September 17, 2005

The Babalú Bad Boy

We were at a club in West Hollywood, well over 1.5 decades ago, waiting to see what was said to be one of the last performances by the great punk group The Dead Kennedys, when I got a mildly shocking, though pleasant cultural surprise.

The band was late, and the crowd was eager to slam-dance their nervous energy. The club announced that as we waited for the band to appear, we were all invited to participate in the first annual Ricky Ricardo Laugh Contest. The prize was $50 cash.

Contestants lined up to the right of the stage, and what a scene that was! Imagine a tall, thin, blue-spiked-hair young man with a torn T-shirt and leather pants and what looked like a bullet through his ear attempting the famous laugh. It was too much, even though he didn’t even come close to approaching reality, the crowd loved the effort, and so did I. (No, I didn’t enter the contest.)

At that moment I realized that I wasn’t the only one watching reruns of “I Love Lucy.” Who doesn’t know about Ricky Ricardo?

Ricky was the first fully Cuban character on American television. Over the years, a great deal of negative attention has been placed on the actor who played him, ignoring his accomplishments and positive qualities.

Many, to this day, don’t recognize Desi Arnaz as a real musician, overlooking the fact that he made a living as a bandleader before going into movies and television.

His numerous extramarital affairs were highly visible before WWII, and almost ruined his marriage to Lucille Ball. Then came “I Love Lucy,” the television landmark that’s still popular 50 years later.

Today, many look at the sexist attitudes of the times, particularly as portrayed in “I Love Lucy,” and they blame Desi, who must have invented sexism single-handedly. His character, Ricky, didn’t want his wife to go into show business. That was his domain. He wanted her at home, preparing his meals, washing his dishes and fully dependant on his success. Of course, this conflict gave us some of the most hilarious television moments ever, and it had nothing to do with the real life couple, who were wealthy, glamorous personalities.

Ay, ay, ay…


Blogger Manuel A.Tellechea said...

First of all, you should really reply to these comments: I doubt if you even read them. For the record, Desi Arnaz's real accomplishments--independent from Lucille Ball's--are that he invented the three-camera process, which is still used to film all tv shows; that he was the first to record tv shows on film stock; that he invented syndication; and that he was the first to use a laugh track. Desi Arnaz is up there with Bill Paley and ther pioneers as one of the fathers of commercial television. But, of course, he was a genius both before and behind the camara, which the others weren't. So I guess that makes him the greatest figure in U.S. television history.

12:03 PM, September 17, 2005  
Blogger Jerry A. Sierra said...

I would not refer to him as a genius.

8:24 PM, September 18, 2005  
Blogger Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Unfortunately, we Cubans have a penchant for belittling our own. If not a genius, then what? The man invented re-runs, for Cuban Pete's sake! What more do you want? As for his comedic genius, I hardly think that is in dispute. Lucy hit the big time when she teamed up with Desi. Before that she had an inglorious career in B-movies and radio and by 1950 was pretty much washed-up. To her credit, Lucy was always the first to credit Desi with her success.

9:26 PM, September 19, 2005  
Blogger Jerry A. Sierra said...

Belittling? How does it belittle him to celebrate his talents? The reason I wrote a personal appreciation of Arnaz is that I think of him as a very talented and charming performer, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his work in “I Love Lucy.” Occasionally I’ll play the CD “Desi Arnaz 1937-47,” but I would not refer to him as a genius. His contributions to the entertainment world were significant, but he need not be a genius for this to be so.
And let’s not forget that it was Lucille Ball who convinced CBS that Desi was worth it.

5:52 PM, September 20, 2005  
Blogger Manuel A.Tellechea said...

Lucy is to be commended for convincing CBS executives not to be racist jerks (these are the same people that produced "Amos-n-Andy"). You ARE belittling Desi if you make his "bad habits" the center of your appreciation of him. Is there any Cuban that you do consider a genius?

8:49 AM, September 23, 2005  
Blogger Jerry A. Sierra said...

I think Lucy should be on a stamp!

Who do I consider a Cuban genius? I would call Ernesto Lecuona a genius without thinking twice. And I’d also call Cachao a genius. Of course, it depends on how you define Genius… Lecuona left a wonderful body of work that will be discovered, explored and enjoyed for centuries all over the world. Both Lecuona and Cachao seem like they’d qualify for genius status under most definitions. Marti was a genius by most definitions… that he was able to organize the Cuban Revolutionary Party seems like a miracle, but when you delve beyond his political life and explore his literary life, he seems even more impressive.

Another potential genius is Chucho Valdéz, but I’ll be blogging about him soon.

7:08 PM, September 23, 2005  
Blogger Jose said...

This may not be appropriate for this blog but I am pretty desperate. I am looking for a somewhat authentic bolero style shirt that Ricky Ricardo used to wear. The bright shirt with the puffy sleeves. I can only find cheap looking knockoffs.

Any help would be appreciated.


jose (at)

2:36 PM, October 07, 2005  

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