It’s surprising how often the relationship between protégé and mentor turns into a romance and even more surprising when a marriage is the result. Throughout history, people from a wide range of professions have eventually wed their mentors, but it is especially common in the arts. While some of these unions thrive, others become unhealthy and do not survive. From Rudolph Valentino to Celine Dion, here are 10 famous people who married their mentors.
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10 Mary Shelley
Because of her classic novel Frankenstein (1818), Mary Shelley is just as prominent a figure today as her spouse, poet Percy Shelley. However, when the couple was first married, he was already an accomplished author/poet with a strong following. Mary later credited her husband for the substantial guidance he provided during the writing of what turned out to be her masterpiece.
Frankenstein started out as a short story that Mary penned while she and Percy were on holiday together in Geneva with other luminaries such as Lord Byron. The tale was Mary’s offering in a game among the friends to write ghost stories. Percy encouraged Mary to publish the story as a full novel.
The Shelleys went through some very dark times, experiencing numerous tragedies together, but they influenced one another’s work. After Percy’s death in 1822, Mary continued to write but also focused on bringing more attention to Percy’s writing.
9 Rudolph Valentino
Considering how well he played the macho, alpha male in films like The Sheik and Blood and Sand, it is somewhat surprising to learn that legendary silent film heartthrob Rudolph Valentino was guided a large extent, by one special woman in his life—second wife, Natacha Rambova (1923–1925). The very creative and multi-talented Rambova was something of a chameleon, starting out as a ballet dancer before reinventing herself as a set and costume designer, set designer, and occasional actress in early Hollywood, later entering the field of Egyptology.
Rambova became Valentino’s manager and took charge of his career, including the look of his films and negotiations of his contracts. Along with screenwriter/MGM exec June Mathis, “Rambova is credited with transforming the actor into Hollywood’s first great screen idol.” According to Rambova’s biographer Michael Morris, it was “the only time in Hollywood history that a woman fashioned a male star to an image of her imagination and shared that image with millions.”
A very original and career-driven woman, she was ahead of her time both personally and artistically. A successful designer by the time she met Valentino, Rambova’s visionary artistic style is even more appreciated today. But while many praise her for helping to create Valentino’s popular persona, she was also blamed at the time for the failure of three of his films. The contract he later signed with United Artists forbade Rambova from being involved in his movies. However, some historians believe she was unfairly maligned due to studio politics.
8 Marie-Anne Lavoisier
When 13-year-old Marie-Anne Paulze married the 28-year-old pioneering scientist Antoine Lavoisier in France in 1771, it was actually to escape the prospect of marriage to another, much older man. Although this was an arranged union, the aristocratic French couple accomplished an enormous amount together, revolutionizing the world of chemistry.
Often considered the father of modern chemistry, Antoine established the law of conservation of mass, determined that combustion and respiration are caused by chemical reactions with what he named “oxygen,” and, with Marie-Anne’s help, created the new system for naming chemical substances. After Marie-Anne became interested in Antoine’s research, she started aiding him in the laboratory as both his assistant and companion. She turned out to be very valuable in this role, translating chemical works into English and using her artistic skills to sketch lab research and do engravings of apparatus that would appear in publications. She also worked hard outside the laboratory to promote Antoine’s theories.
Marie-Anne Paulze Lavoisier started out as a young girl exploring and learning about the work of her brilliant husband but became a true collaborator in his scientific breakthroughs.
7 Celine Dion
One of the most famous mentorship-protégé romances in show business was the relationship between French-Canadian singer Celine Dion and her star-maker manager Rene Angelil. One of the most surprising things about this story is that Dion was just 12 years old when she first met the 38-year-old Angelil and became his client. While the relationship did not become romantic until Dion was 19 years old, there was an emotional beginning. Angelil cried the first time he heard her sing and “mortgaged his house to finance her first album.”
After a three-year engagement, Dion and Angelil married in 1994 and would eventually have three children. The two proved to be a winning team, both personally and professionally. With Angelil as her manager, Dion soon became hugely successful with many hit songs, including “My Heart Will Go On,” “The Power of Love,” and “Because You Loved Me.” He also created her enormously popular Las Vegas residency show. In 2013, more than 30 years after the launch of her career, Dion’s album Loved Me Back to Life rose to #2 on the Billboard Top 200.
In January 2016, Angelil passed away following his battle with cancer and was widely mourned. As Dion’s website stated: “Never before had a man in the shadows held such an important place in the hearts of the people.”
6 Frida Kahlo
When renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was still an art student, she sought out accomplished artist Diego Rivera for advice on her career. The meeting turned out to be fateful in more ways than one. Despite the fact that Rivera was married to someone else at the time, he and Kahlo began a passionate and very stormy romance leading to marriage in 1929, divorce 10 years later, and remarriage just one year later.
Like most of these couples, there was mutual influence on each other’s work over the years. The extent of Rivera’s impact on Kahlo’s creative process is obvious from Kahlo’s self-portrait Diego on My Mind, in which he appears as her third eye.
