Weird History

The Surprisingly Dark Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of 'I Love Lucy' 

Melissa Sartore
Updated May 14, 2020 243.8k views 13 items

I Love Lucy changed television forever. Four years out of its six-year run from 1951-1957, the show was the No. 1 program in America. The lead characters, played by Lucille Ball and her real-life husband Desi Arnaz, complemented each other nicely: Lucy was the charming, bumbling oddball, while Ricky was her often exasperated, but always loving foil.

While the show may have seemed happy on the surface - a remnant of a supposedly simpler time - the real facts about I Love Lucy reveal dark truths about the characters, actors, stories, and relationships on the show, which contrast what audiences saw on screen. I Love Lucy was likely not all about the love.

After you've taken a deep dive into the history of everyone's favorite sitcom, make sure to check out these other shows like I Love Lucy.

The Network Didn't Think Lucy's Marriage To A 'Foreigner' Would Ever Work On Television
The Network Didn't Think... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Surprisingly Dark Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of 'I Love Lucy'
Photo:  CBS

Desi Arnaz was a popular musician, but faced difficulties establishing a career in acting because of his Cuban accent and "ethnic identity." Conversely, Lucille Ball rose to success with My Favorite Husband, a radio program from the late 1940s. It became a TV sitcom in 1953.

Ball didn't star in the television version, but CBS offered her a sitcom. She said she would only take the job if her real-life husband could play her on-screen husband. The studio didn't like the idea - they thought Desi's accent was too thick and his Cuban heritage would prove off-putting to '50s viewers.

Ball and Arnaz decided to prove the studio wrong. They formed a club act together in 1950 and toured the country to wildly positive reviews. They impressed CBS, which greenlit a show starring the couple. 

The Grape Stomping Scene Almost Cost Lucille Ball Her Life
The Grape Stomping Scene... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list The Surprisingly Dark Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of 'I Love Lucy'
Photo:  CBS

In one of the most famous episodes of I Love Lucy, "Lucy's Italian Movie," Lucy gets into a vat of grapes and stomps them with local Italian women. The scene was entirely unscripted, according to producer Jess Oppenheimer.

During filming, Lucille Ball began to fight with one of the women, opera singer Teresa Tirelli D'Amico. Ball claimed D'Amico almost drowned her during the scene when she got grapes up her nose while shooting.

Vivian Vance Reportedly Couldn't Stand William Frawley
Vivian Vance Reportedly ... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Surprisingly Dark Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of 'I Love Lucy'
Photo:  CBS

Tension reportedly grew quickly between William Frawley, who played Fred Mertz, and Vivian Vance, who played his on-screen wife, Ethel Mertz. On the show, the Mertzes regularly made fun of each other, and the unkind words between Vance and Frawley escalated.

Vance allegedly called Frawley an "old poop," while Frawley supposedly described her as an "old fat-ass" and a "b*tch." There was a rumor about the Mertzes starring in their own spinoff show after I Love Lucy ended, but according to some sources, Vance quickly put an end to the prospect, since she refused to work with Frawley any longer.

By some accounts, though, the media may have overstated their disdain for each other. The two may have had a love-hate relationship

Lucille Ball's Pregnancy Sent Broadcasting Executives Into A Panic
Lucille Ball's Pregnancy... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list The Surprisingly Dark Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of 'I Love Lucy'
Photo:  CBS

When Lucille Ball discovered she was pregnant at the end of the first season of I Love Lucy, it appeared the show would have to end. Pregnancy was an off-limits subject at the time, but producer Jess Oppenheimer saw it as an opportunity. Oppenheimer decided to essentially sell Ball's pregnancy to the network, though the Ricardos slept in separate twin beds, and no one could say the word "pregnant" on air.

CBS and the major sponsor of the show, Philip Morris, didn't like the idea of including Ball's pregnancy in the show, but ultimately agreed. They called for a priest, minister, and rabbi to oversee the scriptwriting process for the big reveal episode. They titled it "Lucy is Enceinte" - enceinte is French for "pregnant" - and aired it on December 8, 1952.