Little Ricky actor Keith Thibodeaux reflects on his bittersweet final encounter with Lucille Ball:
Keith Thibodeaux, best known for his portrayal of Little Ricky in the beloved series “I Love Lucy” from 1955 to 1957, recently shared a poignant memory of his last visit with Lucille Ball. Beginning his journey as the Ricardos’ young son at the tender age of 5, Thibodeaux and his family had the opportunity to meet with the legendary actress during an interview with the Television Academy Foundation.
Recounting the encounter, Thibodeaux fondly described the quintessential Lucy moment that unfolded before him. As he approached Ball’s residence, she stood at the end of the hallway, beckoning him with open arms, her vibrant personality shining through. Reflecting on the memory, Thibodeaux chuckled, saying, “This is typical Lucy: She’s standing at the end of her hall, it’s about 50 feet down. She’s not greeting me at the door, she’s way down by the staircase, she’s got her hands wide open. Like, ‘Come to me!'” Recalling Ball’s warm embrace, he added, “Lucy, when she hugged you, she just squeezed the life out of you. We spent a good hour there, just cherishing those moments.”
While the final episode of “I Love Lucy” marked the end of an era, it was just another day in Lucy’s world. During the show’s sixth season, the Ricardos and the Mertzes found themselves settling in Connecticut, making it their new home. The storyline unfolded gradually, with the Ricardos relocating in the 16th episode, “Lucy Hates to Leave,” and the Mertzes joining them in episode 19, “Lucy Raises Chickens.”
Surprisingly, the 27th episode of the season served as the series finale, though this fact may not have been known to anyone at the time, including Ball and her husband, Desi Arnaz. Unlike most finales, “I Love Lucy” bid farewell without any emotional farewells or a conclusive storyline wrapping up the previous five seasons. Instead, the final episode showcased Ball in her element, delivering her trademark comedic genius in an anticlimactic fashion.
“On April 4, 1957, they filmed the last ‘I Love Lucy’ in the half-hour format, ‘The Ricardos Dedicate a Statue,’ in which Lucy wrecks the town’s memorial to a Revolutionary War soldier,” revealed Kathleen Brady in her biography of Ball, “Lucille: The Life of Lucille Ball.” She added, “She passes herself off as a stone sculpture for the unveiling until a dog—one of the many animals that loved Lucy—licks her face.”
As Thibodeaux reminisced about that final encounter, he couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness as he observed his former boss in solitude. He noted, “It was kind of sad because it was her birthday, and there was nobody there on her birthday. She was by herself. I really thought it was a good thing that we were there. It was just cool. She said, ‘I hear good things about you, I’m proud of you.'”
Following the conclusion of “I Love Lucy,” Ball and Arnaz wasted no time in embarking on their next project, “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.” Production commenced almost immediately, and the couple presented five one-hour comedy programs for the subsequent season, each featuring guest stars. The inaugural episode co-starred Ann Sothern and Cesar Romero, recounting the story of how Lucy met Ricky Ricardo and convinced Rudy Vallee to offer him a job with his band.
Desi became so engrossed in the plot that the episode’s runtime exceeded the allotted 60 minutes, prompting him to persuade U.S. Steel, the program that followed, to shorten its duration, enabling the full episode to be aired. Airing on Wednesday, November 6, 1957, the Lucy-Desi special not only garnered high ratings but also contributed to “The U.S. Steel Hour” achieving its highest viewership ever.
As time passes, Keith Thibodeaux’s heartfelt recollections offer a glimpse into the final days of “I Love Lucy” and the deep connection he shared with the remarkable Lucille Ball. Their last meeting stands as a bittersweet reminder of the enduring impact of the iconic show and the legendary performers who brought it to life.