Being the Ricardos

In 1939 Lucille Ball was hired by RKO Pictures to play small parts in a number of low budget films. Her career had little success until she was cast in the 1948 radio show My Favorite Husband which was very successful and attracted the attention of CBS and the cigarette company Philip Morris who suggested the show be adapted to television. Ball agreed, but only if her husband Desi Arnaz played her on-screen husband. It seems she was hoping that working with Arnaz would decrease his infidelity and save their marriage. Vivian Vance and William Frawley were hired to play the comedic Ethel and Fred Mertz, the Ricardos’ next door neighbours.   

When live filming started in 1953, the show was renamed I Love Lucy, and it became a smash hit with nearly 60 million viewers, and it continued to be one of the most popular shows on American television through the 1950s.

On the night of a live filming, a newspaper article written by the infamous gossip columnist and radio commentator Walter Winchell accused Ball of being a communist. Being the Ricardos depicts what happens during the filming as Ball deals with her failing marriage, worried CBS executives and the concerned powerbrokers from the Philip Morris cigarette company that sponsored the show. Facing a crisis that could end the couple’s careers and marriage, it portrays how Ball suffered as a result of the Red Scare which was raging through the U.S.A. at the time.

The U.S.A. suffered two such Scares, one immediately after WWI which revolved around the perceived threat from the American labour movement and political radicalism. The second Scare occurred immediately after World War II, when the nation became preoccupied with the perception that national or foreign communists were infiltrating American society and the federal government.  

The second Red Scare is presently more commonly known because of the efforts to implicate some of the most famous actors and screen writers in Hollywood. Lasting from 1947 to 1957, it actually focused on punishing people who had social democratic political values rather than actual “communists.” Spearheaded by senator Joseph McCarthy, it never caught a single communist, but unjustifiably destroyed the lives, reputations and careers of many very talented people in the American entertainment industry. It was an absolute travesty that left a legacy that has affected American politics and culture for the decades since.

Lucille Ball was one of the best-known performers caught in the vortex of political intolerance. Given that she was so ingrained in the North American popular consciousness of the 1950s and 60s, it makes sense that Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing, The Newsroom, and the director of The Chicago Seven should choose to write and direct a film about her.

This is a good movie with dialogue that is beautifully written, with excellent performances from Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as her husband Desi Arnaz. There are great supporting turns from Nina Arianda, playing Vivian Vance and J.K. Simmons, playing William Frawley.

Being the Ricardos is wonderful. You can watch it on Amazon Prime.