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Partners of the Heart
The Film and More
Early Years
Footprints Through Time
Unlikely Alliances
Pivotal Decisions

For Teachers & Students

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Unlikely Alliances

We all recognize the old adage, "Two heads are better than one." Partnerships in many human endeavors -- social, scientific, or athletic -- can lead to achievements that are unimaginable for individuals.

But even more thrilling are great accomplishments stemming from alliances that you wouldn't expect, due to cultural norms, education, family background, social status, geography, or other barriers.

In many ways, Vivien Thomas and Alfred Blalock were such an unlikely alliance. Reflecting on their legacy, we've paired other figures who excelled in their fields but whose alliance was unlikely. What twist of fate or recognition of excellence brought these partners together?

Gregory Pincus, researcher
Gregory Pincus Pincus studied animal husbandry at Cornell University's School of Agriculture and graduated from Harvard in 1927 with a graduate degree in genetics and reproductive physiology. He became known for organizing interdisciplinary team research into the hormonal regulation of ovulation.

Katharine Dexter McCormick, philanthropist
Daughter of a wealthy Chicago lawyer, McCormick studied biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She married Stanley McCormick, of the McCormick reaper family, in 1904 and gave generously to mental health research due to her husband's schizophrenia.

Katharine Dexter McCormick McCormick and Pincus created the "Pill." The combination of McCormick's considerable wealth and Pincus' gift for organizing cooperative research projects resulted in the development of the oral contraceptive pill. An idea promoted for decades by Margaret Sanger and her birth control movement, the pill became a daily reality for many of the world's women through Pincus' research. McCormick was able to raise millions of dollars and personally surveyed the details of Pincus' work.

Lyndon B. Johnson, politician
Lyndon B. Johnson Born in a small farmhouse in Stonewall, Texas, Johnson graduated from Southwest Texas State Teacher's College and taught school for two years. He began his political career as a secretary to Texas congressman Richard Kleberg.

John F. Kennedy, politician
One of nine children born into a wealthy Irish family in Massachusetts, Kennedy was the grandson of politicians and son of a successful businessman. He served two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and one term in the U.S. Senate.

John F. Kennedy Kennedy and Johnson were opposites with a shared agenda in the White House. John Kennedy asked Lyndon Johnson to be his vice-presidential running mate in the 1960 presidential elections. The Kennedy-Johnson ticket narrowly defeated that of vice president Richard Nixon. On November 22, 1963, Johnson assumed the presidency after the shocking assassination of President Kennedy. Johnson vowed to push Kennedy's agenda, which included legislation on civil rights and education.

Desiderio Alberto Arnaz de Acha III, band leader
Lucille Ball and Desiderio Alberto Arnaz de Acha III Born in 1917 in Santiago, Cuba, Arnaz fled with his mother to Miami after his father was arrested during first Batista revolution. He played in clubs with his band and ended up in New York and Hollywood.

Lucille Ball, comedian
Ball moved to New York City from her hometown, Jamestown, New York, to begin an acting career at the age of 15. She met little success and left for Hollywood to do bit parts and walk ons, eventually becoming a glamorous showgirl.

Arnaz and Ball made generations of Americans laugh. Lucy and Desi met and eloped in 1940. Lucy starred in several Hollywood versions of Broadway musicals and eventually landed a CBS radio show, "My Favorite Husband." When the network asked her to develop a TV comedy series based on the radio program, she and Desi created "I Love Lucy." The show became an instant success and rocketed to number one in the ratings, running from 1951-57. It was the first show to be filmed before a studio audience rather than broadcast live.

Margaret Mead, anthropologist
Margaret Mead Born in the Midwest, Mead moved from community to community on the East coast with her parents. She studied anthropology at Barnard College in New York City and traveled to New Guinea to study the Arapesh peoples. She became known for her work on sex roles in culture.

Gregory Bateson, social scientist
Bateson was born in Grantchester, England. His father, William Bateson, was a pioneer in the field of genetics. Bateson studied anthropology at Cambridge University and dabbled in the fields of zoology, psychology and cybernetics, the process of communication within and between individuals.

Gregory Bateson Mead and Bateson's studies changed anthropology. The pair met and married in Bali while conducting anthropological research. It was Mead's third marriage. Working together, Mead and Bateson made major contributions to the growing field of anthropology by developing new ways of documenting the relationships between childrearing and adult culture. In 1942, the couple published a book, Balinese Character: A Photographic Analysis, which featured an innovative visual approach toward anthropological study.

Langston Hughes, poet
Langston Hughes Born in Joplin, Missouri, Hughes was raised by his mother and grandmother in Kansas, Illinois and Ohio. He began writing poetry as a young student, and entered Columbia University in 1921. Hughes used rhythms of African American music in his poetry and became a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

Carl Van Vetchen, writer/photographer
Born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1880, Van Vechten studied art and music at the University of Chicago and later became a music critic for the New York Times. He left the Times to pursue a career in publishing, writing and photography. Married actress Fania Marinoff.

Carl Van Vetchen Hughes and Van Vechten became famous correspondents of the Harlem Renaissance. When they met, Hughes was a struggling young poet and Van Vechten was at the peak of his career in publishing. Both became involved with the Harlem Renaissance -- Hughes as a poet and Van Vechten as an enthusiast and promoter of African American art. The men corresponded for 40 years, debating art and politics, and Van Vechten played an important role in Hughes' career as a key supporter of his work. Hughes' poetry is now a celebrated part of American literature.

Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady
Eleanor Roosevelt Born into a well-established, wealthy family in 1884, Roosevelt attended a boarding school for girls in England, then returned to New York's high society. She married Franklin Delano Roosevelt and entered the political realm in her own right.

John Humphrey, diplomat
A Canadian from Hampton, New Brunswick, Humphrey lost his arm in an accident at age six and was orphaned by 11. He became a professor of law and eventually was appointed director of the United Nations Division of Human Rights.

John Humphrey Roosevelt and Humphrey promoted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Drafted by Humphrey, the Declaration was adopted by the United Nations in 1948 with Roosevelt's passionate support. Appointed by President Harry Truman to the U.S. delegation, Roosevelt served as chairperson of the Human Rights Commission. Roosevelt and Humphrey held the common belief that peace is achievable only when nations respect and uphold human rights.

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