It happened again. I got an email asking about Desi Arnaz and whether he did the original Cuban Pete. Yes I’ve done posts on it. So I am reposting the links — more timely than ever due to all the tributes to Lucille Ball on what would have been her 100th anniversary.
If you are a performer or aspiring one I STRONGLY recommend you watch all four of these videos. They show showmanship by performers are various levels and of various ages — including of a youthful and old Arnaz.
Jim Carey did a hilarious take on “Cuban Pete” in The Mask. The song was a huge hit in the film. Some of the film’s orchestration followed the original Arnaz piece. And he was clearly satirizing Arnaz, one of the most beloved entertainers of his generation.
Here’s Arnaz singing it on “I Love Lucy” in the early 50s. Carey used this as his source material for this satire:
In 1976, Arnaz, now elderly and largely retired, appeared on Saturday Live and did it again — and got big applause from a young audience. He had not lost his pizazz (turn up sound). Note that his showmanship was intact to the end.
I worked as a staff reporter on the San Diego Union from January 1982 through November 1990. Arnaz lived in Del Mar and was one of the most beloved people in the San Diego area. There were always stories about this “real” person who used to call up the paper’s TV critic and say that someone needed to do a column on the role of his band in “I Love Lucy.” (He was very protective of his band). To this day there are people who love Arnaz.
Additionally, in later years stories came out about him in effect standing up to the mob which didn’t like his show “The Untouchables.”
Carey later did this screamingly hilarious version of “Cuban Pete” in the classic comedy “The Mask” doing a parody of Arnaz’s number:
But MY FAVORITE rendition of Cuban Pete is by this young lip syncher on You Tube:
But never forget the guy who did the original. And here he is singing the show’s theme in a segment (the show was of my parent’s generation).
In 1986, a few months before his death, I discovered that a Rolodex given to me by an editor who had left the newspaper contained Desi Arnaz’s phone number in Del Mar. I showed it to my editor at the time, a superb editor who had a wonderful sense of humor. He was quite adamant: “I want to call up the number and get him on the phone and say ‘Looocey!'” He was an Arnaz fan. I don’t know if he would have done it, but he dialed the number. He smiled and asked for Desi. Then his smile dropped. “The guy said he’s not there that ‘Esta enfermo.'” Arnaz was sick. In fact, he was over in Baja California at the time — dying of cancer. Those who talked about Arnaz in San Diego usually smiled.
PS: This post is an adapation of a previous post. I’ve run this You Tuber’s lip sync now about three times on TMV and each time I find it hilarious.
PSS: My mother who is now 90 always said she considered Arnaz “gorgeous” but thought he was an awful singer. In reading about Arnaz, I did learn that some critics and others shared her view but he had such showmanship, charisma and was so likable that he seldom was criticized. Many also contend he popularized the Conga in America in the 40s before he linked up with Ball.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.