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Desi Arnaz Papers

Identifier: MS-0069

Scope and Contents

The Desi Arnaz Collection consists of Arnaz’s personal notes and materials for his autobiography, A Book, and production materials from both “Desilu Productions” and “Desi Arnaz Productions, Inc.” (DAPI). The Desilu Production items include films and related documents from 1951 to 1962.

The bulk of the collection consists of materials from Desi Arnaz Productions Inc., from 1966 to 1974. This includes extensive production materials for the “The Mothers-In-Law,” a television show which aired from 1967 until 1969. The files contain items such as scripts, story notes, talent agreements, production reports and call sheets. There is also substantial correspondence surrounding the show from its sponsor, Procter & Gamble, and the advertising agency handling the account, Dancer-Fitzgerald-Samples.

Additionally, other materials from this period include the production materials from “The Carol Channing Show,” including a fully produced pilot that was never aired and materials relevant to a proposed series starring Desi Arnaz titled, “The Chairman of the Board.” Materials for “The Chairman of the Board” include notes, ideas and pilot scripts.

The collection is divided in three series, each of which consists of separate materials further divided into associated files.

Series I: Personal consists of personal materials and preparatory notes for his 1976 autobiography; VHS copies of home movies shot in Las Cruces, NM on 16MM; photos of Arnaz's racehorses at the Del Mar racetrack; various production stills; and numerous get-well cards sent during a period of recuperation.

Series II: Desilu Productions consists of materials from Desilu Productions from the period of 1952 until 1961. These include copies of Desi Arnaz’s Guestward Ho, directing contracts from 1960; 16 MM copies of some episodes of I Love Lucy, The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse and Land’s End.

Series III: Dezi Arnaz Productions consists of materials from Desi Arnaz Productions (DAPI), formed in 1965, including production materials and both 35MM and 16MM film for The Mothers-In-Law, The Carol Channing Show, and The Chairman of the Board. The Mothers-In-Law (MIL) files and paperwork span the years 1966 – 1969 and contains files and paperwork for The Mothers-In-Law, which aired on NBC, at 8:30 PM on Sunday evenings from September 1967 until September 1969. The Mothers-In-Law (MIL) materials have been divided into three separate subseries. The first, Production Files, contains 9 folders of materials related to the production of the show. 1. Production files (9 Folders) A. Story ideas B. Writer’s contracts 1 C. Writer’s contracts 2 D. Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) notifications E. Script and shooting schedules F. Music rights and clearances G. Sponsor credits H. Answer print running dates I. Directors Guild of America (DGA) availability lists

The second subseries, Correspondence Files, contain six folders of internal correspondence and letters sent to the production. 2. Correspondence files (4 Folders) A. Production paperwork B. Desi Arnaz correspondence C. Viewer correspondence to production D. Promotional correspondence to production

The third includes the individual show folders containing all materials relating to each of the 56 specific episodes of The Mothers-In-Law. Each episode is divided into four folders of materials for that show, titled as follows: Scripts; Story and Writer’s files; Cast and Credits lists; and Production files. Materials contained within each of these categories are further described below: 3. Episode Files A. Scripts

Successive drafts; 1st, 2nd, 3rd, et al. (Number of folders vary depending on drafts) B. Story and Writer’s files Story/Script outlines, fragments, and revisions Writer’s notes Writer’s guild arbitration files Any research materials C. Cast and Credits lists Tentative credit list Tentative writing credits Talent address sheets William Morris talent agreements Payment authorization for scripts D. Production files Internal production correspondence and reports Call sheets Day out of Days reports NBC Broadcast standards Production photographic proof sheets

In addition, the collection includes 16 MM copies of the edited individual episodes. There is also a documentary on the making of The Mothers-In-Law, transferred from 16 MM onto VHS tape. Series IV: Publications consists of publications.


  • Creation: 1947-1976
  • Creation: Majority of material found in 1966-1974


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research. Permission for commercial use or non-scholarly research must be obtained from the executors of the of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball estates, which are maintained through the partnership of Desilu Too. No copying or photography from this collection is allowed without prior permission from Desilu Too. All rights to materials in the collection must be obtained in writing from “Desilu too.” It is the responsibility of the researcher to assure that all legal qualifications have been met prior to publication.

Conditions Governing Use

The copyright interests in these materials have not been transferred to San Diego State University. Copyright resides with the creators of materials contained in the collection or their heirs. The nature of historical archival and manuscript collections is such that copyright status may be difficult or even impossible to determine.  Requests for permission to publish must be submitted to the Head of Special Collections, San Diego State University, Library and Information Access. When granted, permission is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical item and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder(s), which must also be obtained in order to publish. Materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Permission for commercial use or non-scholarly research must be obtained from the executors of the of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball estates, which are maintained through the partnership of Desilu Too. No copying or photography from this collection is allowed without prior permission from Desilu Too. All rights to materials in the collection must be obtained in writing from “Desilu too.” It is the responsibility of the researcher to assure that all legal qualifications have been met prior to publication.

