Love Lucy.’ I mean, how could you forget?
That sitcom was wildly popular and actually enjoyed many firsts. For instance, it was the first scripted TV series filmed with 35 mm film in front of a live studio audience. That’s something for the history books if you ask me. It was also the first show to use a three-camera format.
Here some of the many I’ Love Lucy’ fun facts you only wished you were aware of when you used to watch the show back in the day. So if you want to know a little bit more about the late actors and married couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, among others, keep reading! And see what other firsts the show had…
When ‘I Love Lucy’ was still in the pre-production phase, Desi Arnaz’s character was planned to be named Larry Lopez on the show. His name was later changed to Ricky Ricardo because apparently, the producers thought Larry and Lucy was a bad alliteration. And hey, we’re not mad at them. Ricky Ricardo was the perfect name choice.
William Frawley and Vivian Vance, who played the characters, Fred and Ethel, were more than two decades apart in their ages, and that gap ended, causing some real friction on the set. They didn’t get along well and would constantly call each other unappealing names. Only years after the show went off the air did their co-stars even realize the tension that they were surrounded by every day.
Lucille Ball’s iconic red hair (one of the most recognizable features of the actress) actually didn’t exist before 1942. She only dyed her hair for the movie ‘DuBarry was a Lady.’ Her natural hair color was brown, but she dyed it blonde when she came to Hollywood. She would eventually become known for her bright red hair, but that was the result of a carefully constructed look.
The sitcom was shot in front of a live audience, which included 300 audience members. And this format was used from the very first episode until the last. And there were also a lot of “one-take” scenes. Desi Arnaz later said that Lucille Ball typically works better if real people are watching her perform.
If you want, you can listen to the lyrics of the theme song in the episode “Lucy’s Last Birthday.” For some reason, it was the only episode in which this happens. Want to know what the lyrics are? “I love Lucy, and she loves me. We’re as happy as two can be. Sometimes we quarrel but then how we love making up again. Lucy kisses as no one can. She’s my missus, and I’m her man. And life is heaven, you see. ‘Cause I love Lucy, Yes, I love Lucy, and Lucy loves me.”
Desi Arnaz was one of the best in the industry in terms of being prepared for his scenes. His one-of-a-kind memory allowed him to memorize every one of his lines with just one read of the script. The cast and crew mentioned how he never messed up his lines, despite the very little preparation he made. That’s pretty impressive!
You must remember the famous grape-stomping scene with Lucy, right? Well, as it turns out, Lucille was actually choking on the grape, but they continued to film. Once they turned the cameras off, the crew realized she was indeed choking and rushed to help her. If you want to go and track down this scene, it was in the episode called “Lucy’s Italian Movie.”
Lucille Ball was featured on the cover of TV Guide’s first ever edition. And it wasn’t her last either. She was featured on a total of 39 covers throughout her career, which means she appeared on more TV Guide appearances than any other celebrity. And given the fact that she revolutionized sitcoms, she certainly deserves this honor.
This is one of the more popular scenes of the entire series. Lucille Ball pretended to become increasingly intoxicated on this special product called Vitameatavegamin, which in reality was just some apple pectin. You didn’t think they would give her actual alcohol, did you? Reportedly, Lucille didn’t like filming that scene, as she admitted years later. But she also admitted that it was a very funny moment in the series.
Ricardo’s best friends and neighbors got their names from people who were close to Lucille Ball. Fred was named after her brother (who he himself was named after their grandfather), and Ethel was named after Broadway star and friend Ethel Merman. And then Vivian Vance, who played the character Ethel on the show, ended up being an understudy for Merman years earlier.
Frawley portrayed Fred Mertz on the show, and his character might go down in TV comedy history as one of the best, but he reportedly couldn’t memorize his lines so well. You could say that he was no Desi Arnaz in that sense. He would get really frustrated with his lines that he would supposedly rip out pages from the script and complain about having so many lines in each episode.
Even though ‘I Love Lucy’ ended, it was still ranked as No. 1 in 1957. The series became an even bigger part of the pop culture consciousness ever since. It’s still broadcast in syndication all over the world. Episodes are still being watched by 40 million Americans every year. Also, the show’s merchandise with Lucy’s iconic red hair still remains popular.
Whenever Lucy happened to get herself into a crazy situation (which happened often), someone off camera was heard saying, “Uh-Oh!” and you know who that person was? It was Lucille Ball’s actual mother. How cute! She was actually present at every episode’s filming. The sound producer liked it and even used the “Uh-Oh!” for other episodes.
Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do if you’re really passionate about something and want it to happen. Both Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were serious about the show and wanted to be the best possible. So, in order to get it filmed on the most expensive, and therefore best, type of film possible, Ball and Arnaz each took a major pay cut so the production could afford it.
The series was so popular during its first run that actual fragments of American life would shut down when an episode aired on television. Telephone and water usage would take a dramatic fall during the program’s half-hour duration, and even department stores would shut the doors early due to the lack of customers.
As we mentioned, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz demanded that the show be filmed on 35 mm film. And this was quite an expensive format for a show being filmed in Hollywood rather than New York City. CBS wasn’t convinced, so the married couple settled their differences with the network by getting ownership of the show. The result was Desilu Productions, which made about $40 million, which in today’s economy would be something like $256 million.
Lucille Ball, having come from the movie industry, initially didn’t want to make the shift from film to television. But she had a dream of Carole Lombard (a comedic actress and a friend of hers that passed away) who convinced her to “take a chance” with the TV gig. Lucille took her friend’s dreamy advice and never looked back.
