The classic television show I Love Lucy was partially based on a radio show called My Favorite Husband (1948-1951) starring Lucille Ball and Richard Denning as Liz and George Cooper. Denning was eager to continue his role in the TV version, but Ball insisted on casting her real-life husband, Cuban-born musician Desi Arnaz. Although the studio heads were initially resistant to the idea, fearing audiences wouldn't find the "mixed marriage" believable, they eventually relented after Ball and Arnaz put together a successful vaudeville act featuring themselves as a married couple.
The original sponsor for I Love Lucy was the tobacco company Philip Morris. References to the company and its products can still be seen in many episodes such as "Lucy Does a TV Commercial" (Episode #30) in which Lucy dresses up as the Phillip Morris icon Johnny the Bellhop. In addition, Lucy and the rest of the cast were forbidden to use the word "lucky" in the show as Phillip Morris didn't want to remind the audience of their arch cigarette rival, Lucky Strikes. The original opening credits for the show featured Phillip Morris cigarettes as well, along with animated stick figures of Lucy and Desi, but these credits were removed and replaced with the familiar "valentine" credits in 1958 when CBS began airing reruns of the series.
Technically speaking, I Love Lucy was ahead of its time in several important ways. First of all, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball decided to shoot the show on 35 mm film instead of the low-quality 16 mm kinescope print used for most shows at the time -- this resulted in a much higher quality recording of the show for posterity. They also chose to film I Love Lucy in front of a live studio audience, resulting in much more realistic audience reactions than the "canned laughter" used on other shows. By the 1970s this would become common practice for sitcoms. And finally, working with the legendary Karl Freund, Desi pioneered the use of three cameras to simultaneously film each scene, which allowed for much more flexibility in the editing room. The three camera filming format is also common practice today.
During the first few seasons of I Love Lucy, Ricky Ricardo is employed as a band leader in New York City at the Tropicana Club where he performs such hits as "Babalu". Some of the most famous episodes of I Love Lucy take place at the Tropicana. In episode #50, "Lucy is Enciente", Lucy shows up at the Tropicana to give Ricky the good news that she is pregnant. She slips him a note about the "blessed event", but Ricky misunderstands, thinking the message is for someone else in the audience. When he realizes that HE is the expectant father, an emotional Ricky sings "We're Having a Baby". During the sixth season, Ricky purchases the Tropicana and renames it Club Babalu.
Lucy's scatterbrained mother, Mrs. McGillicudy (played by Kathryn Card), can never seem to remember Ricky's name and instead calls him "Mickey." In "Fan Magazine Interview" (Episode 83), Kathryn Card also plays Minnie Finch, a slovenly housewife who mistakenly thinks Ricky has asked her out on a date to the Tropicana Club.
In "No Children Allowed" (Episode 57), the Ricardo's neighbor, Mrs. Trumbull (played by Elizabeth Patterson) complains to the Mertzes about Little Ricky's all night crying and points out that her lease clearly states there are to be no children in the building. Eventually a big fight erupts between the Mertzes and Ricardos and Little Ricky is inadvertently left alone in the apartment. Realizing their mistake, the foursome rush back to find Little Ricky in Mrs. Trumbull's arms. From this episode on, she is the Ricardo's reliable babysitter.
Fred and Ethel Mertz have a dog named Butch who appears in one episode of I Love Lucy, "The Diet", in which Lucy tries to lose 12 pounds so that she can fit into a size 12 outfit and perform at Ricky's club. In one particularly memorable scene, Lucy wrestles Butch for a scrap of meat. After this episode, Butch is never seen again.
In "The Operetta" (Episode #38), the Wednesday Afternoon Fine Art League decides to stage an operetta. In order to save the $100 royalty fee, Lucy decides to write her own operetta (which she titles "The Pleasant Peasant") about Lily of the Valley (Ethel) and Prince Lancelot (Ricky) whose love is thwarted by Camille, Queen of the Gypsies (Lucy). The amateur group has no money for costumes and scenery either, so Lucy writes a postdated check, assuming that the production will earn enough money to cover expenses afterwards. Of course, the postdated check is discovered and the production is interrupted by moving men repossessing the sets and costumes. Lucy is even carted offstage, still singing and clapping her tambourine!
The last episode of I Love Lucy, "The Ricardos Dedicate a Statue" (Episode #179), aired on May 6, 1957. In this episode, Ricky is chosen to dedicate a new Revolutionary War statue in the Westport Town Square. True to form, however, Lucy accidentally destroys the statue. She tries to order a replacement, but there just isn't enough time. Out of options, she decides to impersonate the statue herself!
Of the four main actors, Lucille Ball was the last living cast member of I Love Lucy. She died on April 26, 1989. Desi Arnaz died on December 2, 1986. Vivian Vance died on August 17, 1979. And William Frawley died on March 3, 1966.