May 12, 2015

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.”

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