The 10 Best On-and-Off-Screen Couples in Movie History


Hollywood lost one of its last lions yesterday, as the legendary Lauren Bacall died at 89. She had a long and storied career, performing on film, radio, stage, and television, but America first knew her as the whisky-voiced marvel who taught Humphrey Bogart how to whistle. Bacall and Bogart were just one of the many Hollywood couples whose onscreen relationship became an off-screen one; let’s take a look at their famous pairing, and those of a few more great movie couples who kept their chemistry going off the set.

Lauren Bacall & Humphrey Bogart

“Bogie and Bacall” met on the set of the 1944 classic To Have and Have Not, where director Howard Hawks had cast the 19-year-old model-turned-actress opposite his 44-year-old leading man. Bogart was married at the time, but one look at Bacall, and he was sunk; they began seeing each other during the shoot, and their smoldering intensity all but wafts off the screen (particularly during the deservedly famous “You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve?” scene). They would marry in 1945 and remained together until his death a dozen years later, appearing together in three more films (The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and Key Largo), as well as a TV presentation of Bogart’s breakthrough play The Petrified Forest.

Vivien Leigh & Laurence Olivier

Olivier and Leigh’s romance began on the set of the 1937 film Fire Over England, but was kept quiet initially because they were both married (this is kind of a recurring theme here). They would finally wed in 1940 and remained together for 20 years, appearing together in two more pictures, 21 Days Together and the hit That Hamilton Woman, as well as numerous stage productions. Their affairs and Leigh’s bipolar disorder would ultimately lead to their separation and divorce, but they never fell out of love; when Leigh died seven years later, she was said to have kept a picture of Olivier by her bedside.

Gracie Allen & George Burns

George Burns had tried dozens of acts and nearly as many stage names when he met Gracie Allen in Union City, New Jersey in 1923. Gracie was a singer and dancer who became his vaudeville partner; in the original iteration of the act, she was the straight half and he was the comic, but something was off. As he would later write, “I didn’t have to be a genius to understand that there was something wrong with a comedy act when the straight lines got more laughs than the punch lines.” Audiences immediately took to Gracie’s warmth, natural charisma, and crackerjack comic timing, so Burns and Allen developed an act where he was the straight man to her dizzy dame. They eventually fell in love, marrying in 1926 and remaining together until her death in 1964. In that time, they co-starred in over 20 features and short films (as well as their marvelous sitcom), their goofy routines underlined by an adoration that was infectious.

Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy

When producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz first paired Hepburn & Tracy for 1942’s Woman of the Year, they clicked immediately, falling into a give-as-good-as-they-get back-and-forth that would come to define their onscreen relationship. They were together for 26 years, though they never married and the affair was kept a secret (albeit rather an open one) because Tracy’s Catholic faith prohibited him from divorcing his wife Louise, though they’d been separated since the 1930s. Their nine films together were often serious, but the best remain the crackling romantic comedies like Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, and Desk Set, which best showcased their boisterous personalities and prickly affection.

Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward

One of the most lengthy and storied of all Hollywood romances began in 1953, when Newman, starring in the Broadway production of Picnic, noticed Woodward, an understudy for the company. The interest escalated into romance when they were cast in The Long, Hot Summer a few years later; they wed in 1958 (after, yes, Newman divorced his first wife) and stayed together a jaw-dropping half-century, until Newman’s death in 2008. In that time, they co-starred in ten films; Newman directed his wife in three more. They would become a model for the successful Hollywood marriage/artistic partnership; when asked how he stayed faithful all those years, Newman was reported to have replied, “Why fool around with hamburger when you can have steak at home?”

Hume Cronyn & Jessica Tandy

Cronyn and Tandy wed in 1942 and lasted even longer than Newman and Woodward — 52 years, until Tandy’s death in 1994 (just after she appeared in Nobody’s Fool, opposite Newman). They made countless television and film appearances together over the course of their long careers and relationship, but their most memorable collaborations came late in their lives; in films like Cocoon, Foxfire, and *batteries not included, they were the very portrait of long-time, comfortable-as-an-old-pair-of-slippers love.

Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor

“Dick and Liz” had one of the most tempestuous romances in Hollywood history, and that’s saying something. They met during the legendarily troubled production of Cleopatra, while both were (all together now) in other marriages; they would eventually marry each other twice, from 1964 to 1974 and then again from 1975 to 1976. As you can tell from just those bare stats, it was a stormy relationship — one that their best films (1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and 1967’s The Taming of the Shrew) would capturevoyeuristically. Most of their other work didn’t fare quite as well, but throughout those ten pictures (and one TV movie) you can see them pushing each other, challenging each other, and making art out of an often absurd life.

Warren Beatty & Annette Bening

Bening received her fair share of gasps and kudos in 1992, when she did what it seemed no one would ever mange: she made an honest man out of notorious lothario Warren Beatty. They met on the set of the 1991 mob drama Bugsy, and that film managed to capture the considerable sparks between them; as no-nonsense starlet Virginia Hill, she all but turns Beatty’s tough-guy Bugsy Siegel into putty before your eyes. They would only make one more film together — a remake of the classic Love Affair — but in all fairness, Beatty only made two more films after that; he settled into an unannounced semi-retirement as the husband of one of our finest actresses.

Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt

The conventional wisdom goes that if a leading man and lady are attracted to each other while making a movie, they have to wait until after it ends to do anything about it, lest they diffuse the sexual tension. If that’s true, then the story that Jolie and Pitt weren’t having an affair during the making of this 2006 action/comedy hit Mr. and Mrs. Smith may very well be true; their chemistry, even as a pair of bored domesticates, is utterly scorching. Whatever the story may be (and the tabloids certainly did plenty of guesswork), Pitt divorced wife Jennifer Aniston in 2005 and began a relationship with Jolie shortly thereafter. Oddly, their initial pairing remains their only onscreen collaboration — though they’ll reportedly reteam on the upcoming By The Sea, so I guess we’ll see if the conventional wisdom is true after all.

Javier Bardem & Penélope Cruz

Bardem and Cruz first met on the set of Cruz’s film debut, the relentlessly sexy 1992 Spanish film Jamón Jamón. Their paths would cross several times in the ensuing years, but their interest didn’t become romantic until Woody Allen cast them as star-crossed lovers Juan Antonio and Maria Elena in 2008’s Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Cruz and Bardem are utterly convincing as a pair of turbulent artists who simply cannot live without each other; Bardem’s Juan Antonio is a smooth operator, but when Cruz enters the film (after nearly an hour of careful preparation), you can see how she turns him to jelly. The relationship continued after the cameras stopped rolling, with the pair wedding in 2010; sadly, they’ve only made one film together since, last year’s The Counselor, where (boo) they shared no scenes.