A threat of war crept through from Europe, but stayed in its place as a silent enemy, preparing the perfect, unbeatable stakeout, so that soon, very soon, the entire world would spasm in violent conflict.
But for now, we wait.
Jamestown, New York.
A small town of lukewarm routines, sleazy bars owners, country nurses and working fellas, where nothing, nothing in the very least, ever happened.
Until that day.
The day when the stage door to the world was opened for the brightest star who ever lived - and who will ever live - to enter.
Lucille Desirée Ball was born.
The year was 1917. The war that threatened to come for so long was now in full-blown combat. American bases weaved the surface of the Cuban territory.
In Santiago de Cuba, rich tourists forgot that there was ever a war to speak of by partying, spending time on the beach and drinking themselves to oblivion.
But, in that day, Santiago de Cuba would be put on the map.
A man with the name of a prince, and the talent that would change the world forever.
Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha Tercero.
And they changed each other's lives forever.
Life was not easy for Lucille Desirée Ball in the early 1930s. The world was at a crisis never before seen and America had been badly hit. The movie industry's budget was rationed, as was everything else in the entire country. Lucy, then, was a mousy brunette, barely over 5'7'', with enormous round blue eyes and with a passion for all things vaudeville. She had been a model in New York City under the name Diane Belmont, but she was sick of fighting for something she never really wanted. It was time to head off to Hollywood and become a movie actress, no matter how long it took or how much effort she would have to put into it. She knew she had what it took. All that was missing was the luck to be picked for a good part, a part where she could showcase her talent. Those seemed to be scarce at the time. All the good dramatic roles went to Bette Davis, all the good comedic roles went to Carole Lombard and all the good musical roles went to Ginger Rogers. How would she ever peak through? Well, she wasn't gonna find out by sitting around in New York. L.A. here I come!
Meanwhile, the island of Cuba boiled with revolution. In 1933, president Gerardo Machado was overthrown by revolutionary forces. Desiderio Arnaz, II was terribly affected by the change: he was incarcerated and his property, confiscated by the new dictator Fulgencio Batista. He would only be released when American forces intervened on his behalf. He was let go, but he was quick to realize that it wasn't safe to remain in Cuba. The answer? Fleeing to America with his wife Dolores and his son, the 16-year-old lad who would later be known as Desi Arnaz.
Lucy fought as much as she could. She appeared uncredited in twenty-seven movies. She was an extra, a showgirl, a choir girl, a walk-in. She stood behind Ethel Merman, Franchot Tone, Fred Astaire, Spencer Tracy, Loretta Young and Frederick March. All the while watching and learning. Desi Arnaz went into show business to support himself as a Cuban refugee, practicing his longtime hobby of conga drum playing. He was extraordinarily talented. And so was she. But nothing seemed to be coming out of their careers.
|"Too Many Girls" (1940)|
In 1940, however, things changed. A second-rate musical named "Too Many Girls". Surely a movie with that budget couldn't afford Fred or Ginger or Judy or Joan. Who would do the dancing? Desi was already a lesser-known Broadway triple threat at the time, so he'd be the perfect choice. Lucy would be swell to play the socialite. Despite the name, the cast of Too Many Girls was more male than female. It is said that one time on the bus that transported cast and crew to a location set, the boys started joking around about who Lucille, who was as close to a 29-year-old spinster as they come, would fall for. "Certainly, not the Cuban!" One of them cracked. Surely enough, six months later, they were married.
It's not that their careers took off. They didn't. It's that now they had something to soften the blow. The love that united them was stronger than any disappointment their craft would afford them. No matter where they would be tomorrow, as starving vaudevillians or millionaire television moguls, they would have each other. And that gave them the strength the carry on fighting. Lucy appeared in a series of B Movies. Desi became a travelling vaudeville-like performer until being drafted to war. They were separated constantly, but somehow, the realization that their love would always be there kept them going as the most powerful fuel.
In 1942, a pivotal change happened in Lucy's life. She starred in a musical with Gene Kelly and took her first step towards becoming the world's most famous redhead. What was that step? Why, becoming a redhead at all, of course. Goodbye ice blonde, hello fiery red that would characterize her for the rest of her life. Lucy and Desi were more in love than ever.
They recorded a series of home movie in the ranch they owned together. The most romantic flick in the world doesn't compare.
|The sexy cuban and the fiery redhead: Personalities in the making|
However, by 1950, the desire to settle down and have a family was bursting through their skin. Lucy had had three miscarriages already and the wish of being parents became a desperate dream. In addition, the seemingly endless letdowns from show business were beginning to frustrate the couple. Both with very strong personalities, they began to fight. It was neither's fault that things weren't working out the way they wished, but after years and years of negative answers, it becomes hard to fight the disappointment. The honeymoon period was definitely over for the Arnazes.
Until a solution came shining through. And it came in a small magic box called a television set. Could a sitcom be the answer to all their troubles? Would playing a couple on television restore the initial beauty of their marriage? Would it also save them from the fate of being starving artists forever?
They didn't have to wait long to know the answer.
To be continued... tomorrow.