Hollywood's Greatest Real-Life Love Stories
Bogie and Bacall, Liz and Dick, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn: These legendary loves are more iconic than anything made for the silver screen.
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford
Many couples have worn the crown of Hollywood royalty, but Fairbanks and Pickford were first. When the iconic silent-screen stars—Fairbanks was "Everybody's Hero" and Pickford was "America's Sweetheart"—first met and fell in love, they were married to other people. Their secret affair became a scandal and their eventual wedding in Europe a sensation, as the two found themselves swarmed by agitated mobs. In 1920 they turned a hunting lodge into "Pickfair," a 22-room mansion with Beverly Hills' very first swimming pool. Their parties? Legendary. Life magazine described Pickfair as "a gathering place of only slightly less important than the White House... and much more fun." Pickford said of falling in love with Fairbanks, who played everyone from Zorro to Robin Hood, "I had been living in half shadows and a golden light was suddenly cast on me."
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall
He was a seasoned, cynical married movie star of 45, she was an ingénue model of 19. Yet the onscreen chemistry between the co-stars of To Have and Have Not was smoking. Bogart helped the nervous Bacall throughout the shoot. When she pressed down her chin and gazed up at the camera—soon dubbed "the Look"—it was actually to quiet her trembling. By the time the movie was in the can, "Bogie" and "Slim" were head over heels. Marriage and children followed, and parties galore. Surveying Bogart with his friends Frank Sinatra, David Niven, Angie Dickinson, and Judy Garland after a long night, Bacall drawled, "You look like a goddamn rat pack," coining the famous term. After Bogart died, Bacall granted no interviews on her marriage, but in her memoir, she wrote, "No one has ever written a romance better than we lived it."
Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh
"This, this was love," said Olivier about his marriage to the stunning beauty who played Blanche DuBois and Scarlett O'Hara. They first starred together in the film Fire Over England. But Leigh had long dreamed of Olivier. When she was just 22, she saw him perform onstage and said to a friend in the audience, "That's the man I'm going to marry." After a long, torrid affair, Leigh got her wish in 1940 with a blissful Santa Barbara wedding, and they continued to co-star in films and many plays. Their fame as the grand couple of the British stage had its drawbacks, especially since the critics attacked her as unequal to her genius husband. Infidelities and psychological problems led to their divorce, which shocked a world used to adoring "Larry and Viv." She died seven years later. A friend remembered: "She said she would rather lead a short life with Larry than a long life without him."
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn
Shortly before they started filming Woman of the Year, Hepburn said, "I'm afraid I'm a bit tall for you, Mr. Tracy." Height notwithstanding, Tracy and Hepburn became an adorable, bantering couple, co-starring in nine films, while behind the scenes their affair went on for 26 years. Tracy, a married practicing Catholic and father of a deaf son, never left his wife."I found him irresistible," Hepburn said when asked why she, a beloved screen star, would accept a secret relationship. The couple were careful never to be photographed together, except while making one of their many movies. After he died, and Hepburn spoke to Tracy's widow, she was told, "I thought you were a rumor."
Clark Gable and Carole Lombard
Interestingly, this couple did not fall in love while co-starring in a movie. After they wrapped No Man of Her Own, Gable's parting gift to Lombard was a pair of ballerina slippers and the note "To a real prima donna." Six years later, though, they met again at a restaurant, and sparks flew. Gable and Lombard were famous for their down-to-earth lifestyle and adoration of practical jokes. They never stopped laughing, friends said. And underlying it all was complete trust. Gable said, "You can trust that little screwball with your life or your hope or your weaknesses and she wouldn't even know how to think about letting you down." Lombard's death in a 1942 plane crash was a blow from which Gable never fully recovered.
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor
Taylor and Burton were famous for their respective onscreen sex appeal and amorous adventures before they met in 1962 to co-star in Cleopatra. Married to Eddie Fisher at the time, Taylor was determined not to fall for Burton—until she brought him a cup of coffee when he was suffering a hangover and their gazes locked. "Richard and I had an incredible chemistry together," Taylor said later. "We couldn't get enough of each other." Through the marriages and divorces, the paparazzi, the "Liz and Dick" circus of drinking and quarrels, and those spectacular diamonds, their passion was incinerating. Near the end of her life, the eight-times-married Taylor said, "I was a fool to marry so often…Richard is the only one I truly loved and still care about."
Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy
They were celebrated for having one of Hollywood's most devoted marriages, so much so that they turned it into a joke. When asked how the couple, married for decades, managed it, she once quipped, "We're both perfect." When Cronyn met her, he was smitten and courted her by "showing up at her door in top hat and tails for nights on the town." Multiple award winners both, Cronyn and Tandy were dedicated to acting rather than being celebrities. "We're each other's strongest critics," Tandy once said. "And biggest supporters," added Cronyn.
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward
How does an acting couple stay happily married for 50 years? For Newman and Woodward, part of the answer lies in their defiantly un-glitzy life. They bought a house in Westport, CT, and put down roots in their community; they pursued and supported liberal causes; and they always took the craft of acting seriously. In the end, it's through their own words that we best understand their marriage. Newman famously said, "I have steak at home, why go out for hamburger?" As for Woodward, she said, "Sexiness wears thin after a while and beauty fades, but to be married to a man who makes you laugh every day, is a real treat."
Meryl Streep and John Cazale
She was an up-and-coming New York City actress when they started dating. In 1976, they co-starred in Measure for Measure. "He wasn't like anybody I'd ever met," she said of the actor, considered one of the best of his generation, with roles in Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon, and Deer Hunter. They moved in together and he proposed marriage. But just a year later, Cazale was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Streep spent every moment possible with him, including moving into the hospital during his final days. Al Pacino, friend to both of them, later said, "I've hardly ever seen a person so devoted…to see her in that act of love for this man was overwhelming."
Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn
A leading actress since the 1960s, Hawn has gained some perspective on Hollywood relationships. They may "have a harder time because the camera is on them all the time," she said. Whatever the reason, Hawn has forged a successful romantic partnership with Russell for more than 30 years, appearing in movies and raising a blended family, while declining to get married. In fact, the actress has said their longevity may be due to their not tying the knot. "It's about compatibility and communication," she said. "We like the choice and we chose to stay."
This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.