Betty White and Lucille Ball had a friendship that was so strong they considered each other family. White, who met Ball while filming a sitcom on the same studio lot as I Love Lucy, also found a mentor in the comedy icon.
Closer Magazine said the two Hollywood legends were miles ahead of other comediennes of the time. For instance, they both owned their own production companies, something that was unheard of at the time for women. And they both had an immense drive to succeed.
“Their bond was their common accomplishment as businesswomen in a male-dominated industry,” Ann Dusenberry, who appeared on Super Password with Betty and Lucy.
But their 30-year connection went deeper than their shared ambitions.
“Lucy and Betty’s relationship spanned more than just being show business acquaintances,” a pal of the pair tells Closer. “They considered each other family.”
By the time White was establishing herself in Hollywood, I Love Lucy was already a hit. Lucille Ball was one of the biggest stars in the world. But White was making a name for herself quickly in the industry. Friends said Ball saw a kindred spirit in Betty White and took the rising star under her wing.
“Betty really looked up to Lucy,” another friend says, “and Lucy saw that she and Betty were cut from the same cloth.”
White, Ball Build Friendship Through Adversity
Just as the two women were becoming friends, Lucille Ball’s marriage was falling apart. She was struggling to deal with Desi Arnaz’s drinking and philandering. White, who had been divorced twice before, was there for her friend through it all.
“Lucy saw Betty’s fighting spirit — they were really feminists of their time, when that wasn’t necessarily the norm in Hollywood,” a friend said, according to Closer.
White saw Ball as a trailblazer, someone who had cut a path in comedy for women. And Betty White was able to follow behind her and open doors for more women in the industry. But they were often pitted against one another on game shows because they could bring the best out of each other.
“They were powerfully funny and ready and willing to be playful, even foolish, if there was a joke in it,” Dusenberry said. They would compete on shows such as Password and Super Password, where “they fought, teased, spatted and growled as only two giants of theater can do,” says former host Tom Kennedy. But he notes that in their mock competition, “The two women failed to mask their actual admiration.”
Lucille Ball died in 1989 from an aortic rupture. White keeps a scrapbook of photos that includes some of their times together.
“We had such fun!” she said.