What do we know about Ricky Ricardo’s career? Chiefly that he came to New York via Cuba sometime in the pre-war years (just as Desi Arnaz did) but that the similarities between the two mens CV’s ends there. Desi hit it big on Broadway in 1939 in Rodgers and Hart’s ‘Too Many Girls’. The film version of the hit show brought him to Hollywood which in turn brought him to the movies and to Lucille Ball. His post-war music career was steady but slightly disappointing and he was most certainly more famous for being Ball’s husband then he was in his own right. ‘I Love Lucy’ changed all that, as we know. But what about his alter ego?
After Ricardo’s arrival in New York, little is known about his activities or when he met and married Lucy McGillicuddy. (My guess is it was a post-war meeting/marriage though who knows? Did Ricky serve in the military? Was it a pre-war fling that led to a rushed marriage before Ricky’s trip overseas? And how exactly did Ricky and Lucy meet? Such questions perhaps remain best unanswered since the sad truth is we will never know. We do know, however, that Ricky managed to land a decent New York City nightclub gig at the Club Tropicana which, in my mind, was located somewhere in the thick of the tourist district in Times Square. It certainly wasn’t a hip club but Desi’s–er, Ricky’s–Latin Band and Conga act was solid middle-brow meat and potatoes stuff for the bridge and tunnel crowd and out-of-towners. Things get a little more complicated when Ricky auditions for the MGM movie musical ‘Don Juan’ and inexplicably wins the role. The Ricardo’s decamp to Hollywood (with their stooge-friends the Mertz’s) and one might expect that the next chapter in the life of the Ricardo’s is their new life in Hollywood. It certainly seems like rich material awaits them in the ‘fish-out-of-water’ oeuvre. But oddly it was not to be. They move back to New York after the movie and then to Connecticut, presumably spending the movie salary on a house in Westport. No mention is ever made of the reception that ‘Don Juan’ receives so it must have been a poor one. I picture the ‘Don Juan’ movie as being one of the tired, last gasps of the MGM musical unit somewhat akin to ‘Meet Me In Las Vegas’ or the final Montalban/Esther Williams movies. It was probably directed by Richard Thorpe. The score was an atrocity. Ricky was a flat leading man. The technicolor was the best part of the whole enterprise.
One thing is certain: Ricky’s Hollywood career didn’t bloom after the movie so perhaps the best choice he had in front of him was a more prestigious nightclub career back east. Accordingly, he no longer worked tourist traps like the Tropicana but became his own boss, opening the ‘Club Babalu’. Since the series ended in 1957 and the extended one-hour continuation of the story (the ‘Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour’) ended in 1961 we have no further clues as to Ricky’s career. Did Little Ricky follow in Desi Jr.’s footsteps and become the new, hip Ricky for the late 60s teen crowd?