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¡BABALU!

2 March 2013

Today would have been Desi Arnaz’s 96th birthday.  Born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha in Santiago, Cuba into a prominent political family family,  he may not have the revolutionary cachet of some other Cubans who became famous in the 1950s, but he was a radical in a way, too.

His father ( the mayor of Santiago and a sometime congressman) was briefly jailed by the Batista regime in 1933, leading to the family’s exile to Miami. After graduation from high school, Arnaz made his way to Hollywood, where his accent and ethnicity locked him into only a limited number of possible roles.

Integration, 1950s style

Integration, 1950s style

However, when his wife, Lucille Ball, insisted Arnaz be her co-star in an upcoming television version of her own popular “My Favorite Husband” radio comedy, two barriers were breached in American culture. First, while there had been comedies featuring families of mixed ethnicity before (Abie’s Wild Irish Rose, about a Jewish-Catholic family) “I Love Lucy” was the first to present a normal (albeit hilarious) family that crossed “color” lines. It’s hard to realize now, but at the time, Cubans were often considered black, and even Cubans of largely European extraction (like Arnaz) were considered “colored”. While the Cubanismos of “Ricky Ricardo”, and the supposed volubility of Latins in general played a large part in the comic situations presented on I Love Lucy, it was the Anglo partner in the Ricardo household who was the ditzy one… the Latino was the one who resolved problems and returned life to normal.

kirk_and_uhura

… and in 1966

The other innovative Desi Arnez breakthrough was that he pioneered the made for TV (or by TV) pop music band. Based on the premise of “My Favorite Husband,” the Ricardos had to be a show-business family, and so… Rick had to be involved somehow in show-business, and — having had some minor success as a band-leader in real life… he played one on TV. The TV band became the “real” band, paving the way for those future TV show bands like The Monkees in the U.S. and RDB here in Mexico.

In later life, as an executive of Desilu productions, he and his by then ex-wife; Lucille Ball, boldly went where no TV executives had gone before, producing Star Trek, a series that featured not only not only inter-racial, but inter-galactic, characters as normal, healthy, functional people who could cooperate and work together as a family.

Beam me up…

9 Comments leave one →
  1. 2 March 2013 10:39 pm

    I really do not know what your message is, but I do know that when the U. S. was founded 200 plus years ago, “liberty and justice for all”, did not include dark skinned Mexicans or Blacks!!

    • 3 March 2013 10:49 am

      I don’t know if there is any message in the post, other than Desi Arnaz’s career illustrated some changes in U.S. culture, and that Latinos like Arnaz were agents of that change. And he was a hell of a drummer 🙂

  2. 3 March 2013 6:26 am

    Excellent info and acknowledgement of the pioneering accomplishments of this remarkable couple.

  3. 8 March 2013 1:06 am

    Hello there, just was aware of your weblog via Google, and located that it’s truly informative. I’m gonna watch out for brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future. Many other people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

    • sangerjaime@aol.com permalink
      8 March 2013 8:29 am

      Richard,

      Unless you have read the book, Imperial Cruise, by James Bradley, I suggest that you read it. It is about Teddy Roosevelt and his propaganda machine. It details his view of necessary American dominance in Asia, and the sick but true rationale that he, intellectuals and government officials proffered to legitimize their thievery and mass murder. Hollywood would never make a film based on this book, because it casts us as truly—- the Ugly American. The Aryan arrogance the book conveys, underlines practically every intrusion the U. S. has made onto foreign soil, including Mexico.

      Jaime Hernandez

  4. 8 March 2013 9:40 am

    Sorry, meant to type underlies in the post above!!

  5. 8 March 2013 9:28 pm

    Kayleigh,

    You must be on crack!!!!

    • 9 March 2013 9:44 am

      It was just a spam message that slipped through the filter.

    • 19 June 2015 9:47 pm

      Kayleigh,

      Or are you on crack and other intoxicants??? James Bradley is the son of John Bradley, one of the men who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima! How American can one be tonta?

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