50 Unknown Facts From I Love Lucy
I Love Lucy burst onto the scene in the 50s and quickly became a household staple. During these times the thought of a traditional housewife was still relevant and I Love Lucy showed audiences what the perfect housewife should look like. The show starred Lucille Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz, and the sitcom was filmed in front of a live audience. The show was so successful that they ended up filming six seasons, four of which were the most-watched in the United States. If you were a fan of I Love Lucy, check out this gallery to take a trip down memory lane, and possibly discover some facts about the show you never knew.
The show's executives had their doubts about Ball and Arnaz’s marriage
Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball met at a Broadway musical, and fell in love instantly; they got married not long after and they remained together for over a decade before they started the I Love Lucy show, the show had the unintended effect of increasing the couple’s bond for each other.
However, CBS executives weren’t quite sure their onscreen mixed marriage would work for audiences, they weren’t sure if the public would believe Lucy got married to a foreigner. There was also some concern about what would happen if the couple split up during filming.
It was the first show to feature a pregnant woman
The mixed-race couple thing worked out well on I Love Lucy despite initial skepticism but that wasn’t the only new ground the show broke. It was also the first show to feature a visibly pregnant woman in front of the camera.
This was despite the fact that pregnancy was a scandalous affair on TV in the 50s; even the mere mention of it created vivid reactions from people. Lucy was, however, pregnant in real life so CBS had no choice but to write her pregnancy into the show.
There was actual smoking on set
In the 50s, smoking wasn’t seen as a taboo or wrongdoing because so many people indulged in it; it was a common way to relax, unwind, and relate with people. This aspect of 50s culture was depicted in I Love Lucy, where the characters and actors actually smoked on set.
The show even had brands like Philip Morris as sponsors so Lucy and Desi would ensure that the brand of the cigarettes they smoked was visible, they would even mention Philip Morris while conversing. Lucy wasn’t fond of Philip Morris cigarettes though, so she smoked Chesterfields instead.
Lucy & Desi drew inspiration from real-life friends
This one’s a case of art imitating people in real-life, Lucy and Desi’s bond was a significant point of emphasis in their show, and their relationship with their on-screen besties, Ethel and Fred, was likewise exaggerated.
What people don’t know is that the characters of Fred and Ethel were both based on Lucy and Desi’s real-life friends, Ethel Merman and Fred Arnaz. The friends, along with Lucy and Desi, always had funny encounters in real life that provided plenty of material for the show.
Some of the actors weren’t buddies on set
The characters of Fred and Ethel were best friends and neighbors to Lucy and Desi. Desi and Fred would leave Lucy and Ethel behind to get to work, and the females would usually get into trouble whenever that happened. Unfortunately, the on-screen bonding and friendships didn’t exactly extend to real life.
William Frawley, who played Fred, and Vivian Vance, who played Ethel, weren’t as cozy in real life as their on-screen characters. Vivian didn’t like William playing the role of her on-screen husband as she thought no one would believe that, funny thing was that when the show aired no one even questioned it.
The ever-changing names
Getting the names of the characters right is one thing that appeared to take forever on l Love Lucy and this was one of the mistakes made on the show. Discerning viewers will observe that there were changes in the spelling of the character names in the opening and closing credits as time passed.
Ethel’s name, for instance, was changed three times; first, she was Ethel Roberta, then Ethel Louise, and lastly, Ethel Mae. Another example is that Fred was first called Fred, and then Freddie. Not being decisive about character names doesn’t change the fact that it is a thrilling show.
Lucy and Desi earned millions of dollars from the show
Lucy and Desi became super-rich as a result of I Love Lucy, the show was quite unique as no one else was doing it. The fact that they were a mixed couple shot them to the limelight quickly and pushed them to the forefront of a new era, which came with the big bucks.
Lucy and Desi became quite famous as a result of their show, and they soon owned their own production company. The couple ended up earning north of $256 million for their work on the show; not a bad payday considering this was in the 50s.
"Lucy’s Italian Movie" originally aired in the fifth season of I Love Lucy, and it became a fan favorite shortly after it was released. In the episode, Lucy had a dream of featuring in an Italian movie, and that dream was fulfilled when she was contacted by an Italian producer that wanted her to feature in his upcoming movie.
