Balancing act: Lucie Arnaz opens up about her music, memories, and focus on family after delighting audiences at Michael Holmes’ Purple Room

With recent heavy interest in her parents subsiding, the multi-talented performer is once again focusing on her career. In her first in-depth local interview, she talks about her life, working with Aaron Sorkin, and more.
Lucie Arnaz emotes as Ron Abel accompanies her on piano in the recent cabaret show at Michael Holmes’ Purple Room, “I Got the Job!: Songs From My Musical Past.” (Photo: Bruce Fessier)

Lucie Arnaz’s recent homecoming show at Michael Holmes’ Purple Room could have been called the return of Palm Springs’ prodigal daughter.

It was her second appearance after knee surgery and the performance interruptus caused by the COVID pandemic. The show, titled “I Got the Job!: Songs From My Musical Past,” filled the Palm Springs supper club with fans — of both Lucie’s and her legendary parents, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

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One 60-ish Palm Springs woman had a tattoo of Lucy and Desi on her calf. She remembered the 71-year-old singer-actress from her recurring role on “Here’s Lucy” a half-century ago.

Lucie Arnaz (lower right) appearing with the cast of “Here’s Lucy,” which ran on prime time television from 1969 through 1974. (Courtesy photo)

But others knew Lucie from her community involvement, including her efforts to get masks made and distributed in the early days of the pandemic, and her support of local musical theater through her co-creation of the Lucie Arnaz Awards, recognizing high school performance excellence.

Former Hollywood Reporter columnist Sue Cameron had already seen her friend’s autobiographical production eight times. She was one of the few who knew Lucie’s personal and professional history. A few years ago, they snuck into Thunderbird Country Club to find the house Lucie’s parents used for family retreats, away from the pressures of producing “I Love Lucy” for their own studio in the 1950s.

“I Got the Job” follows Lucie’s career from the 1960s through the 2010s, starting with her first inspiration from her mother’s performances — not on film or TV, but in her 1960 Broadway musical “Wildcat.” The self-written show features songs and stories from Lucie’s 1979 Broadway debut in the Neil Simon-Marvin Hamlisch smash “They’re Playing Our Song,” and her 1978 title role in “Annie Get Your Gun” at the Jones Beach Theatre in Long Island, where she received a rare note of praise from its iconic creator, Irving Berlin.

Lucie Arnaz’s autobiographical show, “I Got the Job!: Songs From My Musical Past,” will be presented with Lucie fronting a big band at the McCallum Theatre in February 2024. (Courtesy photo)

By the mid-2010s, Lucie was appearing on Broadway as a trapeze-flying grandmother in “Pippin,” and directing an original musical by her long-time pianist, Ron Abel, with Chuck Steffan, titled “Hazel: A Musical Maid in America.”

Then, suddenly, Lucie’s life became awash in a tsunami of interest in her parents. Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett committed to playing her mother in the Aaron Sorkin screenplay “Being the Ricardos.” Then conflicts arose that Lucie couldn’t discuss as the film gained Academy Awards buzz.

But with “Being the Ricardos” and other Lucy-Desi projects now in the rearview mirror, Lucie recently granted her first in-depth local interview about all that has been going on in her life.

For one, she’s emphasizing her stage career again. She plans to perform “I Got the Job!” with a big band in Florida next month, and she’ll bring that show to the McCallum Theatre next Feb. 28. But as a new grandparent with her actor-writer husband Larry Luckinbill, she’s also balancing the challenges of family and business with her Desilu, Too legacy company.

In the following interview, edited for length and clarity, she elaborated on her journey. 

You’ve had so many projects involving your parents the past five years. Did that interfere with your development of “Hazel”?

No, “Hazel” was before that started. But I was balancing all that with my nightclub act. Maybe because of the buzz of that film in production, suddenly TCM was doing a podcast (“The Plot Thickens: Lucy”). It was this 10-part series on TCM that I had nothing to do with. They just decided to focus on it and they did a fantastic job.

TCM created a 10-part podcast on Lucille Ball titled “The Plot Thickens.” (Courtesy photo)

At the same time, we were discussing the fact that I could release some of my mom’s “Let’s Talk To Lucy” radio shows (from the mid-1960s). I was digitizing a bunch of stuff and I kind of tripped over them. I had forgotten how many of these there are, and look at the people she talked to (Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Jack Warner and more). I got together with Judy Pastore. She’s worked with a thousand SiriusXM shows and was fantastic. We started putting these together (adding contemporary stars, such as Javier Bardem and Barry Manilow, answering Lucy’s pre-recorded questions). We had great editors and we sold it to Sirius in like an hour.

