Some of the silver screen’s greatest films have been made by real-life couples playing opposite each other. While not all of these relationships lasted personally, they certainly made for memorable performances and sometimes interesting headlines. There’s long-time lovers Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh, and Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith.
One of Hollywood’s greatest love stories unfolded in the 40s despite a 25-year age difference between the two. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall fell in love while making their 1944 film “To Have and Have Not,” married in 1945, and then starred in three more successful films: “The Big Sleep,” “Dark Passage” and “Key Largo.” Unfortunately, Bogart passed away in 1957.
Another great love story that developed over 25 years and through nine films was that of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Tracy was a devout Catholic with a handicapped child who felt he could not divorce his wife, so the classic Hollywood pair never married. But they did share a deep emotional bond both on and off-screen. Their films included “Desk Set,” “Woman of the Year,” “Adam’s Rib,” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” among others.
Of course, no article on film working relationships would be complete without mentioning Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who were twice married and divorced. They met on set in 1963 while filming “Cleopatra” and their legendary volatile relationship was well documented. They made 10 films together, including “The Taming of the Shrew;” “The Comedians;” “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf;” “Divorce His, Divorce Hers;” “The V.I.P.s;” and “The Sandpiper.” Despite their explosive relationship, the pair’s onscreen chemistry was undeniable and their projects were often award winning.
From the 60s to the 80s Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward epitomized a successful working relationship with a string of well-lauded movies, all while remaining happily married off screen. In fact, they could be considered the most successful married actors in the history of Hollywood. In addition to the Oscar-nominated “Mr. and Mrs. Bridge” in 1990, they played opposite each other in six other films, including “Harry and Son (1984), “The Drowning Pool” (1975), “Winning” (1969), “A New Kind of Love” (1963) and “From the Terrace” (1960). Newman and Woodward married in 1958, after starring together in the highly acclaimed film, “The Long, Hot Summer.”
British actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna were also a noted successful husband and wife acting duo who made several successful films together, including this week’s MovieZoot.com Watchlist 1957 comedy, “The Smallest Show on Earth” (also known as “Big Time Operators”). Travers and McKenna play Matt and Jean Spencer, a young middle class couple who inherit a rundown neighborhood movie theatre known as the Bijou. Along with fleabag business comes its three elderly and tottering employees – a boozing projectionist Percy played by Peter Sellers, a doorman/janitor Tom played Bernard Miles and a ticket-taker and former silent-movie accompanist, Mrs. Fazackalee played by Margaret Rutherford.
In trying to make the best of a bad situation, the Spencer’s set up shop and began to deal with the trials and tribulations of small-time cinema ownership: second-rate sound and projection woes, meager film selections (mainly American B-Westerns), and miscellaneous audience mishaps. Just when they’re about to give up, old Tom hatches a dubious plan for the Spencer’s to make a huge profit on their less-than-thriving enterprise, whereby the Spencer’s attempt to run the business as usual in order to convince a successful competitor to buy them out. It’s a good-natured situational comedy with some amusing antics and memorable characters. The Travers-McKenna team really works well together both as a real-life and fictional married couple.
Travers and McKenna met first when they appeared together in a London play, “I Capture the Castle” in 1954. They were both married to other people at the time. They reunited years later, after McKenna had split with actor Denholm Elliott. This time they connected, getting married in 1957, the same year the couple made “The Smallest Show on Earth.” They made six films together, (four playing husband and wife), including “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1957), “Storm Over Jamaica” (1958), “Born Free” (1966), “Ring of Bright Water” (1969), and “An Elephant Called Slowly” (1970).
Many believe the couple’s personal and professional crowning glory in films and in their ensuing passion for animal rights came with the 1966 groundbreaking film, “Born Free.” Portraying noted wildlife conservationists, Joy and George Adamson, in the film based on the best-selling novel, it dramatically shifted global perceptions on wildlife and ecology. Suddenly people were attracted to careers as veterinarians, preservationists and zoologists.
The international box office smash literally changed the course of Travers’ and McKenna’s lives forever. With the real George Adamson serving as technical director while shooting the film, it deeply affected them so much that they dedicated the rest of their lives to wildlife missions. They formed a documentary film company and wrote, produced and created nature/wildlife films. “The Lion Who Thought He Was People,” made in 1971 was one of the best known and loved documentaries.
After Bill Travers’ death 1994, the couple’s son, Bill Travers Jr., kept the family’s enthusiasm and wildlife mission alive, serving as CEO of the Born Free Foundation. Virginia authored several wildlife books, including “On Playing with Lions” in 1976, “Some of My Friends Have Tails” in 1970, “Beyond the Bars: The Zoo Dilemma” in 1987, “Into the Blue” in 1992, and “Journey to Freedom” in 1997. Her autobiography, “The Life in My Years,” was published in 2009. In 2011, she appeared in the long-running, award-winning BBC documentary series, “Natural World.”
Watch The Smallest Show on Earth this week on MovieZoot.com.