Surprising Facts About Famous Best Friends

Kyle Climans

We all have great friends in our lives. They’re the people with whom you can talk about anything, with whom you have a hundred inside jokes you can always call upon for a laugh. Sometimes these great friendships last a lifetime, while other bonds drift away or break apart for whatever sad reason. Well, the famous men and women from history all had friends too—sometimes some pretty surprising ones. Here’s a list of some of those close friendships, however unlikely or temporary they were.

1. Imagine What Your Fathers Would Say!

WWII enthusiasts will know that American general George Patton and British general Bernard Montgomery famously squared off against Erwin Rommel, seen by many as the most skilled German general of WWII. To add another layer to this conflict, Patton and Montgomery were both very outspoken and blunt men, so of course, they were rivals towards each other as well.

Despite all that, all three of these men ended up having sons who became close friends! After the conflict, Manfred Rommel entered politics in West Germany, where he became friends with British politician David Montgomery and U.S. general George Patton IV. How times change!

2. Loyal Lad

In Ancient Rome, Julius Caesar’s demise led to an era of utter chaos, where alliances were made and broken faster than a king’s lifespan on Game of Thrones. However, Caesar’s nephew, Octavian, found a truly loyal friend and ally in Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa. Even when Octavian’s famous triple alliance with Mark Antony and Lepidus collapsed into another conflict, Agrippa remained loyal to Octavian. He eventually proved instrumental in Octavian’s great victory over Antony at the Battle of Actium.

3. From Friend to Son-in-Law?

After Octavian’s ultimate victory and into his reign as Emperor Augustus, Agrippa continued to be an essential ally. Thanks to his friend-in-a-high-place, Agrippa helped shape the Roman Empire as we know it. It was Agrippa who helped renovate Rome’s incredible sewage system. He was also responsible for many bathhouses and the original Pantheon.

In gratitude to Agrippa, Augustus engaged him to marry his own daughter, Julia, and granted him powers that made Agrippa almost equal to Augustus himself. When Agrippa passed, Augustus had him buried inside his own mausoleum (an honor which Julia did not get, by the way).

4. Black Power

In the 1960s, Malcolm X rose quickly through the ranks of the Nation of Islam to become its most famous orator. He reached many with his fiery rhetoric, including a young boxer named Cassius Clay. Inspired by X’s words, Clay not only converted to Islam, but also abandoned his “slave name” to become Muhammad Ali.

5. Never Too Late for Remorse

Ali eventually broke his friendship with Malcolm X when X renounced Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam after his pilgrimage to Mecca. Disillusioned, Ali shunned and abandoned his friend. It wasn’t until long after X’s assassination that Ali came to regret his choice to cut off their friendship. In fact, before Ali passed, he declared that cutting Malcolm X out was one of the biggest mistakes of his life.

6. The Hobbit of Narnia

C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien weren’t just contemporary fantasy authors; they were also friends who helped inspire each other to write their material! The pair had been friends since their time at Oxford University. In those days, they would have many theological discussions, often leading to the topic of ancient mythology. These conversations helped influence each of them to write their now-legendary fantasy series.

7. Canoodling with Castro

Say what you will about Cuban leader Fidel Castro, but there is no denying that he played a very controversial and influential role in the 20th century. Despite being an enemy of the United States across the decades, Castro managed to befriend Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau during the 1970s. Thanks to them, relations between Cuba and Canada endured, regardless of American hostility.

Such was their personal respect for each other that Castro traveled to Canada in 2000 for the sole purpose of serving as a pallbearer at Trudeau’s funeral. For his part, Trudeau’s son, Justin, publicly expressed remorse when Castro passed.

8. Pick Him Out in a Line

In 333 BC, Alexander the Great defeated the Persian King, Darius III, at the Battle of Issus. Upon victory, Alexander seized the Persians’ vast store of treasure. He also took the King’s family captive, whom Darius had abandoned when he fled. Among this family was the king’s own mother, Sisygambis. When Alexander and several of his other officers entered the tent to meet Sisygambis and the rest of Darius’ family, the king’s mother fell to her knees and begged Alexander for mercy.

There was just one problem: She wasn’t talking to Alexander! She had mistaken his friend (and lover) Hephaistion for the conqueror. When she realized her mistake, Alexander waved away her embarrassment and promised to treat them with dignity.

