As one of television’s most beloved characters, Lucy Ricardo from “I Love Lucy,” hardly fit the societal norms for a woman of the ’60s. Unlike June Cleaver from “Leave it to Beaver,” Lucy Ricardo’s comedic mannerisms made her an outlier for the times.
Instead of homemaking, taking care of her husband, and raising children, Lucy’s character was instead positioned to bring fun and humor to the show — something typically only reserved to male characters. The show’s decision to not make Lucy’s primary focus child-rearing, although risky, proved to be successful.
Within six months of the show’s premiere, the audience reached 11 million, garnering 67 of every 100 nine o’clock Monday night viewers. That same year it hit airwaves, the show was nominated for an Emmy Award for “Best Comedy Show.”
However, at the time of the show’s success, they ran into a hiccup. In 1953, Ball was expecting her second child with Desi Arnaz. At the time, the Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters prohibited anything sexually suggestive on the air. This included the discussion of pregnancy since it implied that a couple had engaged in baby-making.
When executives told Arnaz that the show could be canceled if viewers saw Ball pregnant, he exclaimed, “What is so wrong if she has a baby in the show as Lucy Ricardo?”
Yet, executives still tried to find a solution to the dilemma without changing the plot. They suggested that Ball could hide the pregnancy by sitting behind chairs or tables. “Not Lucy,” Arnaz responded. Yet, most of the staff feared the network would cancel the program.
How ‘I Love Lucy’ Dealt With Lucy’s Pregnancy
As a result, Arnaz Desi and show writer Jess Oppenheimer discussed the pregnancy problem with CBS executive Philip Morris. After negotiations, the producers decided to do something unprecedented: incorporate the pregnancy into the show’s storyline.
Although the term “pregnancy” was barred from TV, they wrote in phrases like “expecting” and “with child.” They even sought the blessings of a priest, a minister, and a rabbi. “They didn’t change a word,” said writer Madelyn Pugh.
The real-life birth of Desiderio Alberto Arnaz IV, known as Desi Jr. (and Little Ricky on TV, played by James John Ganzer and then by several sets of twins and young actors), changed TV forever in addition to making headlines.
“TV Actress Lucille Ball Gives Birth to Son, Exactly According to Script,” announced the International News Service. The following month, Ball won an Emmy for “Best Comedienne. Arnaz and Oppenheimer took home awards for “Best Situation Comedy.”