‘I Love Lucy’ Little Ricky Actor Said His Name Was Changed to Accommodate Desi Arnaz: ‘It Could’ve Been Rin Tin Tin For That Matter’

Keith Thibodeaux, center, with the cast of 'I Love Lucy'
Keith Thibodeaux, center, with the cast of ‘I Love Lucy’, 1955 | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

When I Love Lucy introduced 5-year-old actor Keith Thibodeaux to American audiences as Little Ricky, viewers fell in love with his resemblance to Desi Arnaz.

Not only did Thibodeaux have Arnaz’s perfectly coiffed dark hair; he could also play the drums like a professional.

Before the young actor got started, however, Arnaz insisted on changing his name.

Little Ricky was introduced via Lucille Ball’s 2nd pregnancy

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, 1955
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, 1955 | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

When Lucille Ball became pregnant with her second child, the character of Little Ricky was introduced. I Love Lucy made history in 1952 with its episode about expectant mother Lucy Ricardo. The character gave birth to Little Ricky Ricardo on the same night that Lucille Ball delivered her son Desi Arnaz Jr.

The show’s stars worried their comedy could be pulled off the air because of the, at the time, scandalous subject matter. Its writers reassured advertisers with scripts that handled Ball’s pregnancy with finesse, leading up to the iconic episode “Lucy is Enceinte,” in which Lucy Ricardo finally gives birth.

Once Ball’s pregnancy was part of the I Love Lucy storyline, the show’s stars had to be particularly choosy about avoiding words such as “pregnant” and “pregnancy.”

Desi Arnaz hired Keith Thibodeaux on sight after hearing him play the drums

Keith Thibodeaux’s father had heard about auditions for the part of Lucy and Ricky’s son on the hit CBS comedy and knew his son would be a stand-out.

He was right. Thibodeaux sat down at a drum set and amazed cast and crew with his percussion talent.

Keith Thibodeaux on the drums, 1955
Keith Thibodeaux on the drums, 1955 | Arnold M. Johnson/Graphic House/Archive Photos/Getty Images

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In a 2005 conversation with the Archive of American Television, Thibodeaux described how it was that he beat out 500 other actors for the role of Little Ricky. Hint: it had to do with his drumming talent.

“Everyone wanted to know what the commotion was, and Sheldon Leonard, the director for The Danny Thomas Show and other shows came over and was enjoying this little kid playing,” he said.

“Then finally, Desi Arnaz himself came over and started jamming with me on the drums and playing with me. He stood up and laughed in his way and said, ‘I think we’ve found Little Ricky.’”

Desi Arnaz changed Thibodeaux’s name

Arnaz, upon hearing his new hire’s name, immediately insisted on changing it. As the Little Ricky actor explained, “That was Desi’s answer to people not being able to pronounce ‘Thibodeaux,’” the actor said.

The Cuban star changed his name to Richard Keith.

“He thought that would be good, ‘Richard Keith,’ my name ‘Keith’ which was an aspect of who I really was and then ‘Richard’ could be like ‘Ricky.’”

Keith Thibodeaux and Desi Arnaz Jr. in 2007
Keith Thibodeaux and Desi Arnaz Jr. in 2007 | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Changing the child actor’s name, in hindsight, made little sense considering that he was uncredited for playing Little Ricky.

“I never did get screen credit, which is odd. The only thing I can guess is that they wanted people to think that that was their son, that Little Ricky was their real son, Desi Arnaz Jr.,” Thibodeaux said.

“Whenever I did get mentioned, it was always ‘Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, William Frawley, Vivian Vance, and Little Ricky.’ So it could’ve been Rin Tin Tin for that matter.”