Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Leading Couples: The Most Unforgettable Screen Romances of the Studio Era

Leading Couples
The Most Unforgettable Screen Romances of the Studio Era
by Frank Miller
Introduction by Robert Osborne
September 2008
Chronicle Books

My favorite line: They were cool before anybody had picked up the word. Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were united by their deep love and respect for each other and their disdain for anybody who didn't get it.

I received an advance copy of this book a while back and have been relishing every page. It's a beautiful 4-color paperback book with french flaps. Quite a deal for only $19.95. I should know, I work in the book business.

This is the third in the TCM book series. The first was Leading Ladies followed by Leading Men, both books were released in 2006. This year brings Leading Couples a collection of 37 on screen romantic duos. This book was quite a pleasure to read. So much so, that could be why it took me so long to finish it as I have a tendency to linger over the books I truly enjoy. The book is divided into sections which each couple getting their own. Some starts repeat but you won't find anyone in there more than twice and there is still a lot of variety to keep the reader interested. Some couples were in many films together, others only a few, some even only one but sometimes it only takes one shock of electricity to be memorable.

Each section is pretty consistent (me likey consistency) and the structure works well.

1) Half-Spread image of couple
2) Introduction
3) Behind the Scenes
4) Offscreen Relationship
5) Star Bio Stats
6) Key Quote
7) Essential Team-Ups (if applicable)

My favorite section to read was the Offscreen Relationship. Some folks liked each other, some folks LOVED each other and other folks just faked it for the silver screen. I also really appreciated the list of "Essential Team-Ups". That helped me fatten up my Netflix Queue quite a bit.

My favorite of all the couples features came as a surprise to me. I would have thought it would be Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. I've watched several of their films and have read a biography on their love affair. Woman of the Year (1942) is one of my favorite films. But I couldn't help but be transfixed by Greta Garbo and John Gilbert. I have never seen them on screen but read their section at least three times!

TCM is doing a Leading Couples film festival in November. (Read their press release here). Their November schedule is coming out soon so watch for it.

I do have a couple of gripes about the book. They kept to the very mainstream. There were only a few obscure pairings like Dick Powell & Ruby Keeler and Janet Gaynor & Charles Farrell. I understand that this kind of guide is meant to be an accompaniment to the actual movies and many other obscure pairings (Norma Shearer & Robert Montgomery for example) are not necessarily available for viewing on DVD. Also, the author said Jimmy Stewart was a notorious womanizer. No he was not! Hmph! But I did enjoy the bit about Norma Shearer watching Jimmy Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner (1940) and singling him out as her next romantic target. Only Norma Shearer could do something like that.

In honor of this new book, I decided to take my peculiar interest in Greta Garbo & John Gilbert as an on screen couple and I will watch and review Flesh and the Devil (1926). Watch for the review here along with a couple of tidbits from the book.


  1. This looks really neat, can't wait to check it out!

  2. I wouldn't classify Dick Powell & Ruby Keeler as "obscure." They appeared in smash hits like 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, and Dames. Check out the Busby Berkeley Collection DVD set and I think you'll be charmed by their onscreen chemistry. That is, you will unless you don't like musicals. ;)

  3. Wendymoon - I'd love to hear your thoughts on it if you do end up checking it out!

    Pacwarbuff - Oh yes, I'm very familiar with Dick Powell & Ruby Keeler and with the Busby Berkeley musicals. I just wrote recently about Gold Diggers of 1933 which is by far my favorite. I had Ruby Keeler as a Facebook picture and most didn't recognize who she was. Now, if I were to ask people about Bogart & Bacall or Tracy and Hepburn they would recognize the names, Powell & Keeler, not so much.

  4. Someone with taste. If only more people had an appreciation of good film-making.
    As for Powell and Keeler, they are slightly more obscure and more dated than some others. Also, I much prefer Dick Powell in the thrillers like Farewell My Lovely and Cornered.

  5. Hi rollomart - I keep surprising myself with how many people out there are classic film fans. We are all coming out of the hiding! Congrats on starting a new classic film blog!

  6. Tennen Parman - Welcome! Thank you very much for your compliments.

  7. Oh, sounds interesting!

    This book would come in handy with my little 'Famous Partners' series...I just try to think of couples I've seen together a lot, then research to make sure I wasn't imagining it.

    As for Keeler and Powell: I love them together! Though I can see where you could call them obscure...compared to the Bogie/Bacall, Hepburn/Tracy, Astaire/Rogers, epic-type pairings.

  8. I've decided to do a post on something related to this...can you please tell me if Gene Tierney is in fact paired up with Tyrone Power?

    (You don't have to post this comment...just a yes or no over at my place, or through email, or I guess I could actually check in at Facebook [God knows I haven't been there in weeks!])

    I hope you're well. :)

  9. So, I got the book, and have been reading it bit by bit. I've posted some of my thought about it here: http://moviewings.blogspot.com/2008/11/leading-couples.html

    Thanks for the lead on this interesting book!

  10. Wendymoon - You rock! I read your post this morning.

  11. Great blog! I do want to mention that Jimmy Stewart was, indeed, a typical red-blooded, All American, horn-dog bachelor before he and his beloved Gloria got hitched. He dated Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, Margaret Sullavan, and others.

  12. Thanks Bbunny!! Please feel free to stop by anytime you wish.

    Although I hate to start things off with a disagreement. Although Jimmy Stewart did date a lot of women before he married later in life, he was absolutely not a horn-dog bachelor. He really had a longing for Margaret Sullavan (who led him on cruelly which is one reason I dislike her so) and he was set up with people by the studios or by his friend Henry Fonda (hence Ginger Rogers) as well as women pursuing him (hence Norma Shearer). But he was absolutely not a cad.

    I recommend you read the Marc Eliot bio on him. Eliot could dish some juicy dirt, but Jimmy Stewart was so sweet that even Eliot couldn't make him look bad.

    Now if we want to talk horn-dogs let's talk Clark Gable.


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