"I Love Lucy" aired from October 15, 1951 to May 6, 1957 and during that time the TV series changed the face of scripted television forever. By the time it ended its incredibly popular run, the show had won five Emmy Awards, became the first scripted TV series to be filmed with 35mm film in front of a live studio audience, and was the first show to use the three-camera format. Amazingly, those firsts were not even the most impressive parts of the show.
From business deals that were precedent-setting in the industry, to on-screen feuds that would last until death, the show was full of drama, romance, and even a near death experience. We have collected some crazy and fun facts about "I Love Lucy," and its incredible cast, that will make you love the show even more.
The Show Was Filmed Live In Front Of An Audience Of 300
It was impressive enough that the show was shot from start to finish with very few reshoots, but it was also done in front of a live audience that included 300 viewers. Desi Arnaz would later claim that Lucille Ball did her best work when she was in front of real people who were watching her perform. The real truth is that Desi had a special talent that made this kind of acting natural for him... we'll find out more about his unique knack just a bit later.
There were a lot of “one take” scenes because every line was rehearsed repeatedly before filming. With that many people in attendance, the next fact makes a ton of sense.
No Ad-Libbing — Ever
There was good reason for very few reshoots. Lucille Ball admitted in later years that every single line on the show was scripted. “We never ad-libbed. We never ad-libbed on the set when we were putting it together. It was there,” Ball proclaimed. Even during her famous Vitameatavegamin scene every single word was scripted and cue cards were used to make sure Ball didn’t forget a single word.
Very few people know that Desi almost had a different name on the show... one that doesn't quite roll off the tongue like "Ricky Ricardo" does! Find out what unfortunate name he almost received in the next slides.
Mirroring The Lives Of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Since both of the stars were already Hollywood favorites, producers originally wanted to follow their real lives when developing episodes. The stars decided they wanted to create something new and unique. Can you imagine if "I Love Lucy" was nothing more than a scripted version of reality TV? I doubt Lucille Ball would ever dance around in a giant wine-making barrel or take a job working on an assembly line where the food moves across a conveyor belt too quickly. The stars thought their celebrity lives wouldn’t be relatable, and they obviously made the right choice. Even Lucille Ball’s famous red hair didn’t match her real life color. Check out how with the next fact.
Lucille Ball’s Hair
Many fans of the show may not realize that Lucille Ball’s iconic red hair didn’t exist until 1942. Ball dyed her hair for the movie DuBarry Was A Lady. Her original hair color was brown but she dyed it blonde when first coming to Hollywood. She would become known for her bright red hair but that wasn't what she looked like naturally. It's hard to picture her with anything but red hair, even when looking at photos of her with blonde hair.
When the show was first being put together Ricky Ricardo was named Larry Lopez. The name was only changed because producers thought Larry and Lucy had horrible alliteration. Now, I don’t think anyone could imagine any names other than Ricky and Lucy. There were a lot of nit-picky choices made by producers that helped the show become successful. Producers may have hated the name Larry Lopez, but the next actors on our list just outright hated each other.
Desi Arnaz Had An Incredible Memory
When it came to being prepared for every single scene there was nobody better in the industry than Desi Arnaz. His incredibly memory allowed him to read and memorize every one of his lines in just one script reading. Staffers on the show say he never messed up his lines despite very little preparation for every single scene. Find out next how Lucille Ball would choose character names for her TV show.
Lucille Ball’s Has A Unique Way To Choose Character Names
Lucille Ball wanted to personalize the show as much as humanly possible so she named many of the characters in the show after her own family members and her closest friends. Talk about a great way to immortalize the people you care most about. Among those people were Marion Strong (a former roommate), Lillian Appleby (a former teacher), and Pauline Lopus (a childhood friend). Fred was also her brother and grandfather's name. Were you aware that Lucille Ball’s pregnancy had to be closely monitored to avoid offending anyone?
Lucy’s Pregnancy In Real Life Created Some Strange Situations
In 1952 Lucille Ball was pregnant while filming the series. Under regulations, they had to use the word “expecting” instead of pregnant. Every single episode also had to be reviewed by a minister, a priest, and a rabbi (there’s a joke in there somewhere). The reviews the episodes to make sure nobody in the television audience would be offended by the pregnancy.
