(WSYR-TV) — Keith Thibodeaux was touring the country as a professional drummer with a big band at the age of 3. But it was his second job people really remember him for.
“When I go anywhere, people recognize me as Little Ricky,” said Thibodeaux.
That’s especially true in mid-October when “I Love Lucy” marks another anniversary. Thibodeaux is the sole surviving cast member from the landmark comedy. He took over the role from a set of twins in 1955. He has great memories of growing up on set with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who made him feel like part of their family.
“Desi would teach us kids how to fish and ride horses and, you know, we went to the race track. Jimmy Durante was there. He was giving us money to bet on the horses and tips,” recalled Thibodeaux.
Lucy and Desi were brilliant performers and terrific business leaders. She was the first woman to run a major Hollywood studio and he essentially created the television rerun.
“Desi Arnaz apparently was laughed at by CBS executives in a negotiation when he asked for the film canisters, basically the shows after they aired, and they said ‘who’s gonna want to watch it after it aired?‘,” said Journey Gunderson the National Comedy Center’s Executive Director. “How silly that seems now.”
In the late 80s, Lucy’s hometown in western New York, Jamestown, wanted to honor her with a museum. But she urged them to think bigger.
“In 2018, we opened this, the National Comedy Center, that really covers comedy’s history in a way that’s not been done before,” said Gunderson.
The center hosts comedy superstars and seminars, and houses displays from stage, screen, TV, and radio, from Chaplin to Seinfeld and beyond. It’s closely aligned with the nearby Lucy/Desi Museum, which has been open since 1996.
When he’s not helping support the museums, Keith Thibodeaux and his wife run a ballet company in Mississippi. And he’s not really surprised people still love Lucy, even 65 years after he became Little Ricky.
“These shows will always be funny because they’re basically people, and they’re basically really people, cuz I know people like the Lucy character in real life. You know people like the Lucy character,” said Thibodeaux.
Both museums are now open Thursdays through Mondays in Jamestown, about four hours west of Syracuse.