Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on February 13, 2014
Tomorrow is February 14th, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day. I thought I’d celebrate the occasion by taking a look at some sizzling screen romances that ignited while the cameras were rolling. Anyone who knows a thing or two about Hollywood history knows that it’s not uncommon for actors to fall head over heels for their costars. And who can blame them? When two attractive actors are asked to feign love while kissing and cuddling for our amusement I suspect that the lines between fantasy and reality can easily become blurred. These on set affairs seldom last but they can wreck marriages and leave a trail of broken hearts in their wake. But the heart wants what it wants and on some occasions these romantic rendezvous develop into long lasting loving relationships. And best of all? They often leave us with some passion filled films that make for great viewing on Valentine’s Day!
Greta Garbo & John Gilbert
Greta Garbo and John Gilbert are one of the most celebrated screen couples in Hollywood history and their relationship has been well documented. Their romance was ignited on the set of FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926) and according to many witnesses it was love at first site. Director Clarence Brown has been quoted as saying, “It was the damndest thing you ever saw. It was the sort of thing that Elinor Glyn (British fiction author) used to write about. When they got into the first love scene, well, nobody else was even there. These two were alone in a world of their own.” The couple lived “in sin” on and off for a few years and went on to appear in four more films together. Gilbert reportedly proposed to Garbo many times while they carried on their affair but she refused and it’s been rumored that she may have even left him standing at the alter once. Whatever the case may be, Gilbert went on to marry and date many other women before his sudden death in 1936 but some claim that Garbo never forgot Gilbert and carried a torch for him until she died in 1990.
The Garbo & Gilbert Filmography:
Clark Gable & Joan Crawford
I’ve written extensively about Clark Gable and Joan Crawford’s romance before and you can find my previous post here but it’s worth noting again that their affair started on the set of DANCE, FOOL, DANCE (1931) and was so passionate that one Hollywood journalist claimed it “nearly burned Hollywood down.” According to Crawford it was love at first sight. She once said, “We were attracted to each other instantly. I had what he wanted and he had what I wanted. Call it chemistry, call it love at first sight, call it physical attraction. What’s the difference? The electricity between us sparked on screen. It wasn’t just acting; we meant every damn kiss and embrace. God, we both had balls in those days!” Like Garbo and Gilbert, the two went onto to appear in more films together but never married although they remained close until Gable’s death in 1960.
The Gable & Crawford Filmography:
Vivien Leigh & Laurence Olivier
Vivian Leigh and Olivier’s complicated romance began on the set of FIRE OVER ENGLAND (1937). The two were both married at the time (Leigh to Herbert Leigh Holman and Olivier to Jill Esmond) but that didn’t deter them. According to Vivien Leigh, “It was in that film that Larry and I met. . .I wonder whether-if the film was shown again-you would see it in our faces, the confrontation with our destiny. I don’t think I have ever lived quite as intensely ever since. I don’t remember sleeping, ever; only every precious moment that we spent together.” Their lengthy affair lasted four years until their spouses finally agreed to divorces so the two could be wedded. Leigh and Olivier’s marriage lasted twenty years but it was very troubled. Leigh was struggling with mental illness which caused a lot of strain on their relationship and they both had romantic flings with other actors. The couple appeared in three films together and various stage productions before their divorce in 1960.
The Leigh & Olivier Filmography:
Katharine Hepburn & Spencer Tracy
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s lengthy affair is often cited as one of Hollywood’s great romances but in some respects it was one of its biggest tragedies. The two fell in love on the set of WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942) and stayed together until Tracy’s death in 1967. During that time they appeared in eight more films together and throughout the course of their very public relationship Tracy remained married to another woman (Louise Treadwell) although the two were separated and living in different homes. Tracy was a very private man and by all accounts he and Hepburn were devoted to one another but out of respect for his first wife and their children, as well as his commitment to the Catholic Church, Tracy never considered asking for a divorce. Hepburn once said that Tracy never told her that he loved her although she often expressed her own feelings to him. One has to wonder why Hepburn spent 26 years of her life of her life dedicated to a man who was unwilling to verbalize his emotions but love is complicated and perhaps words failed to convey what Tracy and Hepburn shared together. In Hepburn’s own words, “I met him and I quivered like Jell-O if you gave it a slight shake. I was mush absolute mush. . .I think without romance, deeply felt, my life would have been incomplete. There would have been emptiness in me. I would have done anything for Spence. . .Why? It was a mystery to me.”
The Hepburn & Tracy Filmography:
Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall
Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s relationship blossomed on the set of TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944) but according to Bacall’s biography it wasn’t exactly love at first site. “I don’t know how it happened. It was almost imperceptible. . .He was standing behind me—we were joking as usual—when suddenly he leaned over, put his hand under my chin and kissed me.” After their first kiss, she gave Bogart her phone number on the back of a matchbook and the rest, as they say, is history. Bogart was in a troubled marriage to actress Mayo Methot at the time that finally ended in 1945 and after his divorce Bogart and Bacall quickly married. They appeared in three more films together before Bogart died in 1957.
The Bogart & Bacall Filmography:
Bette Davis & Gary Merrill
The romance between Bette Davis and Gary Merrill was sparked during the making of ALL ABOUT EVE (1951). According to costar Celeste Holm, the two fell in love during the first week of filming, “And from then on she (Davis) didn’t care if the rest of us lived or died.” Both Davis and Merrill were married at the time but that didn’t slow them down. In Merrill’s biography he wrote, “Before long we were walking about holding hands, going to movies. . .From simple compassion, my feelings turned to uncontrollable lust.” Davis thought the two were simply falling in love with the characters they played and there was probably some truth to that. But after they were wedded in 1950 the couple managed to stay married for 10 years and made two more films together. They finally separated in 1960 but neither of them married again and Davis reportedly kept Merrill’s photograph prominently displayed in her home until her death in 1989.
The Davis & Merrill Filmography:
Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton’s widely publicized and controversial affair ignited on the stormy set of CLEOPATRA (1963). Both actors had met years earlier but Taylor had found Burton “swaggering and vulgar” although Burton was utterly taken with her and once wrote that Taylor was, “Unquestionably gorgeous. I can think of no other word to describe a combination of plentitude, frugality, abundance, tightness. She was lavish. She was a dark unyielding largesse. She was, in short, too bloody much, and not only that, she was totally ignoring me.” During the filming of CLEOPATRA all that changed when the two embarked on a turbulent affair. Taylor and Burton were both unhappily married at the time (Taylor to Eddie Fisher and Burton to Sybil Williams) and they caused a media sensation when they openly flaunted their romance on the set, which led the Vatican to proclaim they were an example of “erotic vagrancy.” Taylor & Burton eventually divorced their spouses and married in 1963. Their on again-off again marriage lasted 15 years and the many films they made together often emphasized their troubled but passionate relationship. The two finally parted ways in 1976 but they remained in contact and even worked together again on a stage production of PRIVATE LIVES before Burton’s death in 1984.
The Taylor & Burton Filmography:
Some other noteworthy examples:
Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward
The Newman & Woodward Filmography*:
Cary Grant & Sophia Loren
The Grant & Loren Filmography:
Warren Beatty & Natalie Wood
The Wood & Beatty Filmography*:
Robert Mitchum & Shirley MacLaine
The Mitchum & MacLaine Filmography:
Albert Finney & Audrey Hepburn
The Hepburn & Finney Filmography:
Steve McQueen & Ali MacGraw
The McQueen & MacGraw Filmography:
Did I neglect to mention one of your favorite “from fiction to fact” on screen romances? Feel free to share your own Valentine’s Day viewing suggestions below!
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