Lucy’s Birth Episode Was Incredibly Popular
When Lucy finally gave birth to Ricky, the show experienced TV ratings like nobody had ever witnessed. 44 million viewers tuned in to watch the episode. At the time that accounted for 72% of all US homes with TVs. Despite all of the censorship over her pregnancy, Americans really wanted to see her new baby. Our next fact will finally reveal to you exactly what Vitameatavegamin was made out of.
Fred and Ethel Hated Each Other In Real Life
Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel (Vivian Vance) were 22 years apart in age and it caused some real friction between them on the set of the TV show. When away from the public Vivian liked to call William an “old poop” and he called her a “sack of doorknobs” or more plainly a “b**ch.” The series’ writers and directors knew about their feud, but most of the show’s actors and staff didn’t realize they couldn’t get along off camera. It wasn’t until years after the show ended that their hatred for each other was revealed. Their characters traded constant barbs on the show and their real-life friction may have been exactly what made their characters so much fun to watch.
The Vitameatavegamin Liquid Was Apple Pectin
We had to include this fact because it was by far one of the most popular scenes on the show and perhaps in all of TV history. As Lucille Ball pretended to become increasingly drunk on the special product, she was actually downing a bunch of Apple Pectin. Lucille Ball didn’t like filming the scene and it was only years later that she admitted it was actually a very funny moment on the series.
Lucille Ball Almost Died In Front Of Her Unknowing Crew And Audience
The iconic grape stomping scene almost claimed Lucille Ball’s life. The actress was choking on a grape but she continued to film the scene for the episode “Lucy’s Italian Movie.” It wasn’t until after the scene was completed that anyone realized the actress was in need of desperate help. It’s really incredible that she was dying but still managed to pull off one of the funniest TV scenes of all time.
Only One Episode Has The Words To The Shows Theme
In the episode titled, “Lucy’s Last Birthday,” you can hear the actual lyrics for the theme song. They are actually pretty adorable: “I love Lucy and she loves me. We’re as happy as two can be. Sometimes we quarrel but then. How we love making up again. Lucy kisses like no one can. She’s my missus and I’m her man. And life is heaven you see. ‘Cause I love Lucy, Yes I love Lucy and Lucy loves me.”
Lucille Ball Dominated TV Guide
Not only was Ball featured on the first ever cover of TV Guide, she would go on to be featured on 39 covers throughout her career. That’s more TV Guide appearances than any other celebrity. Given the fact that she revolutionized the TV sitcom, she is most certainly deserving of this honor. With so much hype the show did something that no other series had ever done. Find out what they did in the next factoid.
Leaving On Top
In recent years we’ve seen shows like "Cheers," "Seinfeld," and "Friends" leave while on top. "I Love Lucy" was the first show ever to end its run while still the #1 TV series on air. The show would remain popular in syndication for many years to come. Even today there are many new fans discovering the hilarious series. More than 40 million Americans still watch the show every single year, even though it ended in 1957.
CBS Executives Didn’t Think Americans Would Believe Lucy Married A “Foreign” Man
Lucille Ball was approached by CBS when executives wanted to turn her popular radio show "My Favorite Husband" into a TV show. She agreed, but only if real-life husband Desi Arnaz was given the role of her on-screen hubby. Executives said there was no way the average American would believe she was married to a “foreign” man with an accent they couldn’t understand. At that point Lucy and Desi had already been married for more than 10 years.
Speaking Of Ricky’s Fractured English…
There was an unwritten rule on "I Love Lucy" that only Lucille Ball was allowed to make fun of her husband’s sometimes funny pronunciation of certain words. If you watch the show and noticed another character making fun of his accent, you’ll also notice that those jokes are met with stone-cold silence from the TV studio audience. Producers felt that it seemed cruel for anyone but Lucy to make fun of his “mucked” English.
The “Uh-Oh" Lady In The Audience Was Lucille’s Real-Life Mom
Have you ever noticed that when Lucy Ricardo was stepping into her craziest situations you could hear someone off camera saying “uh-oh.” It turns out that person was Lucille Ball’s own mother. She was present at every single taping and her reaction to her daughter’s antics led to the “uh-oh” term being used regularly. The laugh track for the show was created by sound engineer Glen Glenn and he would use the “uh-oh” reaction and other laugh tracks from "I Love Lucy" for many other shows over the years.
