History records Marie Antoinette, who besides being the Queen of France was the sister of the Emperor of Austria, as being the ultimate in noble indifference to the plight of her poor and starving subjects. History is unfair, Antoinette was in truth a dedicated worker for the betterment of the French poor, both in the cities and among the rural peasantry. She was though dedicated to her own luxury and comfort, as well as to her several extramarital lovers, and to the entertainment of her court and other nobles at the expense of the peasantry and the French treasury.
Her husband, Louis XVI, was on the other hand a man who liked to use his hands, to the point that he operated his own blacksmith shop above the salons where the nobility mingled. Their dedication to each other is evident in the children they had together, though it was Marie’s scheming to save the French monarchy which ultimately led to her husband’s execution (he was willing to serve as a constitutional monarch; it was she who exhorted him to flee France which led to his arrest), and finally several months later to her own.
Bonnie Parker was married, wearing her husband’s wedding ring when she died alongside Clyde Barrow in a fusillade of gunfire. Known to the world as Bonnie and Clyde, the couple became instant legends (they were already mythologized by the press), though a more odd couple would be hard to find. Bonnie was married (to a Roy Thornton, in prison at the time of her death), had never been in legal trouble herself before meeting Barrow (though her judgment of men’s character was obviously shaky), and was in her own mind at least a poet of talent.
Barrow was already a career criminal who had at one time chopped off his own toes to avoid a work detail while in prison. The pair’s murder and robbery spree made them famous during the height of the depression, with some describing them as modern-day Robin Hoods, robbing only the wealthy. In truth they were murderous thugs. Parker herself, and several biographers and apologists since, wrote of her love for Clyde Barrow, though as noted she was wearing her wedding ring at the time of her death, and though she died alongside Clyde and is forever linked to him, the couple were never married. In fact, many biographers of the latter believed him to have been impotent, making their relationship even more difficult to comprehend.
Of the collection of notables collectively linked as The Founders, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams are the two most identified as the driving force behind the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Adams was one of the earliest and most vocal supporters of permanent separation from Great Britain; Jefferson’s pen was what explained the action to posterity. Once close allies, they toured sites in Great Britain (and later New England) together, visiting among other things the home of William Shakespeare, of whose works both were enamored (Jefferson chipped one of the Bard’s chairs for a souvenir to take home).
Adams was a man of simple tastes; Jefferson enjoyed French cuisine, Italian wine, and the theater. Adams was a devout reader of the Bible, Jefferson eventually created his own revision of the New Testament. Eventually they fell out, though years later they reconciled their personal and political differences through a correspondence which remains one of the most informative of American history. Nonetheless Jefferson once wrote of Adams’ “…want of taste” while Adams complained of Jefferson’s use of the Declaration of Independence to further his (Jefferson’s) reputation, writing to Benjamin Rush, “Jefferson ran away with all the stage effect of that; i.e. all the Glory of it”.
James Buchanan was an American lawyer and politician of note in the antebellum period. As the United States gradually became more and more disunited over the issue of slavery, Buchanan rose to prominence in the Democratic Party, eventually becoming their candidate for President of the United States in the election of 1856. He won, despite longstanding rumors that the unmarried Buchanan (he never married, though in his youth he had been engaged for a time) was involved in a relationship with William Rufus King. Rumors of their relationship had permeated Washington society for more than three decades prior to Buchanan becoming president.
Buchanan and King shared rooms in a boardinghouse for a decade, 1834 -1844, though at the time such living arrangements among bachelors were hardly unusual. Nevertheless, Andrew Jackson referred to the couple as “Aunt Fancy and Miss Nancy” and the two were frequent companions at social events. Another prominent politician of the day, Aaron Brown (Congressman and Postmaster) referred to King as Buchanan’s “better half” in public and in private correspondence. Rumors abounded throughout the remainder of Buchanan’s political career. His relationship with King and his refusal to ever marry (his niece, Harriet Rebecca Lane, served as his First Lady), led to their being considered Washington’s premier “odd couple” until King’s death in 1853.