The beloved episode, however, nearly caused Lucy to drown in real life. There was a scene in which Lucy’s head was dunked in grape juice by an actress but the actress held her head in the juice for way too long.
No improvising allowed
The fact that no ad-libbing or improvisation was allowed on the set of I Love Lucy proves just how much effort went into creating the show. The writer’s room is where all the actions and jokes depicted in the show were created and once it was finalized that is how it was going to be.
The actors had to perform their lines just as they were, without adding their own take. The technique was perhaps restrictive but the actors managed and Desi Arnaz was particularly skilled at this courtesy of his excellent memory as he would nail his lines after reading them once.
Lucille’s mom was an active fan
As was the practice with sitcoms at the time, I Love Lucy was shot in front of a live audience in Los Angeles. The bulk of the laughter on the show didn’t come from a recorded laugh track, but from real audience members at CBS’s studios.
One fan, in particular, stood out amongst the rest, Lucille’s mom, Dede, would attend most episodes while they were being shot live. Dede gave genuine reactions to the events on the show, and her "Uh Oh" expressions can be heard above the others, safe to say she may have been a bit biased, but who can blame her.
Instructions from a ghost
Lucille Ball had already filmed some movies prior to I Love Lucy, so she wasn't new to acting. She was however reluctant at first when she was offered the job because she wasn’t sure how she would transition to television from movies.
She probably would have turned down the opportunity but then she had a dream about a deceased actress and her friend, Carole Lombard. Lombard told Lucille to take the job in the dream so she decided to do so; she was basically persuaded by a ghost.
Get that weight up
Vivian Vance’s contract on I Love Lucy was an unusual one by all accounts, the actress has claimed on several occasions that her contract stated that she must always weigh more than Lucille Ball. Perhaps it was a matter of making Lucille look good but she had to put on weight if Lucille gained some weight.
This has never been officially confirmed but it has to be the case because the pair of Lucille and Vivian have both confirmed it to be the case on several occasions, they’ve even shared some laughs about it publicly. Crazy to think that these kinds of stipulations were allowed to be in contracts in the 50s, and more so, that anyone would agree to this.
Desi Arnaz could have played a different character
Lucille Ball’s My Favorite Husband radio show got the attention of CBS, who wanted to make it a TV sitcom, and eventually ended up becoming I Love Lucy. However, that sitcom would have played out differently as Richard Denning played Lucille’s husband on the radio show.
Lucille was pitched the idea by CBS but she agreed only if her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, was cast as her on-screen husband, Ricky Ricardo. CBS wasn’t thrilled by the idea at first so Lucille and Desi had their own show created and proved that their on-screen marriage could work just as well.
Introducing the three-camera format
According to reports, I Love Lucy was the first TV show to use the three-camera format for production, a technique where the director would sit off-screen in a room with three monitors. Most TV shows were using a single-camera format for production with a laugh track.
However, Jess Oppenheimer, the creator of I Love Lucy, wanted the laugh track to be removed from the show, and for filming to be done in front of a live audience instead. They, therefore, adopted the three-camera format so there would be unique reactions from the audience for every scene shot.
Lucy was a natural brunette
One of the most glaring things about Lucy was her beautiful red hair, this was discernable despite the fact that TV was in the black and white format in her day. However, most people didn’t realize at the time that Lucy wasn’t a natural redhead, and she was naturally a brunette in real-life.
Lucille Ball had actually died her hair blonde when she became an actress, before dying it gingerly while working on Dubarry was a Lady, a film she starred in prior to I Love Lucy. Redheads were quite popular at the time, so the decision certainly helped her craft.
The show was top-rated
I Love Lucy had its traducers at first; the likes of CBS didn’t understand its premise and thought it wouldn’t do well but it ended up running for six highly successful seasons. It was a top-rated show for all six seasons it aired; this was a remarkable feat at the time as most shows struggled to maintain that much popularity even after having great starts.
I Love Lucy was different though, as it also made its lead couple and actors incredibly rich; since it ended, only two shows have managed to end at number one on the Nielsen ratings. We cannot properly state how much of an impact this show had in a lot of "first" categories it dabbled in, paving the way for many other shows.
