Top 10 Iconic Couples of Old Hollywood

Updated on August 22, 2019
Rachel M Johnson profile image

Rachel M. Johnson is a lover of all things pop culture. She's been writing about music and entertainment online for over two years.

Classic Hollywood was the epitome of class and sophistication, and gave the world an array of iconic and memorable stars. Many of these beloved figures found love in Tinsel Town and became the subject of media fascination. Let's take a look at the top 10 iconic couples of old Hollywood.

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Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall

The iconic Humphrey Bogart (1899-1957) met and fell in love with the screen siren Lauren Bacall (1924-2014) while filming their 1944 movie To Have and Have Not. When they met, Bogart was 44 and Bacall just 19. The two developed an emotional bond and the veteran actor became a mentor to the rising starlet. He was still married to his wife Mayo Methot when a love affair began; the pair would exchange passionate love letters during this period. Bogart and Bacall would reunite once more on the screen, appearing together in The Big Sleep just months after completing To Have and Have Not.

Bogart felt torn between his new love and his sense of duty to his marriage, but ultimately filed for divorce from Methot in February 1945. He and Bacall married in a private ceremony on May 21, 1945. Together, the couple would appear in two more films, Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948) and became one of Hollywood's most glamorous marriages. Bacall gave birth to a son in 1949 and a daughter in 1952. Sadly, Bogart passed away from esophageal cancer in 1957at the age of 57. In her memoir, Bacall wrote of their love, "No one has ever written a romance better than we lived."

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Spencer Tracy & Katharine Hepburn

One of the most beloved romances in Hollywood actually has a very strange and controversial basis: seasoned actors Spencer Tracy (1900-1967) and Katharine Hepburn (1907-2003) began a lifelong love affair in 1941 while Tracy was still married. He had been with Louise Tracy since 1923, yet their romance was troubled and marred by separations and extramarital affairs. After falling for Hepurn during the production of the 1941 film Woman of the Year, the two developed a relationship that would last until his death 26 years later. Though Tracy wanted to conceal his relationship with Hepburn from his wife and the public, it was an open secret in Hollywood.

Neither the actor nor his wife ever pursued a divorce, despite their estrangement. He once told friend Joan Fontaine, "I can get a divorce whenever I want to, but my wife and Kate like things just as they are." Hepburn never fought for marriage and the two would share the screen multiple times throughout their love affair. She cared for him when his health deteriorated; Tracy died from a heart attack at 67. When asked why she stayed with the actor so long despite the nature of their relationship, Hepburn once said, "I honestly don't know. I can only say that I could never have left him."

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Marilyn Monroe & Joe DiMaggio

Twentieth century icon Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) was no stranger to romance, but arguably her most publicized relationship was with legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio (1914-1999). It was the All-American romance to fans everywhere: the tall, handsome sports hero and glamorous and beautiful Hollywood superstar. The tabloids and media loved to document their passionate yet volatile relationship. The two began dating in 1952 after DiMaggio asked an acquaintance to arrange a dinner date with Monroe. While the pair preferred to keep their romance low-profile, the press covered it exhaustively. On January 14, 1954 DiMaggio and Monroe were married at San Francisco City Hall, and they honeymooned in Japan.

Their marriage was marred by the baseball player's discomfort over his wife's sexy image; he wanted her to settle down and start a family. Monroe famously stood over a subway grate with the air blowing up her skirt for her film The Seven Year Itch; the crowd of onlookers went wild and the press had gathered, but DiMaggio was irate. Jealousy and difference of opinion ultimately led to their divorce in October 1954, just 274 days after they were married. The two were said to have reconciled in 1962 and were close to marrying once more; sadly the blonde bombshell died of an alleged drug overdose in 1962. DiMaggio sent roses several times a week to her grave for the next two decades; his last words before he passed away in 1999 were reportedly, "I'll finally get to see Marilyn."

