December 8: Lucy Is Enceinte

Lucy is EnceinteIt’s important to remember how significant I Love Lucy is to TV history. In addition to being an innovative sitcom that influenced nearly every other tv comedy that followed it (with many of those shows at one point borrowing jokes from I Love Lucy), it was also a pioneer in the way tv was produced. For example, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were amongst the first tv creators to recognize the value of rebroadcasting old episodes of their series. While many other early TV series had episodes that were trashed, Ball and Arnaz thought that maybe somebody might want to watch these episodes again and made sure to hold onto every episode, allowing future generations to enjoy the series.

However, today we’re here to talk about how I Love Lucy broke some of television’s conventions when the episode “Lucy Is Enceinte” was broadcast 62 years ago today. In 1952, Lucille Ball became pregnant with her and Arnaz’s second child. There was just one problem; at the time, acknowledging pregnancy on tv was all but unheard of. Sure, in 1948 Mary Kay And Johnny became the first series to feature a pregnancy storyline, but that was before there was a TV in every home. By the 1950s, married couples on TV slept in separate twin beds, so as not to give the impression that they might be engaging in, gasp, marital relations.

So, suffice to say, it was thought that Ball’s pregnancy might be a bit of a problem for the show. However, Ball, Arnaz and the CBS network decided they would make Lucy’s pregnancy a part of the series, controversy be damned. In a move that would be highly unusual nowadays, the I Love Lucy writing staff ran each script past a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister and a Jewish rabbi to make sure there was no “objectionable content.” The episode in which it is revealed that Lucy is “expecting” smoothly works around any censorship issues by cleverly using euphemisms for Lucy’s pregnancy without actually saying the dreaded P-word. Even the episode’s title, “Lucy Is Enceinte,” uses a French word meaning “pregnant.”

The actual plot of the episode is fairly simple: Lucy Ricardo is feeling “blah” and goes to her doctor, only to discover that she’s going to have a baby. Her friends Fred and Ethel Mertz soon find out, and for the next twenty minutes Lucy keeps trying to find a way to tell her husband Ricky. Unfortunately, Ricky is extremely busy and every time Lucy tries to break the news, something comes up.

The whole episode culminates in a lovely scene at Ricky’s nightclub, the Tropicana. As Ricky is performing with his conga band, Lucy anonymously sends him a note saying that a woman in the audience hasn’t told her husband that they’re expecting a “blessed event” and could Ricky sing “We’re Having a Baby, My Baby and Me” to celebrate the couple. Ricky decides to bring the happy couple up on stage to celebrate and starts singing “Rockabye, Baby” while walking around the room, looking for the lucky woman. After many wrong guesses, Ricky notices that Lucy is in the audience, and after a few quick glances, it slowly dawns on him that he’s going to be a father. The surprise and joy present in Ricky’s face as he realizes what’s happening is one of television’s most beautiful moments. The episode ends with the Ricardos getting a round of applause as Ricky launches into “We’re Having a Baby…” CBS received a few thousand letters about the episode, only 200 of which were negative. When Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky on January 19, 1953 (apparently, it was a quick pregnancy), 71.7% of all Americans were watching, making it the highest rated episode of TV aired up to that point.

So, let’s toast the Ricardos with a cocktail that shares its name with Ricky Ricardo’s signature song, Babalu. Babalu is a fascinating drink of unknown provenance, it’s sort of a rum version of the Moscow Mule, but with a surprising touch of maple syrup. As weird as it may seem, the maple syrup actually compliments the rum and ginger beer quite nicely.

Babalu

  • 2 ounces Aged Rum
  • ¾ ounces fresh lime juice
  • ½ ounce maple syrup
  • Ginger Beer
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Shake all ingredients, except the ginger beer, with ice and strain over ice in a highball glass. Fill to the top with ginger beer and garnish with an orange peel.

Tomorrow: Why did one of Hollywood’s great screenwriters have to hide his identity?

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