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 Peter Takes on History 

January 19, 1953

Ever heard of Lucy and Ricky's TV Son Keith

January 19th, 1953 was a birthday; kind of a two-fer. One woman, two babies. One real, one a TV character. The very proud and very famous parents were Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz; Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in “I Love Lucy.” America’s No. 1 show for four of the six years the series ran!.
Remarkably, a TV show that almost didn’t happen! One big reason, network executives didn’t believe the American public was ready for an average TV housewife to be married to a “foreign man.” Another thing network execs didn’t believe was that the American public wanted to watch a TV pregnancy. In 1953 even the word pregnant was considered too vulgar for television. But, the real-life couple was two years into the most popular show on television so, finally, the suits relented and agreed that Lucy could come out from behind the strategically placed plants and furniture and reveal her condition. Her nine months would be covered in seven shows and no one would say “pregnant.” The accepted term would be “Expecting” or as Desi would say, “s-pectin.” Incidentally, Lucy was the only one on the show who was allowed to make fun of her husband’s Cuban accent. Not out of respect for the man or his heritage but, the show was taped in front of a live studio audience and audiences just didn’t laugh when other characters mocked him.
Little Ricky was born to the couple on an episode called “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” which is exactly where Lucille Ball was the Monday night the show aired. She delivered Desi Junior by C-section. The operation went off without a hitch and that night’s show was a phenomenal hit!
Some say 75% of all American TV sets were tuned to CBS. On the cover of the very first TV Guide, newborn Desi Arnaz Junior was called "Lucy's $50,000,000 baby," More like $500M in today's dollars. That was the estimated revenue from advertising tie-ins.
Many people still don’t know this but Little Ricky on the show was not Desi Arnaz Jr. The real baby was never even considered for the part. Desi Arnaz senior realized their other child, Lucy, born before the show premiered, would not tolerate being left out of the family business!
And, then, well, the show must go on. Nobody was taking maternity leave. There were scripts in the can, ready to be shot. And what if the baby “Desi” was born “Denise” instead? Lucy didn’t know whether she was having a boy or girl! So, the writers decided “boy,” the couple agreed and they ran with it.
So, initially, Little Ricky was played by a pair of infant twins (for seamless switching of cranky babies) and when the time came for three year old “Little Ricky” to start making appearances, he was played by a young looking, 5-year-old New Orleans native Kieth Thibedeaux. The execs changed that to Richard Keith. The kid was cute, smart and, importantly, a child prodigy on the drums. Since Ricky Ricardo was a Cuban drummer on the show, the tie-in was perfect.
The show led to a lot of confusion for both the real and TV sons. Keith often wanted to be with his own family but Lucy had kinda adopted him, even directed him to call her “mommy.” At the same time, Desi Arnaz Jr was wondering who the kid was who was hanging with mom and dad all the time. Lucy reportedly told him, “That’s you!” I’m sure that was interesting for both boys when they ended up in therapy … and they did.
The January 19th episode of I Love Lucy was watched by more people than any other television program before it and easily beat the counter-programming that evening: the inauguration of Dwight D. Eisenhower. 16 years later Lucile Ball and young Desi actually met the ex-president. Eisenhower said, “So here’s the young man who knocked me off the front pages!”’
That’s all I’ve got.

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