Their marriage for several years faired little better. Desi was a band leader that got an occasional movie part. Lucille was an actress, under contract and was as much married to the studio as she was to Desi. Desi’s band kept on the move constantly going from city to city performing. Lucille was once described as The Queen of the Bs. Meaning she was making her career out of leads in the movie that followed the feature. This was back in the day where you spent the entire afternoon in a movie theater seeing the main film a B film and a cartoon as well as newsreels.
The couple owned a ranch together but didn’t spend much time together in their home. This was leading into a problem. How could two people ever start as family while they were constantly a part? How could any marriage even survive that?
The answer was simple, work together. Lucille had done quite well with a radio series called My Favorite Husband. The idea was to convert My Favorite Husband into a TV series with Desi taking the role of Lucille’s husband. The situation comedy had already debuted with The Goldbergs on CBS. It was doing well and Gertrude Berg who played the lead, Molly Goldberg, had walked away with the first ever Emmy award for best actress in a TV show. The public wanted more. Lucille and Desi felt they could give it to them.
They approached William Paley, the head of CBS, with their idea and were shot down. Paley did not think that anyone would believe a gorgeous American woman would be married to a Cuban band leader. Lucy and Desi set out to prove him wrong. They took their act to live theaters throughout the country and the country loved them. They went back to Paley and Paley green lighted the project. I Love Lucy was born.
It was during this time that Lucille and Desi got the news that Lucille was indeed pregnant. She went on working. Lucille actually filmed the pilot episode of I Love Lucy while carrying her first child. The Arnaz’s first child Luci Desiree Arnaz was born July 17th, 1951.
After the pilot was filmed it was sent to New York to be sold to a company that would sponsor the show. Eventually Phillip Morris would become that sponsor. It was at this point that The Arnaz’s would run into their next challenge. The Network wanted the new show to be filmed in New York, at the time all of TV the shows were being filmed there. Lucille and Desi did not want to leave California and so a new plan was hatched.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz went into business together opening their own studio in California called Desilu. Desilu would be the catalyst for many shows being filmed in Hollywood, The Untouchables, Make Room for Daddy, Our Miss Brooks all went in to production at Desilu at the demise of Desilu the last pilot to be filmed there was Star Trek.
I Love Lucy was an immediate hit when it debuted on October 15, 1951. The show centering around a young married couple, Lucy and Ricky Riccardo and their best friends Fred and Ethel Metz, had America in stitches. But would it last? A storm cloud was brewing on the horizon
With the first season of I Love Lucy Under their belts The Arnaz’s found out that Lucille was again pregnant. This could well have meant the demise of the show. There had been no pregnant women seen on TV up to that time. In fact you couldn’t even use the term pregnant. What were they to do? It wasn’t just them, Desilu was employing many people, make-up artists, set construction workers, costume designers, writers as well as actors and actresses. Was all this to fold. No! They would gamble again.
It was decided that Lucy Riccardo would become pregnant on the show. This was done with utmost delicacy. A Priest, a Rabbi and a Pastor were brought in to consult so that no one would be offended. Scripts were written that would go easy on Lucy and yet still be funny. On December 8, 1952 Lucy is Enceinte was aired. Enceinte is the French word for pregnant. The show was funny and touching. The story revolved around Lucy being unable to tell Ricky that she’s pregnant. Every time she attempts it something interrupts her. In desperation she goes down to the club where he works as a bandleader and emcee. She sends a note to Ricky on stage and takes a seat at table. Ricky reads the note which asks him to sing a song, “We’re having a Baby, My Baby and Me” that was her way of telling him she was pregnant, he doesn’t realize the note is from Lucy and wonders around the audience singing Rockabye Baby encouraging the happy couple to join him on stage. He finally sees Lucy and she nods yes to him, he still doesn’t get it until a split second after it hits him.
Unbelieving he pulls his wife up and asks her why she hadn’t told him? Her reply was “You didn’t give me a chance.” Ultimately, he sings the song to her in a bit of a duet. There are real tears coming down Lucille’s face at this time. Lucille wanted to reshoot the sceen and get rid of her tears, but the audience convinced her to leave it as it was, for those seconds reality touched fiction.
On Monday January 19, 1953. Desi Arnaz Jr was born to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and Little Ricky was born to Lucy and Ricky Riccardo. Lucille needed a C-section for her second child, and she stated that the doctors decided on the date. Be that as it may both boys share the same birth date.
Desi Arnaz Jr was be the first cover on the first TV guide, but little Ricky would be the first of many children born in a TV series. Some that are most notable include the birth of the triplets on My Three Sons, Betty Jo’s baby on Petticoat Junction, in a flashback the birth of Richie on The Dick Van Dyke Show and maybe the most magical of them all Tabitha the child of Samantha and Darrin Stevens on Bewitched.
The impact of I love Lucy and the birth of Little Ricky on television was huge and is still felt today. Many of the techniques in filming situation comedies came out of the I Love Lucy show. The freedom to deal with real life happenings on TV can be traced back to her pregnancy. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.