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Being Desi Arnaz: The “Flawed Genius” That “Being the Ricardos” Doesn’t Show – or See

Did you hear that quarrel? Those are fans of old Hollywood pictures Aaron Sorkin of “Being the Ricardos,” The loudest voices question whether Nicole Kidman’s transformation into comedy legend Lucille Ball will suffice. “Nicole Kidman Transforms into Lucille Ball in the First Long Trailer ‘Being the Ricardos'” is The Hollywood ReporterTitle of November 10th, but now that I’ve seen the movie, I would argue that the more magical thing is Javier Bardem’s Metamorphosis – his speech, his swagger, his ability to command a room – on Ball’s husband and “I Love Lucy” actress, Desi Arnaz.

Given that “Being the Ricardos” is a portrait of a troubled Hollywood marriage, why does it seem so framed as a Ball’s-slash-Kidman movie? I don’t trust Kidman’s direction in saying this, but as I watched, I believed Bardem was singing, doing scenes, playing a character who behaves in ways that threaten to erode audience sympathy, are doing very well. How fitting, I can’t help but think, since the real Arnaz is said to be playing a heavy role in “I Love Lucy.”

Nothing can beat Ball as a master of the comedy genre, but “I Love Lucy” offers a different viewing experience when viewed through a Desi-centered lens, which is how I viewed it. sitcom a few years ago when writing about “A Book,” Arnaz’s 1976 autobiography is sassy and almost non-stop entertaining. I loved what I wrote at the time: “What he’s doing on screen is complicated: countering Lucille Ball, building a sympathetic killer character, making you believe he will never divorce his lunatic wife and keep a straight face, sometimes while delivering an explosive ball in spanish.” I forgot to mention that he had to sing too. .

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And I still haven’t found anything written about Arnaz’s performance as Ricky Ricardo. It has to be smart that he’s the only one of the four principals of “I Love Lucy” not to be nominated for an Emmy in acting for the show. It’s hoped that the applause for his behind-the-scenes accomplishments somewhat makes up for the sting: Arnaz is more than just a crack executive at Desilu, the television production company he started started with Ball, but he also invented the three-camera technique for filming television shows. By all accounts, this was an inevitable innovation: it meant he and Ball didn’t have to go to New York to do “I Love Lucy”; they can film the show in California, where they start a family and try to mend their already fractured marriage.

Lucie Arnaz, the actress and singer daughter of Lucy and Desi, doesn’t think her father is due. (This I gathered in the never-ending cycle of YouTube interviews with old Hollywood legends and their descendants who guided me through the worst days of the pandemic.) .) I have to agree. It’s an inconvenient truth for feminists like me, while the story of a hidden woman-behind-herself is more famous than a more typical man (see “Fosse / Verdon, “”How I Became Hettie Jones, “etc.), there exist transsexual examples of the most talented guy being overshadowed by his girlfriend.

“Being the Ricardos” spends screen time on Desi’s misfortune as a companion to Lucy. In one scene, attempts are made to appease the bruised second banana Desi with an executive producer credit for “I Love Lucy.” There are also real-life stories of his mental decline. According to the TCM podcast “The conspiracy is thick, “committing its third season to Ball (and not, it’s logical to conclude, taking the narrative freedom that Sorkin does in his films), Desi blasted a pad in 1959 while in went on vacation with Lucy after he received a package.” Mr. Ball. “The incident, according to one of Lucy’s relatives, exacerbated his binge drinking.

In “The Plot Thi Chicken”, Lucie Arnaz points out that, in underestimating Desi, his parents were at the top of the line. He was born in 1917 in Santiago de Cuba, a city where his father served as mayor. During the Batista revolution of the 1930s, the well-to-do Arnaz family lost everything, and teenage Desi and his father had to flee to Miami to start anew. The rise of Desi – musician turned band turned actor turned co-founder of a production company with a hit TV show he starred in – is objectively impressive, but for senior Arnazes, that is not enough. In “The Plot Thi Chicken,” Lucie Arnaz says her dad “has PTSD from the revolution, and from parents who never really said, ‘You know what? Child is a phenomenon. What you have done is spectacular. ‘ They asked, ‘Is that it? Is that all we have? Is there anything in there for me?”


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In one year 1977 TV interview with Barbara Walters made during what I think is Ball’s Phyllis Diller, she acknowledges that in the industry, Arnaz is not recognized for his contributions, and that his background plays an important role. : “Even if they’re building, they won’t believe he’s building. And he’s successfully building an empire that’s being run very well. I’m filming and have kids. But I know what he’s been through – really, and how he doesn’t deserve it, and just because he’s Cuban and a bongo player doesn’t warrant calling him anything any of those names.”

After I watched “Being the Ricardos”, I wondered if Desi was still alive to see it, would he accept the film as an alternative. I emailed my question to Lucie Arnaz, one of the people who probably knows Desi best. (She was with her father when he died of lung cancer in 1986, eventually going into rehab not long before being diagnosed.) Lucie, who executive produced “Being the Ricardos” and posted a video of herself in which she calls movies”Frickin’ awesome, “told me this:” Both of them, I’m sure, [would have been] Very pleased with the way they are depicted in the picture. My father is depicted with a professional respect and a great love. The way I think Aaron Sorkin is hoping people will remember him: a flawed genius. “

Desi’s fatal flaw was his weakness for women, and his love affair was at the heart of his 1960 breakup with Lucy, after two decades of marriage. “Being the Ricardos” does not examine whether Desi’s chronic cheating behavior has a psychological basis (the urge to hurt Lucy? Self-sabotage?) or whether his cheating behavior may be reflective an unshakable cultural norm. (From “A Book”: “Having two homes and two children is very common among Latino men with means, and Latino women understand this and don’t make a fuss about it.”) Fair which is to say, fixed psychosocial territory is absent. not within the scope of a good biopic like “Being the Ricardos.” However, the film’s obsolescence amused me. While it does include moments from Lucy’s perspective – there’s the key scene where she’s washing clothes, for one – I don’t remember any scenes from Desi’s point of view. If a scene of Desi was included, what might it show? What was Desi like, not only when the camera wasn’t rolling but when no one was watching him?

Other stories you may like:

https://www.salon.com/2022/01/02/being-desi-arnaz-the-flawed-genius-that-being-the-ricardos-doesnt-show-or-see/ Being Desi Arnaz: The “Flawed Genius” That “Being the Ricardos” Doesn’t Show – or See

Huynh Nguyen

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