9. Out with the Old Son, In with the New

You might argue that it was partly Stockholm Syndrome, but Sisygambis grew very fond of Alexander, who in turn called her “mother” out of respect. Later, during the Battle of Gaugamela, Persian soldiers broke through the Macedonian ranks and tried to rescue Sisygambis from captivity. However, she allegedly refused to be rescued, having not forgiven her son for deserting his mother, wife, and children to flee for his own life (to be fair, would your mother ever let you live that down?).

10. Surprising Bond

After Darius’s own followers took his life, Alexander assumed the title of King of Persia. He pushed on with his conquests, while Sisygambis remained in the city of Susa. Alexander eventually returned from the far east, but he died under mysterious circumstances in 323 BC. When Sisygambis heard of his passing, she is said to have fatally starved herself in grief for the young man who’d treated her better than her own son had.

11. “What the Hey, We’re Both Artists”

You might not associate a poet like T.S. Eliot with a comedian like Groucho Marx, but the truth is that these two had a profound admiration for each other. When Eliot wrote a letter to Marx in 1961, asking for an autograph, Marx promptly asked for Eliot’s in kind! This began a long-lasting correspondence between two visionaries—but everything changed when the two friends finally met.

12. Who Saw That Coming?

Sadly, the friendship between T.S. Eliot and Groucho Marx fell apart when they actually met over dinner. Marx, ever insecure about his lack of a formal education, tried to impress Eliot by quoting his poetry and trying to bring up his essays. Meanwhile, Eliot wanted to know more about Marx’s movie career. Both men were disappointed and bored by the other’s topics of conversation and they went their separate ways.

13. The Preacher Vs. the Sleaze Merchant

Adult film mogul Larry Flynt was never afraid to mock someone mercilessly, but when he joked that the conservative Reverend Jerry Falwell slept with his own mother, Falwell took him all the way to the Supreme Court. Milos Forman’s 1996 film The People Vs. Larry Flynt covers the case—but the aftermath was more surprising than any movie.

14. So… Opposites Attract?

Ironically, by the time the movie came out, Falwell and Flynt had become great friends! Despite their radically different views on religion and life in general, they found that they had a lot in common (Falwell’s father had been a bootlegger, just like Flynt was in his youth). Moreover, their differences made for long debates about pretty much any topic that they could think of.

Flynt and Falwell became good friends, visiting each other frequently and maintaining correspondence despite their radically different positions in society.

15. Does That Count as Method Acting?

We’ve all heard the stories: People who co-star in TV shows eventually get so sick of each other that they can’t pretend to like each other on the air. Well, you’ll be happy to know this wasn’t the case with Rachel and Monica on Friends. Jennifer Aniston and Courtney Cox became very close thanks to their collaborative work on the sitcom. Each helped the other out during their own bitter divorces in 2005 and 2013, presumably by hanging out on a couch in a coffee shop.

16. Sisters from Another Mister

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey are one of the most famous comedic duos of the 21st century. Since they first met each other in 1993, these two friends have constantly worked together on one film project after another (including Mean Girls and Baby Mama). The two of them also worked on Saturday Night Live together and have co-hosted the Golden Globes to great acclaim.

17. Art and Life Blurred

In 1962, the Oscar-winning film adaptation of To Kill A Mockingbird hit theaters, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch. Peck’s character volunteers to defend a black man named Tom Robinson, who’s been accused of assaulting a white woman. Brock Peters played Robinson, and he and Peck would form a bond that lasted long after filming wrapped.

In fact, Peters later delivered the eulogy at Peck’s funeral, speaking for him just as Peck’s character spoke for Robinson in the film.

18. Those Two Knew Each Other?

When Irish playwright Samuel Beckett moved to France, he developed a close friendship with one of his new neighbors, Boris Roussimoff. Beckett happened to have a pick-up truck, so he would sometimes drive the local children to school. These children included one of Roussimoff’s sons, a young boy who suffered from gigantism. That boy eventually grew up to become one of the most famous wrestlers in history: Andre the Giant.

19. The One Who Wasn’t Chaplin

In another case of favors through unlikely friendships, Harry Houdini was visiting a friend’s house when the man’s six-month-old son accidentally fell down a flight of stairs. Houdini allegedly picked the infant up and remarked that he could sure take a “buster,” which seems like a pretty mild response after just seeing a child tumble down some stairs.

