Whether they're holding hands or ruling empires, these famous lovers have played out real-life romantic dramas that have captured national attention. From the stormy marriage of Ike and Tina Turner to the love letters of Napoleon and Josephine, these couples' break-ups, make-ups, love affairs and betrayals are the stuff of movies—and we just can't get enough of them.
Model and comedienne Lucille Ball met Cuban bandleader Desi Arnaz in 1940 while filming Too Many Girls. They fell for one another instantly and eloped later that year. In 1951, they debuted the hit television series I Love Lucy, starring as the zany middle-class couple Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. With near-perfect timing and a genius for ad-libbing, the red-haired Ball cruised through 179 episodes. The duo also founded Desilu Productions in 1950, a successful independent television production company. Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960, ending one of television's greatest marriages, though they remained friends until his death in 1986.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were the most famous gangster couple in history, made more so by the 1967 Oscar-winning film Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. From 1932 to 1934, during the height of the Great Depression, their gang evolved from petty theives to nationally-known bank robbers and murderers. Though a burgeoning yellow press romanticized their exploits, the gang was believed responsible for at least 13 murders, including two policemen, as well as several robberies and kidnappings. The spree ended when they were betrayed by a friend and shot dead at a police roadblock in Louisiana on May 23, 1934.
Bonnie and Clyde
George Burns met Gracie Allen in 1922, and they married in 1926. Their highly successful vaudeville act featured George as the straight man to Gracie's zany antics. The couple created its best-known sketch for radio, a situation comedy starring themselves as a working show-business couple. They carried the format to television in 1948, including next-door neighbors Harry and Blanche Morton, Gracie's infamous illogical logic, and the signature "Say goodnight, Gracie" at the show's close. The duo also made films, including an Oscar-nominated turn in A Damsel in Distress with Fred Astaire.
George Burns and Gracie Allen
- In this group:
- Cleopatra VII
After Caesar's assassination, Cleopatra set her sights on the dashing Roman general Marc Antony. The two began an affair, resulting in twins in 40 B.C. Antony wed Cleopatra in 36 B.C., and appointed his new wife ruler of Egypt, Cyprus, Crete, and Cyria. This abuse of power so outraged the Roman Senate that they denounced him a traitor. After losing a major battle at sea, Antony and Cleopatra were forced to flee to Egypt in 31 B.C. In desperation, Cleopatra spread rumors of her own suicide. Antony, unaware of her plan, stabbed himself to death. When Cleopatra heard of this, she took her own life by inducing a poisonous snake to bite her.
Marc Antony and Cleopatra
Napoleon did not care for Josephine's given name, Rose, so he renamed her Josephine, which she kept for the rest of her life. He proposed in January 1796 and sent her intensely romantic love letters from numerous posts around the world with the French army. Despite rumors of her infidelity and his jealous temperament, Napoleon and Josephine were crowned Emperor and Empress of the French in 1804. The couple divorced in 1810 after her infertility was confirmed, freeing Napoleon to take a wife who could provide an heir. The couple remained on good terms, with Napoleon once saying that the only thing to come between them was her debts.
Napoleon and Josephine
In 1936, King Edward VIII unexpectedly abdicated the throne to marry the love of his life, American divorcée Wallis Simpson, proclaiming, "I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as king as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love." Edward's behavior prior to his decision to abdicate—including courting Wallis while she was still married to her second husband—garnered outrage from the British Royal Family, most notably from Queen Mary of Teck and King George V, and led to the "abdication crisis" in Britain. In 1937, the happy couple married and embarked on a jet-setting life in Paris, meanwhile referring to themselves as "W.E."—their initials, but also a dig at the royal "we," or the majestic plural. Subversive and playful, their nickname continues to serve as a testament to their lasting adoration for one another.
Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson