I Love Lucy did a lot of firsts in television history. The first interracial marriage on television. It was the first show to use the multi-camera format in front of a live studio audience. Something that’s a staple of sitcoms still to this day. But Desi Arnaz told David Letterman in 1983 that there was one thing that the network forbade them from doing.
But, like it or not, there was no way they could get around it.
Arnaz relived a lot of his glory years on The Late Show with David Letterman that night. Letterman, who was famous for irking the NBC censors and upsetting his network bosses, was curious what limitations CBS tried to put on I Love Lucy. One of them was something they couldn’t control. Lucille Ball was pregnant with Desi’s son Desi Arnaz Jr., the couple’s second child. This was a time when married couples on television slept in separate beds. The network wouldn’t even allow them to say pregnant. Arnaz said he was told he could only say “expecting.”
But what could they do? Arnaz laughed when retelling the story.
“Could you believe they said ‘well, can you hide her, you know, baby (bump) behind high chairs or sitting down at a table?'” he recalled executives asking. “I said not Lucy. When she gets pregnant, brother, there’s no question about it. She waddles around like a big elephant. There’s nowhere no way to hide her for six months.”
Lucy and Desi seemed to enjoy pushing back against standards and practices at CBS and pushing the envelope. Desi even seemed to enjoy putting the network in such a bind when retelling the story.
CBS eventually had to acquiesce. It was either that or shutting down the production of I Love Lucy, the most popular show on television for six months. So, with that Lucille Ball became the first visibly pregnant woman on television. But they still wouldn’t allow them to say the word on TV. So, in a clever workaround, they titled the episode where her pregnancy is revealed “Lucy Is Enceinte,” which means Lucy is pregnant in French.
Lucy is Pregnant on ‘I Love Lucy.’ Now What?
Lucille Ball and the writers of I Love Lucy knew how to milk comedy gold from the simplest moments. In “Lucy Is Enceinte,” Lucy spends the episode trying to tell her husband she’s pregnant, but every time, just before she can say the word, something happens.
The episode ends with Arnaz serenading Ball with the song “We’re Having A Baby, My Baby And Me.” It’s an adorable moment in the episode where Desi’s character Ricky is performing a show. He’s handed a note that says someone in the crowd is pregnant and would like him to sing that song as a way that she can tell him the good news. Ricky, of course, agrees and asks the lovely couple to come up to the stage. They don’t, so Ricky goes through the audience, singing the song trying to suss out the lucky parents. That’s when he realizes it’s Lucy who is pregnant.
It was the first of a five-episode arc that culminated in the episode “Lucy Goes To The Hospital.”