The Secret Lucille Ball Tried To Hide About Her Marriage

Comedy legend Lucille Ball and actor and musician Desi Arnaz — who scored television gold in the 1950s with "I Love Lucy" — arrived in Connecticut on the morning of November 30, 1940 and went to see a justice of the peace. The couple had met in Hollywood during the filming of the RKO movie "Too Many Girls" that summer. From the start their relationship was volatile and passionate. It contained several hidden truths Ball and Arnaz wanted to keep from the public. When the two were already deeply in love, in the press they both denied their romance was serious.

And then, in Connecticut, after Arnaz slipped a cheap brass ring he'd gotten from the five-and-dime store Woolworth's to seal their whirlwind nuptials, the couple lied about their ages on the marriage license. Ball was nearly six years older than Arnaz. At the time, an older woman marrying a younger man was considered scandalous. It could have derailed both their careers just as they were climbing the ladder to success.

Love at first sight?

When Lucille Ball met Desi Arnaz, she was struggling to further her Hollywood career. Before heading to Los Angeles, she had been a model in New York City who used the stage name Diane Belmont. Arnaz had come from money but fled Cuba for Miami with his family as a teenager following a revolution in 1933 that left them destitute. He held a string of menial jobs before making it big as a musician who introduced conga line dancing to America.

The actor Maureen O'Hara, in her book "Tis Herself: An Autobiography," recalled that when Ball first saw Arnaz at the movie studio she knew her friend was smitten. O'Hara could "almost hear the bells ringing in" the actress' "head." In O'Hara's version of the meeting, Arnaz snubbed Ball, calling her the "queen of B-movies" who would be bad for his career. But in a separate version of their first meeting, Arnaz saw Ball on the set of the film and commented "whatta hunk o' woman" (via "The Real Story of Lucille Ball"). However their first meeting actually went down, they were soon enraptured by each other. Six months after they first met, Arnaz was back in New York City performing with his band. Ball was also in town and he came to her hotel. She was in the midst of an interview in which she denied their relationship was going anywhere. Minutes later, he popped the question.

Lucy and Desi's marriage broke new ground

When Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz married that morning in November 1940, on the marriage license, Ball, who was then 29 and born in 1911, gave her birthdate as 1914. Likewise, the 23-year-old Arnaz, who was born in 1917, altered his age to appear older by also giving his birthdate as 1914. To the world at large, Ball and Arnaz were now the same age. And soon it wouldn't matter anyway. They were about to make television history for a different reason.

Although the couple managed to hide their age difference, when "I Love Lucy" premiered in 1951, there was no hiding that they became the first interracial couple on television at a time when it was even more taboo than an older woman marrying a younger man. This made Ball and Arnaz's marriage groundbreaking considering that at the time interracial marriage was against the law in many U.S. states. The show ran for six years and was a smash hit. Behind the scenes, things weren't so comedic. By 1960, Ball had enough of Arnaz's heavy drinking and affairs. She divorced him but they continued to work together. They had two children, Lucie and Desi Jr. Two days before his death from lung cancer in December 1986, Ball's heartbreaking final words to Arnaz were "I love you," which she repeated over and over. Ball outlived Arnaz by three years, dying of a ruptured aorta in April 1989.