A Quick History of How TV Shows Dealt With Actresses' Pregnancies


Plants, chairs, couches, counters… We’re familiar with the tricks used to hide an actress’s growing belly on TV shows (the measures taken to obscure Kerry Washington on Scandal were crazytown). But back in the day, The Powers That be were even more extreme.

As Logan Hill writes for Los Angeles magazine, “Not so long ago actresses who found themselves ‘with child’ risked losing their jobs.”

For instance:

In 1941, director Preston Sturges confronted Veronica Lake—better known for her figure than her acting chops—about rumors of a pregnancy before shooting his classic Sullivan’s Travels. Despite her stardom, Lake feared she would be fired if she told the truth, so she didn’t. When she showed up on set six months pregnant, Sturges was outraged, but it was too late to make a casting change. Legendary costume designer Edith Head hid the pregnancy beautifully, and a body double was brought in for some scenes. But costar Joel McCrea was so angry about Lake’s deception that he refused to work with her again…


In 1942, Judy Garland—20 and pregnant—was encouraged by MGM executives to have an abortion rather than sacrifice her girlish image. The studio’s publicity chief accompanied her to the procedure.

In the Fifties, Lucille Ball’s pregnancy was worked into her show:

The first visibly pregnant actress on TV was the star of the 1948 sitcom Mary Kay and Johnny. The second was Lucille Ball, who had become so powerful that she could force the issue on her show, I Love Lucy. Far from provoking controversy, as the CBS network had feared, Ball’s pregnancy story line generated huge interest. The episode in which “Little Ricky” was born was watched by 44 million people. (The inauguration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which aired the next day, drew 29 million viewers.) But the word “pregnant”—deemed too vulgar—was never uttered on air. Lucy was said to be “expecting.”

Hill mentions some silliness too — Alyson Hannigan on How I Met Your Mother and Jane Krakowski on 30 Rock. But the weirdest has got to be cutting a hole in a mattress:

In season three of The Cosby Show, which aired from 1984 to 1992, a pregnant Phylicia Rashad was often laid up in bed because of her character Clair Huxtable’s back pain. In fact, sheets were pulled over her stomach and a hole was cut into the mattress below, so that she could sink down and appear as slender as ever. (The Huxtables’ kitchen was also remodeled to make the counter higher and better conceal Rashad’s condition.)

Lots more here.

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