Radio: Sassafrassa, the Queen

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Gold Initials. Desi had come to Hollywood to make the movie version of the Broadway hit, Too Many Girls. Taking one look at luscious (5 ft. 7 in., 130 Ibs.) Lucille, who was wearing a sweater and skirt, he cried: "Thass a honk o' woman!" and asked: "How would you like to learn the rumba, baby?" He took her for a ride in his blue convertible, with the gold initials on the door, and she shudderingly recalls that the only time the speedometer dipped below 100 m.p.h. was when he rounded a curve. On the way home, Desi hit a bump and, as Lucille tells it, a fender flew off. He simply flicked the ash from his Cuban cigarillo and sped on.

Lucille was as dazzled by his full name (Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y De Acha III) as by his history. The only child of a prosperous Cuban politician who had been mayor of Santiago and a member of the Cuban Senate, Desi had fled to Miami with his mother during the revolution of 1933. His father, a supporter of President Machado, was put in jail, and the Arnaz possessions disappeared in the revolution.

After six months, Desi's father was released from jail and rejoined his family in Miami, where he went into the export-import business. Desi, who was 16, enrolled in St. Patrick's High School (his closest friend was Al Capone's son Albert), and got a part-time job cleaning canary cages for a firm which sold birds to local drugstores. He soon found steadier work as a guitarist in a four-piece band incongruously called the Siboney Sextette. The critics agreed on Desi's meager musical gifts. "He was always off-beat," says Theater Owner Carlos Montalban. "But he's an awfully nice guy—a clean-cut Latin."

Conga Line. Whatever Desi had, it was something the public liked. He began beating a conga drum in Miami and soon nightclub audiences, from Florida to New York, were forming conga lines behind him. His good looks and unquenchable good humor interested Producer George Abbott, who was searching for a Latin type to play a leading role in Too Many Girls. "Can you act?" asked Abbott. "Act?" answered Desi, expansively. "All my life, I act."

The courtship of Desi and Lucille was predictably stormy. Says a friend: "He's very jealous. She's very jealous—they're both very jealous." They were married in 1940, while Desi was leading his orchestra at the Roxy in New York and Lucille was between pictures in Hollywood. She flew in from the Coast; they got up at 5 a.m. and drove to Connecticut, where they were married by a justice of the peace. Since they had no apartment, Desi compromised by carrying his bride across the threshold of his dressing room at the Roxy. Hollywood offered odds that the marriage would not last six weeks.

The marriage lasted better than six weeks, but after four years trouble blew. Desi kept moving about the country with his band, and Lucille, when not making pictures, mostly sat home alone. Their marriage was drifting on the rocks, and only World War II averted immediate shipwreck. Desi refused a commission in the Cuban army and was drafted into the U.S. infantry. He was moved on to Special Services, and spent much of the war shepherding USO troupes from one base to another.

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