Where would the world of pop songwriting be without the team of Lennon and McCartney or Simon and Garfunkel? How would the exploration of North America have been different if there was just Lewis and no Clark? What good is a Gabbana dress without the Dolce?
The world is full of people who teamed up and made history, whether it was in science, art, music, or literature. Although conflicting personalities and priorities can make working as a team difficult, some people are more successful as a team than they ever could have been as solo acts.
Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire
Perhaps the most famous dancing duo ever captured on film, although neither one was keen on entering into a partnership, they became superstars after their first onscreen appearance, doing their signature ballroom dancing in 1933’s Flying Down to Rio. Sensing the public demand, Rogers and Astaire made ten hit films together, including The Gay Divorcee, Top Hat, Swing Time, and Roberta. Both had long, distinguished careers after parting ways in 1939, but their films together changed the way movies captured dancing, and they remain one of the greatest onscreen pairing in movie history.
Rogers and Hammerstein
Both men worked alone or with other people for years before they teamed up to write the musical Oklahoma! in 1943. Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rogers had written the lyrics and music, respectively, for many other musicals before they ushered in the “Golden Age” of Broadway with their string of hits, which included The King and I, South Pacific, Carousel, and The Sound of Music. Songs from these shows are some of the best-known and best-loved in music theater history. Together, their shows (and the accompanying film versions) won thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and two Grammies.
Martin and Lewis
They may not have been the most groundbreaking of comedy teams, but they are undoubtedly one of America’s all-time most popular. Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were both struggling standup comedians until they teamed up in 1945. After their act started selling out comedy clubs in New York, they became the most popular comedic duo of the ’50s. They performed variations on their signature vaudeville-inspired slapstick routine on radio programs, on television, and in many movies. Their personal relationship was contentious, since Lewis often got all the credit for their hilarity and critics claimed that Martin was replaceable. By 1956, the duo weren’t even on speaking terms and they split up. Lewis started a successful solo film career and Martin focused on singing, joining the infamous Rat Pack.
Marie and Pierre Curie
Marie and Pierre, a physicist and a chemist, lived in Paris in the late nineteenth century. Marie was Polish, but she came to France to study and work since no university in Poland would admit women. In Paris, she met Pierre, who would become her husband as well as business partner. Together, the Curies did groundbreaking work with radioactive elements, even coining the term “radioactive.” They won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 for their discovery of the elements polonium and radium. Pierre was a professor at the Sorbonne and they ran a laboratory at the school. When Pierre was killed in an accident in 1906, the university even allowed Marie to take his place and she threw herself into her work to get over her husband’s death. She was the first female professor at the university, as well as the first woman to win the Nobel Prize. She was even awarded a second Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1911.
Cheech and Chong
These guys are probably the most successful stoners in entertainment. They were two of the most popular comedians during the 1970s, when drug and hippie culture flourished. After meeting in Vancouver, where Cheech Marin was dodging the draft, they did standup, recorded comedy albums, and appeared in their first full-length movie, Up in Smoke, in 1978. They made a few more forgettable, low-budget films before splitting up in the early eighties, when Marin wanted to distance himself from the drug-related humor that they’d made their careers on. Marin co-starred in many films and television shows, although Tommy Chong’s career never quite took off. He was arrested for distributing drug paraphernalia in 2003 and served time in prison. Although their split had been acrimonious for years, they put aside their anger to reunite for a new comedy tour in 2008.
Carole King and Gerry Goffin
King and Goffin may not exactly be household names, but their songs are. Carole King is better known as a seventies pop singer, but this duo is also responsible for writing some of the best-known pop hits of the early sixties. Their first big hit, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” was recorded by The Shirelles, and has been covered by hundreds of artists since. King and Goffin also wrote, “Take Good Care of My Baby,” “The Loco-Motion,” “One Fine Day,” “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” and “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” among other hits. After they divorced in 1968, King went on to have a solo recording career and continues to write and perform.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz
This couple was a formidable team offscreen, as well as on. Their production company, Desilu Productions, produced the show I Love Lucy, which ran from 1951 to 1957, as well as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show. Smart businesspeople as well as talented comedians, Ball and Arnaz changed the standards for sitcoms. I Love Lucy was filmed with three cameras in front of a live audience, a technique that would eventually become the industry standard. Although their onscreen marriage was full of innocent hijinks and mischief, their real-life romance was tempestuous and rocky. They separated numerous times and Arnaz was a known womanizer and alcoholic. Ball finally filed for divorce in 1960, the very afternoon that the final episode of their show had aired.
The people who make up these partnerships were all talented in their own right, but it was finding their better half that really allowed them to shine. Sometimes working with a partner feels like a bad gamble—when it goes wrong, it goes really wrong. But when it’s right, it’s magic.