For better or worse: Long Hollywood marriages

The joke in pop culture is that all marriages in Hollywood are brief and frequent.

For Valentine’s Day in 2013, I created a list of 56 actors and actresses who had long, successful marriages. The list was overwhelming, and I promised a follow-up post including more long marriages.

Well five years later, I have a follow-up. This time I created a list that included nearly 60 actors. It was so long that I am only sharing 30 couples and will share more next year.

You can read the first 2013 post “In sickness and in health: Successful Hollywood marriages” here, which includes actors like Eva Marie Saint, Shirley Temple, James Stewart, Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward, and Joel McCrea/Francis Dee. 

My definition of a successful Hollywood marriage is longer than 20 years and no divorce:

Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis (Married 1948 until his death in 2005) Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee met in 1945 when they both starred in the play “Jeb.” Throughout their marriage, the two performed together in 11 plays and five films. Outside of their art, they were activists together. Dee and Davis celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998 by releasing the book “With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together,” where they were discussed their support of open marriages and that “lies, not infidelity” ruin a marriage. The two had three children: Guy Davis, Nora Day and Hasna Muhammad.

Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn

Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy (Married 1942 until her death in 1994) The two met in 1940 and were married in 1942 after a two-year courtship. In a 1995 interview, Hume Cronyn said he first saw Tandy onstage in the play “The White Steed.” While it wasn’t love at first sight, he was “certainly impressed.” The two acted in several films and plays together over the years. In 1994, the couple was presented the first Tony Lifetime Achievement Award. They had two children: Christopher and Tandy. After Jessica’s 1994 death, Cronyn remarried in 1995 and passed away in 2003.

Craig Stevens and Alexis Smith

Craig Stevens and Alexis Smith (Married 1944 until her death in 1993) Alexis Smith and Craig Stevens met in 1941 when they were both contract players at Warner Brothers and acting in films together, including “Steel Against the Sky.” The two were engaged in 1942 before Stevens went into the Army. Stevens went on to play Peter Gunn on TV. The two had no children. Stevens passed away in 2000.

Bruce Bennett and Jeannette Cannon Braddock (Married from January 1933 until her death in June 2000) In a 2002 interview, Olympian turned actor Bruce Bennett said being married to his late wife, Jeannette, for 67 years was his biggest achievement. “She has been my wife, my love, my inspiration,” he told the University of Washington Alumni Magazine. The couple married in 1933 and had two children, Christopher Brix and Christina Katich. Jeannette died in 2000 and Bruce died at age 100 in 2007.

Roger Smith and Ann-Margret

Ann-Margret and Roger Smith (Married May 1967 until his death on June 4, 2017) Ann-Margret said in a 2017 interview that by the third date, she knew Roger Smith was the one. Roger proposed to Ann-Margret in 1966 on a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park, and they married in May 1967 in a hotel room at The Riviera in Las Vegas, according to Smith’s obituary. The two acted together in 1968 in “Criminal Affair,” and Roger went on to co-manager Ann-Margret’s career and produced her TV specials. Though Ann-Margret tried to get pregnant, the couple wasn’t able to have children. The two were married until Roger Smith’s death in 2017.

Diana Lewis and William Powell

William Powell and Diana Lewis (Married 1940 until his death in 1980) William Powell looked out his window one day and saw a girl, Diana Lewis, in his swimming pool. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s publicity department thought he was out of town and were using his pool to photograph Lewis. Powell introduced himself, and six weeks later the two were married, according to her 1997 obituary. Powell was 47 (and this was his third marriage) and Lewis was 21, and Hollywood assumed the marriage wouldn’t work, but the two were married until Powell’s death in 1980. Powell’s nickname for her was “Mousie.” In 1943, Diana Lewis retired from acting. “I’ve been in show business all my life, but my marriage is more important to me than anything else,” she said. William Powell retired from acting in 1955 and the two lived the remainder of their lives in Palm Springs.