Biographical Note

From the mid 1930s until the early 1970s, Desi Arnaz, born Desiderio Alberto Arnaz de Archa III on March 2, 1917, achieved prominence first as a musician and later in film and television. After leaving Cuba in 1933 due to the arrival of the Batista government, Desi and his mother fled to Miami, Florida, where his father later joined them. Desi Arnaz joined Xaiver Cugat’s band in 1934 and toured with the group before striking out on his own. Earning renown as the “Miami Rhumba King,” the musician and eventual bandleader went north to perform in New York nightclubs. In 1939 he starred in the Broadway production of “Too Many Girls.” When RKO Pictures in Hollywood purchased the play in 1940, Arnaz made his motion picture debut in the film version. He reprised his role as the lead character, playing opposite Lucille Ball (1911-1989). Their meeting began a relationship that led to their marriage later that year. The couple purchased property in the Chatsworth area of the San Fernando Valley, which they named the Desilu Ranch.

With the advent of World War II, Arnaz entertained the troops with his band, and he enlisted in the US Army in 1943, serving until 1945. Between 1945 and 1951, Arnaz worked in radio and film and also performed in clubs as a bandleader. During this period he and Lucille sought projects in which they could perform in together. Ball, then starring in a radio program called “My Favorite Husband,” was approached by CBS, which was interested in moving the radio show to the newly developed medium of television. Formed initially to manage Arnaz’s band, Desilu Productions was expanded to become the banner under which the couple produced their first hit in the new medium. Lucille Ball negotiated a deal with CBS allowing her and Arnaz to play the fictitious husband and wife team of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in their new TV show, “I Love Lucy.”

Running from 1951 until 1956, “I Love Lucy” was only one show on the roster of Desilu Productions. With the purchase of RKO studios in 1956, Arnaz expanded the company’s facilities to allow for increased production. Between 1951 until 1962, Desilu produced such shows as “Our Miss Brooks” (a vehicle starring Eve Arden who later started in “The Mothers-In-Law”). Other notable productions included “The Untouchables,” “Guestward Ho,” and “The Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse.” The couple divorced in 1960 and Ball bought Arnaz out in 1962; afterwards, Ball assumed complete control of the production company. Desi chose semi-retirement and pursued his interests in breeding and raising racehorses, splitting his time between his two homes in Baja California, Mexico, and Del Mar, California. In 1963, he married Edith Mack, a union that lasted until her death in 1983.

Signaling a return to television, Arnaz formed “Desi Arnaz Productions Incorporated” (DAPI) in 1965 as his new production entity. With the development of “The Mothers-In-Law” (MIL) in 1966, and its subsequent appearance in prime time during the 1967 season, Arnaz assumed the role of the show’s director and also appeared in four of the episodes as Señor Raphael Del Gado. In production from 1967 until 1969, “The Mothers-In-Law,” starring Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard, ran for three seasons on NBC.

As it turns out, his guest roles on “The Mothers-in-Law” were Desi's last sitcom work until his appearance twenty years later on “Alice” in 1978. His only other major television appearances after the “Lucy” shows were on episodes of “The Men from Shiloh,” “Bonanza,” a pilot that ran as part of the “Perry Mason” series, a pilot that ran as an episode of another Raymond Burr series, "Ironside" (Dr. Domingo), as guest-host on “Saturday Night Live” in 1975, and on a Bob Hope special in 1976.

The 1970s marked a second retreat from television production, but Arnaz stayed busy nonetheless. In 1971, a San Diego State University graduate student named Jim Yanizyn, who was writing his M.A. thesis on “The Mothers-In-Law,” contacted Arnaz. This contact led to Arnaz’s decision to donate the initial materials related to “The Mothers-In-Law” to San Diego State University, and a reception was held in the summer of 1971. Retuning to SDSU in 1972 as a visiting professor, Arnaz taught classes in studio production and acting for television. He also served as the United States ambassador to Latin America under Richard Nixon. Arnaz’s autobiography, A Book, was published in 1976, and it spent a number of weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. Desi Arnaz completed his last film, “The Escape Artist,” in 1983 and died from cancer on December 2, 1986 at the age of 69.


13.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials


Arrangement Note

I. Personal Records

II. Desilu Productions

III. Desi Arnaz Productions

1. Mothers in Law

2. Correspondence

3. Episode Files

IV. Publications

Source of Acquisition

Desi Arnaz and Lucie Arnaz

Accruals and Additions

First accession, 1971 Second accession, 1972 Third accession, 1987

Desi Arnaz Papers
Michael William Lapins
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections & University Archives Repository

5500 Campanile Dr. MC 8050
San Diego CA 92182-8050 US