Ball and Arnaz Owned The Show And It Made Them Incredibly Wealthy
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz insisted on filming the show on expensive 35mm film in Hollywood, instead of in New York City like most sitcoms at the time. CBS balked at the idea so the couple took big pay cuts, but only if they were allowed to maintain ownership of the series. They formed Desilu Productions and the deal made them incredibly rich to the tune of about $40 million—which in today’s dollars would be approximately $256 million, based on 1957 numbers according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ CPI calculator.
This Is How Popular The Show Was
"I Love Lucy" was the first comedy filmed in front of a live audience. With so many Americans watching the show on a weekly basis, department stores started closing early. Telephone and water usage throughout the United States also drastically declined while each episode was being shown.
Here's How Fred and Ethel Mertz Got Their Names
Lucy wanted to pay respect to her brother, Fred, and good friend, Broadway star Ethel Merman. She combined their names and came up with Fred and Ethel Mertz. In a bit of coincidence, Vivian Vance played the understudy for Ethel Merman while studying on Broadway. It seems that Vivian was destined to play Ethel Mertz on "I Love Lucy."
Lucille Ball Didn't Think Vivian Was "Dumpy Enough" To Play Her Best Friend
When the show first started Lucille Balle thought Vivian Vance wasn't "dumpy" enough to play her sidekick. She feared that because she wasn't ugly or overweight, that she would overshadow her and take the focus off the show's main character. While the ladies started with a chilly reception, they became really good friends over the years and showed support through the successes on the small screen. They also comforted each other over failed marriages and other obstacles they would face in their lives.
William Frawley Had A Horrible Memory
As previously stated, Desi Arnaz had a legendary memory and could remember his lines in one reading. On the opposite side of that spectrum was William Frawley. He would rip out all the pages with his lines, read them multiple times, and almost always complain that he had too many lines to say on the show. Writer Bob Weiskopf claimed years later that Frawley was lazy and just wanted to finish his work and go drink at the restaurant Musso and Frank's.
Desi Arnaz Was The Only Person Who Wanted Frawley
William Frawley was known for his crazy antics and drunken binges. For those reasons, nobody on the show wanted to work with him. Desi, however, knew that he would make the perfect Fred Mertz. He gave Frawley an ultimatum, come to work and never be late or you'll lose the job. Frawley never missed a required day the entire time he co-starred on the massively successful TV series.
The New York Yankees Clause
Here's one more interesting fact about William Frawley — he was a huge sports nut and refused to miss a New York Yankees World Series game. He loved the team so much that his contract said he had permission to miss work so he could attend every World Series game the Yankees played in. It was almost the only time he took time off from work. That's dedication you don't see too often.
The Silver Dollar Tradition
Whenever the show's audience would break into spontaneous applause during a scene, the person or people who led to that applause would receive one silver dollar. It became a tradition on the show and it lasted right up until the series finale. There must have been a lot of silver dollars given out because the audience loved the show and they let the cast and crew know during every single episode.
Desi Was Never Nominated For An Emmy
Lucy, Ethel, and Fred were all nominated for Emmy awards during their time on the TV series but somehow Desi Arnaz was never given a nomination nod. Lucy and Vivian Vance both won Emmy awards, in fact, Lucy won four times on 13 nominations, and Frawley was nominated five times but never took home a statue. We're not sure what is worse, five nominations and no wins or simply being ignored for the entire run of the TV series. I would say the latter.
The Mertzes' And Ricardos' Phone Numbers Kept Changing
The show's producers kept using New York City numbers that were not in service. Here are all the phone numbers used by the Ricardos: Murray Hill 5-9975 and Murray Hill 5-9099. The Mertzes' numbers included Circle I-2099, Circle 7-2099, Plaza 5-6098, and Skyler 4-8098. These days the 555 prefix is used in place of real phone numbers most of the time.
Running Desilu While Other Cast Members Read Lines
Because he had such a great memory, Desi Arnaz would often read through his lines one time, have them memorized, and then go run his production studio, Desilu production. He didn't show up to many rehearsals because he was always ready to go when the cameras started rolling. He also learned the lines of other characters just because he had read them once.
Lucille Ball Was The First Female To Run A Major TV Studio
In 1962, Lucille Ball formed Desilu studios with her husband Desi Arnaz. She soon took control of the studio. Her role as the head of the company made her the first female to run a major TV studio. She took full control of the company after her divorce and eventually sold the company for tens of millions of dollars. She was always the take-charge lead of "I Love Lucy" so this probably doesn't surprise many of her fans.
