10 Famous Artists Who Were Actually Decent Romantic Partners


Everyone knows that artists make for notoriously bad romantic partners; from John Mayer to Jack White, new examples of what Dept. of Speculation author Jenny Offill cleverly deemed the “art monster” pop up in the blogosphere nearly every day. (Not that bad behavior is by any means limited to men — Susan Sontag was many things, but Mother of the Year wasn’t one of them — but with folks like Norman Mailer setting the bar nice and low for their gender, men do make up the majority of this list.) So for your convenience, we’ve rounded up cultural icons past and present who managed to make it big and be decent spouses, partners, and sometimes parents to the people in their lives. Quality crushing material, right this way.

Paul Newman

Celebrity second marriages, particularly celebrity second marriages to younger costars, aren’t known for their long shelf lives. But Paul Newman’s partnership with Joanne Woodward, who he met in 1953 and reconnected with on the set of The Long, Hot Summer in 1957, yielded three daughters, 50 years of marriage, and ten co-starring roles in feature films. She put up with his passion for race cars; he spoke at her college graduation in 1990, which also happened to be their daughter Clea’s.

Paul Thomas Anderson

Only time will tell if Anderson’s union will last as long as that earlier Hollywood Paul’s, but PTA earns a spot because a) Maya Rudolph and b) learning that the guy who made There Will Be Blood has four kids and a house in Tarzana was one of the more pleasant surprises a Marc Maron interview has ever given me. (Give it a listen; he’s also surprisingly laid back and unsurprisingly secretive about his interactions with Thomas Pynchon.)

John Gregory Dunne

A 1987 New York Times profile of Dunne and his wife Joan Didion delicately states that his reputation “has grown more slowly” than his wife’s, and thanks to the rabid fandom — and conspicuous consumption — Didion attracts, it might be fading more quickly. But Dunne was a novelist, critic, and screenwriter in his own right, and over a nearly four-decade marriage to Didion, he maintained his own career while collaborating with his wife on projects like The Panic in Needle Park, Al Pacino’s second-ever film appearance. And, of course, his death is the subject of The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion’s gorgeous, devastating memoir.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude

The ultimate mutually supportive creative couple — so much so that they practiced art jointly, making their careers almost indistinguishable from 1961. The marriage got off to a somewhat messy start (Jeanne-Claude was pregnant with their son, Cyril, when she married another man, who she subsequently left), but they went on to develop their signature style of mass-scale environmental installations like The Umbrellas, The Gates, and Wrapped Reichstag. In an extra-adorable twist, the two were born on the exact same day.

Alice B. Toklas

Devoted partner and surrogate voice of Gertrude Stein, Toklas was also the creator of a world-famous recipe for “haschich fudge.” She met Stein the day she arrived in Paris, co-hosted the salons that made the expat community the stuff of Woody Allen’s dreams, and supported Stein in virtually every way imaginable through their 39 years of partnership. All of which might explain why Toklas didn’t publish much in her own right, including her memoir and the source of the aforementioned proto-pot brownie recipe The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, until after Stein’s passing in 1946.

Ossie Davis

Davis and fellow actor Ruby Dee married in 1948 and remained together until his death in 2005. The couple co-wrote an autobiography, With Ossie and Ruby, had three children, and even both made an appearance in Do the Right Thing. The couple were also involved in the Civil Rights movement and remained politically active, co-signing a petition opposing the Iraq War at its outset.

Leonard Woolf

In her suicide note, Virginia Woolf told her husband that, “If anyone could have saved me it would have been you.” A novelist and political theorist, Woolf co-founded the Hogarth Press with his wife in 1917 and continued operating it with partner John Lehmann until 1946. Most importantly, though, he supported Virginia through her lifelong struggle with mental illness.

George Henry Lewes

Lewes never married his longtime partner Mary Ann Evans, better known to contemporary readers as George Eliot; he’d had an open marriage with his first wife, Agnes, but couldn’t divorce her because he’d knowingly signed the birth certificate of a child she had by another man, making him complicit in adultery. The philosopher and literary critic nonetheless remained a source of support for Eliot, and his encouragement was a key factor in her decision to branch out from journalism into fiction.

Michael Chabon

The male half of the 21st century’s most publicly egalitarian literary marriage, Chabon has been together with Ayelet Waldman for nearly 22 years; the couple has four children. Waldman initially planned on being a stay-at-home mom, but she’s since developed a parallel career as a novelist, essayist, and sometime-TV pilot writer, giving us hope that the “male novelist” stereotype may evolve beyond Hemingway yet.