After 20 tumultuous years of marriage, actress Lucille Ball divorces her husband and collaborator, Desi Arnaz, on March 4, 1960. The breakup of the couple, stars of the hit sitcom I Love Lucy and owners of the innovative Desilu Studios, was one of the highest-profile divorces in American history at the time.
Ball met Arnaz, five years her junior, while she was acting and he was leading a band in the film Too Many Girls. They married six months later. Though the two were, by all accounts, deeply in love for most of their lives, the relationship was always tumultuous, due to both of them being in showbusiness and to Arnaz's womanizing and problems with alcohol. Ball first sought a divorce four years into the marriage, but they reconciled and determined to strengthen their relationship by finding opportunities to work together. When CBS asked her to develop a sitcom, Ball insisted on having her real-life husband play her husband on the show. The network was hesitant to cast a Cuban-American as a co-lead, but the couple convinced them by putting on a live show and conducting a successful tour.
I Love Lucy ran from 1951 until 1957. It was popular for the entirety of its run, won five Emmys, and continues to be regarded as one of the most influential programs in American history. Once again challenging the powers that be, Ball and Arnaz wrote her pregnancy with their second child into the show, making it the first television program to depict a pregnancy. Desilu Studios, which they founded to produce the show, was for a time the largest independent production company in the country, and it produced a number of shows besides I Love Lucy, including Mission: Impossible and the original Star Trek. I Love Lucy and its successor, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, lovingly poked fun at married life in modern America; however, the underlying problems of the real-life marriage it was based on never went away. Ball filed for divorce in 1960 and bought out Arnaz's share in Desilu two years later, becoming the first woman to run a major television studio. Though the divorce was reportedly contentious, the two remained close for the rest of their lives, which they each spent in showbusiness.