Three American Masters Couples to Love

John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the first day of their Bed-In for Peace in the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel. Credit: Nationaal Archief

Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman. George Balanchine and Tanaquil Le Clercq. Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane. These are some of the extraordinary American Masters whose stories have been told over 32 years on PBS and who are also linked in love. With Valentine’s Day upon us, it’s the perfect time to spotlight these amorous duos. Whether you’re celebrating with your sweetheart or artfully dodging Cupid’s arrow, here are three of our favorite American Masters couples to inspire you.

1) Julia Child and Paul Child
“I was 32 when I started cooking; up until then, I just ate,” Julia Child famously said. What happened to the celebrated chef, cookbook author, television personality – and subject of the 2004 American Masters film Julia! America’s Favorite Chef — at that pivotal time in her life? She met Paul Child, who would become her husband, mentor, business manager and soulmate. They met in 1944 while stationed in Sri Lanka, working for the U.S. government. Two years later they married, and in 1948, they moved to France. “The whole experience was an opening up of the soul and spirit for me,” Julia said of her first introduction to French cuisine. She took classes at the famed Cordon Bleu, and with Paul as her culinary co-pilot, she learned to master the cuisine she loved so passionately.

My Cheeky Valentine: In her memoir, My Life in France, Julia Child depicts the life she and Paul built together – and reveals their fondness for Valentine’s Day. Every year, they would create an elaborate personalized card they would send to friends. “For 1956,” she wrote, “we decided to lighten up by doing something different. We posed ourselves for a self-timed valentine photo in the bathtub, wearing nothing but artfully placed soap bubbles.” Check out the cheeky Valentine’s Day card here. Bon appétit!

2) John Lennon and Yoko Ono
This legendary supercouple lived by the mottos “Give Peace A Chance,” “Make Love, Not War,” and “All You Need Is Love.” They were passionate about peace, love, art – and New York City. In 1971, following the break-up of the Beatles, Lennon and Ono moved to New York to regroup and focus on family life. The 2010 American Masters film LENNONYC, an intimate look at their time in New York with their son Sean, is a valentine to their enduring love – and their love affair with the Big Apple. From Central Park to Greenwich Village, from sports events to political demonstrations, New York was their town. Facing deportation by the Nixon administration, they bonded with millions of fellow immigrants who also made the great metropolitan melting pot their home.

They’ll Take Manhattan: “New York became a part of who John and I were,” Yoko Ono has said. “We couldn’t have existed the same way anywhere else. We had a very special relationship with the city, which is why I continue to make this my home.”

3) Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft
Mel Brooks’ colorful career spans 60 years, from his early years in live television as a writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows to his wildly comedic films such as Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles, to his smash hit Broadway musical, The Producers. But one thing is clear in the 2013 American Masters film Mel Brooks: Make a Noise: the brightest light in his life was his late wife Anne Bancroft. Brooks first met Bancroft on the set of The Perry Como Show in 1961. She was rehearsing a song-and-dance routine and fell in love with him instantly. Why? “He looked like my father and he acted like my mother,” she explains in the film. They were married for 41 years until her death in 2005.

The Secret of Their Success: What made the marriage of Anna Maria Louisa Italiano and Melvin Kaminsky so successful? “Anne and I both grew up during the marriage…. We both knew what was really important, what love meant, and what doing for each other meant,” Brooks says in the American Masters film. But it’s Nathan Lane’s anecdote, recalling a chat with Bancroft, that has us reaching for the Kleenex. “She said the greatest thing ever about (Brooks),” Lane says in the film. “She said: you know, we’re like any other couple. We’ve had our ups and downs, but every time I hear the key in the door I know the party’s about to start.”


Elisa Lichtenbaum | @ElisaVonTap
Elisa Lichtenbaum, editor of the monthly THIRTEEN program guide, is also Senior Writer at WNET, a tap dancer, and theater geek.