Dynamic Duos - Studio Era Pairs
While today the primary reasons for actors appearing together more than twice are sequels and off-screen relationships, during the studio era non-sequel and non-marital related onscreen pairings were quite common among actors and actresses. Collaborations between actors on 3 different films were not unusual, and those that exceeded this number were something very special: a chemistry to be exploited for the public’s consumption.
In many cases, these frequent collaborators were thought to be husband and wife teams by moviegoers, and the studios didn’t mind if their audiences believed this were true, especially if it sold more tickets and fan magazines. Besides comedy teams from radio or vaudeville, two of earliest and most successful pairings were Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers and William Powell & Myrna Loy. Astaire and Rogers first appeared in supporting roles behind Dolores del Rio and Gene Raymond in RKO’s Flying Down to Rio (1933), but their dancing to the Oscar nominated Original Song “Carioca” stole the picture and led to eight more pairings before a 10 year hiatus and their final collaboration (and their first in Technicolor) The Barkleys of Broadway (1949). Powell and Loy appeared in three films together in 1934 alone. The first was with Clark Gable in the David O. Selznick-W.S. Van Dyke feature Manhattan Melodrama (1934) and the last was the drama Evelyn Prentice (1934), but it was director Van Dyke’s crime comedy The Thin Man (1934) that prompted a handful of sequels. However, other than this series, the two starred opposite one another in the Best Picture biopic The Great Ziegfeld (1936), and with Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy in a Best Picture nominee Libeled Lady (1936) as well as the hilarious I Love You Again (1940), among others. Gable and Joan Crawford also made three films together in the same year when they appeared in Dance, Fools, Dance (1931), Laughing Sinners (1931), and finally Possessed (1931). They would star opposite one another in a handful of others in the 1930’s before their last collaboration in Frank Borzage’s romance drama Strange Cargo (1940), which the director co-produced with Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Additionally, Gable appeared in a number of films with an ill-fated platinum blonde starlet named Jean Harlow, from the essential Red Dust (1932) to her last Saratoga (1937).
Warner Bros. teamed Errol Flynn with Olivia de Havilland for several movies starting with Captain Blood (1935), followed by The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) and (most notably) The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) as well as several Westerns. Flynn was also paired more than a dozen times with a sidekick played by Alan Hale and collaborated with action director Raoul Walsh nine times. When this studio needed to find an actor humble enough to play opposite their dominant actress Bette Davis, yet still hold his own when the script called for it, they found that George Brent filled the bill ten times in films such as Jezebel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Old Maid (1939), The Great Lie (1941), and In This Our Life (1942), among others.
Several onscreen pairings led to off-screen romance – Katharine Hepburn’s and Spencer Tracy’s starring roles opposite one another in Woman of the Year (1942), Lauren Bacall’s screen debut with Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not (1944), Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman during the shooting of The Long Hot Summer (1958), and Elizabeth Taylor’s with Richard Burton in Cleopatra (1963) are perhaps the most well known – which in turn led to at least three (if not half a dozen or) more film collaborations. While John Wayne’s five movie appearances opposite Maureen O’Hara didn’t lead them to marriage, the two became lifelong friends. Since both worked several times with the legendary John Ford and his company of character actors, their films oftentimes included Victor McLaglen or Ward Bond in supporting roles. Speaking of sidekicks, the only 3-time Oscar winner for Supporting Actor can be seen in more than half a dozen of two time Best Actor Gary Cooper’s movies including Sergeant York (1941), which ironically was the only time that 4-time nominee Walter Brennan didn’t win the award. Lest you think I forgot, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney made several musical together which, like Wayne’s pairing with O’Hara, led to off-screen friendship. Like Flynn, Bogart worked with the same director (John Huston) for six of his better films. Of course, ‘actor-director collaborations’ is a topic of its own.
© 2008 Turner Classic Movies - this article originally appeared on TCM's official blog