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Frank Sinatra & Ava Gardner

The blue-eyed crooner Frank Sinatra (1915-1998) and sultry actress Ava Gardner (1922-1990) were one of Hollywood's most infamous couples. During the time, Sinatra was still married to wife Nancy when they began secretly dating. Before they had even met, the actor saw a photo of Gardner and told friends, "I'm going to marry that woman." A few days after Nancy finally granted Sinatra a divorce in 1951, he made his words come true and married Gardner. The duo were notorious for their intense drinking and arguing, even more so for their passionate making up. Their arguments were reportedly due to Gardner's growing fame and Sinatra's frustration with being out of work.

Sinatra experienced a very dark period during their marriage, due to his decline in popularity. Rumors even swirled he had attempted suicide at least three times, which were later confirmed by Gardner. The actress also revealed she had two abortions during their marriage, feeling that it was too rocky to provide a stable home life. The two continued their volatile behavior, cheating on one another and ultimately separating. They divorced in 1957, though remained in love and called each other the love of their lives. When she passed away in 1990 of emphysema, Sinatra wept uncontrollably. Friends of the actor said he never quite got over Ava.

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Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz

Beloved comedy duo Lucille Ball (1911-1989) and Desi Arnaz (1917-1986) met and fell in love while filming the stage hit Too Many Girls. The two connected immediately and eloped the same year in 1940, 6 months after they met. They separated for a period in 1944 allegedly due to Arnaz's drinking problem and infidelity. However, they later reconciled. In 1951, Ball and Arnaz created the sitcom I Love Lucy, a series that became one of the most cherished shows in television history. That same year, the comedienne gave birth to their first child, Lucie Arnaz, followed by a son Desi Arnaz Jr. in 1953.

The success of I Love Lucy came with a price; Arnaz felt immense pressure from running a production company and felt insecure being married to a huge star like Ball. All this pushed him to alcohol and the actress could no longer tolerate his drinking and infidelity, so she divorced him in 1960. Though the marriage ended, their love did not and they remained close. Friends said they never got over one another, and Ball's close friend, theater actress Carol Channing once said, "They spoke so lovingly of each other, you almost forgot they weren't together anymore."

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Tony Curtis & Janet Leigh

Once the golden couple of Hollywood, Tony Curtis (1925-2010) and Janet Leigh (1927-2004) were both successful actors who married in a widely debated ceremony on June 4, 1951. Prior to the nuptials, studio executives with Universal-International attempted to talk Curtis out of the union for 3 days. They claimed that by marrying, he would be "poisoning himself at the box office" and threatened to banish him. The young and in love couple didn't care and eloped regardless. Together, they would have two daughters together; actresses Jamie Lee and Kelly Ann Curtis. They were frequently idolize as the "It" couple in Hollywood, and their marriage was frequently the topic of gossip columns.

In 1962, Curtis had divorce papers sent to Leigh on the set of her film, The Manchurian Candidate. The actor once said, "For a while, we were Hollywood's golden couple. I was very dedicated and devoted to Janet, and on top of my trade, but in her eyes that goldenness started to wear off. I realized that whatever I was, I wasn't enough for Janet. That hurt me a lot and broke my heart." Leigh would later comment that the divorce was the result of "outside problems", which included the death of Curtis' father.

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Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton

One of the biggest and most talked about love affairs of all time was that of iconic film stars Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) and Richard Burton (1925-1984). The two met while filming Cleopatra together in Italy in 1961 and began an affair; both were married. The scandal caused the two to be condemned for "erotic vagrancy" by the Vatican, and it was heavily covered by the media. After divorcing their spouses, the duo were wed in a private and low-key ceremony on March 15, 1964. During their first marriage of 10 years, they became Hollywood's most talked about couple and were dubbed "Liz and Dick." They appeared in an impressive 11 films alongside each other.

