‘I Love Lucy’: Lucille Ball Used a Sly Trick with Her Cigarettes to Please Sponsors

by Madison Miller
Photo by: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Lucille Ball was a groundbreaking actress and a powerful figure in the TV industry. In fact, she was the very first woman to own a production company after starting Desilu Productions.

“I Love Lucy” garnered mass audiences, both then and now, and would bring revenue to CBS and sponsors during its six seasons.

During the show’s run on television, it had a number of sponsors. One of the biggest contracts was between “I Love Lucy” and Philip Morris Cigarettes.

Lucille Ball and Philip Morris Cigarettes

According to IMDb, Lucille Ball used to place Chesterfield cigarettes in her Philip Morris packages while filming. Ball preferred to smoke Chesterfield cigarettes and did not prefer the Philip Morris ones. Her solution was to hide them in the package and therefore fool both audiences and the sponsors.

Throughout the series, Philip Morris had positioned their product in the storyline as well as in commercial ads. The couple smoked a goodnight cigarette in matching pajamas, break out a king-size pack from a wall safe, and speak to audiences about the fact that they don’t leave you with a cigarette hangover.

In another ad, Lucy and Desi in animated form repel down the side of a box of Philip Morris. The sponsor actually signed an $8 million contract with “I Love Lucy.” According to The New York Times, this allowed an additional two and a half years of the program when it was signed in February 1953. Half of the money went to Desilu Productions and the other half helped cover air-time charges.

Ball On-Air Pregnancy

Lucille Ball was one of the first women to show her pregnancy on television. “Mary Kay and Johnny” was the very first series to show a couple sharing a bed and the first to show a woman’s pregnancy on TV.

In the spring of 1952, Lucille Ball found out she was pregnant with Lucie Arnaz.

According to the Library of Congress, she and Arnaz thought the show would be suspended or even canceled. Given the time period, networks were picky on what shows were allowed to show. However, producer Jess Oppenheimer suggested including the pregnancy in the show.

CBS executives, the Blow Advertising Agency, and Philip Morris Cigarettes all opposed the idea. Ball’s pregnancy would mean less on-screen smoking and possibly less ad revenue for the brand. The show never used the word “pregnant.” A priest, minister, and rabbi all had to approve the episodes in which Lucille Ball is pregnant.

One of the most memorable episodes is when Ricky finds out Lucy is pregnant. It was called “Lucy Is Enceinte” and Ricky serenades Lucy on-stage at his club. The show was so conservative related to sex that even the title of the episode used the French word for pregnant.

According to HuffPost, the episode where Little Ricky was born on January 19, 1953, had more than 44 million viewers. The move to include Little Ricky and have Lucy and Ricky start a family was a huge hit on the show.