Today is the birthday of the great Cuban-American bandleader, singer, musician (not just congas, he played guitar with Xavier Cugat’s band), actor, comedian, producer and studio executive Desiderio Arnaz (1917-1986).
History tends to shortchange this show business Renaissance man, I think, and people tend to think of him as “Lucy’s husband” (and no doubt that’s a refreshing twist on the usual course of things!) But as important as Lucy was, Desi was also a giant. He is the person responsible for the three camera studio set up most sit-coms have used since I Love Lucy. And, since they owned the rights to the kinescope films produced by this process, this allowed him to be a pioneer of empire-building syndication. When the couple split up in 1960, he bought Lucy out of their mutual company Desilu, which continued to produce her subsequent successful shows, as well as The Andy Griffith Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Star Trek and The Mothers-in-Law, among others. So, in television, especially he is remembered as a giant.
But lest we forget ourselves and remake him in our mind’s eye as a stuffed shirt sitting behind a desk drinking Pepto Bismal, mopping the sweat off his brow and looking at ratings figures, perhaps now would be a good time to revisit the male bimbo — just to reinforce what a complex man he truly was:
‘To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc