Lucille Ball's Friendship With Vivian Vance Explained

In many ways, life on the set of a TV show is not unlike life in an office or a factory. People show up there to work on a certain schedule, put in their hours, collect their paycheck, and go home. Meanwhile, workers in the TV industry have to deal with interpersonal relationships between co-workers in much the same way that workers in any other job setting will have to. That means that there will be the occasional (or, in some cases, frequent) battle of wills or hurt feelings, and indeed, some people may grow to hate each other. Similarly, the people who work together on the set may find that they've become lifelong friends.

Such was the case with Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, according to Showbiz Cheat Sheet. The two women were best friends on the screen, and they were best friends in real life as well, up until Vance's death in 1979.

Ball and Vance were BFFs onscreen and off

When Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance arrived for their first day of work on the set of "I Love Lucy" back in 1951, Ball was a big-name TV actress while Vance was mostly known for her work on Broadway, as People reports. Ball would later write in her book that she knew from the moment she met her that she had struck gold, as Showbiz Cheat Sheet explains. "As far as I was concerned, it was Kismet. Viv and I were extraordinarily compatible," Ball wrote.

Their friendship wasn't just limited to the screen: they were best friends off-screen as well. Ball's daughter, Lucie Arnaz, would later say, via Outsider, that their friendship was for life. "I grew up with [Vivian] around a lot. My mother and Vivian were really good friends in real life ... Like sisters good friends. And they adored one another. Vivian was one of the funniest people on the planet — truly, truly funny. And when she would get together with my mother, it was lovely," she said.

A trying time for Ball and Vance's friendship

Of course, all friendships have their ups and downs, and on the set of "I Love Lucy," that friendship was tested during the show's final season. At the time, both Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance were in the midst of divorces with husbands with whom they'd spent over 20 years — Desi Arnaz for Ball, and Philip Ober for Vance. As Showbiz Cheat Sheet says, the two went to work one day during a particularly rough patch, and their "tempers grew short" while shooting. As Ball said, "One day, Vivian and I had a disagreement on set and stopped speaking. The silence went on much longer than either of us anticipated. It got to be a nuisance, since we were so used to listening carefully to each other's lines and making suggestions. But this particular Thursday, we spent in stony silence."

As is often the case with true friendships, the animosity didn't last long. That same day, one hour before the performance, Ball finally broke down and did what they typically did — talked to Vance about their lines. They were sitting side-by-side at a mirror putting their makeup on. Ball said, "Vivian, you know that line ... You're not reading it right." Vance admitted she had a point, and asked Ball why she hadn't spoken up earlier. Ball replied, "Well, we weren't speaking, and I'd be damned if I'd tell you!" They both broke down laughing, and that was that.  

Saying goodbye to a lifelong friend

By 1979, Vivian Vance knew that she was dying from advanced bone cancer. In a truly heart-breaking turn, doctors had originally thought Vance had breast cancer, and as Outsider says, had performed a mastectomy in an attempt to treat her illness. She then went through chemotherapy, but to no effect. This happened over a decade after "The Lucy Show" finished in 1968, and Ball and Vance remained as inseparable as always.

Before Vance died, Ball visited her to see each other one final time at Vance's Belvedere, California home. Vance was brought into the living room, laid on the couch, and she and Ball had lunch together. By all accounts, there was as much grief present as there was love."You could hear them laughing, and towards the end there was a lot of sobbing," Paige Peterson said, daughter of Vance's landlord who grew close to Vance in her last days. She continued, "It was an amazing thing to witness. The love of these two women."

Ball was completely "inconsolable" after Vance died. Balls' daughter Lucie Arnaz said, "She cried about losing Viv for months after that. Viv was, in many ways, like a sister to my mother. She could talk to Mom like nobody else, and I don't think my mother could confide in many people the way she would with Viv."