Inside Lucille Ball and Ginger Rogers' ‘Wonderful’ Friendship

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 Lucille. “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.”

Lucille never revealed if Henry and Jimmy 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 Lucy.

Ginger was already a star when she met Lucille, who was taking acting classes from Ginger’s mother, Lela, on the RKO studio lot. “Lela had a wonderful eye for talent,” says 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.”

Ginger and Lucille shared a strong work ethic. “They both always wanted to do their absolute best work,” says Mark. “There was no time to make jokes.” After small roles in some of Ginger’s films, including Top Hat, Lucille landed a major part in 1937’s Stage Door. “She learned a lot from Ginger,” Mark says.

Fate, however, took the women in different directions. Ginger’s film career remained robust until the 1960s, when she pivoted to theater. Lucille, meanwhile, failed to become a big movie star, but she did become TV’s first superstar on I Love Lucy. “Lucille never stopped thanking Ginger and Lela,” says Mark. “And every time she and Ginger saw each other, it was warm and wonderful.”

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