"I Love Lucy" Banned the Use of This One Word
It was infamously never said on the sitcom, even though it was referred to all the time.
In 1952, Lucille Ball and Lucy Ricardo were both pregnant—but only one of them was allowed to actually say that. When Ball was expecting her second child with husband Desi Arnaz, their series was in its second season, and the show incorporated her real-life pregnancy into the plot. But the word "pregnant" was banned on I Love Lucy, so no one was allowed to actually say it. Instead, synonyms and euphemisms had to be used in its place.
It may seem unbelievable now that a word as common and inoffensive as "pregnant" couldn't be said, but 70 years ago, it was considered inappropriate for TV. Read on find out more about why "pregnant" was never uttered on I Love Lucy and how the show was able to work around it.
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"Pregnant" was considered too suggestive.
When I Love Lucy was on the air, it was still extremely rare for a pregnant character to appear on screen. In fact, Ball was only the second actor to do it. And while Ball was pregnant during the start of Season 1, her character wasn't.
CBS executives allowed Lucy to be pregnant in Season 2 when the TV star was expecting her second child, but they weren't okay with "pregnant" being said by any of the characters. According to Time, the Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters prohibited anything sexually suggestive on air, and being pregnant confirmed that a couple had had sex. This is also why Lucy and Ricky were shown sleeping in separate beds for much of the series. The compromise ended up being that Lucy could be pregnant, but that no one could say the word.
Other words and phrases were used instead.
Lucy couldn't be "pregnant," but the show needed another way to refer to her condition. So she was often talked about as being "expecting" and "with child" instead. Interestingly, the official episode titles could still use the word pregnant, because they weren't shown on screen. The episode in which Lucy reveals her pregnancy to Ricky is titled "Lucy Is Enceinte"—enceinte is the French word for pregnant. The following episode is titled "Pregnant Women Are Unpredictable."
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Lucy gave birth on the same day as Ball.
Ball had a scheduled C-section on Jan. 19, 1953, and the episode in which Lucy gives birth aired that same night. Lest you think she went far out of her way to do this, according to MeTV, Ball also had a C-section with her first child, Lucie Arnaz, and her doctor happened to schedule the procedure on Mondays, the same night I Love Lucy aired. The episode, titled "Lucy Goes to the Hospital," was watched by 72 percent of households with televisions, reports MeTV.
On I Love Lucy, it was written into the script that Lucy and Ricky would have a boy, named Little Ricky, but in real life, Ball and Arnaz didn't know the sex of their baby in advance. But as it turned out, they had a boy, too, and named him Desi Arnaz Jr. According to Time, one headline from the time read, "TV Actress Lucille Ball Gives Birth to Son, Exactly According to Script."
The first pregnant TV character didn't have to follow the same rule.
Lucy was the second TV character whose pregnancy was shown. The series Mary Kay and Johnny, which also starred a real-life couple, Mary Kay and Johnny Stearns, aired in the late 1940s. As with I Love Lucy, Mary Kay was pregnant in real life and the pregnancy became a storyline on the show. On top of that, the episode in which their child was born aired on the same day their real son was born, just like with Lucy.
"I decided, well, Mary Kay and Johnny is about us, and Mary Kay is pregnant, so I just wrote it into the script," Johnny said in an interview with the Television Academy (via Deadline). Mary Kay and Johnny aired before the Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters came into existence, so they weren't constrained by the same rules as I Love Lucy—their characters also slept in the same bed.