Pepito, Lucy and Desi Rehearse Vaudeville Act at the Hotel Del Coronado (1950)

The Hotel Del Coronado near San Diego, California was instrumental in helping to launch the careers of some television giants. In fact, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz retreated to The Del in 1950 to polish their comedy routine under the direction of “Pepito the Spanish Clown,” a renowned vaudeville performer.

They stayed at “The Del” for a couple of weeks, where they developed their “Ricky and Lucy” personas (he the serious Cuban bandleader; she his zany star-struck wife).

The Ballroom at the Hotel Del Coronado.

In Desi Arnaz’s autobiography, “A Book,” he wrote that he, Lucille and Pepito “got a suite at the Coronado Hotel in San Diego and [Pepito] spent two weeks working eight to ten hours a day with Lucy and me. He also converted a cello and a xylophone into great comic props — exactly like the ones he had used as part of his clown act. We used them both in our theater tour and later in the pilot film, of I Love Lucy. They were two of the best routines Lucy ever did.”

The plan was to have an entire vaudeville act that they could take on the road to prove to the dubious CBS executives that audiences would accept a television comedy about Cuban man married to an Anglo woman.

Desi recounted that “Bob Carroll, Jr., and Madelyn Pugh, who were writing her radio show with Jess Oppenheimer, wrote a short sketch for us … I wrote some lyrics for {Lucille] to do with me on the second chorus of “Cuban Pete,” and staged a wild rhumba with which to finish that number. She was now ready to join our show.”

They then took their show on the road, performing in many of the palatial theater venues of the day. Said Desi, “The tour was arranged so that a true cross section of the country would see us. We appeared at The Roxy in New York, followed by theaters in Minneapolis, Omaha, San Francisco and others. Of course [Lucy] was sensational.”

Desi Arnaz in a white blazer, standing on the street corner under the Roxy Theater marquee bearing his name and Lucille’s, on their vaudeville tour around the United States, 1950.

In fact, in the “Lucy Goes to Mexico” episode of I Love Lucy, “Lucy and Ricky” stayed at The Hotel Del Coronado with their friends, “Fred and Ethel Mertz” and Maurice Chevalier. In his room at the Coronado, Chevalier rehearses “Something’s Gotta Give.” Technically, the episode is comprised of studio filming, second unit footage with actor doubles, and stock footage (of the Hotel del Coronado and bullfighting arena). The main cast never traveled to Mexico or San Diego.  


Hotel Del Coronado


Cinema Treasures


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