When the stars’ stars align for life-chang­ing love

The Washington Post Sunday - - ON LOVE - BY ELLEN MCCARTHY mc­carthye@wash­post.com

When the Nazis were march­ing across Europe, Leonard and Vir­ginia Woolf made a sui­cide pact: If Eng­land was taken, they’d re­treat to their garage with enough mor­phine to kill them both.

The first night Johnny Cash met June Carter, he de­clared he would some­day marry her. “Well, good. I can’t wait,” she replied dryly, know­ing he had a wife and four kids at home.

Ce­line Dion first kissed Rene An­gelil, her man­ager, in a ho­tel room in 1998. An­gelil, who was nearly three decades older than Dion, re­acted by flee­ing the room.

Other peo­ple’s love lives are in­trin­si­cally in­ter­est­ing. But when the peo­ple in ques­tion pos­sess names rec­og­nized across the globe, their sto­ries take on a sheen of grandeur.

Mar­lene Wag­man-Geller, author of “ And the Rest is His­tory: The Fa­mous (And In­fa­mous) First Meet­ings of the World’s Most Pas­sion­ate Cou­ples,” spent a year ex­am­in­ing the lives of 34 such pairs, in­clud­ing Antony and Cleopa­tra, Price Rainier and Grace Kelly and Joe DiMag­gio and Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe.

The project be­gan when Wag­man-Geller ran across a story re­count­ing Napoleon’s last words: “France, the army, the head of the army, Josephine.”

“We think of him as the em­peror,” she says. “We don’t think of him as the lover.” Wag­man-Geller be­gan re­search­ing the story of the girl from a sugar plan­ta­tion who won the heart of the le­gendary gen­eral — though Josephine was less smitten than her hus­band and pur­sued an af­fair soon af­ter their wed­ding day.

“ There are only a few things that leave a fin­ger­print on our lives for all time,” says the author. “And re­la­tion­ships are cer­tainly one of them.”

The book is not a col­lec­tion of fairy tales; each chap­ter re­counts the whole arc of cou­ple’s ro­mance right up to its lov­ing— or dis­as­trous— end. The sto­ries are lit­tered with divorce, be­trayal and dis­il­lu­sion­ment, but also with won­der at the im­pact two peo­ple can have on each other.

“There’s a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor,” Wag­man-Geller says. “When you meet that one great love it marks all your fu­ture days.”

The author chose cou­ples who not only had great loves, but also great sto­ries with at least a dash of drama. Elvis and Priscilla made the cut; Paul New­man and Joan­neWood­ward did not. “They were al­most too white-washed,” ex­plain­sWag­man-Geller.

One of the biggest lessons she took away from her re­search is that, “Even though love ends, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t love.”

More than 25 years af­ter their divorce, as Desi Ar­naz lay dy­ing of can­cer, Lu­cille Ball was in Washington, re­ceiv­ing a life­time achieve­ment award from the Kennedy Cen­ter. Ar­naz sent a state­ment to be read dur­ing the cer­e­mony. “ ‘I Love Lucy’ was never just a ti­tle,” he wrote.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PAS­SION: June and Johnny were mad for each other.

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