Desi Arnaz Invented The Rerun
Actor Desi Arnaz wanted to give his wife time to rest after she gave birth to their son, Desi Arnaz Jr. He proposed to the executives at CBS that they show some of the series' earlier episodes for a second airing. The network agreed and the TV rerun was born. In many ways, his love of his wife and family led Arnaz to invent the TV rerun and he made a lot of actors very rich thanks to syndication rights.
Lucille Ball Decided To Do The Show Because Of A Dream
Lucille Ball wasn't going to make the move to the small screen until she had a dream starring Carole Lombard. The screwball comedy actress told Ball in her dream that she had to make the jump from movies to TV. Lombard was a close friend of the actress and had died in a plane crash. Ball took her dream as a sign and moved forward with the TV show that would turn her into a legend.
Lucille Ball Originally Went By The Name Of A Racetrack
When Ball first started out she wanted to take on iconic and new Broadway roles. She decided to use the stage name, Diana Belmont. The name isn't strange by itself, however, Ball chose the name because she wanted to be named after a famous horse race track. There were definitely many sides to the famous TV actress that you may not have known about until now.
Lucille Created Crazy Contracts Just For Laughs
Years after the show ended, Ball and Vance were traveling around the talk show circuit when they revealed that Ball would create "joke contracts" with such demands as; Vance must gain five pounds every week and she must never get more laughs than Ball. They were not enforceable contracts but they get the cast and crew laughing as they worked on their #1 rated TV show on a daily basis.
Lucille Ball Was The First Pregnant Woman To Play A Pregnant Woman
Ball wasn't going to hide the fact that she was pregnant when filming "I Love Lucy." Instead, she appeared on her popular TV series while pregnant. It was the first time on a TV show that a pregnant star, played an actual pregnant character. The idea of even remotely referring to having intimacy in a relationship was frowned upon up until this time.
Her Kids Were Not Forced Into Showbiz
The Ball children could have jumped onto the TV screen and followed in their parents' footprints. While Desi Arnaz Jr. was born during the filming of "I Love Lucy" and his birth was acknowledged on the TV series, he never actually appeared in front of a studio audience in any capacity. The same went for Lucy's daughter, also named Lucy. These days it seems like every celebrity's child is featured in a reality TV show or with some type of supporting role on TV or movies. Pictured above is a fully grown up Desi Arnaz Jr.
She Lived A Pretty Normal Life
Even when she became one of the most recognizable stars in the world, Lucille Ball still chose to take part in many of the very same activities that many of her fans enjoy. She could often be seen gardening at her home, painting in her spare time, and splashing around in the pool with her husband and their two children. When they were not busy filming, promoting, or running their TV production, they at least gave the impression that they were a normal couple and people just like the rest of us.
She Wanted Children To Believe There Was A Little Real Magic In The World
In her TV show's episode titled "Superman," the famous actress was worried that the name George Reeves appearing in the show's credits would destroy the magic behind the character. Instead, only the name "Superman" would appear to keep the illusion. Lucille Ball wanted to make sure children kept their imagination alive and well and that small detail in the credits meant a lot to her.
She Was America's Favorite Thing To Watch
When the episode titled "Lucy Goes to the Hospital" aired and Little Ricky was born, the show had more viewers than President Eisenhower's inauguration ceremonies. While millions of people ignore many major political events in modern days, it was a very different story during the show's historic run.
Lucille Ball Decreased Her Own Pay To Help Out The Show
Lucille and Desi wanted the show to be filmed on the most expensive type of film possible so it would look great and withstand the test of time. The production company refused because of the price. Ball and Arnaz both took cuts to their paychecks so they could make sure the TV series looked exactly like it was meant to look.
Twins Played The Role Of Little Ricky During The First Two Seasons
Many are familiar with Keith Thibodeaux, who played Little Ricky during the sixth and seventh seasons of "I Love Lucy". But since Little Ricky was born in season two, who played the part during those first three and half seasons? Not one actor, but two. Twins, Joe and Mike Mayer, were the original Little Ricky and a central part of the series, although they were never credited. The twins made $150 a week while filming, but their parents decided it was best for them to quit show business early on.