"Lucy Is Enceinte," a 1952 episode of I Love Lucy, was the first major TV program to depict a pregnant woman (hence the euphemistic French word for "pregnant" in the title). It was one of the most important episodes of I Love Lucy, which was already groundbreaking in so many ways. While the idea may seem quaint now, allowing Lucille Ball to parallel her real-life pregnancy on the small screen was incredibly controversial. It almost led to the cancellation of her mega-hit show. It took guts, dedication, and conscientiousness for "the pregnancy episode" to make it on air.
The I Love Lucy controversy not only changed television, but it also remains a poignant depiction of one of TV's most beloved couples. These facts tell the wild tale of television's first big pregnancy and the censorship it survived to make history.
When Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz discovered she was pregnant, they worried I Love Lucy might be put on hiatus or even canceled. It was highly unusual for pregnant women to appear on television in those days. Advertisers feared a focus on the issue might upset conservative audiences because it would explicitly acknowledge the existence and consequences of intimate relations.
I Love Lucy producer Jess Oppenheimer, however, pushed to include Ball's pregnancy in the show, arguing for a family-friendly approach. Network and advertising heads balked, but I Love Lucy was such a success they acquiesced.
One major worry about showing pregnancy on TV was it would (by necessity) imply intimate activity. Television networks were so apprehensive about such an association Lucy and Ricky Ricardo didn't even sleep in the same bed.
The first known TV couple to sleep in the same bed was on a 1947-1950 show called Johnny and Mary Kay, which starred real-life couple Johnny and Mary Kay Stearns.
Both CBS and I Love Lucy sponsor Philip Morris were so nervous about the potential impact of the pregnancy episode, each draft of the script received approval by a priest, a rabbi, and a minister.
One of the most challenging aspects of writing the episode was a ban the character had on saying the word "pregnant." Instead, they say Lucy is "expecting," or a similar vague euphemism. The ban was so complete that, as an apparent insider joke, the episode's name "Lucy Is Enceinte," didn't use the term.
One of the most beloved parts of the pregnancy episode is the final scene. While Ricky is performing at the Tropicana nightclub, he receives an anonymous note from an audience member. It reveals the woman and her husband are about to have a "blessed event" and she wants to break the news to him. The letter is a request for Ricky to sing the song "We're Having a Baby, My Baby and Me."
Ricky obliges and walks through the audience asking who wrote the note. It's Lucy, and when Ricky arrives at her table and discovers she is the mom-to-be, the couple emotionally embrace. The emotions present between them were genuine.