‘I Love Lucy’s Little Ricky Actor Said If Desi Arnaz ‘Was Drinking He Could Get a Little Testy With People’

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Keith Thibodeaux became almost an instant celebrity when he was hired to portray Little Ricky on I Love Lucy.

He fondly remembers working on the 1950s show that put him in company of the classic ensemble cast including Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley.

In an interview, the percussionist recalled the pressure cooker stress on star Desi Arnaz and how Arnaz’s drinking affected him.

Keith Thibodeaux said he and Desi Arnaz had a lot in common

The cast of 'I Love Lucy'
The cast of ‘I Love Lucy’ | Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

In a 2019 conversation with The New York Post, Thibodeaux, who appeared on I Love Lucy as well as its follow-up show The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, shared that he felt an affinity with Desi Arnaz.

Both he and Arnaz were drummers and both were of unique cultures.

“I really think the person I identified with the most was Desi Arnaz because of his Latin culture; I was a Cajun from Louisiana and our cultures were very similar, and the fact that he was a percussionist and I was a percussionist, we had something in common,” he said.

“When he died [in 1986] I really took his death harder than anyone else’s.”

Desi Arnaz respected Thibodeaux as a performer

Keith Thibodeaux in 2017
Keith Thibodeaux in 2017 | Bobby Bank/Getty Images

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Thibodeaux said Arnaz assigned him the professional working name of Richard Keith. In 2005, the former child actor told the Archive of American Television the name change was “Desi’s answer to people not being able to pronounce ‘Thibodeaux,’” the actor said.

“Which, back then, we didn’t live in such an international climate, the world was a little larger than it is now.”

Arnaz, he said, remembered the Cuban actor treating him with respect even at his young age.

“I wasn’t as close to Lucy as I was to Desi,” he said. “He was always nice to me. He was always respectful of me, almost. For that matter, Lucy and Desi never said an unkind word to me. They took me in as part of the family.”

Desi Arnaz’s drinking affected his temperament on set

When Thibodeaux arrived on I Love Lucy in 1955, the show was already in its fourth year and a huge success. The young actor was quite aware of the pressure for the show to continue doing well. He knew Arnaz’s role in the company was significant, despite the show carrying his wife’s name.

“He was a genius of sorts, he had that Latin way about him,” he said. “Of course he came up with the three-camera angle, everybody’s talked about that. He was kind of visionary in that way.

“It’s too bad because the alcohol really cut his creativity off, and his effectiveness off as a director. I think it kind of tainted some things.”

Asked how Arnaz was to work with on the set, Thibodeaux recalled that “he was nice. If he was drinking, he could get a little testy with people. But he was always nice to me.”