Desi Arnaz’s Flight Jacket and Jeans in The Long, Long Trailer
Desi Arnaz as Nicky Collini, civil engineer
Northern California, Late Summer 1953
Film: The Long, Long Trailer
Release Date: February 18, 1954
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Costume Designer: Helen Rose
As this year’s summer travel season in the U.S. looks to be more centered around road trips in response to the coronavirus pandemic, RV rentals and purchases have been surging at an unprecedented rate that recalls the heyday of “the great American road trip” as depicted in The Long, Long Trailer. Adapted from Clinton Twiss’ novel of the same name, this Lucy and Desi vehicle zaps into the wanderlust zeitgeist that captured the imagination of Americans during the fabulous fifties as everyone from Harry Truman to Jack Kerouac hit the newly expanded network of highways and byways as they explored the continental United States.
Were I transported back to the 1950s with the mission of taking in the country from the road, I’d likely be piloting a ’57 Chevy Nomad with a Super Turbo Fire V8 across Route 66 from Missouri to California, though it’s solely this latter state that hosts newlyweds Nicky and Tacy Collini as they plot their new nomadic life in a homey silver-and-yellow Redman New Moon hauled up the coast by a cream-colored Mercury convertible.
As they were currently starring in the landmark TV series I Love Lucy, The Long, Long Trailer sought to capitalize on real-life married couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s fame by thinly disguising their I Love Lucy personas Lucy and Ricky as “Tacy” and “Nicky”, photographed in a vivid Anscocolor that featured not only the lush California landscapes but also Lucy’s famous red hair!
What’d He Wear?
Though he isn’t piloting a B-17 Flying Fortress or B-29 Superfortress through the skies, Nicky Collini is dressed for the task of helming his large craft through uncharted territory. His brown leather flight jacket evokes the adventurous American aviators who took to the skies in their goatskin A-2 jackets, in turn establishing a lasting trend in American menswear associating leather jackets with resilience, adventure, and a pioneering spirit.
Other movies of the era like Picnic depict former servicemen pulling their military-issued flight and field jackets from the back of their closets as these G.I. fashions became increasingly normalized as everyday work-wear. Within a decade of VE Day and VJ Day, seeing a leather flight jacket was almost as commonplace as their tamer windbreaker cousins, indicating a presumed toughness without its wearer resorting to the larcenous behavior of those wild ones in their motorcycle jackets.
Desi Arnaz himself had served during World War II, classified for limited service in the U.S. Army due to a knee injury he received prior to reporting. His duties including directing USO programming at the Birmingham General Army Hospital in the San Fernando Valley, and he was honorably discharged as a staff sergeant in November 1945.
I don’t believe The Long, Long Trailer implies whether Nicky was a veteran or not, though one of his staples during the Collini honeymoon road trip is a zip-up blouson made of heavy duty brown leather and styled consistently with the U.S. Army Air Forces’ famous A-2 flight jacket with its shirt-style collar, epaulettes (shoulder straps), knit cuffs and hem, and two patch hip pockets with pointed flaps that each close with a covered snap.
The morning after their wedding, Tacy wakes up under the drowsy influence of sleeping pills as the result of a neighborly misunderstanding with fellow “trailerites” at the Breezeaway Trailer Park near Monterey. With growing cynicism about the commercialism around trailer parks, Nicky and Tacy commit to the ultimate social isolation as they resolve to spend the next night together somewhere in a secluded forest away from electricity, plumbing, and—most importantly—nosy neighbors. The inexperienced couple gets stuck in the mud on an old logging road, resulting in an even more miserable evening than the last as the sloped trailer ruins Tacy’s attempt to cook dinner while Nicky’s futile attempts to jack the trailer upright land him swamped in the mud.
Tacy: Oh, Nicky, it’s starting to rain!
While he drenches and dirties his clothes, his rugged leather jacket was built to withstand hearty duties and survives to be worn for much of the rest of their journey. Unfortunately, his off-white “newsboy”-style flat cap with its eight-panel top was likely ruined in the attempt and isn’t seen again.
During this rainy, muddy scene, Nicky wears his white checked shirt patterned with an all-over gray mini-grid check. This long-sleeved shirt is styled in a manner typical for the era’s sport shirts with a large loop collar and two chest pockets that each close with a non-buttoning flap. The shirt fastens up a plain front and closes over the wrists with button cuffs that he wears undone and neatly rolled up each arm past the elbow.
Though the shirt was likely quite muddied after Nicky falls, it evidently gets thoroughly washed in time for the climactic mountain climb.
With few exceptions, Nicky takes to the road in a pair of Levi’s 501® Original Fit blue jeans, which would have been made at the time from dark indigo 10 oz. selvedge denim from Cone® Mills of North Carolina, which remain a Levi’s brand partner after more than 100 years.
Levi’s was still primarily a western and west coast fashion at the time The Long, Long Trailer was released, though the company introduced its zip-fly 501® Z that same year in the hope of expanding its consumer base, particularly in response to renewed competition from Lee and Wrangler. Though there have been subtle evolutions and variances with rivets, fits, tabs, and tags, the Levi’s 501 has remained essentially the same with its belt loops and five-pocket layout since the end of World War II.
Nicky adheres to one of the more commonly accepted rules of menswear by matching the leather of his belt and shoes, in this case a thick black leather belt with a steel-toned single-prong belt buckle with mitred corners and a pair of black leather cap-toe boots with inside zippers and raised “Cuban heels.”
Even suburbia isn’t safe for the motoring Collinis! An attempt to visit Tacy’s genteel Aunt Anastasia in the fictional Golden State burg of “Bridgewood” begins disastrously when Nicky’s attempt to back the 39-foot New Moon into Anastasia’s driveway brings her whole ornate car port crashing to the ground.
