For many years during their marriage, Desi and Lucille Ball hid the fact that she was six years older then he by splitting the difference in their ages. She (born in 1911) said she was born in 1914 and he (born in 1917) also said he was born in 1914.
In 1945, after his service in the Army, he found himself $30,000 in debt, mostly due to back taxes. Lucille Ball helped him pay his debt, but due to his pride, considered it a loan, and kept a strict account of the money he owed her.
In 1950, along with wife Lucille Ball, in an effort to find a way to work together, formed a production company with $5,000 of their own money, naming it 'Desilu' which is what they had named their ranch in Chatsworth, California. He remained president of the company until selling his interest to his ex-wife in 1962 for $3 million.
Ironically, the radio show on which "I Love Lucy" (1951) was based, "My Favorite Husband," was itself based on a book entitled "Mr. and Mrs. Cugat." Arnaz worked for Xavier Cugat during this time.
In 1953, Desilu was evaluated as being worth $10 million, did a gross business of $6 million and made the Arnazes a net profit of $600,000 before taxes. This was added to an additional $500,000 in income from "I Love Lucy" (1951) merchandise.
In 1957, in an effort to expand Desilu, he sold CBS his and Lucille Ball's rights to 179 "I Love Lucy" (1951) 30-minute shows for $4,500,000. They also sold their rights to "December Bride" (1954) for $500,000 and CBS had exclusive rights to their public appearances for 10 years for an additional $1,000,000. With these profits, Desilu purchased RKO Studios for $6,125,000.
In 1953, with "I Love Lucy" (1951) the #1 show in America, Philip Morris, their primary sponsor, agreed to sponsor the show for an additional 2 and a half years for $8 million, $5 million of which went directly to the Arnazes and their company.
In 1957, recognizing the need for the company to expand, he purchased the real estate of the former RKO Studios, home of Lucille Ball's former employer. The industry balked at their decision to plunk down $6,150,000 for the fledging studio property, but it was a strategic move that ultimately made both he and Lucy millionaires.
In 1957, he opened the Desi Arnaz West Hills Hotel, with 42 rooms and a restaurant featuring his own personal recipes, in Indian Wells. With all the time he spent with his new real estate ventures, he and Lucille Ball built a home on the 17th fairway at the Thunderbird Golf Club on land he won in a poker game.
In December 1958, in order to raise revenue for business and personal expenses, Desilu went public on the NYSE at $10 per share. Lucille Ball and Desi each retained 25% of the stock, with the swing vote going to key executives at Desilu. After paying gambling debts and expenses, he realized $70,000 to $80,000.
According to Mafia boss turned government informant Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno in his book "The Last Mafioso", several top members of the Chicago Mafia family were furious about the portrayal of Italians in general and the Mafia in particular in "The Untouchables" (1959), of which Arnaz was executive producer, and put out a contract on his life. Several mob hitmen hid in the bushes and behind trees outside his house one night after having been tipped off that he was on his way home and were going to shoot him when he pulled into his driveway, but for some unknown reason Arnaz never came home that night. The killers were supposed to come back again and wait for him the next night, but in the meantime cooler heads prevailed and the murder plot was called off. Arnaz apparently never found out how close he came to being murdered.
Instrumental in the creation of numerous classic TV series, in particular "The Untouchables" (1959).
In his 1985 will, he left a $250,000 trust fund for the benefit of his mother, who survived him.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume Two, 1986- 1990, pages 32-34. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
Is portrayed by Maurice Benard in Lucy & Desi: Before the Laughter (1991) (TV)
In the film The Mambo Kings (1992), he was portrayed by his real-life son, Desi Arnaz Jr..
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. pg. 25-26. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387