Abbott and Costello were one of the most successful comedy teams of their day, appearing in film, on radio, and onstage, and eventually in television. Their classic performance of “Who’s on First” remains one of their most famous, so successful that they often parodied it themselves in subsequent skits and appearances. Their partnership came about as the result of a fortuitous circumstance (Costello’s regular vaudeville partner was unable to perform) and became so entrenched in the public mind that Abbot and Costello became an American phrase descriptive of inseparable components, a la “bacon and eggs” or “rain or shine”.
Both shared some things besides performing. Inveterate gambling for one, and neither was particularly good at it. Their appearances played on their differences; one tall and spare, the other short and pudgy, one straightforward and sensible, the other eager to “get-rich-quick”. In truth, they could barely stand each other, did not socialize when not performing together, and neither achieved solo success when they broke up their act in 1957. They made their fortune and reputation by presenting themselves as an odd couple barely tolerant of each other’s foibles; in real life they were far less tolerant and eventually suffered for it.
What made the act known as Martin and Lewis one of the most successful in entertainment history, was Jerry Lewis’s shenanigans which distracted the audience from Dean Martin’s straight man attempts to sing. Martin was handsome, debonair, and a singer almost without peer; Lewis was a bumbling clown, with a voice calculated to start cats’ howling in protest. As an act they were huge (one of their comedy writers was a very young Norman Lear). They appeared onstage and in films as the ultimate odd couple, and audiences loved them. Martin and Lewis became, besides highly successful entertainers, very close friends.
It was not to last. Martin began to tire of the odd couple routine, especially as their films focused more on Lewis and his various shenanigans. Their final film together was appropriately named Hollywood or Bust. Martin went on to a film and recording career of his own, as well as becoming the host of several successful television programs, never again performing with his old partner. Lewis launched a solo career as a comedic actor and performer, though he eventually performed in dramatic roles as well. Their odd couple routine became the highest paid act in America during the 1950s; after they split in 1956 the two did not speak to each other for over two decades.
9. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Spencer Churchill
Franklin Roosevelt was a social reformer who believed in government intervention in society; the creator of the New Deal, Social Security, government subsidies for farmers, and civil rights for all members of society. Churchill was an imperialist, a lifelong proponent of the British Empire and what Rudyard Kipling described as the White Man’s Burden. Together they became the bulwark which protected the West from Hitler’s Nazism, and the Japanese adventurism in the Pacific, though their motives were somewhat different.
Above all else, Churchill strove to defend, protect, and preserve the British Empire which had been the focal point of his entire life. Roosevelt was determined to prevent Nazism and Communism from infiltrating the Americas, as well as ensuring the defeat of Japanese Imperialism. Their odd couple relationship defeated the Nazis and Japanese, but led to the end of the British Empire and the emergence of the Soviet Union as a superpower in the aftermath of the Second World War. Churchill and FDR were very much an odd couple, and over the course of their relationship the British Empire faded away, supplanted as the world’s policeman by the United States of America.
It would not be remiss to refer to Alfred Hitchcock as odd, simply based on several of the man’s quirks (he was a practical joker of legendary and often borderline cruel dimensions). Hitch enjoyed telling jokes while in elevators for example, though sometimes he would tell a particularly risqué story about some famous actor or actress. He would time the story so that the elevator doors opened just as he was about to reveal the punchline or the name of the celebrity featured in his salacious tale, leaving behind a carful of frustrated listeners. Hitchcock was flamboyant and vain (ensuring his appearance in all of his movies) and difficult to convince that he was wrong about anything.
Working for Rightful Credit
His wife, the former Alma Reville, was his collaborator and partner, both at home and in his work. Though she eventually gained credit for helping with scripts and storyboarding the scenes in his many films, she was virtually unknown through most of her husband’s career. She shunned the limelight as forcefully as he sought it out, leaving outrageous statements and behavior to her husband. She labored to improve what could rightfully have been called, in many cases, their films rather than his. In appearance and in their work together Alfred Hitchcock and Alma Reville were very much an odd couple, though their collaboration remains one of Hollywood’s greatest, and least known.
