Before achieving fame with her groundbreaking television series “The Carol Burnett Show,” Carol Burnett was a 25-year-old actress in New York seeking inspiration and guidance. Her encounter with Lucille Ball in 1959 became a pivotal moment in her life.

Ball not only became a role model for Burnett but also a lifelong friend and companion. Through their friendship, Burnett found the support and inspiration she needed to pave the way for a new generation of female comedians and showrunners.

Before making her mark in New York City as an actor, Carol Burnett was born and raised in Hollywood and earned a theater degree from UCLA. At the age of 25, after some small television roles and gaining attention for her parody song “I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles,” performed on popular shows like The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show, Burnett secured a role in the off-Broadway production of Once Upon a Mattress. This led to a Tony nomination when the show moved to Broadway.

During a speech at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, Burnett reminisced about the night she spotted Lucille Ball in the audience during the second performance of the show. Feeling more nervous seeing Ball than on opening night, Burnett was surprised when Ball came backstage after the show. The two spent 30 minutes chatting in Burnett’s dressing room, with Ball, who was 22 years older, offering her support and saying, “Kid, if you ever need me for anything, give me a call.”

A few years later, Burnett reached out to fulfill Ball’s offer. When CBS requested an hour-long special with a prominent guest star, Burnett immediately thought of Ball and gave her a call. Without hesitation, Ball agreed to join her. This marked the beginning of a lasting partnership.

Their collaboration came to fruition in March 1966 with the televised special Carol +2, which received glowing reviews. CBS was impressed with the success of the special, leading to Burnett’s program.

The bond between the two comedic powerhouses grew stronger over time. Ball became a recurring guest star on The Carol Burnett Show, which debuted in 1967. In return, Burnett appeared on Ball’s shows The Lucy Show (1962–68) and Here’s Lucy (1968-1974).

Despite achieving great success in her own right, Burnett continued to admire Ball, especially as a fellow woman navigating the predominantly male entertainment industry. She was impressed by Ball’s assertiveness and ability to command respect from the cast and crew during guest appearances on The Lucy Show. In a 2015 interview on Late Night with Seth Meyers, Burnett recalled, “She was able to assert herself in a way that felt like a man would.” “She’d say, ‘Let’s change this sketch, it’s terrible.'”

During a dinner outing while Burnett was preparing for The Carol Burnett Show, Ball shared a story about a challenging experience with her writing team on The Lucy Show. Burnett recounted how Ball “told them exactly what was wrong with that script and how to fix it.” She then humorously added, “And that’s when they started adding an ‘s’ to the end of my last name,” after taking a sip of her drink.

Even after The Carol Burnett Show concluded in 1978, during which it received a record-breaking 23 Emmy awards, Burnett and Ball remained close friends. However, Ball’s presence in the spotlight diminished over time.

Tragically, Ball passed away on April 26, 1989, which happened to be Burnett’s birthday. Burnett fondly remembered how Ball would always send her flowers on her birthday. On that particular birthday, Burnett received flowers from Ball with a message that read, “Happy Birthday, kid.”