Nearly 60 years following their split, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s daughter is opening up about her parents’ contentious marriage — and “horrible” divorce.
“They were fighting all the time when we were growing up,” Lucie Arnaz, 67, told Closer Weekly in a new interview.
“There was a lot of anger and screaming,” she admitted.
In 1940, Ball and Desi met on the RKO set of a picture called Too Many Girls. Ball was a 28-year-old contract player with a string of forgettable films, and Desi, at 23, a dashing, Cuban-born nightclub bandleader. They married six months later.
While she tended a soaring Hollywood career, he toured the country with his rumba band. In time, as depicted in CBS’s TV movie Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter, their relationship began to fray with the strain of separation.
By 1950, Ball was starring on radio with actor Richard Denning in the popular CBS show My Favorite Husband. When the network launched a version of the show for the new medium of television, she insisted that Desi be cast as her spouse. The formula was magic.
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In its six-year run, I Love Lucy — making perfect use of Ball’s vibrant talent and Desi’s behind-the-scenes business savvy — would become the most successful comedy series on TV and earn millions for the couple’s production company, Desilu. Each week, 40 million viewers watched the onscreen antics of the Ricardo family.
“All their hopes, plans and dreams for a happy future were wrapped up in that TV sitcom,” Lucie wrote in her introduction to the book I Love Lucy.
But off-screen, the Arnaz marriage, which produced two children — daughter Lucie and son Desi Jr. (Jan. 19, 1953) — before ending in a divorce, was a volatile interplay of alcoholism and infidelity.
“Their divorce was horrible. And then there was the alcoholism,” Lucie told Closer about her late parents’ marriage.
Said Lucie, “I had preferred those things had never been there. We didn’t have any abuse, but we did go through some pretty hard stuff and that’s why my parents didn’t stay together.”
Lillian Briggs Winograd, one of Ball’s closest friends, told PEOPLE in 1991, “Lucy had two or three miscarriages before she gave birth to little Lucie (on July 17, 1951, three months before the show’s debut). She thought that having a baby would hold them together.”
Following 20 years of marriage, the pair divorced in 1960. “It got so bad that I thought it would be better for us not to be together,” Ball said in court.
But they did find love again before their deaths (Ball died in 1989 and Desi in 1986). She enjoyed a fulfilling, 28-year-marriage to comedian Gary Morton, and Desi retired, sold his share of Desilu Studios to his ex-wife and married his neighbor, Edie Hirsch.
“I think she always loved him. And there’s no question that he loved her always,” I Love Lucy director William Asher told PEOPLE in 1991. “Later, he married her double. Edie [Mack Hirsch] was a marvelous girl in her own right, but she sure as hell looked like Lucy.”