What Being the Ricardos got right… and wrong

(Courtesy Amazon Studios)

For decades upon decades, America has been in love with the spunky and silly redhead who starred in the hit TV show I love Lucy. We all flocked to Amazon to watch the highly anticipated biopic Being the Ricardos which follows Hollywood power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1952 as they face personal and professional obstacles that threaten their careers, their relationship, and their hit television show, starring Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda.

Trial of Chicago 7 writer/director Aaron Sorkin is known to take a few artistic liberties in his work and Being the Ricardos is no different. Here’s our list of what Being the Ricardos got wrong and what the film got right.

What Being the Ricardos got right:

Ball was Accused of Being a Communist

In 1953, it was revealed that Ball had registered to vote as a member of the Communist Party on a voter registration application from 1936. As shown in the film, she said she only did it to pacify her dying socialist grandfather and denied any active involvement in the party. Hollywood writer Rena Vale gave testimony in 1940 to the Un-American Activities Committee that she had attended classes for new Communist Party members at Lucille Ball’s home but indicated that Ball wasn’t present during the meetings.

In Ball’s own 1953 testimony, she said that she did not know if any such meetings were held at her home. It was also revealed that in 1936, Ball had been appointed as a delegate to the State Central Committee of the Communist Party of California, something she said that if true, had been done without her knowledge or consent.

Lucy Dominated the Ratings

In 1952, I Love Lucy became the first sitcom to reach number one in the Nielsen ratings (it remained there for four of its six seasons). As a result of its success, it was used as a blueprint for countless TV shows that followed. I Love Lucy became the most-watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons and it was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings.

B-Movie Queen

In 1940, Ball appeared as the lead in the musical Too Many Girls where she met and fell in love with Desi Arnaz, who played one of her character’s four bodyguards in the movie. Ball signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1940s, but never achieved major stardom there.

She was known in Hollywood circles as “Queen of the Bs,” a title previously held by Fay Wray and later more closely associated with Ida Lupino and Marie Windsor, Ball starred in a number of B-movies like Five Came Back, That’s Right – You’re Wrong, and The Marines Fly High.

Vivian Vance’s Frustration

Vance was actively frustrated by the fact that she was stuck playing a housewife opposite a man 22 years her senior. Her vocal complaints fed tension with Frawley more than anything. But she and Ball were close friends who continued to work together long after I Love Lucy ended.

Difficult Marriage

Ball filed for divorce in 1944 after Desi came home drunk multiple times and also because she believed he was unfaithful to her. She returned to him before the divorce went through, and they subsequently had two children, Lucie Arnaz (born 1951) and Desi Arnaz Jr. (born 1953). Ball really did square off with Arnaz over cheating allegations on the set of I Love Lucy going so far as to throw a copy of the tabloid to her husband, saying, “I could tell them worse than that,” according to an account her publicist told People, according to Biography.

Balls Pregnancy

I Love Lucy, was the first major network TV program to depict a pregnant woman. Allowing Lucille Ball to parallel her real-life pregnancy on the small screen was incredibly controversial. CBS executives immediately ordered that she conceal her baby bump on TV by hiding behind sofas, boxes and other objects.

Ball and Arnaz fought back and eventually won out, writing a pregnancy storyline for Lucy to coincide with Ball’s real-life expectancy. The agreement was that they couldn’t say the word “pregnant” on TV because it was considered too suggestive or vulgar, so they settled for “expecting” instead.

Ball Insisted Desi Play Her Husband

Ball really did have to fight network execs to get them to cast her real-life husband Desi Arnaz as her I Love Lucy co-star. In order to convince execs, Ball and Arnaz took their show on the road as a vaudeville performance. The reception was so positive that CBS agreed to sign Arnaz on to the show. That decision paid off when I Love Lucy became incredibly popular very quickly.

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What Being the Ricardos Got Wrong:

Episode Order

Let’s face it, when you attempt to watch I Love Lucy on various streaming services, the episode lists are inconsistent and mislabeled, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. In Being the Ricardos the movie takes place during the filming of the episode Fred and Ethel Fight, which is actually the 22nd episode, but the film claims they have filmed over 30 episodes. It’s not a HUGE discrepancy, but it’s incorrect, nonetheless.

The film also touches on Lucille Ball’s “red scare” which occurred during the filming of episode 68, The Girls Go Into Business, which was when Arnaz addressed the crowd, allegedly saying, “The only thing red about Lucy is her hair, and even that’s not legitimate.”

J Edgar Hoover Phone Call

In reality, there was no call from Hoover, however Ball’s name was cleared hours before an episode taping by Rep. Donald L. Jackson, chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee who held a press conference in a Hollywood hotel room and publicly absolved Ball of any wrongdoing. That being said, Hoover continued to have evidence collected on Ball, according to a 1989 Washington Post article.

This all happened in One Week

Aaron Sorkin took the liberty to condense all of these events into a five-day span of time. He explained to Variety why he made this choice. “I like compressed periods of time, claustrophobic spaces,” he said at the Variety Streaming Room presented by Amazon Studios. “So everything that happens in this movie happened [in real life], but it didn’t all happen in one week. The three big events that I use that threaten the protagonists actually happened over the course of about two years. But I had them happen in the same week, which didn’t seem to pervert history too much. It’s just the idea that if you hold a tangerine in your hand, and you squeeze it as fast and as hard as you can, juice and pulp is going to fly everywhere. It’s my theory of drama.”

Being the Ricardos is currently in theaters and streaming on Amazon Prime. Oscar nominations are February 8.

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Joia DaVida reports on the entertainment industry in both Chicago and Los Angeles.