Desi Arnaz’s accent got some attention on the show, but strangely, if anyone other than Lucy made fun of the way he spoke, the jokes were met with silence from the audience. For some reason, it was only seen as funny and even endearing if it came from Lucy. It became an unwritten rule on the show that only she could make fun of Desi’s accent and pronunciations.
When a CBS executive approached Lucille Ball to make her popular radio show of the time “My Favorite Husband” into a TV show (which became ‘I Love Lucy’), she instantly agreed. But on one caveat. She would only agree if her real-life husband, Desi, was given the role of her on-screen hubby. Executives said there was no way that the American public would believe she was married to a “foreign” man with an unusual accent. At that point, the couple had already been married for more than 10 years.
William Frawley, who played Fred, was such a huge baseball fan (of the New York Yankees, of course) that his contract on the show stipulated that he was allowed to miss work if the Yankees were playing in a World Series game. I wonder how much convincing he had to do to get that agreement laid down.
Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance did indeed end up becoming close friends during the show, but it didn’t start out that way. Ball was initially wary, at the beginning of the show, that Vance would play her part in a comedic way that would take the spotlight away from her. The good news is that they made it work and their friendship bloomed throughout the show’s duration.
William Frawley gained a reputation for going on drunken binges and doing some crazy antics, which resulted in other members of the cast becoming hesitant as to whether or not they want to work with him. Desi Arnaz, however, knew that Frawley was the best choice. But he gave him one stipulation: to never be late. One thing Frawley never was, was late.
All four of the show’s main actors received acclaim for their work, but Desi Arnaz was the only one to never receive an Emmy nomination. William Frawley received five nominations but never won. Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance both won Emmys for their roles. Vance was behind Lucy, who won four times on 13 nominations.
The producers of the show had to keep changing the phone numbers that were used on the show so that they weren’t actual phone numbers in service that people could call. The Ricardos had two phone numbers, and the Mertzes’ went through four different phone numbers. Doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but it was a real issue back then.
The cast and crew of the show held a tradition that would go on to last throughout the entire making of the show. A tradition that lasted until the very end was that each time an actor could get the audience to burst into spontaneous applause, that actor was given a silver dollar after the scene was done being shot.
Desi Arnez often would often skip rehearsals and table reads when he had to attend to Desilu Studios business. But this didn’t affect his ability to act his scenes. As we said before, the actor was always able to memorize his lines. He happened to deliver them perfectly at tapings. But did you also know that Arnaz would even memorize other character’s lines? He did it to make sure everything was on point. And everything was.
While filming in 1952, Lucy became pregnant. Regulations were put into place which instructed the writers to use the word “expecting,” rather than “pregnant.” Can you believe that? So, a minister, priest, and rabbi reviewed each and every episode in order to ensure that no viewers would be offended by the pregnancy. Oh, how times have changed!
After Lucille Ball gave birth to her and Desi’s son, Desi wanted to give his wife an opportunity to rest at home without having to film the next episode. So what he did was convince the network to air previous episodes again. And believe it or not, that was the birth of the rerun. And it has been a staple in the TV industry ever since.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz eventually divorced in the early 1960s, and she ended up taking control of Desilu Studios. This made her the first woman to singlehandedly run a major television studio. What a title to have! She proved to be successful, turning out many hit shows and eventually selling the studio for millions.
Lucille Ball, like many of her time, chose to use a stage name for Broadway roles. When Lucille Ball began acting, she figured that a name that sounded famous enough would help her get the Broadway roles that she wanted. She went with the name Diana Belmont after the famous Belmont Stakes racetrack in Long Island, New York.
The reason why there weren’t many retakes at all when shooting was because every single line on the show was scripted. Lucille later revealed: “We never ad-libbed. We never ad-libbed on the set when we were putting it together. It was there.” Even during her famous Vitameatavegamin scene, every single word was scripted, and cue cards were even used to make sure she didn’t forget a single line.
The producers’ initial plan for ‘I Love Lucy’ was to create a show for the married couple that would mirror their real lives. But the stars didn’t agree. They figured that their celebrity lives wouldn’t be relatable for the masses. Instead, they wanted to create something new and unique. And that they did!
After the show ended, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance were making their rounds on the talk show circuit. Lucille Ball revealed she had made “joke contracts” for fun that demanded silly things like, “Vance must gain five pounds every week and she must never get more laughs than Ball.” I love her sense of humor!
While some celebrities enjoy featuring their children in episodes of their shows or other productions, Lucille was opposed to the idea. Her kids, Lucie and Desi, Jr., never appeared as characters on ‘I Love Lucy,’ though Desi Jr. did have a tiny cameo in the series finale. Years later, the kids commented on how they had no regrets about not being a part of the show.
When the two weren’t filming or running the production studio, Ball and Arnaz led a very normal life. She enjoyed gardening, painting, and taking dips in the pool. It looks as though their “every-guy” persona from the sitcom translated into everyday life. And that’s a good thing!
In trying to keep up the illusion for the show’s young viewers, in the episode called “Superman,” famous actor George Reeves appeared as Superman. But instead of giving the actor his credit, Ball wanted him listed as “Superman” in the credits. And guess what: Reeves agreed! But then again, who wouldn’t want to be credited as Superman?
When President Eisenhower was sworn in at the time, millions of Americans were tuned in. But when Lucy gave birth to her son in the “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” episode, it turned out that more people tuned into that show than the inauguration. Lucille Ball was clearly America’s favorite TV personality.