Keith Thibodeaux played Little Ricky in I Love Lucy At the time he was probably the most well known boy in America. Today while manty recall Little Rickey, few if any remember or ever knew the name of the boy who played him. He was a sweet little guy, about 5-8 years old when he worked on I Love Lucy. Given the popularity of the show, he was one of the most widely seen TV kids. He was personally picked by Lucy and Desi after play drums with Desi. His role was very disappointing and he never had interesting lines or situations that I recall. He was often dressed up, but rarely in short panrts. I have seen publicity shots, however, of him wearing a striped blazer, bow tie, dressy flannel shorts with Lucy. Keith joined the show in 1956 and played Little Ricky for 4 years.
It was Keith's father eas of Cahun ancestry, which is why he had a French name. It was his father that was interested in show business. His mom was a stay at home mom. She wasn't all that interested in show business. That was an intersting contrast with Lucy his stage mother who was constantly trying to get into Desi
Keith statrted banging things as a boy. His parents bought him a drum set and found that they had a child prodigy. Amazingly, he never took any lessons. Only after he was hired for I Love Lucy, Desi hired a drummer to help him learn routines. The drummer tried, but found that Keith could do the required routines without any lessons.
Keith started doing benefits at age 3 and was very much in demand. It was of course on I Love Lucy that we all remember him. He was billed as Richard Keith which Arnez thought was easier to spell and to pronounce than Thibodeaux. His name, however, never appeared on the "I Love Lucy" credits. Very few of the millions who watched "I Love Lucy" every week knew Keith's real or stage name. Most people actually thought that he was Lucy and Desi's actual son.
The Big Band era of the 1930's and 1940's was a magical time in the history of pop music in America. The top bands of the period, and their leaders, were idolized in much the same manner as were movie stars, radio personalities and sports heroes of the day.
One of the biggest stars of the Big Band era was Horace Heidt who, with his Musical Knights, enthralled audiences across the country in night club, theater, concert and radio appearances, and whose hit
recordings including "Deep in the Heart of Texas", "Gone With the Wind", "Once in a While", "Tippi Tin" and "Little Sir Echo" were played constantly. At one time, such legendary musicians as Glenn Miller,
Bobby Hackett, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Al Hirt and the King Sisters were members of the Musical Knights. Horace Heidt's radio show, "Pot of Gold", was the first audience participation giveaway program and
attracted enormous ratings. Heidt tried to make the jump to television and his show experience some populasrity in the late 40s an early 50s. Keith's first TV appearances were on the Horace Heidt Show at age 4. Desi said that is where he first saw Keith. Keith's father doesn't remember it like that.
Keith Thibodeaux played Little Ricky in I Love Lucy At the time he was probably the most well known boy in America. Today while manty recall Little Rickey, few if any remember the name of the boy who played him. He was a sweet little guy, about 5-8 years old when he worked on I Love Lucy. Given the popularity of the show, he was one of the most widely seen TV kids. He was personally picked by Lucy and Desi after play drums with Desi. His role was very disappointing and he never had interesting lines or situations that I recall. He was often dressed up, but rarely in short panrts. I have seen publicity shots, however, of him wearing a striped blazer, bow tie, nice dressy flannel shorts with Lucy. Keith joined the show in 1956 and played Little Ricky for 4 years. He remembers terrific rows between Ricky and Desi on the set and apparently had trouble learning his lines. Lucy even had the boy hypnotize to help his learn his lines better. He didn't know it at the time, but now resents Lucy having it done. He has some fond memories of Lucy. He once stayed over at Lucy's to celebrate Desi Jr.'s birthday and there was a terrific fight. Desi Jr. told him not to worry as it happened all the time.
