It's all bongos and|
'Babalu' for him
Sentinel Staff Writer
May 6, 2001
Sporting a pompadour, singing "Babalu" and saying "Luuucy, you got some 'splaining to do!" may seem like a wacky way to earn a living, but Adrian Israel takes the Ricky Ricardo business seriously.
"I don't consider myself an impersonator, I'm an actor who plays a role," said Israel, who has been portraying Lucy's saner half at Universal Studios since 1992. "I still watch at least one episode of I Love Lucy every day to learn a new gesture or phrase. I am the only one who is allowed to portray Ricky Ricardo or Desi Arnaz legally."
Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, gave him that right.
"I have a picture with her that she signed, 'Dedicated to my second father,' " said Israel, whose uncanny resemblance to Arnaz also led to Gloria and Emilio Estefan hiring him to play "Desi Arnaz the third" at their Orlando club Bongos for three years.
As convincing as Israel's Ricardo is, he said Hispanic tourists delight in trying to trip him up by saying something in Spanish to prove that he's some kind of Iowa-born or Boston-reared imposter. "When I answer right back in Spanish, they seem very surprised," said Israel, who is from Cuba like Arnaz.
"That show was playing in Cuba when I was a little boy," Israel said. "Then when Castro took over, it was banned from television. But the funny part is when I moved here, I learned a lot of my English by watching that show."
Israel studied at the National Arts School and danced for the National Cuban Ballet before a car accident injured his knees. When he left Cuba at 28, he moved to Orlando instead of Miami because his sister was here and he wanted his family to live where they would have to learn to speak English. "Now, here I am, earning my bread and butter speaking broken English," Israel said.
Ricardo's famed mispronunciations and mixed metaphors don't diminish Israel's pride in portraying one of the most successful and beloved Latin characters in the history of TV.
"The show was so well-written that even when they make fun of his accent, it was done well," said Israel.
"He was a genius," Israel said, citing Arnaz's success as a bandleader, a sitcom star, the show's producer and the brains behind Desilu Studios. "And he came to this country from Cuba with nothing -- just like I did."
Israel is reminded every bongo-beating workday how much Lucy and Ricky still mean to people all over the world. "Little kids hug me in the knees and say, 'I love you,' " Israel said. "That touches me deeply."
Leslie Doolittle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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