Lucie Arnaz found audio tapes of her mother’s 1960s radio show, “Let’s Talk to Lucy,” in her garage and SiriusXM turned them into a popular podcast. (Courtesy photo)

Then I got asked to take a meeting with Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment people and White Horse Pictures. They wanted to do a documentary on Lucy and Desi. I went, “Jeez, this is raining Lucy and Desi. What’s going on?” With the exception of the “Let’s Talk to Lucy” thing, none of these were instigated by me or Desi (Jr.) or our company. It all came to us in the same cluster of time.

There also was “Lucy Loves Desi: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sitcom” (by the Los Angeles Theatre Works company). I just saw that at the McCallum Theatre. Gregg Oppenheimer (son of “I Love Lucy” producer and head writer Jess Oppenheimer) credited you as a technical consultant.

Gregg wrote it and had done it as a radio play for a couple years. Gregg and I are friends. He runs his dad’s estate the way I have to run my parents’ estate. Because they started on “I Love Lucy” together, we’re like “the kids.” So we make sure things get done right.

He’s always been terrific about running things by us. The only (different account) is, my father wrote a book and told his story, and his father wrote a book and told his story, and they were two completely different viewpoints. We have no one to ask now, so we just had to go, “OK, you tell it your way, and when I’m on a documentary, I’ll tell it my way and somewhere in the middle is the truth.”

“Lucy Loves Desi,” a Los Angeles Theatre Works production written by the son of the producer and head writer of “I Love Lucy,” recently was presented at the McCallum Theatre. (Courtesy photo)

I know there was a difference between the play and “Being the Ricardos,” but what was it?

Aaron Sorkin put it in the movie where, “She’s pregnant. What are we going to do?” (Desi, as the executive producer, says) “We’re going to have the baby.” They go into the office and Jess goes, “What? They’re never going to let you do that!” My father’s story was, they came in like, “OK, she’s pregnant again (doing Desi’s accent), wat we going to do? How we going to hide her? You have to have thee baby on thee show.” And they say, “God, no! They’ll never let you have a baby on the show” — which was true. You couldn’t even say pregnant.

My father tells it in his book that it was Jess and the writers who poo-pooed the idea and he said, “Let me talk to the guy.” But Jess Oppenheimer, in his book, took credit. Desi says, “We’re pregnant. What are we going to do now?” “Well, Desi, we’re going to have the baby.” And Desi says, “You’re kidding? They’ll let us have a baby on the show?” “Sure! You’ll see!” So, there you go.

What’s your comfort level about talking about your parents and talking about yourself?

It depends on what we’re talking about. During the time that all those movies and TV shows and documentaries and radio shows were coming out, I felt very comfortable if somebody called to talk about that very specific thing. I wanted people to see it. If I’m doing a show of my own or a movie or a play that’s going to open and somebody primarily asks me questions about my parents, no. That’s irritating. That’s like, “I’ve been doing this for 50 years. Anything you want to ask me about something I may have done?” It’s kind of rude. You’ve never been like that. But not everybody is curious about you.

I’m curious because people are often amazed when they see you’re so talented. Even at the Purple Room, we were sitting next to a couple that was blown away by how good you were.

I get that a lot, but I also have to take responsibility for the fact that I chose a profession that is not widely accepted or celebrated. Very few people come out of the theater these days as huge celebrities or stars. It’s mostly people from long ago or you’re in a television show or a movie. I never really stayed in those genres. I went to the theater and then concerts. Not a lot of people write about that in a national sense, so how would they know what I’m doing?

You’ve always tried hard to balance career and family and I think you tip the scales in favor of family.

I agree. Absolutely.

Do you think your recognition might have suffered a little because of your focus on family?

You could look at it that way, but I don’t, because if you had given me an opportunity to do it differently, I wouldn’t. Having grown up as the child of two working parents and all that entailed, there was a lot we missed. I wanted that to not be the story for my kids. So you have to say no to certain things. You have to not be present at certain events because there’s a piano recital. Your kids need you. Or your husband. When all is said and done and you’re at the end of your life, I just keep imagining that I want to be surrounded by people that care and not awards or certificates about how well I did my work.


