Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling have been dominating the cinema – and critics’ prize lists – in recent weeks with their little-known musical La La Land, which has just equalled the all-time record for Academy Award nominations with 14 (All About Eve and Titanic are the others to share this distinction).
Stone and Gosling themselves have, naturally, been nominated for Leading Actress and Actor at both the Oscars and the BAFTAs, and won in their categories at the Golden Globes. Their onscreen partnership is a joy to watch, but it’s not necessarily one you would have put together at first, with Gosling originally an indie film darling and Stone beavering away in light-hearted comedies.
2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love introduced us to their chemistry, with 2013’s Gangster Squad capitalising on it (despite an overall clunky product). La La Land may only be their third film together, but with such success it’s hard to imagine that it will be the last. With team spirit in mind, and perhaps a touch of inspiration for Gosling and Stone, here’s a look at some of cinema’s most enduring onscreen partnerships…
Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers
The onscreen partnership Stone and Gosling have been most compared with, on the basis of their work in La La Land, is that of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Arguably the most famous silver screen duo of all time, Astaire and Rogers were both prolific (they made nine pictures together during the 1930s, and ten overall) and could offer their audience a superb level of talent and entertainment.
While Gosling and Stone don’t reach the dizzying heights of Fred and Ginger and their luminescent, perfected dance routines, there is something about their chemistry and onscreen personalities that gels well together in a similar fashion. Katharine Hepburn (more on her later) infamously claimed of the Astaire-Rogers partnership that, “He gives her class, and she gives him sex”.
Although quite bluntly put, it is fair to say that they brought different qualities to the screen, and a yin and yang balance: Fred was often the goofy, keener type in their movies, such as Top Hat and Shall We Dance, while Ginger played it cooler and remained more aloof – a timeless scenario that has also served Stone and Gosling well, although with the characters in reverse.
Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy
The other contenders for the crown of most famous onscreen (and, in this case, off screen) partnership are Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. A lot of fuel was added to their fire, no doubt, by the gossip surrounding their pretty open (if discreetly handled) love affair, which began on the set of their first movie together, 1942’s Woman of the Year, and ended with Tracy’s death just as filming was coming to an end on their final one, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in 1967.
For these two, it was entirely their chemistry and the snap and crackle of their dialogue that kept audiences entertained for so long. Again, they inhabited opposing onscreen personas, with Tracy always one of the boys, down-to-earth and quite laid back and Hepburn often a mile-a-minute in both her speech and ambitions.
Hepburn had previously enjoyed a popular movie partnership with Cary Grant when they starred in four movies together including Bringing Up Baby, one of the defining pictures of the screwball genre. Grant had softened Hepburn’s ‘box office poison’ reputation, famously nicknaming her ‘Red’, but it was the authenticity of her and Spencer Tracy’s relationship that truly shone on screen.
Judy Garland & Mickey Rooney
With Judy Garland it’s hard to think of anything other than her break-out performance in 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, but she appeared in several well-received films with Mickey Rooney throughout the ’30s and early ’40s. As a hard grafter, working from a very young age to get into show business, Garland first appeared with Rooney in Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, two years before Oz. It was her first star billing, and Mickey Rooney, a hugely successful child actor, was making the often-painful transition into older parts.
Following Thoroughbreds Judy landed a part in Rooney’s series of Andy Hardy films, ‘properganda’ pictures from MGM presenting the idealised, close-knit American family. After Oz raised her stock, Garland and Rooney were then paired together for several musical pictures, such as Babes in Arms, Strike Up the Band and Babes on Broadway. In these movies, Garland and Rooney were really paving the way for the dawn of the classic movie musical, working with the best of the best – director Busby Berkeley, composer/arranger Roger Edens and producer/lyricist Arthur Freed.
Indeed, a lot of songs which have gone on to be associated with Singin’ in the Rain got earlier outings here. Unlike other pairs on this list, Garland and Rooney were never a romantic couple on screen but best pals instead, with Rooney often chasing other girls (how life imitates art). Their partnership had a sell-by date, however, as both began to outgrow cuter, teenage roles while struggles with the pressures of Hollywood and its expectations took their toll. As far as putting pep in your step though, their movies are hard to beat.
Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall
Bogart and Bacall: like Hepburn and Tracy, the fascination with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart owes a lot to the fact that they met and fell in love during the filming of To Have and Have Not and were married just after finishing work on their second picture together, The Big Sleep, in 1945.
Their romance had a timeless Hollywood storyline, with Bacall the inexperienced ingenue on her first film set and Bogart the grizzled leading man at the height of his fame. Bacall was known as ‘The Look’, due to her trademark sultry through-the-eyelashes expression that made her career, but as she rather charmingly admitted: “I used to tremble from nerves so badly that the only way I could hold my head steady was to lower my chin practically to my chest and look up at Bogie. That was the beginning of The Look“.
Their eventual four pictures together, as well as the relationship, was what really cemented Bacall, an actress with limited experience, as Hollywood royalty and ensured Bogart’s continuing top dog status well into his forties. Their dialogue together always dripped with innuendo, and if it was sometimes difficult to decipher, who cares when Slim was advising Steve on whistling: “You just put your lips together and blow”.
Rock Hudson & Doris Day
Doris Day and Rock Hudson, whilst only making three films together, really hit upon a movie moment in time with their three more ‘grown-up’ comedies of the early sixties tackling (however innocently) dating, relationships and S-E-X… There was usually a healthy dose of mistaken identity, co-star Tony Randall as the comic foil and Doris Day’s singing to add to the effervescent mix too.
Although perhaps not an obvious pairing, Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers allowed both Hudson and Day to break free of previous stereotyping, he as the ‘He-Man’ type in dramas and she as America’s favourite virgin, mainly in musicals. Their onscreen union never spilled off screen as Hudson was gay and one of Hollywood’s highest-profile victims of its closeted culture.
He and Day clearly developed a firm friendship, however, with him calling her ‘Eunice’. These three pictures together heralded the beginning of the modern ‘romcom’ genre, and although Day would go on to make similar pictures with the likes of James Garner and Rod Taylor, nothing quite compared to the spirit of complicité between Day and Hudson.
William Powell & Myrna Loy
William Powell and Myrna Loy were the married film couple that everyone wanted to be: witty, fun, sparring partners who were an even match – and sleuths by profession in their popular Thin Man movie series of the 1930s. Based on the popular novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett, seven outings for Nick and Nora Charles ensued (six film and one radio), as definitively played by Powell and Loy.
Glamorous and booze-soaked, this team had a fabulous time solving the mysteries and murders that tended to crop up around them, with their trusty dog Asta along for the ride, and later on their son, Nick Jr. Loy was a confident woman, who could handle herself and her career with aplomb even in such restrictive circumstances as 1930s Hollywood, and Powell was a gentleman and actor, who was easy-going and very happy to go along with that.
Clearly the stars aligned for the actors when The Thin Man came calling. It wasn’t just Thin Man pictures that kept Powell and Loy in business though; they also made another eight films together, ranging from their first-ever outing together in 1934’s Manhattan Melodrama, where the sparks first flew, to the final Thin Man film, Song of the Thin Man, in 1947. A professional match made in heaven.