Ben Mankiewicz speaks with the Oscar-winning actor about playing William Frawley in Being the Ricardos, and how Frawley’s tumultuous relationship with Vivian Vance informed the characters of Fred and Ethel Mertz.
Ben Mankiewicz speaks to three celebrity fans about how they were influenced by Lucille Ball, Lucy’s incredible talent for physical comedy, and why I Love Lucy is still beloved today.
Ben Mankiewicz speaks to Aaron Sorkin, the writer-director of Being the Ricardos, about what drew him to Lucy’s story, Lucy and Desi’s intense relationship, and the danger they faced when HUAC thought Lucy was a communist.
More from Ben Mankiewicz’s fascinating interview with Lucie Arnaz, who speaks about working with her mom, growing up on the RKO studio lot, and what made I Love Lucy special.
“All she wanted to do was work as an actress and all the public would ever buy her in was Lucy. And that was the tragedy of her life.”
Lucy sinks into a depression after the failure of her newest show and becomes a reclusive yet fiercely competitive backgammon player. Yet she’s still revered, and following a memorable final appearance at the Academy Awards, her heart gives out. As the memorials pour in, the public clamors to learn everything about her life, while those closest to her wonder if they ever really knew her at all.
“I inherited three studios. It was nothing I ever expected or wanted.”
Escaping Hollywood after her split, Lucy heads east for a chance to star on Broadway. There she meets a new man, a Borscht Belt comedian with a bad toupee and even worse business sense. The new couple returns to Hollywood when Lucy takes on a surprising new role: as the first female head of a major studio. But she still prefers acting, and makes plans to return to the big screen – with disastrous results.
“Desi was a very hardworking, brilliant, generous, overly generous man. But he had a drinking problem.”
Lucy and Desi’s production company expands as they buy the RKO lot and produce new shows under the Desilu banner. The strain of running an empire takes its toll, and Desi falls further into gambling, drinking and philandering as a refuge from work. Lucy doubles down on her career, but after shooting a tearful final episode of her signature TV show, her marriage reaches its breaking point.
“Everyone on the show, especially Lucy and Desi, assumed that I Love Lucy was over and so were their careers.”
At the height of Lucy’s popularity, the government kicks off a political investigation that threatens to ruin her career. Why had Lucy registered as a communist 20 years earlier? On the verge of her being blacklisted, Desi goes on the offensive to save his wife and their livelihood. But his infidelities soon become tabloid fodder, and their love affair begins to crumble in full view of the public.
“It was a magic combination, and that kind of thing happens so rarely, where you’ve got the perfect people for the perfect parts.”
With a TV deal from CBS, Desi assembles a ragtag team of collaborators to make a new kind of program, one that would rewrite the rules of television. And they do it while hiding Lucy’s newest surprise: after ten years of trying, she’s about to have a baby. The result is the biggest hit in TV history, one that showcases Lucy’s fearlessness and comic timing, and she becomes beloved by millions of fans from coast to coast.
“We’ve had our ups and downs. I don’t think there’s anyone who’s been married that hasn’t.”
From the start, Lucy and Desi fight as fiercely as they love. After a spur-of-the-moment elopement, the newlyweds buy a small ranch north of Hollywood and call it “Desilu.” They suffer miscarriages and career setbacks, which causes Desi to take his band on the road – where he frequently cheats on his wife. Lucy considers divorce, but when a TV offer comes in, she uses her stardom to keep Desi by her side.
“You could see the fireworks and the sparks, they complemented each other. And she fell in love with him and his accent and his dark beauty.”
Forced from his native Cuba by violent revolution, 17-year-old Desi Arnaz is a stranger in a strange land. Armed with an appetite for girls and gambling, Desi sparks a dance craze in the nightclubs of Miami and sweet-talks his way into New York society. After a syphilis scare threatens his Broadway debut, his ambition leads him to Hollywood, where his head is turned by an older actress named Lucy.
“They dressed us. They trained us. They gave us a chance to perform. We could fall on our faces if we weren’t any good. But we had a chance.”
For her first movie role, Lucy wears a flesh-toned bodysuit and waist-length blonde wig while chained to a rock. But her clowning on set gets her noticed, and she begins to land larger and larger parts. Soon she signs with RKO Pictures where she’s mentored by Ginger Rogers’ demanding and powerful mother, Lela. She also meets a young Cuban musician, the man who would become her closest partner both on and off the screen.
“I couldn’t sing and I couldn’t dance. I had no training of any kind.”
Lucy heads back to Broadway where she meets her first girlboss: fashion baroness Hattie Carnegie, who hires Lucy to model coats and dresses for New York high society. But a mysterious ailment sends Lucy home to Jamestown, followed by a bizarre medical treatment. Still determined to make it in the big city, Lucy returns to Manhattan one more and is discovered on the streets, landing the role that would kickstart her career.
“All I knew was I wanted to be in vaudeville, and I wanted to make people laugh.”
In a small town in New York, young Lucille Ball becomes enamored with showbiz after watching vaudeville acts and silent movies at the amusement park near her home. As a young teenager, she falls for a handsome 21-year-old bootlegger, and is promptly shipped off to drama school in New York City. But she soon returns home as a life-altering tragedy threatens to tear apart her family.