5 Terri Irwin
When Terri Irwin met her future husband, Steve Irwin, well remembered as the “Crocodile Hunter,” she was already used to working with wild animals, having started a rehabilitation & education center for predatory animals in Oregon. However, her initial encounter with the gregarious Steve Irwin in 1991, while attending his croc show at the Australia Zoo, would lead to exciting and challenging new horizons for Terri. The two hit it off immediately and married the following year.
Terri worked closely with Steve, such as starring alongside him in the popular Crocodile Hunter TV series, which also featured their children Bindi and Robert.
When Steve tragically died at the age of 44 after being attacked by a stingray, Terri worked hard to carry on her husband’s legacy. Not only did she take over Steve’s crocodile show at the Australia Zoo, but she moved forward with his plans to greatly expand the size of the zoo, fundraising for endangered wildlife and taking charge of vast nature reserves.
4 Robert Browning
It could be argued that the poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were each other’s mentors since the couple influenced one another’s work. However, during their lifetimes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the more prominent of the two. She was a celebrity while Browning was still a struggling poet, incurring harsh criticism. It was the bad critical reception of his book Dramatic Lyrics (1842) that led to their first encounter. While most critics rejected the work, Elizabeth Barrett defended it. Browning wrote to thank her for her praise and asked to meet her.
Robert Browning was a big fan of Elizabeth’s poetry, lavishing compliments on her in letters. The two corresponded for many months, discussing poetry and later more personal subjects, before finally meeting and falling in love. Elizabeth had weak lungs and was living as an invalid with her large core family in their mansion at the time. Her father was a tyrannical man who was adamantly against the idea of marriage for any of his children. The couple eloped in 1846 and moved to Italy, where Barrett’s health improved, and she did some of her best writing. She gave birth to their son at the age of 43. After their marriage, the Brownings continued to significantly influence one another’s work and enjoyed 15 years together before Elizabeth’s death in 1861.
3 Maria Callas
One of the most acclaimed operatic divas of all time, the legendary Maria Callas had a number of teachers and mentors as an up-and-coming singer. However, the one individual who seemed to have the biggest commercial impact on her career was Callas’s husband/manager, Giovanni Battista Meneghini. The much older Italian businessman and enthusiastic opera patron met the 23-year-old Greek-American Callas in 1947 when she was a little-known artist newly arrived in Verona for a performance. He instantly began to guide her career, something that would continue throughout their subsequent marriage in 1949.
Meneghini pushed Callas to achieve as much as possible, picking up where her controlling and eventually estranged mother left off. He was also responsible, to some extent, for her transformation from a dowdy-looking young woman to the fashionable, glamorous icon we remember. The dramatic mezzo-soprano rose to the top during these years, thrilling audiences and critics alike with her performances in such operas as Norma and Tosca. However, Meneghini has also been criticized for the way he managed Callas’s career, particularly the way he negotiated her contracts after she became a star, and for stealing so much of her money.
In the late 1950s, Callas split from Meneghini when she became involved with the famously wealthy Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, also married at the time. She performed very little during this period, and many felt that her extraordinary voice had started to decline. By1968, she had lost Onassis, who married former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy that year.
2 Bo Derek
Like a number of other young, aspiring actors, Bo Derek would end up married to the impresario who propelled her to stardom. However much this may sound like a fairytale, there was plenty of scandal to go along with it. Actor/filmmaker John Derek was a 47-year-old married man when he met 16-year-old Bo (born Mary Cathleen Collins), casting her in a project called Fantasies. They became romantically involved when Bo was just 17.
John escaped arrest for statutory rape by moving to Germany with Bo until she was 18 years old, and the two married in 1976. Bo had a lot in common with two of John’s former wives, Linda Evans and Ursula Andress. All three were exceptionally beautiful, sexy blonde actresses who John had mentored. Although Bo’s acting was frequently panned by critics, she soon achieved stardom with movies like 10, co-starring Dudley Moore, and films helmed by John, including Tarzan the Ape Man.
After the death of her husband in 1998, Bo became involved with actor John Corbett from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, whom she married in 2020.
1 Katharine McPhee
Considering the long and impressive career of music producer/songwriter/musician David Foster, it’s natural to assume that he has been a mentor to popular singer/songwriter/actress Katharine McPhee, whom he married in 2019 after many years of friendship. Not only did Foster actually serve as McPhee’s mentor when she was a contestant on American Idol in 2006, but he produced her very first single when she was just 21 years old. Among all the glowing things she has said about her husband, McPhee has called him her “motivator” and talked about how he “inspires” her and how much she has always “admired” him.
The 35-year age difference between the two is something that has been given a lot of attention by the media. Reflecting on this topic, Foster told People magazine: “There’s so many things that can bring a marriage down, and age difference is just one of them… We think we have it pretty together.”
With four ex-wives, Foster is obviously knowledgeable on the subject of marital pitfalls. McPhee was also previously married. She and actor Nick Cokas called it quits after six years of marriage.
During the pandemic, McPhee and Foster collaborated on a series of Youtube videos adorably called “The Kat and Dave Show” and have also performed together in concert, with McPhee appearing as a guest star at some of Foster’s gigs. Now that McPhee and Foster have a child together—son Rennie, born in February 2021—Foster may be able to mentor McPhee, a first-time mom, since he already has five grown daughters.