The many opening credits
Real fans of I Love Lucy will recall the famous opening credits of the show, which had a big heart with the words "I Love Lucy" written inside. This was the version most people knew but it wasn’t the only version of the opening credits the show had.
The original show credits actually featured animated versions of Ricky and Lucy doing different tricks with a packet of Philip Morris cigarettes, the show’s sponsor. It was when CBS began the rerun of the show that the credits were changed to the popular and kid-friendly one.
One episode attracted millions of viewers
This one proves how remarkably popular I Love Lucy was during its original run, in January 1953, an incredible 44 million viewers watched Ricky and Lucy welcome Little Ricky into the world. That basically means more than 70% of American households watched the birth of Little Ricky.
It also means that more people watched that than the inauguration of President Eisenhower the next day as only 29 million people watched the inauguration. Lucille Ball and Desi’s son, Desi Junior, was born in Los Angeles.
Lucy and Desi’s relationship was different in real life
Lucy and Desi appeared to have an incredible relationship on-screen, and they always seemed to be so good in the public eye but things aren’t always how they seem in reality. Their relationship might have been exaggerated because they weren’t as cozy together away from the limelight.
The couple suffered marriage woes like other couples, and there were allegations of infidelity on Desi’s part. After two decades together, Lucille filed for divorce after describing her marriage as a disaster, however, the couple remained good friends after the divorce.
Desi Arnaz’s lifts
Lifts are life-savers for actors and performers as it helps them look taller. This was the case with Desi Arnaz, Lucille’s husband on-screen and in real life. Arnaz wore lifts in his shoes to augment his height and fit the "manly" description portrayed in the 50s.
He was listed in several places as being five feet 11-inches tall but in reality, he was two inches shorter. Because Arnaz was only five feet 9 inches tall, he would wear lifts in his shoes to give the impression that he was taller than he really was.
Lucy’s pregnancy was inspirational
As we mentioned earlier, Lucy was the first woman to be shown pregnant on one of the three major networks. Her pregnancy would have an impact that wasn’t necessarily intended but needed for the time.
Apparently, she touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of women across the country as women from all over the country wrote Lucille Ball letters after they saw her on-screen. Ball’s mailbox was basically busted by fanmail as she described getting thirty thousand congratulatory letters and telegrams when Desi Jr. was born.
A couple of elements of I Love Lucy, like the bond and love between Lucy and Desi, were exaggerated. It turns out the show itself might have been exaggerated a bit because Lucille Ball saw the show that made her famous as a kind of exaggerated satire.
Ball explained her thinking thus; the show started with a regular premise before the characters would then extend it beyond that. Lucy was always rooted in very logical motivations even when she got into situations that appeared to be far-fetched.
Lucy and Desi insisted on high-quality film
The network executives behind I Love Lucy wanted to keep shooting expenses down so they didn’t want to film the hit series on high-quality film. However, they were compelled to do so by the lead actors, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who wouldn’t have it otherwise or would refuse to do the show.
The couple even insisted that they would cover whatever additional expense was incurred for the higher-quality film, on the condition that the films would remain theirs. That turned out to be one of the shrewdest business decisions in film as Desilu Studios went on to create the concept of reruns after.
Tourists in the audience
Remember how we said the show creator didn’t want a laugh track to be used on I Love Lucy so filming was done in front of a live audience? Well, it turns out some pretty interesting people made up the live audience used for filming the show.
Every single episode of the show was shot in front of a live audience of 300 or so viewers with tickets. Those 300 ticketed viewers were often comprised of tourists from other countries that were exploring Hollywood and Desi would often warm the crowd up by introducing the cast to them before filming began.
It could have been about an orchestra leader
The I Love Lucy show would have turned out differently for sure had its original concept been followed, one that not too many people know about. The show was going to be about a rich orchestra leader, and his wife, a movie star, and their contrasting lifestyles.
That concept wasn’t exactly flawed, it just wasn’t exciting, and fortunately, Lucille, Desi, and the show writers all agreed that it wasn’t a thrilling premise altogether. They ultimately decided the show would be more relatable if it was made about characters that weren’t famous or wealthy.
