A Hollywood Valentine: Lifelong Hollywood Couples and Their Classic Movies

Cinema Siren looks at some of Hollywood's love matches.

Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman starred in "The Long, Hot Summer," in 1958. 20th Century Fox photo
Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman starred in "The Long, Hot Summer," in 1958. 20th Century Fox photo
By Leslie Combemale aka Cinema Siren

It’s Valentine’s weekend. That’s right, the day of romance, having fallen on a Friday, is now overflowing and seeping itself into Saturday and Sunday. That’s the nature of anything relating to love and romance. It cannot be contained.  

Cinema Siren has Siren Spouse at home, but knows well there are many singles out there who struggle with the holiday. So many columns along the “anti-Valentine’s” were considered, just to comfort and remind those who have yet to find that special someone, either that there is hope, or perhaps, by way of schadenfreude, that romantic love, marriage and commitment can often be difficult, challenging and some might even say, a terrifying, dubious enterprise.   

That leads us to this week’s movie column. You readers have to trust me when I say finding true storied and happily coupled Hollywood twosomes, and the well-received movies in which they starred together, is harder than expected…We who live on the outside can never have any true idea of what two people experience together, especially when they live in the spotlight.
Take, for example, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. While they worked well onscreen, she was quoted numerous times as saying their marriage was “a nightmare.” What of Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh? Surely those two, whose romance was notoriously torrid and intense, had to have gained something from their time together, right? According to Olivier, and later, his longtime mistress Sarah Miles, both Larry and Vivian considered suicide multiple times while they were together.  

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, the most famous of tempestuous Hollywood couples, are far more a cautionary tale than one of “happily ever after.” Why would anyone willingly choose to have such drama and violence in their home life?…One wonders if their acting masterpiece Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was in lieu of releasing their home movies. 

In the best of times and without any outside difficulties, keeping a longterm partner, working to stay together and having a peaceful existence, is not for the faint of heart. It is no surprise there are so few that survive careers in Hollywood. There are, however, a few leading actors and actresses that purportedly found lifelong happiness.

These people, who seem to have withstood the scrutiny of the press, the stress and pressure of fame, and the challenges of living in love, are inspiring to all of us who strive to find longterm happiness, and embrace having someone with whom to share our lives. Here they are, along with movies in which they starred together:

No Man of Her Own, 1932: A conniving big-city gambler marries a librarian from a small town, and complications ensue. The only film starring the two actors together, it was made several years before they married. They were indifferent to each other during the filming, and in fact Gable presented Lombard with ballerina slippers on the last day of shooting, with a note saying “to a true prima donna.”

The two met again a few years later, when they were both free of their respective exes, and fell for each other, showing public displays of affection and exchanging witty barbs in front of the press. Lombard was killed in January of 1942 in a plane crash, leading the grief-stricken Gable to join the army, wear the diamond earring they found at the crash site on a necklace, and choosing, although twice remarried, to be interred next to her at Forest Lawn cemetery. 
The Long Hot Summer, 1958: Paul Newman won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival as a drifter and accused barn burner, and meets and manipulates a town heiress. This movie is almost entirely populated by members of the Actors Studio, and features Orson Welles. Woodward had just won an Oscar the year before for The Three Faces of Eve

In all, Newman and Woodward starred in 11 movies together, and she was also in several more films and projects he produced. The couple were partners in many ventures together, especially philanthropic ones, including a charity camp for seriously ill children called The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Newman was famous for, when being asked about infidelity: “Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?”

To Have and Have Not, 1944: In a Howard Hawks-directed WW2 adventure film, a world-weary boat captain in Martinique helps the French Resistance and falls for an American wanderer. In 19-year-old Lauren Bacall’s first film, there is electricity between she and Bogie that would be visible from outer space. 

In The Big Sleep, this noir classic film version of Raymond Chandler’s novel, Bogie plays Philip Marlowe and Bacall his love interest. There are so many big names from classic Hollywood involved in this genre film, it is a must-see, but overall seeing Bogie and Bacall together is the biggest treat. 

Lauren Bacall or “Betty” as she is known, warmed to Bogart slowly, but once the fire started, it kept ablaze through their entire life together. She said whenever she thinks of happiness, she thinks of when she and Bogie were together, just after their children were born, at home with them and their pet boxers. Their relationship started when Bogie was still married, yet getting divorced from his then-wife; but once together, they remained glued to each other till the day Bogie died of cancer in 1957.

Cocoon, 1985: Ron Howard directed this science fiction film about a group of old folks made to feel and act young and frisky again by a “life-force” brought to them by aliens. It is unfortunate that more films don’t take advantage of the love and respect consummate stage and screen actors Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy had for each other from 1942 to her death in 1994.

They worked together onstage (Tandy won a Tony in the play they were in together in 1977, The Gin Game, her second one after originating the role of Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire on Broadway) as well as on radio, where they co-starred in The Marriage.  It’s worth seeking out a copy of their co-starring turn in the Emmy-award winning TV film Foxfire. In the many interviews they had together, they were often asked “How do you make it work?”….she once joked in response: “We’re both perfect.”  

Desk Set, 1957: Two headstrong personalities clash over the imminent computerization of a TV network's research department. A battle of brains ensues between the efficiency expert and the whip-smart women who runs it, played by Katharine Hepburn.   

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967: Two families are surprised by a visit from their children, an interracial couple hoping for their marriage blessing. Stanley Kramer directed this final film for Tracy, whose filming ended only 17 days before his death, which gleaned an Oscar win for Hepburn for Best Actress and William Rose for best screenplay as well as a recognition for Tracy as Best Actor, among its eight other nominations.  
While there are a number of powerful performances and films in which Tracy and Hepburn co-star together, I choose Desk Set, because Hepburn’s character is strong and independent from start to finish and her strength and determination as a working woman never falters. I chose Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner because you can see the care and love between them on every frame of the film, and it comes after five years of care she had given him, putting aside her career when he got sick.
It is well known that while Tracy was alive, they never publicly recognized their romance, as Tracy was married, though living separately from his wife Louise since the 1930s. Hepburn had been married once and was not interested in repeating that experience for any reason. She did say of their relationship, that they “passed 27 years together in what to me was absolute bliss.”
Here is to love of all kinds, all forms and Cinema Siren wishes all "Sirenauts" and movie fans an enjoyable Valentine’s Day and weekend. For those of you who are happily in love, remember to spread the joy to all those around you. To those of you who are still searching, take heart. Many loves for the ages come later in life, or after heartbreak. Go call your favorite person in the world. In their presence, you’ll feel all the love you need.
Happy Valentine’s from Cinema Siren.  

About this column: Leslie Combemale, "Cinema Siren," is a movie lover and aficionado who aspires to get more people back into the beautiful alternate worlds offered in the dark at movie houses across the country, and is owner of ArtInsights Animation and Film Art Gallery.  She interviews actors, directors, and production artists from all over the world, and often is invited to present at conventions such as the San Diego Comic Con, where she has been a panelist and host for The Art of the Hollywood Movie Poster, Classic Film History, Disney & Harry Potter Fandom discussions. Visit her art gallery for great art from film at www.artinsights.com and see more of her reviews and interviews on www.artinsightsmagazine.com.


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