11. Donatien Alphonse Francois and Renee-Pelagie Cordier
Donatien Alphonse Francois is better known by his inherited title, that of the Comte (Count) de Sade, though his forebears had taken to using the title Marquis in lieu of Conte by the time of his birth in 1740. De Sade was a writer and philosopher, as well as a politician, whose licentious behavior and prose led to his titular name being the root of the word sadism. He carried his beliefs expressed in his work into his personal life, his wife, Renee-Pelagie Cordier becoming, according to his political enemies, his procurer (in company with his mother-in-law) of prostitutes and eventually other young women and girls.
An Amoral Life (To Say the Least)
De Sade lived a life of amoral licentiousness, aided and abetted by his wife as well as by her sister, her mother, and other women whom he met between his many stays in French prisons and dungeons. Eventually he was declared insane. At one point in the 1770s he kept six young children as prisoners in his chateau, with the knowledge and support of his wife. While imprisoned, de Sade wrote many of his plays and treatises, most of which retain the power to shock over two hundred years after they were written. Renee died in 1810, de Sade four years later. The number of crimes committed by the pair, including rape, torture, kidnaping, pederasty, and more, remains unknown, but descriptions of his fantasies are readily available in his many published works.
Tommy Lee Jones is an actor of distinction, having played diverse roles in film and television, including his breakout role in the afternoon soap opera One Life to Live. A graduate of Harvard University, where he played football on the undefeated 1968 team, Jones is a Texan by birth and by choice, residing there when not working. He is an avid fan and player of polo, as well as a fan of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. He is also one of two men whom author Erich Segal used as the basis for the character Oliver in his novel Love Story, later made into a film starring Ryan O’Neal. The other man Segal used was Jones’s roommate at Harvard, Al Gore Jr.
Tight Lipped College Days
Gore, the son of a Tennessee senator and the scion of a political dynasty, was close friends with Jones at Harvard, and the pair were later joined by actor John Lithgow (despite it being widely reported they were roommates, as in sharing a dorm room, they were not). Gore of course rose to the office of Vice President of the United States, while Jones and Lithgow both have had successful careers in entertainment. All three have remained notoriously tight-lipped about their days as college companions. Jones introduced Gore at the 2000 Democratic National Convention when Gore became the nominee for that year’s election, which remains hotly debated over its legality, but tales of the pair’s adventures in Cambridge are still mostly in the realm of speculation.
T. S. Eliot was the descendant of one of Boston’s Brahmin families, though born in St. Louis, Missouri, and became a famed American poet, essayist, critic, publisher, and commenter on social mores and behavior. In his 30s he renounced his American citizenship, becoming a subject of the King of Great Britain. Late in life, he wrote a fan letter to a man whose public persona was very much different from his own. Grouch Marx was known as a zany comedian, with an irreverent and biting wit, the product of New York’s rougher neighborhoods and the hard life of a vaudevillian before he found success in motion pictures and eventually television.
Eliot requested a photograph of Groucho, and the comedian complied, launching a friendship which lasted for the remainder of Eliot’s life. The friendship was one of the pen, rapidly becoming a lost art in the electronic world, and though the two could not have been more different in temperament, reflected in the tension in their letters, they developed a deep respect for each other. The once anti-Semitic Eliot and the Jewish Groucho skirted around their obvious differences, though with pointed observations about the tension each so obviously felt. Groucho, being Groucho, was never above a barb directed at the well-born poet, including once writing in a letter to the twice married (and noted philanderer) Eliot, “My best to you and your lovely wife, whoever she may be”.
The Wright brothers, William and Orville, were an odd couple in many ways. Wilbur was the elder of the pair, by four years. They were the sons of a Protestant bishop, both named for local clergymen respected by their father. As boys both played with kites, toy gyrocopters, and bicycles. Neither graduated from high school, though both attended for a time. Neither ever married, nor is there evidence in the historical record of either ever seriously considering marriage. After achieving fame and wealth through their innovations in aviation, they built a large and impressive home in Dayton, Ohio, where it was planned that both brothers would reside, with their sister Katherine as the woman of the house.