The pilot episode was lost
The pilot episode of the show was shot on Desi Arnaz’s 33rd birthday, which was on March 2, 1950. However, the episode wasn’t found for years after it was shot, and was even thought to be lost for about four decades until the original film was found in the home of one of Arnaz’s closest collaborators, Pepito Perez.
Unfortunately, the first few seconds of the film were truly lost, as they were damaged beyond fixing. However, the good news was that the rest of the pilot episode was fine and was aired as part of a special CBS tribute in April 1990.
The show was shot in Los Angeles
At the time I Love Lucy was produced, most shows on TV were only shot live in New York City. I Love Lucy didn’t follow the trend by going to New York for filming; the creators opted to shoot in Los Angeles instead, and the show was among the first set of shows to be shot in Los Angeles.
Those first shows helped create the trend of making Los Angeles and Hollywood the United States’ film capital. The show’s first two seasons were filmed at General Service Studios, now known as Sunset Las Palmas Studios.
The Ricardo's apartment set is now part of a museum
During the original run of I Love Lucy, the Ricardo's lived in two separate apartments. They lived in a small living room with a kitchen on the right at first, then towards the end of the second season, the family appeared to move upstairs to a bigger apartment.
The new apartment was really just a new and bigger set with the same layout as the older one; the new one did have a window behind the couch though. The entire set was rebuilt for the I Love Lucy theatrical tour and is now displayed at a museum.
Real-life Hollywood locations
The I Love Lucy show generally stayed away from establishing plots with existing buildings until the "LA At Last" episode in which Ricardo and Mertz were shown arriving in Hollywood. The characters were depicted arriving at the Beverly Palms Hotel where they stayed for a couple of months.
For this scene, footage of their car arriving at the Avalon Hotel was used instead. More real-life locations were used for the Hollywood scenes and episodes than for the New York City ones.
The Ricardo’s had three phone numbers
Throughout the course of the show, the Ricardo's had three separate phone numbers; the first that was mentioned was Murray-Hill’s 5-9975, then there was 7-2099, and lastly Murray-Hill’s 5-9099. As with any show that gives a phone number out, many fans tried calling these lines when they were mentioned in the show.
However, no one would pick up on the other end if a fan tried to dial the number because the show got unused phone numbers from the New York Bell Telephone Company. In a few cases though, a real customer would actually be using the number the show was using so the producers would have to get a new number from the phone company.
William Frawley made his final TV appearance on the show
William Farley was highly sought in the 1950s; he appeared in over a hundred movies in that period, and when the roles became harder to come by, he jumped at the chance to be cast for the role of Fred Mertz in I Love Lucy. This casting surely delighted fans who loved seeing Frawley at work.
Farley would eventually make his final appearance on TV in the show; he pulled the curtains on his remarkable career after appearing in the 1965 episode of I Love Lucy called "Lucy and the Countess Have a Horse Guest." Frawley’s character, Fred Mertz, was basically the greedy landlord in the show.
No one knows how long Fred and Ethel were married
This is one of those bits that are easy to miss on the show but the length of the Mertz marriage changed a couple of times over the course of the show. The first time the length of their marriage was given we were told that Fred and Ethel had been married for eighteen years.
A couple of months later, that number became twenty-five, and 36 months later they had a wedding anniversary, and it was their 25th anniversary once again. Their wedding date was subtly hinted at in the first 60-minute episode, where the date was put at 1930.
The idea of the Heart Shape came from a gift
The music and opening titles of I Love Lucy featured the words in a heart shape, the heart shape was actually inspired by a gift that Lucille had gotten from Desi in real-life. The lapel pin that Desi gave to Lucille was a diamond-encrusted beauty for her 29th birthday.
It ended up inspiring perhaps the most iconic visual element of their pace-setting show. You could say Ball and Arnaz’s union was closer to what was portrayed in the show at this point, unlike in the later years when things went sour.
Lucille Ball and her baby appeared on the cover of a TV guide
The very first issue of the TV Guide magazine was released on April 3, 1953, and it featured Lucille Ball’s newborn baby, Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV. The cover had a down-sized picture of Lucille Ball, along with her baby, and there was a text that read "Lucy’s $50,000,000 Baby".
