When the “I Love Lucy” episode “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” aired on January 19, 1953, American was absolutely mesmerized.
In fact, nearly 74% of all American homes with a TV set had tuned in. American collectively got to watch as Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky. This is around 44 million people watching, which had actually proved record-breaking for a period of time.
‘I Love Lucy’ Pregnancy Controversy
Fans had been excited to see Lucy and Ricky Ricardo’s baby on the show after first hearing she was pregnant in an earlier episode titled “Lucy Is Enceinte.” The most fascinating part of it all was that Lucille Ball was actually pregnant at the same time as her character on the show. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were pregnant with their second child, Desi Arnaz Jr.
It was uncharted territory for television at the time. It was rather taboo for someone to be pregnant on the screen. In fact, Lucille Ball was one of the first women to portray pregnancy on television. Networks usually strayed away from anything that implied sex. Married couples even slept in different beds on TV. The Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters strictly prohibited anything remotely sexual in nature.
According to Time, Desi Arnaz was incredulous over the fact that Lucille Ball couldn’t appear pregnant on the show. Some suggested that Ball could hide behind tables and chairs so the public wouldn’t know about her pregnancy. He discussed the situation with the show’s writer, Jess Oppenheimer, and sponsor Philip Morris. Slowly, people agreed to incorporate Ball’s pregnancy into the script. The only catch was that the word “pregnant” never made it on the script.
The writers replaced it with phrases like “expecting” and “with child.” The episode where Lucy Ricardo finds out she’s pregnant even uses the French word for pregnant. It was truly a taboo moment for “I Love Lucy.” The show even gave the script to a priest, a minister, and a rabbi to make sure everything was “appropriate.”
A Connection to Real-Life
Suddenly, the world got to witness an on-screen pregnancy that was also a real-life pregnancy. It brought viewers even closer to one of the most influential couples in Hollywood. Lucille Ball actually had a cesarean delivery on the night in which “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” aired.
Lucy Ricardo was scripted to have a boy on the show, regardless of the real-life outcome. However, the couple gave birth to a boy as well. Headlines would read, “TV Actress Lucille Ball Gives Birth to Son, Exactly According to Script.” The first issue of TV Guide had the headline, “Lucy’s $50,000,000 Baby.” On the show, the baby took on the nickname Little Ricky.
According to the book, “Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz,” the idea of Little Ricky was threatening to Desi Arnaz Jr.
“I had this identity problem, and it wasn’t helped by people calling me Little Ricky, a name I learned to despise. I remember wanting rather desperately to be better at something – anything – than the boy who played Little Ricky. For a while, it seemed as if everything in my life was connected to Little Ricky’s,” Arnaz Jr. said.