Wilbur died (of typhoid) before the house, which was named Hawthorn Hill and which still stands in the Dayton suburb of Oakwood, was completed. Orville and Katherine resided there until 1926, when Katherine married, enraging her brother. Harboring feelings of betrayal and abandonment, Orville refused to either receive or visit his sister until just before her death in 1929. Orville Wright, the man who first flew a powered heavier than air aircraft, lived to see supersonic flight achieved before he died in 1948. The brothers are buried side-by-side in Woodlawn Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.
Danny Simon was the older brother of playwright Neil Simon, and a comedy writer for radio and television. With his younger brother he wrote scripts for comedy stars in the early days of television, including Jackie Gleason, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, and Phil Silvers. In the early 1960s Danny and his wife separated, later to divorce, and Danny took rooms with another Hollywood personality, agent Roy Gerber. When the two invited friends over for dinner one of them, the story claims it was Danny, burned the pot roast. Danny decided to use the story and subsequent events as the basis for a play.
Danny later gave the unfinished script to younger brother Neal, who finished it in 1965 and presented it as The Odd Couple. It later spawned a film and television series of the same name, as well as numerous onstage revivals and adaptations. Danny and Roy are largely unknown today, but they were the inspiration for Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, though other stories of their genesis have emerged to conflict with the one based on Danny, and confirmed by Neil Simon in interviews since. Danny’s subsequent omission from the credits for the play and film caused a rift between the brothers which lasted for over a decade.
Englishman Arthur Conan Doyle created one of the great odd couple arrangements, albeit a fictional one, in his writings of the domestic arrangements between his characters Dr. John Watson and Sherlock Holmes. Watson was continuously bemused by his roommate’s chemical experiments, his fondness for strong shag tobacco and the unorthodox manner in which he stored it, and his predilection for the use of cocaine, as well as his unusual hours, playing of the violin, and other eccentricities. In real life, Doyle was a spiritualist, a believer in the afterlife and communications with the spirit world through mediums. His friend Harry Houdini was also interested in the afterlife, though from the aspect of debunking fraudulent spiritualists.
Doyle became a believer in post-life communication following the death of his son; Houdini after the death of his mother. While Doyle openly encouraged those who claimed the ability of communicating with the dead Houdini created a second career exposing fraudsters and the methods they used. Being on the opposite sides of the issue destroyed the friendship which had developed between the two men. Their dispute intensified to the breaking point when Doyle’s wife, Jean, pronounced herself a medium, and conducted a séance in which Houdini’s mother “communicated” with the attendees via automatic writing. Houdini debunked the session, pointing out the grammatically sound communication was unlikely from his mother, who had known little English while alive.
Samuel Tesla had acquired his pen name – Mark Twain – and an abiding interest in technology and science from his days as a riverboat pilot. Nikola Tesla had survived a youthful illness, passing the time in part by reading the books produced by Mark Twain. The pair met in the 1890s, and Twain became a frequent visitor to the eccentric Tesla’s New York laboratories. Twain’s initial interest had been in investing in Tesla’s inventions, including in a typesetting machine through which the author suffered significant losses. Despite the financial setback, Twain was fascinated with the inventor and the machinery he produced.
Twain was not a writer of science fiction, nor science-oriented tales, though he did create a story which featured the idea of traveling back in time, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. The two men remained friends for many years, though Tesla developed a reputation of leaving the bills unpaid at the hotels in which he resided when he was finally asked to remove himself. Unknown benefactors covered his debts, Twain most likely among them, allowing the scientist to continue to polish his reputation as one of America’s oddest residents. They remained close friends until Twain’s death.
Like the Wright’s, the Everly’s were brothers, and like the aviation pioneers their life’s work is forever entwined with each other. The Everly Brothers were one of pop music’s seminal acts. They were still in their teens when they became international stars, Don was 19, younger brother Phil 17 years of age. Their musical career was based on harmony, the tight vocal pairings the brothers achieved in recordings and reproduced live on stage. But the harmony was limited to their music. Don and Phil Everly spent most of their career as performers together loathing each other.
