America Loves Lucy

I Love Lucy with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. September 1954. | Courtesy of CBS Photo Archive

Winner of the Fall 2016 StMU History Media Awards for

Best Explanatory Article

Most Captivating/Engaging Article

Best Use of Multiple Images

Best Introductory Paragraph

Best Overall Research

“Lucy, you got some splainin’ to do!”  These words were heard by families across America repeatedly in the 1950s. Uttered in a thick Latin accent by none other than Ricky Ricardo, the bongo playing, bandleader, Cuban husband of the flighty, redheaded, Lucy Ricardo on the 1950s television situation comedy, I Love Lucy. This popular television comedy entered the homes of people across America in the years 1951 to 1957. In the six-year span that the show was on the air, it never ranked lower than third nationally among television programs.1 So the question arises: what was it about this show that was so popular among the families in America? The answer to that is simple. I Love Lucy told the tale of a common housewife who dreamed of more than cooking and cleaning; she wanted to be a star. Housewives throughout America related to the character of Lucy Ricardo who longed for more in life, in the period of American history that has been called The Affluent Society.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | Courtesy of closer
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | Courtesy of closer

Lucille Ball was born in Celoron, New York in 1911 to a family who believed that hard work was needed to achieve success. She found work in movies and on the radio, and had a recurring role on the hit CBS radio show, My Favorite Husband.2 Desi Arnaz was born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba in 1917 to a wealthy family. His father was a politician and landowner and his mother was an heiress. The Revolution of 1932 in Cuba hit the Arnaz family hard, and they were ultimately forced to move to Miami, Florida.3 Arnaz met Ball in 1940. The two immediately connected with one another, and after a five-month whirlwind romance, the couple was married.

However, the marriage was rocky from the start, and it did not help that Ball was forced to stay home due to her acting and radio career, while Arnaz toured with his band. When the director of My Favorite Husband offered Ball the opportunity to take the show to the new medium of television, she jumped at the chance on the one condition that Arnaz be cast for the role of her on-screen husband. Ball was looking for a way to save her marriage, and she believed that working with Arnaz and having him close to home was the way to do it. CBS was hesitant to agree to her request, but they wanted Ball so they decided to film a pilot for the show.4 With her hardworking, no-nonsense family background, Ball was determined to make the show a success. Arnaz and Ball became Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on the immediate hit television show that would run for the next six years.

Family life in the 1950s focused mostly on men working while women stayed home, kept the house, and raised children. Pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock published Baby and Child Care, a book that highlighted an approach to raising children that was child-centered as opposed to parent-centered. Dr. Spock viewed the role of the mother as belonging at the center of the household while the husband was the breadwinner and had very little to no interaction in raising children.5 This view began to generate dissatisfaction among women who longed for a more fulfilling life.

Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz run into a little problem when the loaf of bread they are baking comes out larger than expected. | Courtesy of
Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz run into a little problem when the loaf of bread they are baking comes out larger than expected. | Courtesy of

I Love Lucy focused on the life of Lucy Ricardo, a ditzy housewife with dreams of fame and fortune, and her Cuban, bandleader husband Ricky. Lucy was far from the typical housewife; she was not satisfied with simply staying home and keeping house while her husband worked or went out with friends. She had quite the imagination and came up with schemes to break into show business, which usually caused tension between her and Ricky. Lucy brought the desires for something more that were locked away in the hearts of housewives across America, and she brought those desires out into the public eye. While she did play her role in an extremely comedic way, she somehow always returned to the dutiful housewife of the 1950s.6

Desi Arnav playing the bongo | Courtesy of
Desi Arnav playing the bongo | Courtesy of

Producers were not sure what the audience would make of Arnaz. He was a television first in many ways; he was the first Hispanic actor welcomed into the homes of the American people on a regular basis. It was the first time many had ever heard a Latino accent, and Arnaz did not fit the typical Hispanic stereotype that most Americans held at that time. Arnaz was handsome, smart, dignified, warm, responsible, employed, loyal, and married. The producers were also concerned about the audience viewing the Ricardo’s marriage as interracial, and this was not something that had ever before been aired openly in movies or on television. Despite these obstacles, Arnaz was treated as an equal white American, and accepted graciously throughout the nation.7

Lucy tries to sell health tonic, Vitameatavegamin. | Courtesy of
Lucy tries to sell health tonic, Vitameatavegamin. | Courtesy of

During its six-year reign, I Love Lucy ranked in the top three spots nationally among television programs. Exceptional talent in acting, comedic timing, writing, directing, editing and above all, being relatable, made I Love Lucy an instantaneous success.8 Lucille Ball accepted her role as the zany housewife, Lucy Ricardo, and ran with it. She was not afraid to put herself out there, work hard, and make her dreams come true. Housewives across America finally had a female television star that they were able to relate to; someone who knew there was more to life than cooking and cleaning. With this in mind, maybe, just maybe, they too could stand up and do something more.

