Desi Arnaz was a Cuban-born American musician, actor and television producer. While he gained international renown for leading a Latin music band, the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, he is best known for his role as Ricky Ricardo on the classic American TV series I Love Lucy, starring with Lucille Ball, to whom he was married at the time.
Desi Arnaz was born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III in Santiago de Cuba to Desiderio Alberto Arnaz and his wife Dolores de Acha. His father was Santiago’s youngest mayor and also served in the Cuban House of Representatives. His mother’s father was Alberto de Acha, one of the three founders of Bacardi Rum. According to Arnaz himself, in his autobiography A Book, the family owned three ranches, a palatial home, and a vacation mansion on a private island in Santiago Bay, Cuba. Following the 1933 revolution, led by Fulgencio Batista, which overthrew President Gerardo Machado, Alberto Arnaz was jailed and all of his property was confiscated. He was released after six months when U.S. officials, who believed him to be neutral, intervened on his behalf. The family then fled to Miami, Florida.
In the US Desi Arnaz turned to show business to support himself. In 1939, he starred on Broadway in the musical Too Many Girls. He went to Hollywood the next year to appear in the show’s movie version at RKO, which starred Lucille Ball. Arnaz and Ball married on November 30, 1940. Arnaz also played guitar for Xavier Cugat.
Arnaz appeared in several movies in the 1940s, notably Bataan. He received his draft notice, but before reporting he injured his knee. He completed his recruit training, but was classified for limited service during World War II. He was assigned to direct United Service Organization programs at a military hospital in the San Fernando Valley. Discovering the first thing the wounded soldiers requested was a glass of cold milk, he arranged for movie starlets to meet them and pour the milk for them. Following his discharge from the Army, he formed another orchestra, which was successful in live appearances and recordings. He hired his childhood friend Marco Rizo to play piano and arrange for the orchestra. When he became successful in television, he kept the orchestra on his payroll, and Rizo arranged and orchestrated the music for I Love Lucy.