Whether he meant to or not, though, Houdini’s comment shaped the kid’s life forever. Some of you might remember that boy as Buster Keaton, one of the greatest comedians of all time.

20. Ta-Da!

Speaking of Houdini, he happened to have a very famous friend: Arthur Conan Doyle. In addition to creating Sherlock Holmes (for which the BBC will be forever grateful), Doyle was a huge believer in spiritualism and psychic mediums. Given Houdini’s position in the world of magic and tricks, Doyle eagerly brought Houdini along to make him a fellow believer.

However, Houdini was famously skeptical and fond of revealing fraudsters for what they were. Unsurprisingly, this friendship didn’t work out as they quarreled over their conflicting viewpoints. Still, their bond managed to inspire a TV show called Houdini & Doyle in the 21st century, so there’s that.

21. Starting as Rivals

While writing about his accomplishments in Gaul, Julius Caesar took the time to recall an anecdote involving two centurions. Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo were initially the worst of rivals, until one day in 54 BC. When a Belgic tribe called the Nervii attacked their legion’s winter headquarters, Vorenus and Pullo got up to their usual routine of one-upping each other.

22. United by Battle

Things went too far, however, when Pullo actually ran out of the fort to engage the Nervii single-handed. As a reward for his hubris, he found himself trapped, with the enemy surrounding him. To make matters worse, a spear had pierced his belt, leaving him unable to draw his sword. In a twist worthy of the third act of a Disney film, Vorenus ran out to save Pullo.

In a double-twist, Vorenus lost his footing while fighting off the Nervii, only for Pullo to rescue him in return. The two comrades-in-arms succeeded in driving off the attackers and returned to the fort to thunderous applause. Caesar himself declared that they emerged from the fight “covered in glory.”

23. Exotic Englishman

If we said the name “Richard Burton,” you might think of the famous British thespian. However, in the Victorian era, there was another Brit named Richard Burton, and he wasn’t an actor. Burton was an explorer who spoke no fewer than twenty-nine languages! He also translated several classic works into English. It’s safe to say that he had a remarkable reputation for himself, and this reputation also included being a very difficult man to get along with.

Burton never saw a problem with abandoning his family to go exploring the globe for years on end. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, not in any language!

24. “Taxi!”

Surprisingly, there was one person in Burton’s life for whom he was always generous and gallant. This person was Mrs. Giacometti Prodgers, and she had a rather bizarre reputation in London. A bit of an infamous figure, Prodgers would famously exploit just how far one could go in a London cab without having to pay any extra fare. She reportedly took great joy in infuriating cab drivers.

25. Mutual Grouches

For reasons that eluded even the people who knew them, Mrs. Prodgers and Richard Burton were very good friends. Whenever a cabbie overcharged Prodgers and she took them to court (which was a rather frequent story), Burton would provide any advice or support that he could.

26. Movie Bros

It might not be strange to find out that Old Hollywood movie stars James Stewart and Henry Fonda were best friends. They both started as hungry young actors who conquered Hollywood and became famous playboys. There were a few big differences, however. While Stewart eventually settled down and remained married to his first wife for the rest of her life, Fonda blazed his way through five marriages and estranged himself from his own children.

Their biggest difference, however, was politics. Stewart was a proud Republican, while Fonda was more left-wing than a lot of Democrats (despite any differences between him and his children, he was always proud of their counterculture statuses, especially his daughter Jane).

27. Keeping it in the Voting Room

Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda’s political differences nearly destroyed their friendship for good. In 1947, in the middle of the Red Scare, the House of Representatives created the House Unamerican Activities Committee to root out possible communist sympathizers. The HUAC’s authoritarian tactics, such as blacklisting, eventually ruined many lives.

Fonda, naturally, deeply opposed the HUAC. He joined director John Huston and fellow star Humphrey Bogart in petitioning against it. This, in turn, annoyed Stewart. The two men allegedly got into a “long and pretty heated” fight over it one day (try and picture George Bailey from It’s a Wonderful Life and the eighth juror from Twelve Angry Men screaming at each other).

The argument did stop, however, with both men agreeing to never discuss politics again. According to their children, they ended up spending a lot of their time together, indulging in their shared hobby of building model airplanes.