But it does get complicated because this is not just a hobby. I’m so frickin’ grateful that I’m in a business that I love and I actually get paid for. The bottom line is, you have to raise a family and things cost money. Sometimes I’ve had to say, “Guys, Mom’s got to go away for a couple weeks. I’ve got to do this show, but I’m going to come back and we’re going to be together.”

Everybody thinks we own “I Love Lucy.” In 1957, they sold that back to CBS. So I’ve been on my own, making my own living. I never asked my parents for money. I started on my own and I made my own career. Larry, too. From the minute we met, we were always: “This is our money, these are our jobs.” We weren’t in big television series for eight or 12 years. I had a couple pilots that didn’t do well. I made my living in theater or doing concerts. That’s how we raised five kids and put them through school.

Now that your kids are grown, will you devote more time to your career?

I absolutely have a lot more opportunity to do that now that they’re out of the house. But they’re never completely out of the house. There’s always something that brings them back. Now you’re a grandma and your time is not your own. You’re grateful for that because you get to do grandma things, but you can’t just disappear. Larry and I always thought this would be the time we’d do all this traveling, and we have done some. But he’s a few years older than I am, and it’s getting a little more difficult to just jump on a boat and go someplace.

I know your daughter, Katharine, got a theater degree at the University of Miami. Is she in the same balancing act you are? Is she still doing the “Lucy Legacy” act?

Not particularly. She really is focused on her own child right now. She got her degree. She did two great plays and a part in a film and she was out in Los Angeles auditioning for things. But she found that she spent most of her time in her car in Los Angeles. In order to survive she became a party clown for kid parties, and a yoga instructor and she waited tables. Then, when you have to do all that to survive, you don’t even have time to go to an audition.

She went back to New York and did the same thing there. She worked in kid parties, worked in a restaurant and finally she said, “You know Mom, I love this business, but I need to pay my rent. I want insurance.” And she ended up in the corporate world.

She found out she was really pretty savvy as an organizer and she became a recruiter. She worked for Amazon and Microsoft and Donny Deutsch and learned her craft. She earned $250,000 a year pretty quick. So she didn’t look back. And she’s such a good mom. That was a wise move. She was able to do a lot of that online, thanks to Covid, so she can work from home.

Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill (second from left) poses with her family, including (from left) her son, Joe, her daughter Kate, and her husband, Larry Luckinbill. (Photo courtesy of Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill)

Who is your heir to Desilu, Too and all the business of being an Arnaz?

Probably Kate because of her corporate experience and business. The other two are more artists — musician-artist and painter-artist. I think their heads aren’t really in that space. My son, Joe, possibly, he would be able to help her, but I guess it would mostly fall to Kate.

I know Joe is a musician and arranger.

Yeah, guitarist. He produced the CD we just did for the Purple Room. He mastered those and they’re beautiful.

How do you advise your kids about balancing family and show biz?

It’s different for everybody. I always tell my kids, “Please do something that makes you happy. Don’t get stuck in a rut somewhere because you don’t need a lot of things. You really don’t.”

Would you say you were following your bliss when all these projects about your parents were snowballing, or did you feel like you were learning to juggle?

I actually loved it because there’s a producer-director part of me that took over, and that’s thrilling. I even said when this was all over, “I may want to come work for you, Todd” — Todd Black, who produced the movie. I love the whole process of putting it together from scratch. It can be an exhausting and annoying process when you have to get into script conferences with people who may not get it. It’s hard. But I like it and I think I’m good at it.

How involved were you in the selection of Aaron Sorkin as the writer-director and giving him creative control of “Being the Ricardos”?

Oh, I picked him. It was up to me to figure out and OK who the writer would be. He wasn’t the director. He was only the writer originally. We were searching for directors and met with different people, and then Aaron decided he needed to direct it.

The poster for the multi-Oscar-nominated film, “Being the Ricardos.” Lucie Arnaz and her brother, Desi Arnaz Jr., served as executive producers of the movie written and directed by Aaron Sorkin. (Courtesy photo)

Then the big issue was giving him the creative control to be able to alter the facts. I know that was something that — I don’t know if fighting is the right word — but it caused you some consternation.

It did. Yeah, let’s just say that. I wanted it to be as accurate as possible. Why have Lucie Arnaz on board at all, or why buy the rights to two autobiographies and then mess with the facts? It didn’t make any sense to me. Now I know you buy the rights so you can say, “I own them.” Then you can switch them up any way you want because you own them. So it doesn’t matter. It’s actually the opposite of what you think when you’re selling the rights. I learned one very good point. In your contract, make sure it says “approval,” not “meaningful consultations” (laughs).

