Some of Hollywood’s best romances continued when the cameras weren’t rolling, often with one or both stars already married. The most notorious affairs have often made for swoony classics: a 45-year-old Humphrey Bogart and 19-year-old siren Lauren Bacall in “To Have and Have Not,” the reckless passion between Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty in “Splendor in the Grass,” and the undeniable chemistry between Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in all their much-loved pics together.
“My favorite story about this dates back to John Barrymore and Mary Astor (co-stars in silent films ‘Beau Brummel’ and ‘Don Juan’),” says film critic Leonard Maltin.
“They made two films together. She was exquisite and he was very smitten with her. But she was just a teenager so her mother was with her at all times, including on the set. So he just made love to her on camera. He wooed her right before her mother’s very eyes.”
Another classic off-screen affair was the ill-fated affair between Audrey Hepburn and William Holden on the set of Billy Wilder’s “Sabrina.”
“Holden and Hepburn, to me that one is so sad,” says Pat Davis, AMC’s VP of programming. “He was married at the time and Hepburn was this lovely rising star who’d just come off of ‘Roman Holiday.’ They fell in love and had an affair, but he had two problems. He was a severe alcoholic and he couldn’t have children, which she desperately wanted, because he had had a vasectomy.”
“I think the reason ‘Sabrina’ worked so well was because it was a Billy Wilder movie,” Davis says. “It’s just a great film. You have to remember that Holden and Hepburn reteamed in ‘Paris When It Sizzles’ and they had no chemistry.”
One of the most scandalous affairs of the 1950s was between Ingrid Bergman and Italian director Roberto Rossellini. After seeing his neo-realist classic “Rome Open City,” Bergman was so moved she left her husband Dr. Peter Lindstrom in 1949 to join Rossellini in Italy.
Starting with “Stromboli,” the couple embarked on a seven-year collaboration but their films were vilified in the United States, largely because of their taboo romance.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1956 when she returned to Hollywood that her favor was regained, resulting in an Oscar for the title role of “Anastasia.”
“Their work together in Italy was not Hollywood glamour films, they were experimental and consequently American critics and audiences knew what to do with them,” says Bergman biographer Donald Spoto. “But she was a brave, courageous woman who really did not care what people condemned or praised. She was an independent thinker, a good honest human being who never set out to hurt anyone, and was not going to run her life according to the bogus puritanical standards of a post-war American society.”
All too often, real-life couples fizzle onscreen like Sean Penn and Madonna in “Shanghai Surprise,” Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger in both “The Marrying Man” and “The Getaway.” While some may consider it sad that Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise split, few will miss their love on the bigscreen (“Far and Away,” “Eyes Wide Shut”).
“When you get married, it takes away the appeal,” says E! Online gossip columnist Ted Casablanca. “I mean, who wants to see married people do it?” One need only look at the sparks between Warren Beatty and Annette Bening in “Bugsy,” where they met on the set as opposed to the blah celebration of their matrimony onscreen in “Love Affair.”
Sometimes a couple’s offscreen affair actually hurts a movie’s chances at the box office. “There’s always that risk that the couple has broken up by the time the film’s released, which casts a pall over it,” Maltin says.
“I think that ‘Proof of Life’ suffered a backlash because people were so saturated with the Meg Ryan/Russell Crowe affair already,” Casablanca says. “They were bored at that point and the movie couldn’t at all compare to the heat that was in the columns.”
Ultimately, there seem to be no hard or fast rules about what makes a successful movie romance, it’s simply a matter of chemistry.
Throughout film history, there are also famous examples of actors who made for great onscreen paramours even though offscreen they despised each other, i.e. Vivian Leigh and Clark Gable in “Gone With the Wind,” Debra Winger and Richard Gere in “An Officer and a Gentleman.”
“We’d like to think that most actors and actresses have something going on in a lot of these movies. After all they’re there every day on the set doing this romantic scene with your attractive co-star. I think there’s so much flirtation.” Davis says. “If you have a great script and there’s that intangible something happening between you. Even if at the end of the day, you leave it all behind, it still works onscreen.”