Tony Randall and Florence Gibbs (Married from 1938 until her death in 1992) Tony Randall and his wife Florence Gibbs met at Northwestern University. Florence and Tony were both from Oklahoma. After graduating, the couple moved east to New York where Tony perused his acting career. His acting career was halted when he was drafted in World War II. When he returned, Tony Randall started out acting on radio in New York and had minor roles on Broadway. He started in films and TV in the early 1950s. Florence Gibbs died of cancer in 1992. “I wish I believed I’d see my parents again, see my wife again. But I know it’s not going to happen,” he said in an interview. Tony remarried in 1995 and passed away in 2004.

Joanna Shimkus and Sidney Poitier

Sidney Poitier and Joanna Shimkus (Married January 1976 – present, as of Feb. 14, 2018) Sidney and Joanna met when they starred together in The Lost Man (1969). Joanna later encouraged him to direct his first film, Buck and the Preacher (1972), after he and the original director had creative difference. The two became romantic partners and had their daughters, Anika in 1972, and Sydney in 1973. The two were married in 1976 with Harry Belafonte as the best man and Julie Belafonte as the matron of honor. “He is the most wonderful, generous, kind, honest man with the most integrity that I’ve ever known in my life,” Joanna said on his 90th birthday in 2017. Joanna is now an interior decorator.

Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson

Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson (Married 1948 until his 2014 death) The two met in 1946 when they were both cast in a production of Tennessee Williams’s “This Property Is Condemned.” “Little did I know that I would spend the rest of my life with that red-head whose name I couldn’t remember,” Wallach wrote in his autobiography. They had a son and two daughters together. The two acted in films but preferred the stage. “For actors, movies are a means to an end,” Wallach said in a 1973 interview. The two acted together from the 1950s to the early 2000s. Wallach passed away in 2014 and Jackson passed away in 2016.

Adolphe Menjou and Verree Teasdale

Adolphe Menjou and Verree Teasdale (Married 1934 until his death in 1963) Verree Teasdale was offered a role in London but turned it down. She announced to newspapers in Jan. 1934 that she was in love with Adolphe Menjou and was going to stay in Hollywood with him. The two had to wait until Menjou’s divorce with Kathryn Carver was finalized. They were engaged in February and married in August of 1934. The couple adopted one son, named Peter. They were married until Menjou died of complications due to hepatitis in 1963.

William Haines and Jimmie Shields (1926 until Haines’ death in 1973) Friend Joan Crawford said they were the happiest married couple in Hollywood. William Haines was one of MGM’s top stars in the 1920s and early 1930s. However, he was a homosexual at a time when it was shocking and unacceptable to society. In 1933, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer gave Haines an ultimatum: either he gave up his lifestyle and married a woman or his career was over. So Haines left his acting career, with his last film released in 1934. William and Jimmie were successful interior decorators from the 1930s until they retired in the 1970s. Some of their clients included Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, Marion Davies, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and George Cukor. William died in 1973 of lung cancer, and Jimmie was depressed after his death. In March 1974, Jimmie wrote a note saying in part, “I now find it impossible to go it alone,” then swallowed a fatal dose of barbiturates, according to a 1998 LA Times book review.

Peter Shaw and Angela Lansbury

Angela Lansbury and Peter Shaw (Married August 1949 until his death in January 2003) After Peter Shaw served in the military during World War II, he signed a contract with MGM studios where he met his future wife, Angela Lansbury. Actor Hurd Hatfield invited both of them to a party, and Hurd sent Peter to pick up Angela. Angela and Peter were married in London in 1949. The couple had two children, Anthony and Deidre. Peter created a production company, which co-produced the TV show Murder, She Wrote, which starred Angela. The couple was married for 54 years until Peter died of congestive heart failure in 2003.

Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin

Paula Prentiss and Richard Benjamin (Married October 1961 to present, as of Feb. 14, 2018) Paula and Richard met at Northwestern University, where they both were studying acting. The two moved in together (it was taboo for unmarried people to live together at this time), and Paula signed a contract with MGM in 1960. The studio asked that the couple marry so that the unmarried couple wouldn’t be traveling together on promotional appearances. “I accepted it all to be with the girl I wanted to be with,” Benjamin said. The couple acted together on the TV show, “He & She” from 1967 to 1968. The couple also acted together in the films “Catch-22” (1970), “Saturday the 14th” (1981), and the Broadway play “The Norman Conquests” (1975). They are also one of the few married couples to host Saturday Night Live (SNL) together. The couple has two children, son, Ross Benjamin and daughter, Prentiss Benjamin. “When Paula was sick (she had a mental breakdown in 1965), people wondered why I didn’t leave her,” Richard said in a 1976 People interview. “And when I wasn’t working they wondered why she didn’t leave me. People all along have tried to come between us. It took a long time to figure out that it was their problem, not ours.”

Theda Bara and Charles Brabin

Theda Bara and Charles Brabin (Married in July 1921 until her death on April 7, 1955) Charles Brabin directed actress Theda Bara in the films “Kathleen Mavourneen”(1919) and “La belle Russe” (1919). The couple was engaged in March 1921 and married that year in July, spending their honeymoon in Nova Scotia. In an interview, Theda Bara said she was not only attracted to his “mental brilliance” but also “the way he walked.” Theda Bara retired from acting in 1926 and Charles directed his last feature in 1934. Theda Bara died from abdominal cancer in 1955, and Charles died two years later in 1957.

Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti (Married 1966 until his death in 2007) Carlo first saw Sophia Loren when he was 38 at a beauty contest he was judging and invited her to take a screen test. She was 19, and he was still married when they began their love affair, and Ponti helped develop Loren’s career, insisting that she should learn English, so she wasn’t limited to Italian films. Ponti obtained a divorce in Mexico in 1957 so the two could be married. However, the divorce wasn’t legal in Italy, so their marriage was annulled in 1962. They remarried in 1966 and were married until Ponti died in 2007. Sophia wanted to be a mother but had a difficult time. The couple had two sons, Eduardo and Carlo Jr., and Sophia had bed rest during both pregnancies.

Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis

Ronald Reagan and Nancy Davis (Married 1952 until his death in 2004) Ronald Reagan started as a contract player with Warner Brothers in 1937 and was a lead and supporting character throughout the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Nancy Davis’s first film wasn’t until 1949, who was a contract player at MGM. The two met in 1951 while Ronald was the president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). They were married in 1952 and had two children, Patricia and Ron. The two starred together in “Hellcats of the Navy” (1957). Nancy Davis retired from acting in 1962, and Ronald retired from acting in 1965. The Reagans moved into politics and became the President and First Lady of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Ronald Reagan died in 2004 and Nancy Davis died in 2016.

Dickie Moore and Jane Powell

Jane Powell and Dickie Moore (Married 1988 until his death in 2015) While writing his book on child actors, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star: But Don’t Have Sex Or Take the Car,” Dickie Moore interviewed many child stars of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, including Jane Powell. According to his book and Jane’s autobiography, the two found that they had a great deal in common. After meeting and starting a relationship in 1981, the two carried on a long-distance relationship from California to New York until Jane moved to New York City in 1982 to live with Dick. The two married in 1988 and had a home in Connecticut where they lived happily. The two moved back to New York City, where Dickie Moore died in 2015.

Dale Evans and Roy Rogers

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (Married from 1948 until his death in 1998) Roy Rogers and Dale Evans first met in 1944 when they were cast in five films together, starting with “The Cowboy and the Señorita.” Roy Rogers’ wife Grace Arline Wilkins died in 1946 from complications following the birth of their son, Roy Jr. After Grace’s death, Dale and Roy started a courtship and fell in love. The two western stars were a successful entertainment duo on film, television and personal appearances from the 1940s through the 1980s. When they married, Dale Evans became the stepmother of Roy’s three children, Roy Jr., Linda and Cheryl. The two had one baby together, Robin, who died at age two from complications of Down syndrome. The couple then adopted and four other children. Their daughter Deborah died in a bus wreck in 1964, and their son John David choked to death while serving in the U.S. Army in 1965. Roy Rogers died in 1998 of congestive heart failure and Dale Evans died in 2001.

Michael Caine and Shakira Baksh Caine

Michael Caine and Shakira Baksh Caine (Married in 1973 to present, as of Feb. 14, 2018) In 1971, Michael Caine was watching television with a friend when he saw Shakira Baksh in a Maxwell House Coffee commercial. He told his friend that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and had to meet her. Caine ran into Nigel Politzer, who worked with the advertising company that made the commercial, and Nigel agreed to call Shakira to see if she would speak to Caine. They finally went out on a date a few weeks later and then were married in 1973. Later in 1973, they had their only child, a daughter named Natasha. In a 2016 interview, Caine joked that the secret to a good marriage is having separate bathrooms. As of 2018, the couple is still married.

Harriet Hilliard Nelson and Ozzie Nelson

Ozzie Nelson and Harriet Hilliard Nelson (Married in 1935 until his death in 1975) Starting in 1930, Ozzie Nelson led his own dance band and hired a singer, Harriet Hilliard as his singer on Dec. 31, 1931, and the two would frequently sing romantic and comedic boy-girl songs together. By 1935, Ozzie and Harriet were married. Ozzie’s band was one of the most popular dance bands from 1933 to 1940. Harriet also acted in a few films in Hollywood, including “Follow the Fleet” (1936) with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. As the couple started having children, David and Ricky Nelson, they switched their focus from films and band music to the radio, where they created The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet in 1944. The radio show transitioned to television from 1952 to 1966. The couple was married until Ozzie died in 1975. Harriet died in 1994.

Evy Norlund and James Darren

James Darren and Evy Norlund (Married Feb. 1960 to present, as of Feb. 14, 2018) Evy Norlund was named Miss Denmark of 1958 and almost was Miss Universe. Her consolation prize was a contract with Columbia, where she made a film and a couple of TV shows. “I met her at the studio and that was it,” James Darren told Louella Parsons in 1960. Following their wedding, rather than a honeymoon, James Darren had to go to Greece for the filming of “The Guns of Navarone” (1961). Evy went along. They had two children, Christian and Anthony. As of 2016, the couple was still living in the home they purchased in California in 1966, which was previously owned by Audrey Hepburn.

Randolph Scott and Patricia Stillman (Married March 3, 1944, until his death on March 2, 1987) Patricia Stillman had a brief Hollywood career as an extra 1939 to 1941. She was also a socialite for a prominent New York family, according to their 1944 wedding announcement. Randolph Scott’s Hollywood career spanned from 1928 until his retirement in 1962. After his retirement, he went into the “oil and gas business” and was one of the “wealthiest ex-actors,” according to a 1980 news article. Scott and his wife lived quietly after his retirement, and he refused interviews about Hollywood. They had two children, Sandra and Christopher. They were married until Randolph died in 1987. Patricia died in 2004. The couple is buried together in Charlotte, NC.

Ronald Colman, Benita Hume and daughter Juliet

Ronald Colman and Benita Hume (Married Sept. 1938 until his death in May 1958) Ronald and Benita met in 1935 during the filming of “Tale of Two Cities.” Benita acted in several films from 1928 to 1938 but retired once she and Ronald were married. However, the couple acted together often on the radio and television. Ronald and Benita performed together on NBC Radio’s “The Halls of Ivy” from 1950 to 1952, and they were also reoccurring guests on Jack Benny’s radio show as his neighbors. The Colmans reprised their roles for “The Halls of Ivy” on TV from 1954 to 1955. They had one daughter, Juliet Colman in 1944. They were married until Ronald died in 1958. Benita remarried to actor George Sanders until her death in 1967.

Peggy Lloyd and Norman Lloyd

Norman Lloyd and Peggy Lloyd (Married from June 1936 until her death August 2011) The couple met while acting in the play “Crime,” directed by Elia Kazan. After their 1936 marriage, the couple acted together in several plays through the Federal Theatre Project, Roosevelt’s New Deal program which was run by the Works Progress Administration. The couple had two children together. A couple of days before she died, she asked how long we had been married. I told her 75 years, and she said ‘It should last.’ I thought that was charming,” Norman said in a 2015 TCM interview.