The morning he and Tacy finally leave, Nicky appears to be wearing a white cotton long-sleeved polo shirt with a large collar, three-button placket, and flapped breast pocket. Per the refined family surroundings, Nicky foregoes his usual jeans for the road and wears a pair of light gray worsted double reverse-pleated trousers with a fashionably long rise, a wide self-suspended waistband with a double-button front closure, side pockets, and turn-ups (cuffs).
While driving through the forests among these snow-topped mountains of northern California, Nicky wears a bright red shirt that leaps off the screen. This was likely the same long-sleeved camp shirt that Desi Arnaz wore for publicity photos to promote the movie.
The two are granted this eventual brief reprieve of a few idyllic weeks on the road, scored by the 1920s standard “Breezin’ Along With the Breeze” which serves as the film’s leitmotif, until Nicky realizes that the weight of Tacy’s respective hobbies like rock collecting and fruit canning will result in having to jettison almost all of this heavy cargo before they can complete the following day’s “run” over an 8,000-foot mountain to their permanent Colorado home.
Of course, anyone who’s seen even one episode of I Love Lucy should know it wouldn’t be within Lucy’s character to so easily part with something of such sentimental value and she seeks a way to secretly store her mementos of the road before the final and most treacherous leg of their journey.
On the eve of their perilous drive up the mountain, Nicky wears a red-on-gray plaid short-sleeved sport shirt with another wide loop camp collar and two patch pockets. The fabric on the pockets and their non-buttoning flaps are angled to be deliberately non-matching against the body of the shirt.
Nicky wears a gold rectangular wristwatch with a light silver square dial on a beige leather strap as well as a plain gold wedding band that was likely Desi Arnaz’s own real-life wedding ring.
#CarWeek officially ended on Monday, but it wouldn’t be right to omit discussion of either vehicle in The Long, Long Trailer, be it Nicky’s new 1953 Mercury Monterey or the trailer itself, a 36-foot long 1953 Redman New Moon.
Built by the Redman Trailer Company of Alma, Michigan, this silver-and-yellow mobile home carried a price tag of $5,345 at the time, equivalent to just over $51,000 today. To haul the rig, Nicky is forced to upgrade from his 1939 Ford and its 85-horsepower flathead V8 to the latest ride from the Ford Motor Company, a cream-colored Mercury Monterey.
While the Mercury was outfitted with the latest evolution of the Ford flathead V8, a 256 cubic-inch mill offering 125 horsepower and 218 lb·ft of torque, it still wasn’t enough to pull the New Moon up the mountain, so the production repainted and rebadged an otherwise similar-looking 1953 Lincoln Capri for these scenes. Powered by a 341 cubic-inch Lincoln Y-block V8 new and improved for ’53 and rated at 205 horsepower, the Capri deftly hauled the trailer as needed as seen in a previous post.
Given that both the Lincoln and Mercury were contemporary Ford stablemates, it’s a mystery why Lucy and Desi weren’t assigned a Lincoln by whoever inked that product placement deal, especially as the Lincoln was the more upmarket offering against the sportier Merc.
1953 Mercury Monterey
Body Style: 2-door convertible
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 256 cu. in. (4.2 L) Ford flathead V8 with Holley 4-bbl carburetor
Power: 125 hp (93.2 kW; 127 PS) @ 3800 RPM
Torque: 218 lb·ft (296 N·m) @ 1700 RPM
Transmission: 3-speed Borg Warner “Merc-O-Matic” automatic
Wheelbase: 118 inches (2997 mm)
Length: 202.2 inches (5136 mm)
Width: 73.5 inches (1867 mm)
Height: 62.2 inches (1580 mm)
The year after The Long, Long Trailer was released, Phil Karlson’s brisk Columbia noir 5 Against the House also featured both a Lincoln Capri and a Redman New Moon trailer, albeit a shorter trailer and it’s never pulled by the Capri but instead an older Ford sedan.
How to Get the Look
Nearly 70 years since he guided his long, long trailer through the mountains of California, Desi Arnaz’s Nicky Collini showed a prescient knack for timeless casual attire with his rugged and age-proof road-wear of leather flight jacket, sport shirts, and dark Levi’s jeans.
- Brown leather zip-up flight jacket with shirt-style collar, patch hip pockets with hidden-snap flaps, and knit cuffs and hem
- Checked ’50s-style sport shirt with wide loop collar, plain front, and two flapped chest pockets
- Dark blue selvedge denim Levi’s 501® jeans with belt loops, button fly, five-pocket layout, and self-cuffed bottoms
- Thick black leather belt with steel-toned, mitred-corner single-prong belt buckle
- Black leather cap-toe “Cuban heel” boots
- Silver necklace with large St. Christopher medallion
- Gold wedding ring
- Gold rectangular watch with light silver square dial on beige leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, a nostalgic favorite of mine that I used to watch over and over on VHS with my grandma.
One of my best decisions while under lockdown this spring was purchasing a subscription to ROUTE, “the magazine that celebrates road travel, vintage Americana, and Route 66.” I highly recommend that anyone intrigued or interested in any of these topics secure their own subscription!
Given that the engine bays in both were of similar size and layout, wouldn’t it have been easier for the production team to drop the Lincoln motor into a Mercury than repaint and refit a Lincoln to resemble a Mercury?
Judging by the yoke on the back of Desi’s jacket in one photo, it was not a real regulation A-2 jacket. Perhaps he got it from the lot of, “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” which featured such non-regulation regulation flight jackets worn by actors, Van Johnson, Don DeFore, etc. (to chagrin from all us A-2 purists.