At 69 years old, Desi Arnaz has this physical status:
After finishing high school, Arnaz formed a band, the Siboney Septet, and began making a name for himself in Miami. Xavier Cugat, after seeing Arnaz perform, hired him for his touring orchestra, playing the conga drum and singing. Becoming a star attraction encouraged him to start his own band, the Desi Arnaz Orchestra.
Arnaz and his orchestra became a hit in New York City's club scene, including a club named La Conga, where he is credited with introducing the concept of conga line dancing to the United States.
He came to the attention of Rodgers and Hart who, in 1939, cast him in their Broadway musical Too Many Girls. The show was a hit and RKO Pictures bought the movie rights.
Arnaz went to Hollywood the next year to appear in the show's movie version at RKO, which also starred Lucille Ball. Arnaz and Ball fell in love during the film's production and eloped on November 30, 1940.
Arnaz appeared in several movies in the 1940s such as Bataan, starring Robert Taylor (1943). His portrayal of Felix Ramirez, the jive-loving California National Guardsman, was described by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther as one of several supporting players who were "convincing in soldier roles".
April 27, 1943 Arnaz received his draft notice. However, Arnaz was disqualified from overseas service due to hypertension and knee injuries, which caused him pain with prolonged physical exertion, according to his military physical examination. He had injured his left knee prior to his enlistment and injured his right knee soon after enlisting on May 23, 1943, during a baseball game at Camp Arlington. He completed his recruit training, but was classified for limited service in the United States Army during World War II.
He was assigned to direct United Service Organization (USO) programs at the Birmingham General Army Hospital in the San Fernando Valley. It was his responsibility to keep injured soldiers entertained while they were recovering in the hospital. Thanks to his Hollywood connections, Arnaz was able to bring celebrities to visit the hospital and boost morale of the soldiers. For example, 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.
Arnaz served two years, seven months and four days. His primary unit was the 9th Service Command, Army Service Forces. For his service during World War II, he was awarded the Army Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Arnaz was discharged as a staff sergeant on September 30, 1945.
Following his discharge as a staff sergeant on December 1, 1945, Arnaz formed another orchestra, which was successful in live appearances and recordings. He sang for troops in Birmingham Hospital with John Macchia and hired his childhood friend Marco Rizo to play piano and arrange for the orchestra.
For the 1946–47 season, Arnaz was the bandleader, conducting his Desi Arnaz Orchestra, on Bob Hope's radio show (The Pepsodent Show) on NBC.
In 1951, Arnaz was given a game show on CBS Radio, Your Tropical Trip in order to entice Arnaz and Ball to stay at CBS over a competing offer from NBC, and to keep Arnaz and his band employed and in Hollywood, rather than touring. The musical game show, hosted by Arnaz and featuring Arnaz's orchestra, had audience members competing for a Caribbean vacation. The program aired from January 1951 until September, shortly before the premiere of I Love Lucy in October.
When he became successful in television, he kept the orchestra on his payroll, and Rizo arranged and orchestrated the music for I Love Lucy.
On October 15, 1951, Arnaz co-starred in the premiere of I Love Lucy, in which he played a fictionalized version of himself, Cuban orchestra leader Enrique "Ricky" Ricardo. His co-star was his real-life wife, Lucille Ball, who played Ricky's wife, Lucy. Television executives had been pursuing Ball to adapt her very popular radio series My Favorite Husband for television. Ball insisted on Arnaz playing her on-air spouse so the two would be able to spend more time together. CBS wanted Ball's Husband co-star Richard Denning.
The original premise was for the couple to portray Lucy and Larry Lopez, a successful show business couple whose glamorous careers interfered with their efforts to maintain a normal marriage. Market research indicated, however, that this scenario would not be popular, so Jess Oppenheimer changed it to make Ricky Ricardo a struggling young orchestra leader and Lucy an ordinary housewife who had show business fantasies but no talent. The character name "Larry Lopez" was dropped because of a real-life bandleader named Vincent Lopez, and was replaced with "Ricky Ricardo". The name was inspired by Henry Richard, a family friend and the brother of P.C. Richard of P.C. Richard & Son. This name translates to Enrique Ricardo. Ricky often appeared at, and later owned, the Tropicana Club, which under his ownership he renamed Club Babalu.
Initially, the idea of having Ball and the distinctly Latin American Arnaz portray a married couple encountered resistance as they were told that Desi's Cuban accent and Latin style would not be agreeable to American viewers. The couple overcame these objections, however, by touring together, during the summer of 1950, in a live vaudeville act they developed with the help of Spanish clown Pepito Pérez, together with Ball's radio show writers. Much of the material from their vaudeville act, including Lucy's memorable seal routine, was used in the pilot episode of I Love Lucy. Segments of the pilot were recreated in the sixth episode of the show's first season. During his time on the show, Arnaz and Ball became TV's most successful entrepreneurs.
