What a President Said to Lucille Ball After ‘I Love Lucy’ Upstaged Him
The ratings I Love Lucy got during the 1950s were incredible — more incredible than the rating for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953. The birth of Little Ricky on the TV show was a bigger story than Eisenhower’s first day on the job. Here’s what Eisenhower himself had to say to Lucille Ball about this — and a look at some of the many odd connections between the president and I Love Lucy.
What President Dwight D. Eisenhower said to Lucille Ball
Inaugurations are historic events — but world history was apparently no match for television history, at least in terms of viewership. According to the book What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted, the episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy gave birth to little Ricky garnered 44 million viewers — an impressive 72% of American households. The next day, Eisenhower took his oath of office as the 34th President of the United States. Merely 29 million people watched his inauguration. Did Eisenhower take issue with this?
He didn’t. In fact, he and his first lady, Mamie Eisenhower, were fans of the show. In addition, Eisenhower invited Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball to one of his birthday celebrations in the White House and the Arnazes got to sit right next to the Eisenhowers. Eventually, Eisenhower discussed the time I Love Lucy upstaged his inauguration with Lucille Ball herself.
”Sixteen years later,” Ball once recalled, ”President Eisenhower was standing with us outside the El Dorado Country Club and he pointed to my son and said, ‘Is that the young man who knocked me off the front pages?”’ Eisenhower was understandably mistaken, as Ball’s son, Desi Arnaz Jr., did not actually play Little Ricky on I Love Lucy. The character was actually portrayed by child actor Keith Thibodeax. Interestingly, the connection between the Arnazes and the Eisenhowers goes beyond there. Desi Arnaz used Eisenhower as a way to shut down a rumor about his wife.
The other connections between President Eisenhower and ‘I Love Lucy’
During the 1950s, many Americans were horrified by communism. Because of a gossip columnist, a rumor swirled that Ball was a communist in the 1950s. Arnaz tried to shut down this rumor by noting how he and his wife voted for Eisenhower, a noted anti-communist. Arnaz then noted how the only thing about Ball that was “red” was her dyed red hair. In addition, Eisenhower crossed paths with other members of the cast of I Love Lucy.
The same year as Eisenhower’s first inauguration, he appeared on a television special called Dinner With the President. Vulture reports the special was a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization. Ball and Arnaz appeared in the special, as did Vivian Vance and William Frawley — the actors who played Ethel and Fred Mertz respectively. Eisenhower and Ball became two of the great icons of the 1950s, so it only made sense they crossed paths so many times.