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Lucille Ball’s Unexpected Friendship with Cher

If there’s two great female icons of American entertainment, it’s Lucille Ball and Cher. Though they were a generation apart, they both became icons of the silver screen. Lucille Ball was best known for her performance in the classic sitcom I Love Lucy.

Cher was best known as one-half of the duo Sonny and Cher, with her then husband Sonny Bono. They performed songs together and also had a variety show called The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

As different as these two ladies were, they once formed an unexpected friendship on a fateful night in 1968. It was during this night that Lucille Ball heard the story of Cher’s not-so-great relationship with Sonny…

1968 was a presidential election year with the three main contenders being Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace.

The comedian Jack Benny hosted a dinner party at his house on election night. His guest list included some of the country’s biggest stars, all eager to see who would become their next President. Many guests, such as talk show host Johnny Carson were hoping that Richard Nixon would win the election.

Among Jack Benny’s other guests were the singing duo Sonny and Cher. They were at the height of their career and had begun hanging out with many veteran entertainers.

Naturally, they were welcome guests in Jack Benny’s home. When they arrived, Cher was spotted by the veteran actress Lucille Ball.

Cher’s mother Georgia Holt had a few bit parts in episodes of I Love Lucy. Lucille Ball recognized Cher and the two hit it off. Cher, herself, had been a huge fan of the show and of Lucille Ball’s talents.

After Richard Nixon had been declared the winner, he gave his acceptance which the guests watched eagerly. Johnny Carson was particularly interested in hearing what the President-elect had to say.

However, Lucille Ball couldn’t have cared less about the acceptance speech. In fact, she started making rude jokes while Nixon was making his speech. This greatly annoyed Johnny Carson and some of the other guests.

Jack Benny, trying to be a gracious host, went up to Lucille Ball and Cher and politely asked them to take their chat elsewhere in the home. He suggested that they hang out in the den where Rosalind Russell was also relaxing.

So they did exactly that! They went down to the den, and that’s when their newly-formed friendship took an unexpected turn…

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While they were hanging out down in the den, Cher must have told Lucille about her true feelings about Sonny. The two had first met in 1962 and became a couple soon after. Some reports state that they were married in 1964, while others state that they were legally wed after their child was born in 1969.

Nevertheless, they must have discovered that they made a great duo for entertaining audiences. They would write and perform songs including the favorites “Baby Don’t Go” and “I Got You Babe.” These became hits among American audiences and solidified Sonny and Cher as being one of the entertainment industry’s most beloved couples.

It wasn’t just singing that showcased their relationship. Their chemistry would lead to appearances in variety shows, talk shows, and eventually as stars of their own show The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.

They were one of the early examples of a Hollywood ‘Power Couple!’ And yet, behind the façade their relationship wasn’t as idyllic as it seemed.

This is why Cher had to tell Lucille Ball about her true relationship with Sonny. She wasn’t happy and didn’t know what to do. She knew that her success was due to her relationship with Sonny. She wondered if breaking up with Sonny might jeopardize her career.

Lucille Ball was easily the best person to counsel Cher. Lucille Ball made her name in the sitcom I Love Lucy in which she starred alongside her then husband Desi Arnaz.

They were also one of the most popular TV couples. But behind the wonderful romance on screen, Lucille and Desi had a strained marriage. Three years after I Love Lucy came to an end, they got a divorce.

Yet this hadn’t stopped Lucille Ball from continuing her successful career. She continued to act in TV shows and films and also had a career as a producer and studio executive. One can imagine that she encouraged Cher to go her own way if the marriage to Sonny wasn’t working out.

This one night in 1968 was enough for the two ladies to form an unexpected yet long-lasting friendship. Cher would later remark that Lucille was the only person whom she could talk to about the end of her marriage to Sonny.

Sonny and Cher’s relationship began in an unusual way. There was a huge age gap between the two, with Cher being 16 and Sonny being 27 when they first met. At the time, Sonny had separated from his first wife and his relationship with Cher was platonic.

Cher would eventually move into Sonny’s apartment after getting thrown out by her own roommates. He told her she could move in if she agreed to clean and do household chores.

She never did get around to the chores, but she did start to fall in love with Sonny. He, in turn, also began to fall for her. Their romantic relationship was an odd one. It wasn’t about two young people who were passionately in love with each other. Rather, they felt that they needed each other’s company.

In fact, Cher often saw Sonny as being her father figure. Sonny would later recall that Cher wanted to “be protected,” and she must have seen him as her protector.

At the same time that they began their romantic relationship, they also began their singing career. Sonny had worked with famed musician and producer Phil Spector. He eventually roped in Cher to sing backup vocals on songs by Phil Spector.

Eventually, the two of them decided to branch out on their own. They began as a duo known as “Caesar and Cleo” before moving onto “Sonny and Cher.” With the release of “I Got You Babe,” in 1965, they became stars.

While their music was loved in the 1960s, toward the end of the decade they began waning in popularity. It was also during this time that Sonny began making a few poor career choices. He financed a 1969 film called Chastity that starred Cher. Unfortunately, the film was a major flop and had almost bankrupted the couple.

While 1969 was also the year their child Chastity Bono (now known as Chaz Bono) was born, it didn’t do much to save their marriage.

They continued singing but also added comedy to their talents. They would make appearances on TV shows and eventually got a chance to perform in their own show. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour became a huge hit and they continued to be one of the most popular couples in entertainment.

The show debuted in 1971 and would go on to receive 15 Emmy Award nominations! Yet even the success of this show wasn’t enough to save their relationship. By the end of the third season, they decided to get a divorce.

Their divorce had come as a shock for audiences. Yet, for those closest to them it seemed inevitable.

Cher had revealed to Sonny that she was involved with another man. Similarly, Sonny had revealed that he was seeing another woman named Connie.

But for the sake of their fans, they kept the façade of being a happy couple. Their divorce became finalized and public in 1975. Naturally, it was a huge disappointment for so many fans. Yet, they decided to continue working together. The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour continued running until its end in 1977.

While they tried their best, their performances on the show following their divorce didn’t win over audiences. The show died an inevitable death.

But they both continued to pursue their careers on their own. Sonny eventually got involved in politics and became a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Cher pursued a singing and acting career and found much success.

The two would remain amicable until Sonny’s death in 1998. Cher ended up delivering the eulogy at Sonny’s funeral.

The duo of Sonny and Cher came to its demise. They couldn’t sustain a marriage nor could they sustain their singing and acting careers as a duo. Luckily, this didn’t stop them from succeeding in their careers.

Perhaps Cher made the right decision to divorce Sonny. It was a big risk, but she got advice from the wise Lucille Ball.

This unexpected friendship that Lucille Ball had with Cher may have saved the latter from an unhappy marriage. It also taught her to have courage and to believe that even without the support of a husband, she could become an icon of American entertainment.

So what do you think about Lucille Ball’s unexpected friendship with Cher? Do you think she gave her the right advice about divorcing Sonny? Or was the advice to divorce Sonny too risky and responsible for destroying their wonderful on-screen relationship?

Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.

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