Phil once tried to make light of their mutual contempt by referring to their only having one argument, though it had lasted for 25 years. In 1973 a performance was interrupted by an onstage argument, triggered by Don’s having shown up to the performance drunk. After a ten-year hiatus from each other they reunited in 1984 only to find that they still couldn’t stand each other, refusing to appear at promotional events and interviews together. Phil Everly died in 2014. Two years later Don Everly told an interviewer that he kept some of his brother’s ashes in his home, habitually bidding them “good morning” whenever he was there.
Zsa Zsa Gabor loved being married, or at least she loved weddings, since she took the vows of that blessed state no less than nine times during her lifetime. Next to last in her line of husbands was Felipe de Alba, an attorney and sometime actor, having appeared in small roles in lesser known films of the 1940s and 1950s. He was not the only actor to have wed Zsa Zsa, George Sanders filled the role of her husband from 1949 – 1950, but it was clear that her preference of a career in marriageable men was one who had a great deal of money. Conrad Hilton, hotel magnate and Gabor husband for five years is but one such example.
Gossip writers were surprised by Zsa Zsa’s marriage to Felipe in 1983, but they did not have very long to express it. The couple were married on April 13, a Wednesday. Later that same day it was revealed that her preceding marriage, to Michael O’Hara, had not been legally ended. Hence her marriage to Alba was illegal, and the following day, April 14, it was annulled. Alba moved to New York, having decided, evidently, that marriage to Zsa Zsa was a little too odd for his tastes. The couple did not continue their relationship, and Alba had the distinction of being married to Zsa Zsa for the shortest time of any of her husbands, indeed of being in one of the shortest lived marriages in history, less than 24 hours.
When Walt Disney promised his young daughters that he would make their favorite character – Mary Poppins – into a motion picture he gave himself a project which would take two decades for him to complete. The creator of the character, P. L. Travers (nee Helen Lyndon Goff) opposed the Disney version of her books far more stridently than as depicted in the 2013 film Saving Mr. Banks. The portrayal of Disney in the film was largely fictionalized as well, Walt Disney was far less happy-go-lucky than the portrayal by Tom Hanks, and his company’s treatment of the author less accommodating. Travers later said of the Disney version of Mary Poppins, “…I’ve learned to live with it”.
The unlikely pairing of Disney and Travers produced the classic 1964 film, but it was many years before the franchise could be built upon, in large part because of Travers’ continuing opposition. In her last will and testament she specified what could and could not be done with her work in future adaptations, specifically excluding the Sherman Brothers (who had written the songs for the Disney film), from providing new songs in future adaptions of her work. Despite the strange pairing of Walt Disney and P.L. Travers, the odd couple produced one of the most enduring children’s films of the 1960s, which fifty years later threatens to expand into a film franchise, long after the deaths of Disney and Travers.
Bogie and Bacall has become the cognomen for an enduring romantic relationship, signifying the marriage and relationship between Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. But Bogie was not always involved in a marriage so harmonious and enduring. His marriage to Mayo Methot is an example. They were married in 1938 and within a few months their relationship was defined in the press by naming the couple The Battling Bogarts. Both were heavy drinkers (drinking was part of Bogie’s on and off screen image) and in his wife’s case mental illness was aggravated by the alcohol, as well as her conviction of her husband’s inveterate cheating (which was largely untrue, at least at first).
A deeply chagrined Bogart once showed a visitor a supply of interior doors kept in the basement of his house, ready replacements for those broken down by one of the happy couple. Bogart named his treasured yacht at the time Sluggy in honor of his wife, who was sometimes referred to with the same name in the press. Mayo once threatened Bogart with a pistol at a dinner party before several horrified witnesses, though she was disarmed without shots being fired. After numerous separations and reconciliations the couple divorced in 1944. During one period of “conciliation” Bogart informed the press that he was returning to their home, “in other words, we’ll return to our normal battles”.
Albert Einstein’s enduring image is that of the stereotypical addle-brained scientist; rumpled clothing, wildly disarranged hair, tattered shoes, and an absent-minded stare. But life with Albert was far more difficult than just dealing with a mind driven to distraction while absorbed with the secrets of the universe. Albert had very definite ideas of the duties of his wife, and he spelled them out clearly to Mileva Maric. Though many of the scientist’s letters to his wife are loving and clearly share with her his work – he often referred to it as our work – he also gave specific instructions regarding his behavior and her duties.
