Fox used to be WNEW and that was my first job. I got hired as a production assistant and got promoted to field producer and then producer of the show and I have the privilege of meeting one of my heroes, Desi Arnez, who was the husband of I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball. He was a lovely, lovely man. I don’t know if people know this, but Desi Lou Studios was really his idea. He started the three camera angles and the show only became her show—it was I Love Lucy but it was told in his perspective. Sometimes people lost sight of that.
To make a long story short, my boss came in to see me and said, “So I booked Desi Arnaz.” He said, “Carmen, I want you to billboard the show.” Billboarding the show is telling when the next segment was. It’s a lead into that segment. He asked me to ask Desi Arnez to be the billboard for his segment, and he gave me a cigar and a camouflage hat as if he were Che Guevara. He was supposed to put a cigar in and put on the hat. I was so embarrassed because if you know anything about Desi Arnaz and the Cuban revolution, Castro and someone like Desi would be on opposite sides and Desi’s father was the mayor of his town in Cuba.
I was so embarrassed and I didn’t know what to do. He said, “No, I want you to ask him Carmen.” I said, “Gary, this is really difficult. I can’t do this.” He said, “Well, you have to decide.” I went over to Desi and pulled him aside and said in Spanish, “Forgive me, but I need to ask you this in a loud voice in English. This is something I have to do or my job’s on the line.” He was so gracious. He said, “Okay, ask me in a loud voice.” Gary was in hearing shot.
I said, “Mr. Arnaz, would you please use this cigar and this hat and billboard the next hat.” He said in a loud voice, “I pay my publicist a lot of money to promote me, so they can get their own publicist. I’m sorry Carmen but I won’t do that.” I turned around to Gary and he said, “Don’t worry, don’t worry, we’ll do it.” It was extraordinary because I had to ask this incredible man to do something that I knew he would never agree to, but my job was on the line.
I don’t think that he would ever remember this. He’s now deceased. He was invited to do the show because he wrote his autobiography. He signed it for me and left me a lovely note. It’s one of the things I remember about my television days. Every time I see Lucille Ball or the show—they always promote it on television—I always think of that day.
He was lovely. I then had the pleasure of dealing with his daughter at another time. They will forever go down in television history. When you’re in television, you have those experiences. You just have to realize that that’s a job and you come home and that’s your life. I am who I am today because of the opportunities that television afforded me.
People have to know the political histories of other countries before they go around asking such silly things. It was just so embarrassing but I survived it.