Vintage | Celebrity | Television

Remember Little Ricky From 'I Love Lucy'? He's Still Alive Today

Bureau of Industrial Service - Wikimedia

I Love Lucy was a historic show, and not just because we're still watching it and laughing at Lucille Ball's hijinks to this day.

Lucy fans might remember that Ball's real-life pregnancy with her son Desi Jr. became a plot point on the show.

This was actually very controversial at a time when CBS didn't even want the word "pregnant" said aloud on TV.

I Love Lucy
Lucy's on-screen pregnancy pushed the boundaries of TV in the 1950s.CBS Television - Wikimedia

After Ball gave birth in real life, the show kept up with her by introducing a baby boy named Ricky Jr.

And - in another TV first - the newborn Ricky actually grew up almost in real time in front of the camera during his first four years on the show.

In Little Ricky's early days, he was played by two sets of twins.

The choice to use identical brothers was Desi Arnaz's bright idea, but it made filming so much easier that twins are still used for filming young children in movies and TV shows to this day.

Little Ricky
Mike and Joe Mayer were one of the sets of twins who played Little Ricky.CBS Television

One set of twins, the Mayer brothers, discussed their three seasons playing Ricky with the Idaho Press last year.

The pair say they earned $150 a week for the role, but when their time on the show was up, the Mayers' parents decided that was the end of their careers in show business.

In the 1956, Little Ricky suddenly aged up to become a grade schooler, and Keith Thibodeaux was cast to play him.

Even before joining the cast, Thibodeaux was a child star who had toured the country at age 3, making $500 a week with his impressive drumming skills.

Keith Thibodeaux Little Ricky
Keith Thibodeaux played the older version of Little Ricky for several years.Bureau of Industrial Service

His musical knack earned him an audition for Lucy, with Ball and Arnaz both in the room for the big moment.

"I walked on the set and there was Lucy, she was standing there and she was looking at me," Thibodeaux told ABC News.

"She said 'OK he's cute, but what does he do?'"

Thibodeaux performed a drum solo on the spot, impressing Arnaz and landing the job.

The only problem was his name, which Arnaz struggled to pronounce in his Cuban accent, so he was rechristened "Richard Keith" for his time on the show.

Thibodeaux wound up playing Ricky and Lucy's son on both I Love Lucy and the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, and has nothing but happy memories of his days taping with the two comedy stars.

"Lucy was naturally very motherly to me and Desi kind of made me feel at ease - that was his role," he said.

"They were very generous towards me and I was best friends with their children. Whenever I was over there, and Desi would give his kids gifts and he'd never leave me out--whether it was customized bowling balls or L.A. Rams jerseys, he'd give me the same thing."

Ball even gave Thibodeaux a full-sized set of drums for a birthday gift, and the actor says he still has them to this day.

Little Ricky
Thibodeaux says Ball and Arnaz treated him like their adopted child.Bureau of Industrial Service

"Desi considered him his best friend and was responsible for teaching him the drums," Ball and Arnaz's daughter Lucie remembered.

"He came over our house on many weekends and traveled with them during the summer. My mother kind of adopted him. He is in all of our home movies and photographs and was a great kid, and still is."

And while his unique job let Thibodeaux rub elbows with Old Hollywood stars like George Reeves and Jimmy Durante, he depended on Ball and Arnaz for work, so their divorce in 1960 basically marked the end of his acting career.

"I do know [the divorce] was very sudden," he said. "I remember the drive back from the studio and my dad telling me 'You know, you don't have a job anymore.' [I was] already unemployed at the age of nine."

Keith Thibodeaux
Thibodeaux (second from right) with his David and the Giants bandmates.Mississippi Music Artists

Thibodeaux did land a few more small parts, including multiple appearances on the Andy Griffith Show.

But he chose to refocus on music as a young man, joining the rock band David and the Giants.

When Thibodeaux turned 21, a trust set up from his acting days payed out $80,000, which he claims to have spent on a sports car, sounds equipment, and clothes in just two weeks.

Still, in spite of the money and fame, Thibodeaux admits playing Little Ricky had its drawbacks.

"I do kind of look at it like a time of my life where I wasn't able to fully be a kid, but that's a problem with child stars, that dynamic is always in the mix," he said.

"I was very depressed and suicidal and got to the end of my rope and became a Christian in 1974. That kind of changed my perspective on the show. After that, I was able to appreciate the show much more than I did when I was a young adult."

Now 68, Thibodeaux has been happily married since 1976, and works as the co-director of the dance company Ballet Magnificat, alongside his wife.

And after all these years, he can still appreciate why fans love I Love Lucy.

"It was an interesting show, but it was a very special show," he said.

"It seems to be very memorable and people of any different generation can appreciate it...appreciate the humor of it, appreciate the silliness of it."

[H/T: ABC News]

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