Caught on Film: Hollywood Romances That Ignited On Set

hollywoodheart

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!

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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:
FLESH AND THE DEVIL (1926)
LOVE (1927)
A WOMAN OF AFFAIRS (1928)
QUEEN CHRISTINA (1933)

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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:
THE MERRY WIDOW (1925 as uncredited extras)
DANCE, FOOL, DANCE (1931)
LAUGHING SINNERS (1931)
POSSESSED (1931)
DANCING LADY (1933)
CHAINED (1934)
FORSAKING ALL OTHERS (1934)
LOVE ON THE RUN (1936)
STRANGE CARGO (1940)

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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:
FIRE OVER ENGLAND (1937)
21 DAYS TOGETHER (1940)
THAT HAMILTON WOMAN (1941)

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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:
WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1941)
KEEPER OF THE FLAME (1942)
WITHOUT LOVE (1945)
THE SEA OF GRASS (1947)
STATE OF THE UNION (1948)
ADAM’S RIB (1948)
PAT AND MIKE (1952)
DESK SET (1957)
GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? (1967)

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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:
TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT (1944)
THE BIG SLEEP (1946)
DARK PASSAGE (1947)
KEY LARGO (1948)

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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:
ALL ABOUT EVE (1951)
ANOTHER MAN’S POISON (1952)
PHONE CALL FROM A STRANGER (1952)

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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:
CLEOPATRA (1963)
THE V.I.P.s (1963)
THE SANDPIPER (1965)
WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINA WOOLF? (1966)
THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (1967)
THE COMEDIANS (1967)
DOCTOR FAUSTUS (1967)
BOOM! (1968)
UNDER MILK WOOD (1972)
DIVORCE HIS–DIVORCE HERS (1973) (Telefilm)

Some other noteworthy examples:

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Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward

The Newman & Woodward Filmography*:
THE LONG HOT SUMMER (1958)
RALLY ‘ROUND THE FLAG, BOYS! (1958)
FROM THE TERRACE (1960)
PARIS BLUES (1961)
A NEW KIND OF LOVE (1963)
WHAT A WAY TO GO! (1964)
WINNING (1969)
WUSA (1970)
THE DROWNING POOL (1975)
HARRY & SON (1984)
MR & MRS BRIDGES (1990)
*Newman also directed & produced a number of Woodward’s other films.

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Cary Grant & Sophia Loren

The Grant & Loren Filmography:
THE PRIDE AND THE PASSION (1957)
HOUSEBOAT (1958)

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Warren Beatty & Natalie Wood

The Wood & Beatty Filmography*:
SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS (1961)
*Beatty also had noteworthy affairs with many of his other costars including Julie Christie & Annette Bening just to name a few.

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Robert Mitchum & Shirley MacLaine

The Mitchum & MacLaine Filmography:
TWO FOR THE SEASAW (1962)
WHAT A WAY TO GO (1964)

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Albert Finney & Audrey Hepburn

The Hepburn & Finney Filmography:
TWO FOR THE ROAD (1967)

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Steve McQueen & Ali MacGraw

The McQueen & MacGraw Filmography:
THE GETAWAY (1972)

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!

9 Responses Caught on Film: Hollywood Romances That Ignited On Set
Posted By Michaela : February 14, 2014 4:04 am

Fred and Ginger are always great for Valentine’s Day! Interestingly enough, the two dated when they were both still on the stage before either appeared in Hollywood. I’m reading Ginger’s autobiography and she wrote that at the end of their first date, “Fred had me in his arms, and the kiss that we shared in that five minutes would never have passed the Hays Office code!” She even said that had she stayed in New York, she thinks she and Fred might’ve become a serious item. They definitely had chemistry!

Posted By Kimberly Lindbergs : February 14, 2014 7:52 am

Thanks for sharing that romantic tidbit, Michaela! I didn’t know that Fred & Ginger had a romantic fling. It does explain the chemistry they seemed to have on screen.

Posted By doug : February 14, 2014 12:21 pm

My favorite duo was chaste rather than chased-for romantic love, for ‘clicking together’ on the screen only….Myrna Loy and William Powell. From Manhattan Melodrama till their last film together, they were a screen couple that shared more chemistry than
‘Big Pharma’.
Recently watched “Dancing Lady” and the connection between Crawford and Gable lit
up the screen.
As for Hepburn/Tracy, he didn’t have to say “I love you” because that would have been stating the obvious, and Tracy wasn’t obvious.
Thank you for this fun post, Kimberly, and Happy Valentine’s Day to all!

Posted By LD : February 14, 2014 1:03 pm

My favorite screen/real life couple, Bogart and Bacall with Newman and Woodward coming in a close second. I would like to mention the relationship of Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal which ignited on the set of THE FOUNTAINHEAD. They never married and it lasted only a few years but supposedly it never burned out for her.

Then there is the non-traditional relationship of Charles Laughton and Elsa Lancaster. Their relationship started on the stage rather than film but what we have on film shows their wonderful chemistry. What fun they are in WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION! I suspect they had a very interesting home life. Their marriage lasted over 30 years. I like to believe that they were genuinely fond of each other.

Posted By DevlinCarnate : February 14, 2014 3:52 pm

in the spirit of the day i’d like to mention two non-traditional,totally fictional,pairs of onscreen relationships…the messy triangle of Sydney Greenstreet,Peter Lorre,and Elisha Cook Jr. in the Maltese Falcon,and the totally off the wall pairing of Lee Van Cleef and Earl Holliman in the Big Combo…Happy Valentines Day :)

Posted By Jenni : February 16, 2014 5:09 am

Joel McCrea and his wife Francis Dee. They met while filming a movie together, and despite her being engaged to another guy, once she met McCrea, the engagement was broken and the rest was a happy, long marriage.

Posted By Sunday Reads: Serving up Links Today | Sky Dancing : February 16, 2014 12:15 pm

[…] moviemorlocks.com – Caught on Film: Hollywood Romances That Ignited On Set […]

Posted By robbushblog : February 19, 2014 3:01 pm

Did William Powell and Jean Harlow begin their relationship while working on a movie together?

Posted By swac44 : February 28, 2014 5:21 pm

Newman and Woodward has to be my favourite of the bunch, every time they appear together, either in a film or even just a photo, their mutual affection is completely palpable. Then again, I could say the same thing about Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft every time he teased her about her early starring role in the 3D film Gorilla at Large.

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