Desi Arnaz Jr.; Lucie Arnaz
Closing out the centennial celebration of Lucille Ball's birthday and the 60th Anniversary of I Love Lucy, Lucie and Desi Arnaz Jr. — the only children of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Sr., made one of their rare public appearances together Friday night at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. The event, Tropicana Nights: A Salute to the Music of I Love Lucy, featured a panel discussion focused primarily on the siblings' father, followed by musical performance with Desi, 58, on bongos and Lucie, 60, singing two numbers her father performed on the 1950's sitcom. Prior to the event, I sat down with the pair to discuss how they both honor and protect their parents' legacy.
Desi, we don't see you at many Lucy-related events. Why was this something you wanted to be part of?
Desi: Well, I live in Boulder City, Nevada. But this is a big deal. It's the 60th anniversary of the show and it's Mom's 100 birthday if she were still with us. And the music is really why I'm here. Lucie and I have been working on a show that tributes Dad's music. We did it as a benefit and then performed it as a concert show called Babalu. We're moved very deeply by the music, so we enjoy talking to people about that side of I Love Lucy. Dad's contribution and the music.
What were the origins of the music of I Love Lucy?
Desi: I Love Lucy was actually created out of Dad's orchestral show. Mom and Dad wanted to see if people would accept them live, because CBS wasn't too sure it would work or not. In those days they weren't sure a redhead American should even be married to a Cuban. It was very controversial. But the two of them went out together with dad's band and the people loved it.
Lucie: After Dad died I found all these arrangements and tapes. Stuff we had never heard before that inspired me to work more on Latin music.
What's the future of your Babalu show?
Lucie: He doesn't want to travel, so there is no future.
Desi: [Laughs] Maybe we'll do a run in Vegas.
Do you have a favorite song from I Love Lucy?
Lucie: I do. It's from the Lucy/Desi Comedy Hour when they went to Havana for the flashback showing how Lucy and Ricky met. The song is "That Means I Love You" where he plays the Conga and she plays the table in front of her shaped like a Conga.
Desi: That's a good one. I like the one about me being born. "We're Having a Baby; My Baby and Me."
I imagine a lot of marketing people would like to turn your parents into Mickey and Minnie Mouse — with every conceivable form of merchandising. How do you protect their legacy?
Desi: We have a company called Desilu Too where Lucie and I police any merchandise. We've been doing it since they passed away. We work with a company out of Chicago called Unforgettable Inc. We needed to have help to police and license the merchandise. [Desi Sr. passed away in 1986 at age 69 while Lucy died in 1989 at age 77.]
Lucie: Once someone famous dies, someone has to run that estate forever.
Any strange marketing pitches you heard that you rejected?
Desi: No images of Mom on toilet paper.
Lucie: Nobody would ask for that!
Desi: Somebody actually did, and we had to say "no!"
Lucie: It didn't mean to be our life's work. We've got separate careers and families, but this thing has overtaken us like the giant Godzilla monster. But there are some perks to it to. We decided if we were going to spend X number of hundreds of thousands of dollars every year policing what we weren't allowing, we might as well hire people to do it right and turn it into a real business. Make the real estate value of Lucy and Desi stay as valuable as it was when they left us.
Desi: It's about quality, not quantity. If you sell everything out right away then you don't have anything left over. You don't sell the farm; you rent it out.
Did you both approve the I Love Lucy: Live on Stage show that's been playing to sold out audiences in Los Angeles?
Lucie: The I Love Lucy show itself is owned by CBS. Anything that is based on the scripts is controlled by CBS. What they don't totally own is the image of Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo or Desi Aranz as Ricky Ricardo. In certain cases, like in the case of dolls, you have to get permission from CBS and also the estate of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Desi: That's because dad was future thinking and kept their image and likeness rights. He also put up half money for the pilot, so CBS wheeled and dealed with him in the negotiations in terms of who owned what.
What's next for you?
Lucie: I put together a hybrid version of the Babalu show with a 12-piece band based on the Latin Roots CD I released. I found a way to do Babalu and as many of Dad's arrangements that a woman can do. It's very fun. And we have a wonderful one-woman show out I directed that we own a piece of called An Evening With Lucille Ball. Suzanne LaRusch is the wonderful impressionist. There is nobody quite like her.
Desi: I built the sets and we launched it at my theater. It's Mom in her late 50's, early 60's talking to a bunch of college kids about her life.
You've no doubt heard that William Frawley and Vivian Vance are being inducted into the TV Academy Hall of Fame at a March 1 ceremony in Beverly Hills.
Desi: I didn't know that!
Lucie: Yes, finally! I recorded a little video for them today where I said, "On behalf of my mother and father and the I Love Lucy show, I want to congratulate Vivian Vance and William Frawley for finally be inducted into the Hall of Fame like everyone else. Friends and neighbors should be together. It's about time."
They never had children of their own?
Lucie: No, Vivian and Bill never did.
Anything else you'd like to tell TV Guide Magazine readers?
Desi: It's just fun to be here with Lucie in Los Angeles. I'm feeling very nostalgic about our childhood. I went by mom's old house today and pointed out Lucy's room to my daughter.
Lucie: And what's really great is that we're together celebrating this music.
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