That changed after Einstein embarked on an affair with his cousin Elsa in 1912. The affair and a long separation caused by his work, among other events, for all practical purposes ended what had been a happy marriage. When Mileva protested against a provision made by Albert regarding his Nobel Prize money, he responded in a letter which read, in part, “when someone is completely insignificant, there is nothing else to say to this person”. Mileva collaborated with Einstein on most of his most important achievements as a physicist, but fell into obscurity, where at least as far as the general public is concerned her reputation continues to languish today.
Amelia Earhart was an American superhero of the 1920s and 1930s, based upon her notable achievements as an aviator, rather than her views as what today is known as a feminist. Amelia was a celebrity before she gained fame as a pilot (as the first woman to fly the Atlantic, although as a passenger). She was a teacher and lecturer, a consultant to aviation pioneers, politicians, and students of aviation and engineering, and was one of the most recognizable persons in the United States by 1935, if not the western world. She is remembered for vanishing on her ill-fated around-the-world flight in company with Fred Noonan, her long-time navigator and companion.
Her husband was George S. Putnam, a famous and wealthy publisher and one of the partners involved in the marketing of her writing, as well as her aviation achievements. Together, Earhart and Putnam created a public image for her (today it would be called branding) and together they made her wealthy in her own right, as well as an international celebrity. Earhart, in private letters made public decades after her death, referred to her marriage as a “dual control partnership”. The couple had no honeymoon, highly unusual for their day, and the marriage produced no children. They purchased a California home together after fire destroyed Putnam’s family seat, but delayed moving in for many years and spent little time there after they did. After Amelia was lost, the public quickly forgot her marriage to Putnam, as rescue efforts and journalistic speculation centered on the missing Fred Noonan.
The Sally Hemings – Thomas Jefferson liaison first appeared in the public eye in 1802, after James T. Callendar made the accusations in print. Callendar was irked that he had been denied a position as a Postmaster (then political spoil) and had threatened to reveal what he called their illicit relationship. Jefferson ignored the accusations publicly and privately, despite the “revelation” that he had fathered several children by Sally, whom he had brought to Paris in company with his daughter Martha, in order to have her trained in the art of French cooking. Since Callendar’s accusations the story has never faded, making it the longest running sex and political scandal in American history.
In the 21st century DNA analysis demonstrated that the Hemings and Jefferson lines were mixed, but without definitive proof that it had been because of a relationship between Sally and Thomas. The argument remains a spirited one, with those determined to denigrate Jefferson (and the other founders who were also slaveholders) as amoral hypocrites. Sally Hemings is to them proof positive. Others have argued that Jefferson’s younger brother, Randolph, is a more likely candidate as the father of Sally Hemings’ children. Yet Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson have become a couple in the minds of many, to be used as a means of judgment whether that judgment is informed or not.
Other than to Civil War buffs, James Longstreet is one of the lesser known Confederate generals of the American Civil War. Robert E. Lee considered him an essential lieutenant, calling him his Old Warhorse. But Longstreet’s reputation suffered, especially in the old South, after the war. He was not a proponent of the Lost Cause mythology which made the war a noble defense of state’s rights, rather than a conflict over the issue of slavery. Southern writers and historians placed much of the blame for the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg on Longstreet, exonerating Robert E, Lee, helping to keep the latter’s myth untarnished. In many areas of the defeated south, Longstreet became a pariah.
But he retained one friend from his military days, one which went back all the way to his student days at West Point. Longstreet and Grant remained friends after the southern surrender, a well-known fact which did nothing to further endear Longstreet to society in the defeated south. The former Confederate became a fervent and active supporter of Reconstruction, and he and Grant maintained a relationship through correspondence for years, a strange relationship given the fervency with which they had fought against each other during the Civil War. In fact, they opposed each other on battlefields on few occasions, though Longstreet was present at the surrender at Appomattox. Together they represented the reconciliation of the country, maybe not such an odd couple after all.
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