In some ways, at the tender age of 15 months old, Joe and Mike Mayer were innovators in the early years of the television industry. But, it did not define their decisions for their lives.
The identical twins spent three television seasons on the set of the popular “I Love Lucy” show, staring Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz.
The twins have now settled into life in Gem County, each bringing unique qualities to the community. On one recent morning of relatively heavy snowfall, they made time to share some of their uncommon past.
Joe and Mike were born to parents Max and Eva June in a day when twins were usually a surprise to all involved. The twins joined an older sister, Judy, in their southern California home. Eva June became president of Mothers of Twins Club. Here the family found others who shared the uncommon bond of twins and many were also identical.
It was also at a time when the film and television industry was realizing child actors could not work for eight, 10 or 12 hours a day. Laws tightened up, protecting the young thespians.
“I Love Lucy” was a popular comedy centered around Ball and Arnaz. When Ball was pregnant in the second season, the birth of “Little Ricky” became part of the show. The actors did not want their own son in front of the camera, so a search for Little Ricky began. At first, another child was featured, but time in front of the camera was limited by the new laws.
In 1953, Arnaz realized one way to deal with limited camera time was to use identical twins. The search was on to find a Hispanic looking pair. Auditions were held and Arnaz saw a photo of the Mayer twins at a club picnic and liked what he saw, even though they do not have a Hispanic heritage.
Because of the new laws, a judge was required to approve the contract the parents entered on behalf of the toddlers. He actually wrote a poem about the twins that included a morality clause.
The twins spent the next three seasons on the set.
Mike remembers one episode where Lucy tries to steal John Wayne’s footprints in concrete in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. In the process, the piece of concrete breaks. In the end, Desi convinces John Wayne to provide duplicate footprints to replace the broken one. But, Little Ricky plays in the wet concrete that was actually oatmeal.
One episode involved Lucy missing the sailing of a cruise ship. She is flown in on a helicopter. The entire crew and cast got to fly in the helicopter except Mike and Joe. Mike remembers being upset over this.
One family story relates a time when Lucy is returning from a long trip away from her Little Ricky. Of course, on the film set, she is expecting to be happily reunited with Little Ricky. And of course, in true toddler style, the Mayer boy was uncooperative. So Lucy handed him over to a woman in the crowd who was able to calm the boy — probably because she was his mother, Eva June. It was the only time Eva June was on camera.
Done with acting
After three seasons, Max and Eva June decided it was time to get out of the business. The new contract would have required special tutors and other lessons. Eva June did not think the child actors she knew about became functional adults. The parents found the experience interesting, but did not want more. In addition, she may have been tired of the 45-minute commute.
At the end of Joe and Mike’s stint on “I Love Lucy,” they were making $150 a week. This was considered full-time pay for the time.
When they were about 12 years old, their mother took them to the filming of a movie, “Yours, Mine and Ours.” After filming, Lucy was walking down the stairs of the house and recognized their mother. They visited for a few minutes.
Their mother said Lucy was always very professional.
Not listed on credits
Neither Joe nor Mike’s names are listed on any of the episode credits; presumably to keep the illusion the child was Arnaz and Ball’s actual child.
There are no residual payments coming to any actors from the television show. At the time, there were no thoughts of reruns.
Arnaz was also innovative in an idea to film the show, then broadcast. The studio said OK, but weren’t going to pay for the film. Arnaz countered with OK, but wanted to own the film. A few years later, the couple sold the rights to the film for $4.5 million and used the money to start Desilu Productions, what was one of the largest film studios at the time.
What about life after Little Ricky?
Joe and Mike’s father was Jewish and a Mason, their mother Presbyterian. The children were raised Jewish. When the sons were about 8 years old, two missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints came to the door to talk to their father about their own faith. They told the elder Mayer they wanted to share Israel.
The family converted to LDS.
Joe and Mike’s mother bucked the trend of the day and did not dress her sons alike. She dressed them as individuals.
Both earned their Boy Scout Eagle rank.
Both went to Japan for their LDS mission.
Both became involved in different aspects of computers when the industry was in its infancy.
When both retired, they both moved to Emmett.
Mike earned his accounting degree from Brigham Young University in seven semesters. He became an internal auditor and involved with computers. Starting with Sav-on Drugs, he went through 11 mergers, ending when Fred Meyer was sold to Kroger. Mike then left the industry and became a high school teacher.
Joe worked in the print shop at high school and another print shop after school that also operated a computerized tax service. He applied for and received a four-year scholarship at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. He was involved in print services at the beginning of computer arts.
The computer mainframe experience allowed Joe to get a job at Portland General Electric in Oregon.