Decades before duos like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston captivated fans and covered what seemed to be every magazine, there were Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The term "celebrity power couple" hadn't yet become a thing, but the two stars of Hollywood's golden era were the epitome of one — or so it seemed. It was hard not to love them (they starred in a show called I Love Lucy, after all). Their onscreen chemistry mirrored their real-life marriage, but when the cameras stopped rolling, so did the charm.
Lucy and Desi, who first met in 1940, went on to have a tumultuous 20-year marriage. And even after they split, the pair — who had two children together, Lucie and Desi Jr. — remained in each other's lives until Desi's death in 1986. Despite their split, they were (and still are) one of the most fascinating and beloved Hollywood couples of all time. Keep reading for 11 facts about their life together that will surprise even the biggest fans.
- They met on the set of a movie. The two budding stars first crossed paths in 1940 when they met on the set of Too Many Girls. Lucy was 28, and Desi was 23.
- They had a whirlwind courtship. Lucy and Desi were taken with each other immediately but were forced to spend time apart due to work commitments. During this time, Lucy got wind that Desi had met up with an ex-girlfriend and showed up at his house to confront him. As a solution to their issues, Desi suggested they get married, and they eloped just six months after meeting.
- The honeymoon phase didn't last long. Despite their obvious passion for each other, Lucy and Desi's relationship was never smooth. He was known for his womanizing ways, and because they were both constantly traveling and working with other (usually very attractive) people, jealousy and resentment were two main themes from the get-go.
- Lucy knew about Desi's alleged affairs. Desi usually denied any cheating on his part but did so with little effort to prove otherwise. In an interview with Look magazine, Lucy boldly made it known that she wasn't stupid when it came to her husband's wandering eye, telling the interviewer, "I like to play games, too."
- She filed for divorce in 1944. Four years after tying the knot, Lucy wanted out. After enduring years of reported infidelity and Desi's excessive drinking, the actress filed for divorce. She obtained an interlocutory decree, which meant nothing was final until brought before a judge after a set waiting period.
- They reconciled before the divorce was final. Despite everything wrong in their marriage, Lucy loved her husband and desperately wanted to make it work. She also yearned to be a mother, and after suffering several miscarriages, her wish finally came true in July 1951, one month before her 40th birthday. The couple welcomed their first child, daughter Lucie. Their son, Desi Jr., followed a year and a half later.
- Desi almost didn't appear in I Love Lucy. Lucy suggested that her real-life husband play her love interest on the show, but studio executives weren't into it. They thought American viewers wouldn't relate to Desi's Cuban accent, but after he won over audiences during a tour of the US in 1951, they cast him as Ricky Ricardo. Lucy couldn't have been happier with the decision, because it meant that they were able to spend more time together and Desi would finally be in one place where she could keep an eye on him.
- They wrote Lucy's real-life pregnancy into the show. When Lucy was pregnant with Desi Jr., they included it in her storyline, making I Love Lucy the first show in history to depict a pregnant woman. But because TV was still highly conservative back then, the show's network, CBS, thought the word "pregnant" was too vulgar. They never used that word on the show and instead went with "expecting." CBS also reportedly brought in a priest, minister, and rabbi to approve each script that dealt with her pregnancy.
- Lucy filed for divorce again in 1960. On March 3, 1960 — one day after Desi's 43rd birthday and one day after they filmed their last episode of I Love Lucy — Lucy filed for divorce for a second and final time. Desi's alleged cheating and alcoholism finally became too much, and America's favorite couple called it quits.
- Lucy still showed bitterness over their breakup. During an interview with Barbara Walters in 1977 — 17 years after they divorced — Lucy was visibly upset when talking about the dissolution of her marriage to Desi. When Barbara asked what went wrong, Lucy replied, "That was his problem. I couldn't understand it." Barbara then asked Lucy why her marriage to second husband Gary Morton worked, to which she replied, "Because he's not a loser. I married a loser before. I was pretty used to a lot of games, and I'm not talking about Scrabble. Everything he built he had to break down."
- Through it all, they managed to remain friends. Despite the reasons for their split, Lucy and Desi could never fully quit each other. They both went on to marry other people (Lucy was married to Gary Morton from 1961 until her death in 1989; Desi was married to Edith Mack Hirsch from 1963 until her death in 1985), but they remained close. "They spoke so lovingly of each other, you almost forgot they weren't together anymore," actress Carol Channing, Lucy's good friend, once said. And Desi's last words to Lucy before his death were, "I love you too, honey. Good luck with your show."