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Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers: Inside Their Special Friendship

Jun. 17 2024, Published 4:24 p.m. ET

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In 1935, Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers went on a double date with Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart. “My date was Fonda. Ginger’s date was Stewart,” recalled Ball. "Henry cooked the dinner, and after we ate, Ginger and the boys turned on the radio in the living room and Ginger tried to teach them the carioca.”

Ball never revealed if Fonda and Stewart caught on to the Brazilian dance, but the girls must have been at least a little impressed. The foursome ended up dancing until dawn at the Coconut Grove. “We had a hilarious, wonderful evening,” said Ball.

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lucille ball ginger rogers insider special friendship
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In 1935, Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers went on a double date with Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart.

Rogers was already a star when she met Ball, who was taking acting classes from Roger’s mother, Lela, on the RKO studio lot. "Lela had a wonderful eye for talent,” said Geoffrey Mark Fidelman, author of The Lucy Book: A Complete Guide to Her Five Decades on Television. “Once Lucille and Ginger knew each other, they figured out they were cousins four or five times removed."

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lucille ball ginger rogers insider special friendship
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Lucille Ball took acting classes from Ginger Rogers' mother.

Rogers and Ball shared a strong work ethic. "They both always wanted to do their absolute best work," said Fidelman. "There was no time to make jokes."

After small roles in some of Rogers’ films, including Top Hat, Ball landed a major part in 1937’s Stage Door. "She learned a lot from Ginger," the author said.

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lucille ball ginger rogers insider special friendship
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Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers shared a strong work ethic.

Fate, however, took the women in different directions. Rogers' film career remained robust until the 1960s, when she pivoted to theater. Ball, meanwhile, failed to become a big movie star, but she did become TV’s first superstar on I Love Lucy.

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lucille ball ginger rogers insider special friendship
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Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers' careers went in different directions.

"Lucille never stopped thanking Ginger and Lela,” said Fidelman. "And every time she and Ginger saw each other, it was warm and wonderful."

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