With Ball, Arnaz founded Desilu Productions in 1950, initially to produce the vaudeville-style touring act that led to I Love Lucy. At that time, most television programs were broadcast live, and as the largest markets were in New York, the rest of the country received only kinescope images. Karl Freund, Arnaz's cameraman, and even Arnaz himself have been credited with the development of the multiple-camera setup production style using adjacent sets in front of a live audience that became the standard for subsequent situation comedies. The use of film enabled every station around the country to broadcast high-quality images of the show. Arnaz was told that it would be impossible to allow an audience onto a sound stage, but he worked with Freund to design a set that would accommodate an audience, allow filming, and adhere to fire and safety codes. Due to the expense of 35mm film, Arnaz and Ball agreed to salary cuts. In return, they retained the rights to the films. This was the basis for their invention of re-runs and syndicating TV shows (a huge source of new revenue).
In addition to I Love Lucy, he executive produced The Ann Sothern Show and Those Whiting Girls (starring Margaret Whiting and Barbara Whiting), and was involved in several other series such as The Untouchables, Whirlybirds, and Sheriff of Cochise / United States Marshal. While he was producing The Untouchables, Arnaz was allegedly the target of a mafia murder plot, which was later called off, due to the show's negative publicity of gangsters. These allegations were made in the 1980s by Jimmy Fratianno in his book, The Last Mafioso. Arnaz denied these claims were true. He also produced the feature film Forever, Darling (1956), in which he and Ball starred.
The original Desilu company continued long after Arnaz's divorce from Ball and her subsequent marriage to Gary Morton. Desilu continued to produce its own programs in addition to providing facilities to other producers. In 1962, Arnaz sold his share of Desilu to Ball and formed his own production company after their divorce. With the newly formed Desi Arnaz Productions, he made The Mothers-In-Law (at Desilu) for United Artists Television and NBC. This sitcom ran for two seasons from 1967 to 1969. During its two-year run, Arnaz made four guest appearances as a Spanish matador, Señor Delgado.
Arnaz's company was succeeded-in-interest by the company now known as Desilu, Too. Desilu, Too and Lucille Ball Productions worked hand-in-hand with MPI Home Video in the home video reissues of the Ball/Arnaz material not owned by CBS (successor-in-interest to Paramount Television, which in turn succeeded the original Desilu company). This material included Here's Lucy and The Mothers-In-Law, as well as many programs and specials Ball and Arnaz made independently of each other.
In the 1970s, Arnaz co-hosted a week of shows with daytime host and producer Mike Douglas. Vivian Vance appeared as a guest. Arnaz also headlined a Kraft Music Hall special on NBC that featured his two children, with a brief appearance by Vance. Arnaz suffered a severe attack of diverticulitis in 1971, which required an operation and several years of recovery. He worked with Universal Studios for two years working on development deals for two shows that eventually fell through, Dr. Domingo (the character did appear on one episode of Ironside) and Chairman of the Board starring Elke Sommer. Arnaz moved on to work on his autobiography for two years.
To promote his autobiography, A Book, on February 21, 1976, Arnaz served as a guest host on Saturday Night Live, with his son, Desi, Jr., also appearing. The program contained spoofs of I Love Lucy and The Untouchables. The spoofs of I Love Lucy were supposed to be earlier concepts of the show that never made it on the air, such as "I Love Louie", where Desi lived with Louis Armstrong. He read Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" in a heavy Cuban accent (he pronounced it "Habberwocky"). Desi Jr., played the drums and, supported by the SNL band, Desi sang both "Babalú" and another favorite from his dance band days, "Cuban Pete"; the arrangements were similar to the ones used on I Love Lucy. He ended the broadcast by leading the entire cast in a conga line through the SNL studio.
In 1976, CBS paid tribute to Lucille Ball with the two-hour special CBS Salutes Lucy: The First 25 Years. Both Ball and Arnaz appeared on the screen for the special, which is the first time they appeared together in 16 years since their divorce.
When asked about returning to television in a 1976 newspaper article, Arnaz said, "People ask me to go back on TV but the thin' is, it's too tough competing with the Ricky Ricardo of 20 years ago. He looks a lot better than I do." Arnaz made a guest appearance on the TV series Alice, in 1978 starring Linda Lavin and produced by I Love Lucy co-creators Madelyn Pugh (Madelyn Davis) and Bob Carroll, Jr. His last acting role was as Mayor Leon Quiñones in the 1982 film, The Escape Artist. Arnaz owned the Indian Wells Country Club in Palm Desert, CA. He also taught classes at San Diego State in studio production and acting for television.