Desi was the second child of Lucy and Desi; he was born in 1951 while his elder sister, Lucie, was born in 1951. Ball would appear on the magazine cover a total of 39 times over the years, though never again with her children.
The show was kicked off with a wedding anniversary
The first episode of I Love Lucy was released in October 1951 and titled "The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub." Despite what the title might suggest, that episode actually started with a wedding anniversary and not with girls wanting to go to a nightclub.
It was the Mertz's 18th wedding anniversary so the Ricardos and Mertzes both decided to go to a nightclub. This was actually the second episode to be filmed and was supposed to air second but was accidentally aired first instead of "Lucy Thinks Ricky Is Trying To Murder Her," which was filmed first.
William Frawley’s contract
William Frawley jumped at the chance to feature in I Love Lucy but that didn’t get in the way of his devotion to baseball. His character, Fred, was portrayed as a baseball fan in multiple episodes of the show because Frawley was a lifelong baseball fan as well.
His love for the sport is the reason he had a clause included in his contract that allowed him to skip the show’s production whenever the New York Yankees competed in the World Series. Because of this, Frawley missed two episodes of the show, and his character was written out of both.
The show was very conservative
TV Producers were quite conservative in the 1950s, and that showed in I Love Lucy. The conservatism of the period is transmitted into the show in many ways, one prevalent one is that Lucy and Ricky always slept in separate beds, even though they were already married
Not only were their beds separate, but over the course of the series, their beds gradually moved further and further apart in a bid to please the show's sponsors. This lasted for all six seasons and never let up, the couple never shared a bed since it was considered too scandalous for the times.
The 8-foot loaf of bread was real
In the "Pioneer Women" episode of I Love Lucy, the pair of Lucy and Ethel competed against Ricky and Fred in a bid to determine who could go without modern amenities for longer. The episode featured a memorable scene in which the girls tried baking to show up their husbands.
They managed to whip up a baby-sized wad of dough that soon exploded into a gigantic loaf of bread that pinned Lucy to the kitchen cabinets. Ethel rescued her from the gigantic loaf with a saw, and the best part is that the giant loaf of bread was real, and not a fake prop.
Ricky’s signature song
Despite the conservative nature of I Love Lucy brought on by the network executives and sponsors, Ricky Ricardo’s favorite song is about an Afro-Cuban god of disease. The song is basically a prayer to the god; it was written by Margarita Lecuona in 1939, and it is an ode to Babalu-Aye, an ancient Afro-Cuban deity of healing.
The song is quite interesting if translated correctly; the narrator suggested putting 17 candles in the shape of the cross for the statue of the god after asking what could be done with it. The song was only mentioned a couple of times on the show; maybe the directors were trying to see how much they could get away with.
Cher’s mom was featured on the show
Cher wasn’t yet a best-selling, world-touring artist when her mother, Georgia Holt, worked as a model. Holt also made a couple of TV cameos including an intriguing, albeit brief feature in I Love Lucy.
She starred in a 1956 episode in which the crew traveled to Paris where they were shocked by all the fashion going on. This inspired a hilarious response from the crew as Cher’s mother, Holt, was depicted walking by in a potato sack-inspired outfit shortly after.
William Frawley had trouble with his lines
While Desi Arnaz had an incredible memory and therefore had no problems recollecting his lines, Williams Frawley was quite the opposite. Frawley would reportedly tear out all the pages of scripts that had his character's dialogue in it, and without reading the full script, he’d throw the rest away.
He would also go complain whenever he had too many lines as well because he really wanted to say and do as little as possible. Frawley was more interested in offset actions like drinking and watching baseball, unfortunately, the studio wasn't interested in paying him to do those activities.
The show’s unusual tradition
From the beginning of the show’s production, the cast and crew of I Love Lucy had an uncommon tradition. At times, someone would get a random applause from the live audience members whenever they managed to do something hilarious or entertaining.
That person would also receive a silver dollar once the episode ended and they even had a chart to track the number of silver dollars everyone had. Therefore, a silver dollar was spent every time spontaneous applause was heard on the show.
