Desi Arnaz’s Net Worth Reveals How Much Lucille Ball Got After Their Divorce

Desi Arnaz
Photo: AP Images. Everett Collection.

If you’re a massive I Love Lucy fan, you may want to know about Desi Arnaz’s net worth and how it compared to his ex-wife (and former co-star), Lucille Ball, after their divorce.

Arnaz—whose full name is Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha, III—was born on March 2, 1917, in Santiago de Cuba in Cuba. After the Cuban Revolution of 1933, Arnaz’s father, Alberto Arnaz, was jailed and their home was confiscated. Alberto was released after six months when his brother-in-law, Alberto de Acha, intervened. Arnaz’s family then fled to Miami, where the I Love Lucy star attended St. Patrick Catholic High School in Miami Beach. After he graduated from high school, Arnaz joined a band called the Siboney Septet. The success of the group led Arnaz to start his own band, the Desi Arnaz Orchestra, which became a hit in New York City’s club scene. The band also led Arnaz to be cast in his first Broadway musical, Too Many Girls, in 1939. In 1940, Arnaz starred in the movie version of the show, alongside his future wife, Lucille Ball. The couple fell in love and married on November 30, 1940.

In 1948, Ball was cast as Liz Cooper, a wacky wife in the CBS Radio comedy show, My Favorite Husband. The show ran for 148 episodes. After the success of My Favorite Husband, Ball was asked by CBS to develop it for television, which she agreed if she could work with her real-life husband, Arnaz. Unimpressed by the pilot episode, CBS turned down a show with Ball and Arnaz, which led them to hit the road as a vaudeville act in which Ball played a zany housewife who tried to get into her husband’s show. After the success of the tour, CBS greenlit I Love Lucy, which went on to run for more than 100 episodes and be one of the most-watched shows in TV history.

Ball and Arnaz’s marriage was portrayed in the 2021 movie Being the Ricardos, in which Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem starred as the couple. The film was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. In an interview with Extra in December 2021, Kidman opened up about why she wanted to play Ball. “That is something that Javier and I want to honor,” she said. “But at the same time, you want it to be a true depiction of who they are so that people watching it go, ‘Oh, OK…’ Aaron’s really gone in there, he’s done them proud, but at the same time he has been very true to their spirits… They’re compelling, fascinating… people and at the same time—they are human.”

The story of Ball and Arnaz’s relationship was told in Amy Poehler’s 2022 documentary, Lucy and Desi, which dove into who they were as people in addition to Hollywood stars. “I knew about them as performers, not as people,” Poehler told Variety in 2021. “These two incredible outsiders worked hard to become powerful, influential figures at a time when women and immigrants were not running the system. But at the end of the day, the attempt was to tell a love story: Their long journey of falling in love, working, and staying in love with each other through thick and thin was echoed in their show.” Poehler continued, “And then to watch America’s most powerful couple — they created the idea of a power couple — split up after being on TV, as this example of how things will always be OK, it was interesting. So much is made of their work and comedy, and it should be. But I also think it is also an equal triumph to have a relationship that was the kind that they had. It is hard to maintain a working relationship, as well as a relationship with someone you love and is your partner in raising kids.”

So what is Desi Arnaz’s net worth and how did it compare to his ex-wife and I Love Lucy co-star, Lucille Ball? Read on for what we know about Desi Arnaz’s net worth before his death.

Lucille Ball

Image: Everett Collection.

How much did Desi Arnaz make from I Love Lucy?

Desi Arnaz starred as the male lead of I Love Lucy for 180 half-hour episodes from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957. He played Ricky Ricardo, the leader of a band at a night club. Each episode would see Ricky’s wife, Lucy Ricardo (played by Arnaz’s real-life wife, Lucille Ball), concoct various schemes with her best friends to appear with her husband at his job. After I Love Lucy ended in 1957, Ball and Arnaz went on to star in three seasons of their own spinoff, The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, which was later retitled as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. For four of its six seasons, I Love Lucy was the most-watched show in America and was the first series ever to ends its run at the top of the Nielsen’s rating.

Since its finale, I Love Lucy has been syndicated in dozens of languages across the world, with more than 40 million viewers each year. A re-aired, colorized version of its Christmas episode was watched by more than eight million viewers on CBS in 2013. The show, which was the first scripted TV series to be shot on 35mm film in front of a live studio audience, has won five Emmys and was voted as the “Best TV Show of All Time” in a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine in 2012.