  1. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2016, s.v. “I Love Lucy (TV),” by Mary Hurd.
  2.  Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2016, s.v. “Lucille Ball,” by Richard Adler.
  3.  American National Biography (From Oxford University Press), 2010, s.v. “Desi Arnaz,” by Tinky “Dakota” Weisblat.
  4. Gigi Anders, “’Luuu-cy!’,” Hispanic 14, no. 11 (November 2001): 44-46.
  5. Alan Brinkley, American History: Connecting the Past Volume 2, 15 edition (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 2014), 764.
  6.  Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2016, s.v. “I Love Lucy (TV),” by Mary Hurd.
  7. Gigi Anders. “’Luuu-cy!’,” Hispanic 14, no. 11 (November 2001): 43.
  8. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2016, s.v. “I Love Lucy (TV),” by Mary Hurd.
America Loves Lucy
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  • The title of this article is excellent and true! I have grown up a fan of I love Lucy and enjoy it still today. The humor that Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnaz provided the nation with was timeless and pure. The fact that Dezi was very abusive to Lucille is something that does come to mind and makes me very sad. I am not sure why the author didn’t find it relevant to the article, perhaps to keep it a light hearted topic? Other than that, I really thought this was a great article.

  • When I was younger, my mom and I would always watch this show together. I found it weird but also heartwarming at the same time. I really liked how you wrote this article. Then describing all the unknown facts on the making of this show. Or at least I just didn’t know these things. I think it is cool how they had a woman as a the lead in the show. It expressed that women can also be funny too.

  • ” I Love Lucy” was quite the show back in the day. In the 50’s, tv was a new and huge deal. While sitcoms seem to be dying down, the 50’s acted as a birth for sitcoms and what a better way to start it off with none other than “I Love Lucy”? Not only was the show a major success due to it’s excellent performance from its’ cast, and the well-done writing and humor, but it also acted as a symbol of reality to it’s audience, stay at home housewives, which during the time, was pretty much a huge majority of the population of women in the United States.

  • This show is legendary; still today, people watch it and laugh at its quirks. One never thinks of the implications behind a sitcom, but this one was all too realistic to most women in this time period. It’s empowering that Ball set the stage for future female actresses/comedians, while also fulfilling her dream and speaking a powerful message through this ditsy sitcom.

  • I’ve always enjoyed watching I Love Lucy, I remember all we would do in my theater classes is watch I Love Lucy. It’s an interesting show because aside of how you can learn acting techniques (I never would have guessed that, but my teachers were creative I guess), but looking at the time the show came out and the show itself I just find it fascinating how America accepted the show at the time when there were already these traditional stereotypes in place for home life and latinos.

  • I love Lucy is one of the most iconic television shows in American history. It is perhaps one of the few shows that is still as funny in 2018 than in was in the 1950’s. Lucile Ball opened the doors to many female comedians like Carol Burnett, Tina Fey and Joan Rivers. She was able to let men and women all over the country know that women could be just as funny as men if not funnier. This article is very well written and informative.

  • The I love Lucy show was kinda a weird show to me, I get that she’s supposed to be a housewife and do the cleaning and cooking but I never really liked shows like that. I always believed that there should be more than a woman should do besides cleaning. Yet at the same time Lucy was different, she knew what she wanted and dreamt about it anyways no matter what others said. But still to kinda joke about what women really wanted in the fifties is kinda irritating to me.

  • I Love Lucy was a show that I have enjoyed since I was a small child, growing up I had never realized how big of a impact this show had. When I was a child I always known that during the 1950’s was not exactly a happy time for people of color however this show completely threw the social norms of the time out the window, and somehow created its own norm which was more closely related to the everyday life of the american people. From showing that Hispanics are not just “Mexicans” as well as showing that women are worth more than just being housewives it lead to a huge leap in american society.

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