Being The Ricardos
Being The Ricardos Plot
Interviews with the show’s three principal writers: Jess Oppenheimer (who was also the show runner), Madelyn Pugh, and Bob Carroll Jr.; flashbacks; and preparations for a live filming in 1953 are all featured in the film.
Ball, a 28-year-old actress, gets signed to RKO Pictures in 1939. She has modest roles in big studio films, but she is best known for her work in low-budget films, earning her the moniker “Queen of the B-Movies.” Pugh stars in the comedy Too Many Girls, which she describes as a horrible stage play turned into an even worse film. She meets charismatic 22-year-old Cuban singer Desi Arnaz, one of the film’s cast members, and they instantly fall in love.
They married and acquire a house in Hollywood a few months after filming. Arnaz has a successful run as the leader of the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, which tours the country, while Ball continues to struggle in the film industry. After serving in World War II, Arnaz returns to his orchestra’s success, with Ball forced to accompany him due to his infidelity.
When Ball is cast in the 1942 film The Big Street, she finally gets a break. Although the picture is just a little success, Ball’s acting is lauded. She talks with RKO President Charles Koerner with the expectation of receiving better scripts on par with established performers such as Rita Hayworth and Judy Holliday. Instead, he cancels her contract since other RKO actresses who were lent to other studios will be returning, leaving her with nothing. He proposes she use her voice for radio, which the actress takes as an unintended insult. She switches to radio because she hasn’t gotten any significant film parts. She is cast in the radio show My Favorite Husband in 1948, which becomes a huge hit.
CBS and Philip Morris, the tobacco business, are interested in making “My Favorite Husband” into a television sitcom. Ball agrees, but only if Arnaz takes on the role of her on-screen husband. The bosses initially resist since Arnaz is Cuban, but eventually give in after Ball refuses to hand over the show’s copyright. She also thinks that working with Arnaz will help her save her marriage by reducing his adultery.
By 1953, the show has been renamed I Love Lucy and has grown to approximately 60 million weekly viewers. Arnaz created a three-camera system that allows viewers on the East Coast of the United States to watch the broadcast live and without static (since the show is filmed on the West Coast). During filming, Ball deals with a number of challenges on the show: Vivian Vance and William Frawley, who play the Ricardos’ married neighbors the Mertzes, have a strained relationship, and Frawley is frequently intoxicated on set.
During table reads and scene blocking, Ball argues with the directors and writers. A sequence in which Arnaz comes home and covers Ball’s eyes as she is arranging the dinner, and she names numerous different men before he admits it’s him, is particularly troubling. Ball is expecting a child, and the pair informs CBS and Phillip Morris officials. The executives demand that Ball conceal her pregnancy behind enormous things, but the pair refuses and suggests that the pregnancy be revealed (though they are never allowed to say the word “pregnant” on air).
Ball also contends with Arnaz’s habit of staying out late, and a photo of him with another woman appears in the tabloids. Desi reveals to Lucy that he plays cards on a yacht with other celebrities and sleeps there when he is too exhausted to return home, and that the photo was shot six months ago. She hesitantly accepts his explanation. Although she emphasizes to everyone that he is the one who makes all the decisions, Frawley has Ball comprehend that Arnaz’s adultery may arise from her making the business and creative decisions on the show, which makes him feel emasculated. She requests that Oppenheimer grant Arnaz a producer credit in the hopes of ending Arnaz’s infidelity and saving the marriage. Instead, in an attempt to appease Arnaz, Oppenheimer reminds him that he has first billing as the person who says “I” in I Love Lucy. Arnaz retaliates by lecturing Oppenheimer for trying to be patronizing.
A newspaper article the night of the live filming labels Ball a Communist, despite the fact that she was cleared after a HUAC hearing months previously. Ball says she joined the Communist Party when she was young and was encouraged by a relative, but Arnaz urges she lie to the public and pretend she marked the wrong box by accident. Ball refuses to lie in front of the public for fear of being embarrassed. Arnaz foregoes his regular performance warmup in favor of speaking directly to the audience on the allegations. He conducts a live call with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who tells the audience that Lucy is free of all charges.