How much did Desi Arnaz make from I Love Lucy? According to Bart Andrews’ 1985 book, The I Love Lucy Book, Ball and Arnaz were paid a joint salary of $4,000 per episode ($2,000 each) for I Love Lucy. The book reports that the couple originally asked for $5,000 per episode, but CBS and Arnaz agreed to $4,000 for complete rights to the show. As for other costs, the book also reports that Philip Morris, a cigarette company, paid the show’s asking price of $26,500 to sponsor I Love Lucy. CBS also paid $5 million for the rights to broadcast the show, according to The I Love Lucy Book.

In 1953, months after the birth of Ball and Arnaz’s second child, Desi Jr., the couple signed a new $8 million contract with Morris for another 100 episodes, with a production budget of around $40,000 to $50,000 per week, according to the book. (The book also reported that twins, Richard and Ronald Lee Simmons, who played Lucy and Ricky’s baby son in I Love Lucy, made $25 per week for one day of filming on Fridays.) The book reported that Desi was done with half-hour sitcoms after the end of I Love Lucy and turned down a lucrative $80,000-per-episode offer from CBS—with an extra $30,000 for reruns—for a seventh season of the show, which was twice the going rate for actors at the time. Instead, Ball and Arnaz signed a $2.5 million deal with Ford to sponsor five special episodes of The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, which was expanded to 13 total episodes. According to The Los Angeles Times, I Love Lucy makes around $20 million each year from reruns.

Desi Arnaz

Image: Ralph Dominguez/MediaPunch /IPX.

What was Desi Arnaz’s net worth?

What was Desi Arnaz’s net worth? Arnaz, a regular smoker his whole life, died at the age of 69 on December 2, 1986, of complications related to lung cancer. He was survived by his kids, Lucie and Desi Jr. and his ex-wife Lucille Ball. His second wife, Edith Hirsch, whom he married in 1963, died a year earlier in 1985. Desi Arnaz was worth $20 million before his death, according to Celebrity Net Worth. Lucille Ball—whom he divorced in 1960—was worth $40 million (equal to about $80 million today), according to the Gazette Review. Ball died at the age of 77 on April 26, 1989, of a ruptured aorta after open-heart surgery.

Though much of Desi Arnaz’s net worth came from I Love Lucy, a lot of his and Ball’s money was also from the merchandise deals that came after the birth of their son, Desi Jr., in 1953, which led to sponsorships for dolls, comic books, cigarette lighters, aprons and more items, according to The I Love Lucy Book. The financial windfall led industry experts to nickname Desi Jr. as “Lucy’s $50 Million Baby.”

In 1950, Ball and Arnaz founded their own production company, DesiLu Productions, which has produced shows like I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, Untouchables, Mission: Impossible and Star Trek. The company was the second-largest independent television company in the United States until 1962 and remained as the number-one independent production company in the country until it was sold in 1968 to Paramount Television. Both Ball and Arnaz owned a majority stake in DesiLu until 1962—two years after their divorce—when Ball bought out Arnaz and ran the company by herself for seven years. She sold her shares of Desilu to Gulf + Western (later Paramount Television) for $17 million (a value of $132 million in 2020) in 1968, which is why her net worth is twice as much as her ex-husband’s. Still, that doesn’t mean Arnaz wasn’t rich. According to The I Love Lucy Book, Desi owned a 34-foot-long boat and owned an $18,000 racing horse, the cost of 15 minutes of I Love Lucy, according to TV Guide. The horse was the start of Desilu Stables.

Lucy and Desi is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. Here’s how to watch it for free.

"Love, Lucy" by Lucille Ball

Image: Courtesy of Berkeley.

Love, Lucy by Lucille Ball

For more about Lucille Ball, read her autobiography, Love, Lucy. The book—which was published after Ball’s death in 1989 and is her only autobiography—follows the comedienne’s career and life, from her childhood in Jamestown, New York, to her dreams on Broadway and her marriage with Desi Arnaz. Written by Ball herself, the autobiography also includes intimate memories of her and Desi’s children, what led to the end of their marriage and how Ball found love again with her second husband, Gary Morton. Told in her own words, Love, Lucy is a must-read for anyone who loves Lucy.

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