Jack Lemmon and Felicia Farr

Jack Lemmon and Felicia Farr (Married from August 1962 until his death in June 2001) Jack and Felicia Farr met on the Columbia lot while he was filming “Cowboy” (1958). Felicia was a fan of his acting, and Jack nicknamed her Felish or Farfel. The two were married in 1962 and married until his death in 2001. Jack adopted Felicia’s daughter Denise and they had a daughter together, Courtney.

Nigel Bruce and Violet Campbell (Married from May 1921 until his death in October 1953) Nigel Bruce married British actress Violet Campbell in 1921. The couple had two children, Jennifer and Pauline. The couple were part of a Hollywood British group of friends, called the Hollywood Raj, which included C. Aubrey Smith and Basil Rathbone. The couple was married until Nigel’s death in 1953 of a heart attack. Violet died in 1970.

Karl Malden and Mona Greenberg (Married from December 1938 until his death in July 2009) Karl Malden had a scholarship to attend the Chicago’s Goodman Theater, where he met his wife-to-be Mona. The couple had two daughters, Carla and Mila. “I’m the happiest man in the world because of my family,” Malden’s 2009 obituary quoted him as often saying. The year before his death, the couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. In addition to their two daughters, the Maldens had three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Karl passed away in 2009 and Mona celebrated her 100th birthday in 2017.

Paul and Bella Muni

Paul Muni and Bella Finkle Muni (Married from May 1921 until his death in August 1967) Bella Finkle was an actress in the Yiddish theater, and they met while Paul was an actor in the Yiddish Art Theater in New York. Paul started acting in films in 1929. The couple had no children. Paul died of heart disease in 1967 and Bella died in 1971.

Kay Diebel and Frankie Avalon

Frankie Avalon and Kay Diebel (Married Jan. 1963 to present, as of Feb. 14, 2018) Kay Diebel was a former beauty queen and teen idol, actor, singer Frankie Avalon met her while playing cards at a friend’s house. Frankie told the friend that Kay was the girl he was going to marry. The couple had eight children: Frank Burt Avalon, Tony, Dina, Laura, Joseph, Nicolas, Kathryn and Carla.

Aline MacMahon and Clarence Stein

Aline MacMahon and Clarence Stein (Married from 1928 until his death in 1975) Actress Aline MacMahon and architect and New York city planner Clarence Stein were married in 1928. Stein was 18 years her senior, and they started dating when Aline was in her 20s. Clarence died in 1975 at age 92, and Aline died in 1991 at age 92. The couple didn’t have any children.

James Garner and Lois Clarke

James Garner and Lois Clarke (Married August 1956 until his death in July 2014) James and Lois met at a political rally for Democratic Presidential Candidate Adlai Stevenson in 1956. James said they went to dinner every night for 14 days and were married two weeks after their first meeting. James adopted Lois’s eight-year-old daughter and the two had a daughter together, Gigi. Garner joked that the words “Yes, dear!” were the key to his successful marriage. The two separated twice during their marriage in 1970 and 1979, but through difficult times they stayed together. The couple was married until James died in 2014.

Who are your favorite long-term Hollywood couples?

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5 thoughts on “For better or worse: Long Hollywood marriages

  1. I hadn’t seen this particular picture of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. I have been a modest collector of things pertaining to them since 1994. Dale also had a son, Tom Fox, Jr., from her first marriage. Her life was very challenging, in all respects. Roy was her 4th husband.

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  2. My fav long-wedded Hollywood couple is the actor Melvyn Douglas and politician Helen Gahagan (1931-1980). Douglas won both an Academy Award and a Tony; Gahagan was a 3-term congresswoman who fought Nixon tooth and nail. Would love to have been invited to a dinner at their home!

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  3. Jessica, how about William Daniels and Bonnie Bartlett married June 30, 1951 and still together, and both Emmy winners for playing a married couple on ST. ELSEWHERE(1982-88). They won in 1986.

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