Here's why Little Ricky said the set of The Andy Griffith Show was more fun than I Love Lucy
The child star recalls Andy Griffith playing checkers backstage.
One of the first sitcom kids to win the hearts of TV audiences was Little Ricky on I Love Lucy. Through the series run, there were seven different kids who played the son of Lucy and Ricky, including once Leave It to Beaver star Jerry Mathers in a dream sequence. But the final Little Ricky cast, and the Little Ricky who took us to the iconic series end was a child actor named Keith Thibodeaux, billed back then as Richard Keith.
With his dark mop of hair and deep brown eyes, Thibodeaux mimicked the facial expressions of his famous parents, demonstrating an early sense for comedy that saw the young star eventually cast in other shows, including a couple dramatic episodes of Route 66 and Ben Casey in 1961. The next year, the young star would appear on yet another iconic sitcom, as one of Opie's best pals on The Andy Griffith Show.
On The Andy Griffith Show, Thibodeaux appeared in 13 episodes, showing up first as Carter French in the classic episode "One-Punch Opie," serving as the friend who ultimately backs up Opie as he confronts his first bully. After that, Thibodeaux landed the role of Johnny Paul Jason, among "Opie and His Merry Men," the right-hand man in "Opie and the Carnival" and on the dance-floor during Opie's first dance in "Look Paw, I'm Dancing."
We always saw Little Ricky right next to Little Opie, and for attentive viewers, it was a subtle blending of two of classic TV's most cherished worlds. According to Keith Thibodeaux in a recent interview, working on these two shows was like night and day for a child actor. Ahead of his appearance at this year's Mayberry Days, Thibodeaux told Mt. Airy News, "The I Love Lucy set was a wonderful set, great people. But there was a little bit more pressure.”
According to this Little Ricky, the whole experience of working on I Love Lucy introduced the young star to working in a formal atmosphere, and while he has good memories playing with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's kids, he remembers having more fun on the set of The Andy Griffith Show. Thibodeaux said in the same interview, "The Andy Griffith Show was a wonderful experience. The set was more laid back, more country…they (the actors) were basically like they were on the show. Andy would play checkers with the make-up man…he’d often strum his guitar with the cast in the back. It was just a good, down-home set.”
And, of course, being on set of Andy meant he got to pal around with Opie. Thibodeaux remembered, "I was a couple of years older than Ron. We were great friends on the set, we’d hang out, but I was just older than him, I didn’t really have a lot in common with him off the set. He was really a nice guy."