It’s no secret on my blog that I love Lucy. I love Desi too. I discovered Lucy and Desi in 1994 or 1995, when I was 10 or 11 years old. One evening, I stumbled upon I Love Lucy on Nick at Nite and was hooked. From then on, I had to watch “my show.” I made sure to have my homework done by 8pm, so I could watch ‘Lucy.’ On Saturdays, at 10pm, I watched Nick at Nite’s “Whole Lotta Lucy Saturday” with 2(!) episodes of I Love Lucy and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Nick at Nite’s “Block Party Summer” was even more exciting, because I Love Lucy always got a day–4 whole hours of I Love Lucy!
Growing up, my family also went to the library every month. I started checking out books about Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, I Love Lucy, and everything I Love Lucy-adjacent. Through these books, I learned about Lucille Ball’s movie career. I discovered that my library had a good selection of Lucille Ball’s films on VHS! I checked out every single one. It was through I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball that I developed my knowledge and love of classic film.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz have always held a special place in my heart. I Love Lucy is my absolute favorite show of all time. I have seen every episode dozens of times and never tire of it. I own the entire series on DVD. I own at least a dozen books about it. I saw the I Love Lucy colorized special in the theater. I have a dozen Lucy Ricardo Barbie Dolls. I have almost every Lucille Ball movie that’s available on DVD/Blu Ray. Lucy, Desi, and I Love Lucy is very important to me. I find it fascinating that an interest in Lucy and Desi seems to have revitalized in 2021. It’s very curious. Not that I’m unhappy about it, but why? Was the catalyst the 70th anniversary of the debut of I Love Lucy? In the past six months (give or take), we’ve had: A new Lucille Ball doll, Lucille Ball “Let’s Talk to Lucy” radio show/podcast on Sirius XM, TCM’s excellent Lucy podcast (highly recommended), and both a movie and documentary about Lucy and Desi. I hope more content is on the docket.
When I heard about Aaron Sorkin’s plan to dramatize a week in Lucy and Desi’s life, I was instantly turned off. For the record, I have not seen Being the Ricardos, nor do I plan to watch it. I saw Sorkin being interviewed on TCM, and I’m not even convinced that he’s ever seen an episode of I Love Lucy. I read about what the film is about, and he doesn’t even portray the correct episode being filmed when Lucy’s Communist allegations broke. They are filming a season 1 episode when this whole incident went down at the end of season 2/beginning of season 3. I’m not convinced about the casting of Lucy and Desi. I vehemently disagree with a quote by Sorkin stating that I Love Lucy isn’t a show that we’d find funny with a 21st century lens. I don’t know what planet Sorkin lives on, but I Love Lucy is still very popular.
Aside from the inaccuracies portrayed in Being the Ricardos, I do not want to see Lucy and Desi’s personal problems dramatized. I read Lucy’s memoir. I read Desi’s memoir. I have seen countless documentaries. I’ve read countless books. Lucy and Desi’s marital issues are well documented. Lucy and Desi fighting, Lucy and Desi divorcing, Desi’s drinking, Desi’s infidelity… these are not the things I want to think about when I think about Lucy and Desi. I want to think about the adorable couple I see in I Love Lucy. I want to think about the honeymooning couple in my favorite movie of all time: The Long, Long Trailer. I want to think about the photos of the ecstatic newlyweds after their 1940 elopement. Lucy and Desi are far more interesting than their divorce.
Thankfully, Amy Poehler came to the rescue with her new documentary, Lucy and Desi, that is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. I’m always game for a good documentary. However, because I’ve read/watched so much about Lucy and Desi, finding new programs and books that don’t simply rehash the same old stories again and again are hard to find. And while Lucy and Desi does cover some familiar ground, Poehler put a unique spin on sharing Lucy and Desi’s story. Following the same storytelling style present in TCM’s Lucy podcast, Poehler has archival audio clips of Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, and people close to Lucy and Desi telling the story. While there are some actual interviews featured by people like Lucie Arnaz, Carol Burnett, and my fave, Charo, much of the story is told by Lucy and Desi themselves. I also love how clips of I Love Lucy were used to tie pieces of Lucy and Desi’s story together. Poehler actually managed to find audio, video and photos that I’d never seen before! That was the absolute best part of watching this documentary.
I liked the narrative structure of the documentary. The events in the story unfold chronologically, with Lucy’s childhood, move to New York City as a teenager, and eventual opportunity to come to Hollywood being the key events of her life. Lucy and Desi, of course mentions the tragic accident that changed the course of Lucy and her family’s lives and how that incident motivated Lucy’s work ethic. Lucy’s family was financially devastated by the accident and Lucy was determined to never be in that situation again. It was interesting that the documentary did not mention Lucy’s bout with rheumatism, which derailed her life for two years in the late 1920s. Desi’s childhood of course was a riches to rags story, with his comfortable life ruined by the overthrowing of the Cuban government in 1933. Desi’s life story cannot be portrayed without mentioning this horrible event that completely ruined Desi and his family’s lives. It is asserted in the documentary that this was a formative event in Desi’s life and that it perhaps was the root cause of Desi’s personal problems later on in his life.
Lucy and Desi’s married life is depicted with countless home movies showing two people in love. The controversy over their interracial marriage is touched upon, but it’s obvious from the home movies that race was the furthest thing from Lucy and Desi’s minds. And of course, race again is a major player in the discussion regarding the genesis of I Love Lucy and how it almost didn’t happen because CBS didn’t think Americans would find Lucy and Desi’s marriage believable. Of course, CBS was wrong. Lucy and Desi were a sensation and I Love Lucy was and continues to be a massive hit. A bittersweet moment in the documentary is when Lucie Arnaz mentions that I Love Lucy only exists because Lucy and Desi wanted to be together, and they weren’t able to achieve that. The success of the show and their studio, Desilu, is partially what drove the couple apart.
I liked that Poehler didn’t opt to dwell on the latter part of Lucy and Desi’s lives. She mentions that both remarried and spends a little bit of time on Lucille Ball as President of Desilu, but really not much else is said. We don’t care about Gary Morton, Lucille Ball’s second husband. The documentary even says as much. We don’t care about Desi’s second wife, Edith Mack Hirsch. What we do care about is the fact that Lucy and Desi stayed in love after their divorce. They stayed friends. Lucy and Desi are known for having a very amicable divorce. They never fell out of love with one another. This is definitely proven by the ending scene showing Lucy being honored at the Kennedy Center.
The one thing I always hate about documentaries about my absolute favorite stars (almost all of whom are long deceased) is that the documentary has to mention their death. I can’t even watch my Errol Flynn documentary, because I love him so much I don’t want to be reminded of his death. Yes, I know logically, they have passed. I am not in denial about the fact. However, I want to think of Lucy and Desi (and Errol) as always being alive. And while Amy Poehler does devote some content of the documentary to Desi’s passing, it is included as a way to conclude their love story. Even then, we are treated to a very moving (and heartwrenching) epilogue to their story–Lucy and Desi’s love for one another never waned, even after death, Desi still loved Lucy.
I can take some solace in knowing that even if it was just for 2.5 short years, I was alive at the same time as Lucy and Desi, two people who have brought me almost three decades of happiness. Even during difficult days, I Love Lucy can always make me laugh.
I can highly recommend Amy Poehler’s Lucy and Desi documentary. I can only hope that it becomes available on Blu Ray.