The two led a jet-set and lavish life together, and there were constant reports of affairs and even a rumors of an open marriage. They divorced for the first time in 1974, but ultimately reconciled and remarried on October 10, 1975. The second marriage only lasted a year, ending in divorce in July 1976. Taylor and Burton's relationship has been heavily regarded as "the marriage of the century." The violet eyed beauty would later say, "After Richard, the men in my life were just there to hold the coat, to open the door. All the men after Richard were really just company."

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Natalie Wood & Robert Wagner

Hollywood heavy-hitters Natalie Wood (1938-1981) and Robert Wagner (1930) began a romance when Wood was just 18-years-old; Wagner was 26. The actress had a long-time crush on the handsome leading man, and for her 18th birthday she went on a studio-arranged date with Wagner. A year later on December 28, 1957 the two were joined in holy matrimony, in nuptials deemed the "glittering union of the 20th century." Wood once said in a 1976 interview, "I was 10 and he was 18 when I first saw him walking down a hall at 20th Century Fox. I turned to my mother and said, "I'm going to marry him."

The wedded bliss lasted for five years, as the two would divorce for the first time in 1962. During this 10 year separation, both actors married, had a child and divorced before once again returning to each other. They reconnected at a dinner party and began regularly talking on the phone again. The duo shocked the world when they attended the Oscar's together in 1972 and married once again on July 16, 1972. They had a daughter in 1974 and remained together until her tragic death in 1981. Events surrounding her death by drowning remain controversial, with suspicion even falling on her husband for some time.

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Rita Hayworth & Orson Welles

The sultry and complex Rita Hayworth (1918-1987) married fellow actor and radio legend Orson Welles (1915-1985) in a very private ceremony before a judge on September 7, 1943. None of her colleagues knew about the nuptials until she announced it the day before. A few hours after they said "I do", they returned to work at the studio. Together the two would have a daughter, born December 17, 1944. Though the media was invested in the pair, their romance struggled heavily and ultimately fizzled out. Hayworth would later say that Welles did not want to settle down, straining their marriage. On November 10, 1947 she was granted a divorce that was finalized the following year.

Hayworth once spoke candidly of the union, having expressed, "During the entire period of our marriage, he showed no interest in establishing a home. When I suggested purchasing a home, he told me he didn't want the responsibility. Mr. Welles told me he never should have married in the first place; that it interfered with his freedom in his way of life." Regardless, she called Welles the "great love of her life." Welles himself would go on to say she was, "one of the dearest and sweetest woman that ever lived...and we were a long time together--I was lucky enough to have been with her longer than any of the other men in her life."

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Vivien Leigh & Sir Laurence Olivier

Legendary actress Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) and director/film star Sir Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) began an affair while starring as lovers in 1937's Fire Over England. At the time Olivier was married to actress Jill Esmond and Leigh to Herbert Leigh Holman. It was also during this period that Leigh read for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in the cinematic classic Gone with the Wind. They began living together despite the fact that their spouses refused to grant either of them a divorce. In February 1940, Esmond agreed to divorce Olivier and Leigh Holman Leigh. On August 31, 1940 the two were married in a small, private ceremony.

Together, they created a stage production of Romeo and Juliet for Broadway and filmed The Hamilton Woman in 1941. Leigh had many bipolar breakdowns throughout the marriage, due to her depression and a miscarriage. She would have an affair with co-star Peter Finch and later actor Jack Merivale in 1958. They divorced in 1960, and Olivier once reflected on her illness and their marriage, "Throughout her possession by that uncannily evil monster, manic depression, with its deadly ever-tightening spirals, she retained her own individual canniness--an ability to disguise her true mental condition from almost all except me, for whom she could hardly be expected to take the trouble."

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Rachel M Johnson

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      • Rachel M Johnson profile imageAUTHOR

        Rachel M Johnson 

        2 months ago

        Hi Louise, I love Tony Curtis as well.

        Not only was he a very talented actor but man was he handsome!

      • Coffeequeeen profile image

        Louise Powles 

        2 months ago from Norfolk, England

        Oh, there are so many icons there. I particularly love Tony Curtis.

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