After the show he played Johnny Paul on the Andy Griffith Show, from about 1963 until 1966. Johnny Paul was Opie's (Ronnie Howard's) best friend, but Keith appeared in only a few episodes and he had rather small roles. Although there is a little more than 3 years age difference between Ronny and Keith, Keith is rather short, so the age diference wasn't apparent. Keith liked working on the Andy Griffith Show much better than I Love Lucy. One factor was that the production was less stressful, in part because there was no live audience. Also he felt that he could be more of a real kid. He writes in his auto biography, "I could be a real kid and didn't have to dress up in short pants an be a goddt goody." [??get exact quote] Ronnie liked Keith and incouraged the writers to write bigger parts for him. After the Andy Griffith show, however, Keith never got any other parts. Ronnie went on the Happy Days.
HBc is not sure of what kind of clothes Keith normally wore. He opens his autobiography with his father dressing him up in a blazer and short pants. He seemed to this for job interviews an performances. He doesn't menthion his mother in this regard, only his father who was much more interested in his show business career. Of course, Keith does not mentioned who selected his outfits. Perhaps mother bought them. Keith also does not explained why his father dressed him up in short pants outfits. Apparently he thought that short pants outfits added to Keith's charm as a young performer.
Notably, Keith did have long pants outfits. We know this as a portait exists of him in a long pants suit. Keith does not mention in his autobiography just when he wore his long pants suit and when he wore his short pants suit. Only that when he went for interviews/auditions, he was dressed in the short pants. Apparently he also usually performed in short pants outfits.
One unanswered question is why Little Rickey didn't commonly wear short pants. He occassionally appeared in short pants, but I am sure that he usually wore long pants on the show. This is interesting because his father often dressed him up in short pants outfits to come to work. Photographs on the set show Keith in shorts. Many publicity shots show him in shorts. One popular outfit seems to have been a stripped blazer. Yet almost always Little Rickey wore long pants on the show. Keith does not address the question of costuming on I Love Lucy. But clearly some one decided that Little Rickey should usually wear long pants. You woul assume iy was Lucile Ball that made that decission, but we have no idea in fact who it was or what there reason was. Notably, the real Little Rickey often wire long pants at a very early age. One photograph shows Keith in short oants with Desi Jr. in long pants--even though he was 3 years younger.
One interesting relevation in Keith's book was that Lucile Ball came ourt with a line of Little Rickey clothing. Keith and his family did not get a percentage of the proceeds. He also did not provide etails about the styles involved.
There is no unanswered question about the Andy Griffith Show. The boys only wore long pants--usually jeans. Keith's father of course was no longer dressing him up in short pants outfits. Oppie sometimes wore a suit. But no kid on the Andy Griffith Show ever wore short pants.
He developed alcohol and drug problem, but is now a born again Christian. He says he suffered emotional trauma on the set. He especially complained that Lucy had him hipmotized before show nights because he was having trouble learning his lines.
Keith's experiences are recounted in an informative autobiograhy, Life Without Lucy. Grown-up child stars turned authors are often dying to tell us about their lives after they left TV, yet most of us are primarily interested in their TV careers. Thibodeaux
devotes nearly half his book to his years as Little Ricky on I Love Lucy. Keith was a 3-year-old drumming prodigy in the bayous of Louisiana when his father took the family to
California, hoping to ride his young son's drumsticks to a career in show business. That's exactly
what happened as father and son became fixtures on the Lucy show, one as a gofer, one as an
actor. Then it all went bad: divorces (Keith's parents as well as Lucy and Desi); the show's
demise; Keith's addiction to drugs. Yet there's a happy ending in the form of marriage, children,
The co-author of Keith's autobiography, Audrey T. Hingley, writes "I obviously believe Keith Thibodeaux ("Little Ricky") has quite a story to tell! Obviously this is a book for "I Love Lucy" fans... and even "The Andy Griffith Show" fans, another show where Keith had a small but memorable part playing Opie's best friend! Keith's story is much more than just a memoir of his "I Love Lucy" days. Keith was not just a "child star"; he was taken in and treated very nearly as the 3rd child of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz Sr. Recruited by Lucy herself as a approved playmate for Desi Jr., Keith was a family intimate whose relationship with the Arnaz family continued long after "I Love Lucy" ended its original run.
Keith Thibodeaux with Audrey T. Hingley. Life After Lucy (New Leaf Press: Green Forest, Arizona, 1993).
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