Little Ricky Actor Reflects On ‘I Love Lucy’ Success
Today marks the 69th anniversary of CBS’s first broadcast of I Love Lucy.
For Keith Thibodeaux, the actor who played Little Ricky and the last living cast member, the show has stood the test of time due to its core cast and groundbreaking efforts in television. Having Lucille Ball at the center of the sitcom helped as well.
“The acting and charisma of Lucille Ball and Desi, and all those factors — the directors, the writers, the cast — it was perfectly put together,” Thibodeaux told The Post-Journal by phone on Wednesday. “The show, it has had such a big influence on sitcoms today. It would be hard to come up with the I Love Lucy show today in how it connected with people.”
The show — named after the local icon — first aired Oct. 15, 1951, and included 180 episodes spanning six seasons. Ball and Desi Arnaz took a salary cut in order to have the show produced in Hollywood, a deal that also gave 100% ownership to the pair’s Desilu Productions.
The show made production in Hollywood so acceptable that, by 1961, just about all major primetime television shows were filmed on the West Coast.
Thibodeaux appeared in 23 episodes of I Love Lucy, in addition to 13 episodes of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. He auditioned for the part in 1955, chosen out of 200 boys after demonstrating that he could play the drums at Ball’s request.
Even today, Thibodeaux said he is surprised by the show’s stamina and reach to new generations of fans.
“I am surprised,” he said. “When a 10-year-old, 12-year-old, 14, they come up to me and say what a fan they are and how much they have enjoyed the show. During such a creative time in everything that was going on, I Love Lucy sat on top of all that — it’s just a quality thing that holds up.”
Thibodeaux and his wife have visited Jamestown, Ball’s birthplace and home to the National Comedy Center and Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum, several times.
He applauds efforts to keep the show’s legacy alive and honor Ball for her career in comedy.
“It’s cool to be part of the memory, to keep the memory alive,” he said. “The museum is a great place. It’s a jewel in Jamestown that people can come and see all the different memorabilia at the center and the museum.”
Included in the memorabilia on display at the museum is a pair of pants Thibodeaux wore on the show. He was shown a picture of the display Wednesday.
“That was from back in the day,” he said of the clothing, pointing out that he has kept other items from the show, including drums that Ball gave him in the 1950s.
As for the show, Thibodeaux said it remains a significant part of his life. “It just continues to be this little thread,” he said of discussing his role on the show along with the other notable moments and ventures in his life.
Thibodeaux and his wife continue to be part of Ballet Magnificat!, a professional Christian ballet company founded in Mississippi. He also remains part of the Christian rock band David and the Giants; they released their latest album, “What Are You Waiting For?” in 2019.
I LOVE LUCY DAY
The National Comedy Center and the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum today are recognizing “I Love Lucy Day” to commemorate the anniversary of CBS’s first broadcast of I Love Lucy. The recognition includes a variety of events and updated tours.
A free Lucy trivia event will be held online tonight at 8 p.m. at ComedyCenter.org/LucyTrivia and will feature classic moments from I Love Lucy episodes and special guest appearances from family, friends and colleagues of Ball and Arnaz. The trivia event will include six rounds hosted by pub trivia quiz experts Geeks Who Drink, with trivia questions developed by the archivists at the Lucille Ball Desi Arnaz Museum.
The National Comedy Center will also feature encore presentations of two exclusive online conversations, “Desi Arnaz: A Father’s Day Tribute with Lucie Arnaz” featuring special guest Oscar Nunez and hosted by David Bianculli, and “Debra Messing: A National Comedy Center Conversation” hosted by Frank DeCaro. The programs are now available on demand at ComedyCenter.org/LucyTrivia.
A new gallery has opened in the museum celebrating “Lucy in the Movies,” featuring a timeline of Lucille Ball’s 90-plus theatrical films, a video presentation produced in partnership with Turner Classic Movies and displays of screen-used wardrobe from fan-favorite films.
Further, a newly-enhanced “LucyTown” Driving Tour for visitors to Jamestown has launched online, showcasing significant and historic locations and venues throughout the Jamestown area that represent aspects of Ball’s life and career. The tour is available for free at ComedyCenter.org/LucyTownTour.