We are gathered here today to anoint these 26 men and 24 women as the most influential married couples of all time. But before I ask if there are any objections, I’d like to start with a clarification: Influence and fame are not the same thing. Fame (think about Scarlett and Rhett) doesn’t always mean influence. And influence (see Michael McConnell and Jack Baker, below) doesn’t always come with fame.
The couples on this list are here because, one way or another, they left or are leaving a lasting mark (some, like Homer and Marge Simpson, quite colorful ones). My husband and I have gotten to know these couples very well in the six years we’ve spent researching marriage for a juicy new anthology, The Marriage Book. They are just 25 of the thousands we met—in books, films, photographs, fables—and they’re here because, more than any others, they live in history—or fiction—together. You might ask: What about Bonnie and Clyde? (Never married.) Tracy and Hepburn? (Same.) Vladimir Lenin and…? Christopher Columbus and…? Their spouses may have helped them, but they weren’t essential to their legacies. And plenty of spouses have been a hindrance more than a help: Maybe Einstein might actually have achieved a Unified Theory if he hadn’t seen his wife, Mileva, as “an employee whom I cannot fire.” To be sure, some of the couples on this list did call it quits. But saying “I don’t” doesn’t diminish the influence they had by saying “I do.”
Adam and Eve
Abigail and John Adams
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
Beyoncé and Jay Z
Archie and Edith Bunker
Bill and Hillary Clinton
Successes and scandals, defiance and resilience, and an inimitable brand of loyalty have marked the Clintons’ unparalleled political careers. From the Arkansas State Capitol to the White House to the Senate to Foggy Bottom, their wins and losses have shaped the American narrative for a quarter of a century. With Hillary’s new run for the presidency, the next chapter has just begun.
Marie and Pierre Curie
Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald
No account of the Jazz Age, or perhaps of the 20th century, can be made without the couple who danced, drank, loved and fought their way through it. Their reckless intensity reflected and encouraged the new freedoms of a modern age. Scott once wrote: “We felt like small children in a great bright unexplored barn.” Eventually, they burned the barn down.
Bill and Melinda Gates
In his garage, Harvard dropout Bill pondered why computer hardware was sold but computer software was just passed around. From that question grew Microsoft, where Melinda eventually went to work. Married in 1994, they created the largest private foundation in the world, and, with the “Giving Pledge,” successfully urged other billionaires to follow their philanthropic lead.
Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
Pat and Bill Loud
Decades before Kris and Bruce Jenner spawned the Kardashian universe—along with its controversies, revelations, accusations and affections—American TV audiences were spellbound by another married couple. During its twelve weekly episodes in the early 70s, “An American Family” gripped TV viewers as the Louds, married for 21 years with five children, allowed cameras into their home. The series—highlighted by the riveting moments in which son Lance came out as gay and Pat told Bill that she wanted a divorce—was trumpeted as portraying real life, making the Louds the parents of reality TV.
John and Jackie Kennedy
John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Sure, she was reviled for breaking up the Beatles. But their marriage gave us indelible images of intimacy—from the friendly zoo of their honeymoon bed-in to the Annie Leibovitz–photographed Rolling Stone cover of Yoko with a naked, embryonic John curled around her. Along the way, her passion for peace inspired his signature anthem; Imagine no “Imagine.”
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette
Mao Tse-Tung and Jiang Qing
As Mao’s fourth and last wife, Madame Mao was a partner in some of the most brutal aspects of the Cultural Revolution, supporting the Red Guard as it attempted to purge China of all perceived threats to the Communist order. Eventually, as one of the treacherous “Gang of Four,” she effectively ran the propaganda machine that created and sustained the Cult of Mao.
Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson
Inevitably glamorized by the Showtime series about them, Masters, a gynecologist, and Johnson, initially his research assistant, did share first a mission and then a life. Their groundbreaking numbers-heavy studies of sex made them the punch line of a million jokes, but ultimately contributed to the demystification of one of life’s most miraculous and complex subjects.
Michael McConnell and Jack Baker
Jack proposed to Michael in 1969, and Michael accepted with the proviso that they make the union legal. Their attempt to do just that eventually led them to the Supreme Court, which in 1972 dismissed the case. But the substance of their initial argument—that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples was irrational and discriminatory—paved the way for legal victories in state after state—including, two years ago, in their home state of Minnesota.
Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio
Married for 274 days, the baseball giant and the screen legend turned out to be ill-suited and ill-fated. He was possessive, jealous, volatile. She was Marilyn. Their legacy was unintentional, but the multi-media circus that followed them was unprecedented, just warming the world up for the likes of Liz and Dick, Grace and Rainier, even Diana and Charles. They were the first celebrity couple of the modern age.
Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz
He fell in love first with her drawings, then with her. They became photographer and subject, then lovers, then spouses. Long separations and infidelity were obstacles, yet they remained married until Stieglitz’s death in 1946, and united forever by their contributions to and championing of modern art.
Eva and Juan Peron
Romeo and Juliet
They married in passionate defiance of their feuding families. Though there had been other versions of the story—and would be more, in poems, ballets, and even the musical West Side Story—it was the indelibility of Shakespeare’s 16th-century tragedy that made Romeo and Juliet the universal symbols of star-crossed fate and perfect love.
Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt
While he battled the Great Depression and the Axis Powers, she used their private moments to lobby him on the progressive issues about which she was most passionate. Along the way, she transformed the role of First Lady into a bully pulpit from which she could fight for civil rights and greater workplace opportunities for women.
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Were they innocent victims of the Red Scare, misguided progressives or traitorous spies who passed atomic secrets to the Russians? The epic debate over these questions encapsulated an era in which the enemy was particularly fearsome because it was so insidious. The married parents of two young sons were electrocuted within hours of each other, adding an extra chill to the Cold War.
Marge and Homer Simpson
Marge is both hotter and cooler than the ever-ditzy Homer, but his unwavering, unconditional, unquenchable love wins her heart and ours even as they, and we, understand that he doesn’t remotely deserve her. Their co-dependency—he adores her, she adores being adored—mirrors millions of modern marriages, and their longevity has somehow made even our own dysfunctions enviable.