Older women bedding and wedding younger men is nothing new in Hollywood.
Keeping straight who’s hitched to whom in contemporary Hollywood is always a challenge. But we can say that Madonna, Liza Minnelli, Priscilla Presley, Roseanne Barr, Mira Sorvino, Fran Drescher, Vanna White and Barbara Hershey are among the many actresses who are currently, were, or have been married (or seriously involved) with younger men.
For every Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher (pictured above), for every Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, the past had provided many examples of older women wanting –and getting–younger studs. (By the way, for Kutcher-Moore the age separation was a full 15 years. Sarandon and Roberts were a dozen years apart.)
This may surprise some of our classic movie companions, but it’s the truth: Norma Shearer really was one hot tamale. We have the testimony of The King himself, Clark Gable, who shouldn’t have been but was surprised at how ardently Norma played their love scenes in the three movies they made together. (Gable, a year older than Shearer, was himself the willing prey of older woman including Josephine Dillon and Ria Langham.)
Norma Shearer was known on the lot as Mrs. Irving Thalberg. She was married to MGM’s fabled production chief from 1927 until his death in 1936.
Six years after Thalberg died, Norma married a ski instructor, Martin Arrounge, who was a full 20 years her junior. But there’s nothing to get snarky about since the union was a happy one, lasting 41 years until Shearer’s death in 1983 at the age of 80.
The marriage also provided a bonus for classic movie fans for it was while the couple was vacationing at a northern California ski lodge that Norma spied a picture of a very young Janet Leigh. She liked what she saw and the rest is….
(Shearer also “discovered” another younger man, former actor and former Paramount production chief Robert Evans, lounging around a Beverly Hills pool. Less said about that the better.)
Then there is Madeleine Carroll, who was literally linked (via handcuffs) to Robert Donat in the 1935 version of The 39 Steps. Carroll was regarded at the time as the “Queen of British Cinema.” But by the mid-Forties, the Hollywood portion of her movie career was largely over.
Carroll had a fairly busy personal life.
Married and divorced four times, the second of her husbands was the then ruggedly, handsome, 6-foot-5 actor Sterling Hayden (born in Montclair, New Jersey as John Hamilton). Hayden was 10 years younger that Carroll, but that didn’t stop him from falling for his leading lady. She became the first of the actor’s three wives.
The British-born actress had assessed Hayden’s physical attributes highly, and reportedly used her influence to land him a studio contract at Paramount. (The two costarred in a pair of early Forties romantic dramas, Virginia and Bahama Passage.)
Alas, the Carroll-Hayden union didn’t last much longer than four years. Carroll was a piker in the cougar department compared to Lucille Ball, both of whose husbands (Desi Arnaz and Gary Morton) were much younger than she was (she had Desi beat by six years and Morton by 13).
Greer Garson encountered Richard Ney, 12 years younger, when they costarred in 1942’s Mrs. Miniver. He played her son in the picture. A year later they married. It lasted about as long as the Carroll-Hayden union did. (That’s the couple in happier times in the photo below.)
Our capper today is the introduction of one man — an obscure Dutch-born actor by the name of Robert Wolders — who is linked to not one but two cougars who happen to be among the famous actresses in movie history.
Wolders, who appeared in the 1965 tv series Laredo and the 1967 Universal war drama Tobruk, starring Rock Hudson, married Merle Oberon in 1975. He was 38. She was 64.
They had costarred two years before in Oberon’s last movie, Interval (which she co-produced), a melodrama about a worldly woman with a shady past who finds true love with a much younger man. The couple stayed married for four years until her death.
After that Wolders teamed up with Audrey Hepburn. Her second marriage had ended in 1982. Wolders was seven years her junior. Both shared European roots (the actress’ mother was Dutch; her father was British). They never married but were constantly a couple until Hepburn’s death of cancer in 1993.