A lot of Emmys
Being the show everyone was talking about in the 50s, and the one that had more people tuned in than a Presidential inauguration means the Award shows were paying attention too. A lot of Emmy awards were associated with I Love Lucy. In 1952, Lucille Ball won Best Comedienne and Best Actress in a Continuing Performance.
A year later, Vivian Vance won an Emmy for Best Supporting Actress, the show also won the Best Situation Comedy first in 1952, and again in 1953. Likewise, William Frawley earned five Emmy nominations but didn’t win any, and Desi Arnaz is the only one from the main cast that wasn’t nominated for an Emmy.
Vitameatavegamin liquid or apple pectin?
The scene in which Lucille Ball pretended to get drunk on a liquid portrayed as Vitameatavegamin for health remains one of the most famous scenes in the series and one of the most popular on TV. Lucille Ball appeared to get increasingly drunk on the Vitameatavegamin liquid that was really just Apple Pectin.
Ball didn’t quite fancy doing the scene so she didn’t say much about it at first until she would eventually name it one of the show’s funniest moments. It's too bad no one capitalized on this opportunity to make this drink in real life, probably would have sold really well.
I Love Lucy is still quite popular
I Love Lucy is the only show to end while it was still ranked No. 1 on the Nielsen ratings, and ever since its original run ended, the show has managed to have a big impact on American pop culture. A lot of people would say it ended too early, but better to end early than to drag it out and have it die on its own.
You could argue that it became a bigger part of pop culture after its original run ended because about 40 million Americans still see the show’s episodes every year. The show is also shown around the world in syndication, and the show’s merchandise still flies off the shelves like in the old days.
The show had an impact on everyday life
I Love Lucy was insanely popular during its original run. The show was so famous and disruptive that certain aspects of American life didn’t function normally whenever the show was being aired. According to reports from the time, things like water usage and telephone usage were drastically reduced in the 30 minutes I Love Lucy was on.
The show’s disruptiveness and ability to hook millions of Americans at once is also the reason several stores would close up early while potential customers were somewhere watching the show. Never had a show had that much of an impact on society, and even shows today never demand that kind of attention.
Desi Arnaz had a funny accent
Part of the reservations that network executives had about making a show about Lucy’s interracial marriage to Desi was the executives couldn’t quite comprehend his accent. That accent would eventually get a lot of attention from the cast, crew, and audience on the show but the only person allowed to make fun of it was his wife Lucy.
Whenever anyone else tried to poke fun at the way Desi spoke, the audience would go mute and not give any reaction whatsoever. This was one of the unwritten rules on the show and a way to pay respects to Desi's acting skills.
The no-kids policy
It wasn’t unusual for celebrities to feature their kids on their shows at the time I Love Lucy was aired but Lucille Ball wanted no such thing. Because Ball was opposed to the idea, her kids, Lucie and Desi, Jr., were never featured as major characters on the show.
This was despite the fact that the episode in which she gave birth to Desi Jr. was insanely popular. Desi Jr. would also have a cameo appearance in the show's finale; the kind of cameo that you really have to pay attention to if you want to see.
The "Superman" episode
Despite the no kids policy on the show, and Lucille Ball’s decision to not make her children major players on the show, the show still had to keep up with young viewers. Because of this, they created the "Superman" episode and had popular actor George Reeves play the superhero character.
However, rather than listing Reeves’ name in the credits of the episode, Ball wanted his name listed as Superman instead, and so it was done. You may see Reeves and think of Christopher Reeve who ended up playing Superman in the Superman films, but we assure you there is no relationship between the two.
Mary Jane Croft’s many characters
Mary Jane Croft contributed to I Love Lucy in more ways than one. The talented actress played three separate characters on the show, first, she played Betty Ramsey, a socially conscious character and Lucy’s neighbor who would often get Lucy involved in adventures.
Croft also played Evelyn Bigsby, the airline passenger that sat next to Lucy in the "Return Home from Europe" episode. And lastly, she also played Cynthia Harcourt, Lucy’s wealthy schoolmate. Mary Jane Croft would also appear on Here’s Lucy and The Lucy Show as well.