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TCM Spotlight: Met on Set

TCM Spotlight: Met on Set

Thursdays in December / 25 Movies

Make-believe passions can become quite real on a movie set, where costars and their directors sometimes fall in love for real, often establishing long-term relationships and occasionally creating international scandals. With this Spotlight, TCM looks at couples who found real magic amid the artifice of filmmaking.

Our roundup of lovers who “Met on Set” is broken into four categories beginning with Classic Hollywood Sweethearts.

The story goes that, when Katharine Hepburn was introduced to Spencer Tracy on the set of Woman of the Year (1942), she said to him, “Mr. Tracy, I’m afraid I’m a bit too tall for you,” and producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz interjected, “Don’t worry, Kate, he’ll soon cut you down to size!”

Tracy and Hepburn costarred in nine films and enjoyed a love affair that had to remain private because he was both Catholic and married. Their romance, which was Hollywood’s best-kept secret thanks to a discreet press, lasted until Tracy’s death in 1967.

Lauren Bacall was 19 and Humphrey Bogart 45 when they met on the set of To Have and Have Not (1944), the film in which she famously intoned to him, “If you want anything, just whistle.” Bogart left his third wife, Mayo Methot, to wed Bacall.

The Bogart-Bacall marriage was, from all descriptions, one of Hollywood’s happiest. The couple made a total of five films together and remained married until Bogart’s death in 1957. Later Bacall wrote in her memoir that “No one has ever written a romance better than we lived.”

Other entries with Classic Hollywood Sweethearts include No Man of Her Own (1932, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard), The Silver Cord (1933, Joel McCrea and Frances Dee), His Brother’s Wife (1936, Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck), Brother Rat (1938, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman) and Too Many Girls (1940, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz).

Short & Sweet couplings include Lana Turner and clarinetist/bandleader Artie Shaw, who appeared together in Dancing Co-Ed (1939), an MGM romantic comedy with music. In 1940 the pair eloped, entering a marriage that lasted only six months.

Shaw was the first of seven husbands for Turner, who married one of her partners (Stephen Crane) twice. Shaw had a total of eight wives including actresses Ava Gardner and Evelyn Keyes.

George Brent and Ann Sheridan, both stars at Warner Bros. during the 1930s and ’40s, first dated in 1939 as part of studio-arranged publicity. They hit it off both offscreen and on, eventually costarring in Warners’ romantic comedy Honeymoon for Three (1941).

Brent and Sheridan married in 1942 but remained together only about nine months. They were divorced exactly a year after their wedding. Sheridan had a total of three marriages, while Brent had five (plus reported affairs with such other costars as Greta Garbo and Bette Davis).

Other films with costars who had relatively short marriages include Man of the World (1931, Carole Lombard and William Powell), Downstairs (1932, John Gilbert and Virginia Bruce), Today We Live (1933, Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone), All About Eve (1950, Bette Davis and Gary Merrill) and Bundle of Joy (1956, Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher).

Among Passionate Affairs that began on film sets was the one that flamed between Joan Crawford and Clark Gable. They were first teamed in Dance, Fools, Dance (1931), and offscreen romance quickly ensued.

Crawford and Gable made a total of eight films together during the period 1931- 1940. Whether as lovers or friends, their relationship endured until his death in 1960. Crawford was quoted as saying, “We had an affair – a glorious affair – and it lasted longer than anybody knows.” 

Perhaps the most scandalous and highly publicized love affair to begin during the making of a film was shared by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton when they costarred in Cleopatra (1963). Each was married to someone else at the time, and their coupling sparked international outrage.

Taylor and Burton, who made 10 films together, were married (and divorced) twice. Each had other marriages, but Taylor was quoted by Vogue as saying, “I was still madly in love with him the day he died. I think he still loved me, too.”

Other films that sparked Passionate Affairs include Flesh and the Devil (1926, Greta Garbo and John Gilbert), Dark Victory (1939, Bette Davis and George Brent), Johnny Eager (1941, Robert Taylor and Lana Turner) and Stromboli (1950, Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini).

Modern Hollywood Couples have included Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, whose meeting during filming of The Getaway (1972) led to an affair and MacGraw’s divorce from her then-husband, producer Robert Evans.

McQueen and MacGraw were married from 1973 to 1978. After McQueen’s death in 1980 MacGraw acknowledged to People magazine that the marriage had been tumultuous. “He was incredibly attractive most of the time,” she recalled. “But there was also danger. There was a bad boy there.”

Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell fell in love during the making of Swing Shift (1984). (They originally met some years earlier when both were cast in the 1968 film, The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, when she was 21 and he was 16.) They have acted together in a total of five films.

The pair, who have children by previous marriages and a son of their own, have chosen not to marry and continue to seem happy with their union as it stands. Hawn said in an interview with Woman’s Day that “I think the secret is to know when to depend on somebody and when not to… The other part is to stay as sexy as you can and be sure you focus on all respects of a healthy relationship.”

Other movies spotlighting Modern Hollywood Couples: The Last Picture Show (1971, Cybill Shepherd and director Peter Bogdanovich), Klute (1971, Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland) and Blood Simple (1984, Frances McDormand and director Joel Cohen).