There’s a huge difference. But you do what you can do. You have many, many email exchanges. I was able to get a lot of stuff adjusted, but he really wasn’t interested in the facts. He would flat-out say, “It’s a movie.” I said, “I understand that, Aaron. I do. And who’s better than you writing the dialogue and making it exciting?”

The only thing that was really inaccurate was the relationships on the set between the writers and my mother and Jess — or the constant bickering between (co-stars William) Frawley and Vivian (Vance). It was so overblown and there wasn’t that kind of conflict with the writers at all. I know because I’m not the only kid of these people still around. Bob Carrol Jr. and Madelyn Davis’ kids (of the staff writers) are still alive. Jess Oppenheimer’s kids are still alive. But I’m the one responsible. I’m the one they’re talking to as the technical adviser, the consultant. And they’re not listening to me.

All I could do was say, “Sorry guys, I tried.” Aaron wanted conflict and I found that hilarious because you’re telling the story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Trust me, there was plenty of conflict. He just put the whole movie on the set of the show, where there was almost none. When they were there, things were Camelot! He tried to turn that into the conflict arena and it wasn’t. As long as that was the focus of the film and it didn’t flash back to lots of other things, there was no way he was going to find the conflict a good writer needs. He was right about that. He knows how to write movies, how to keep your interest. But you have to deal with his disinterest in making sure things are true.

He explained his process in a 2021 interview: “If you can show the audience what a character wants instead of telling them who the character is, you’ll be doing yourself a favor. The way to do that is to just keep putting obstacles in front of them; the tactics they use to overcome those obstacles — that’s what shows you the character.”

That’s very true. But when you’re telling a true story and people think it’s going to be true, and they’re going to get the bottom line about how it was on the set, and they know the family authorized it, which never happens, you would expect it to be as true to form as possible.

Did you know when you gave approval to let him direct you would lose Cate Blanchett in the process?

I never said he should be the director. They allowed him to do that.

The producers.

I said he could be the writer. I did not want him to be the director. He had only directed one other movie at that time. I didn’t want him to be the director for one major reason: We would lose Cate Blanchett. She did not want to work with him as a director and I had been working with her on this project for five years. I’m not going to lose Cate Blanchett over Aaron deciding he had to direct this film, and he did it in a very arrogant way. That’s why there was trouble in River City.

Having said that, when I saw the film, I loved it. It was beautifully made. If you didn’t know what was not true, you would think it was fabulous. I even called him afterwards and said, “Aaron, you made a wonderful film.” He said, “Oh my God, coming from you, that means so much.” I said, “I’m telling you the truth. It’s a wonderful film, all the other stuff aside.”

It was a good film about characters overcoming conflicts.


If it had been Cate Blanchett we would have seen her try to be as funny as your mom. That would have been interesting because Nicole Kidman didn’t have to be as funny as your mom. It wasn’t intended to be a really funny movie. Do you think Cate would have made it a funny movie?

Ah, yeah! I’m sure they would have done equal brilliance. Nicole was terrific. Blew me away. I thought she dug down and found this character. Cate would have been amazing. She doesn’t leave anything on the table. She would have found maybe a different, sharper something. Once I knew we didn’t have Cate, they went in all kinds of directions. If I told you you’d scream with laughter. Finally they said, “What about Nicole?” I said, “Nicole Kidman?” Then I started to laugh. “Yeah, let’s only hire Australian people!”

It’s really hard for someone who hasn’t worked in front of an audience as a comedian to be really funny. Your mom was such a perfectionist in physical comedy. I don’t know if Cate Blanchett could have done it. That’s why it would have been interesting.

Well, the movie wasn’t really about all of that. There was very, very little physical comedy. Snippets of “I Love Lucy” moments and nothing big. They purposely didn’t do that so they wouldn’t have to be compared with that and I thought that was very wise. Primarily, it wasn’t a movie about those comedy moments. It was a movie about getting the show on and their relationship. You wouldn’t have wanted somebody who was just going to do comedy.

That’s my point. It wasn’t intended to be a really funny movie. But Cate Blanchett would have stepped up to the challenge of doing (Lucille Ball’s comedy). It would have been interesting to see if she could have done it.

It would have been interesting to see. That’s for sure.


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