28. A Friendship Which Transcended the Voice

Before Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, he spent his time teaching deaf and mute people. In 1886, he encountered a student named Helen Keller (yes, that Helen Keller). Even after Keller went to the Perkins Institution, Bell continued to support her financially, including setting up a trust fund in 1896. Bell also maintained that his work helping Keller, as well as instructing others who were deaf and mute, was “more pleasing to me than even recognition of my work with the telephone.”

Keller, meanwhile, maintained a long-lasting friendship with her former instructor, writing to him in 1907 that “though I be silent, I cherish ever the many tokens of your love.” She even dedicated her autobiography, The Story of My Life, to Bell. Excuse us while we find the person cutting onions here.

29. Just a Friendly Competition

Fans of tennis might remember the fiery games played between famous rivals Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert during the 1970s and 1980s. What they wouldn’t remember, however, is the moments after said games in the locker room where each one would comfort the other on their loss. It turns out that Evert and Navratilova were good friends outside of the tennis court and would maintain that friendship for the rest of their lives.

30. The Kings of Hammer

In another example of public enemies being secret besties, legendary British actors Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee made their bread and butter by acting in schlocky horror film after schlocky horror film. Frequently, Lee landed the role of Count Dracula, while Cushing played his nemesis, Van Helsing. Outside of being film enemies, Lee and Cushing were close friends, frequently passing projects between them as well—according to some sources, Cushing only got the role of Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars after Lee turned down the chance.

31. Starlet to the Rescue!

Before she made it big, Ella Fitzgerald was a struggling singer, culminating in the Mocambo nightclub turning her down in 1955. However, Marilyn Monroe stepped in to convince the Mocambo’s owner to hire Fitzgerald. As one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, Monroe promised to come to the nightclub if they let Fitzgerald sing.

Monroe’s popularity ensured that Fitzgerald’s premiere at the Mocambo was a triumph. Fitzgerald would end up repaying the favor when Monroe used Fitzgerald’s records as a guide on how to sing for her film roles.

32. Unlikely Partners

Nobody will deny that the sinking of the HMS Titanic was a tragic, chaotic event. However, it did bring two extremely unlikely people together. One was a sailor named Thomas William Jones, who was in charge of a lifeboat with thirty-eight souls aboard. One of those people was a countess named Lucy Noel Martha, who turned out to be essential to keeping the lifeboat going.

Martha had had some experience with sailing, and so she acted as Jones’ second-in-command, instructing people how to row while operating the tiller.

33. Our Hearts Will Go On

The RMS Carpathia eventually rescued Jones and Martha’s lifeboat. Each of them had nothing but praise for the other when authorities questioned them about what happened. Before you wonder why James Cameron didn’t just adapt their story, their friendship was only as brief as the disaster that formed it. Jones and Martha returned to their social circles, never meeting again.

However, it wasn’t completely goodbye. They kept a correspondence for the rest of their lives, and Martha sent Jones a Christmas card every single year.

34. Crazy Collaborations

While it isn’t that surprising to learn that two famous contemporary British authors such as Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming were friends, the way they met is a bit more interesting. Both men served their country during WWII, with Dahl flying as a fighter pilot before injuries forced him to quit. Later, he met up with Fleming and both men served as intelligence officers of the utmost secrecy.

Not surprisingly, Fleming went on to create James Bond, but less well-known is the fact that Dahl wrote the screenplay for two film adaptations of Fleming’s novels; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and You Only Live Twice.

35. It Wasn’t Meant to Be This Way…

In 1839, two young men at West Point became good friends, with one of them teaching the other to play cards. Unfortunately for them, the U.S. Civil War led to them being torn apart on opposite sides of the battlefield. James Longstreet fought for the Confederate forces while Ulysses S. Grant became the most prominent general of the Union Army.

36. No Hard Feelings

Despite spending years fighting against each other across the U.S., Longstreet and Grant’s friendship proved too strong to be broken. Longstreet even persuaded Robert E. Lee to surrender at the McLean House because he trusted that Grant would offer fair terms. When both sides met each other at said house, Grant asked Longstreet if he’d like to play a card game for old times’ sake.

It’s safe to say that both men resumed their friendship after the fighting stopped, working together in the Republican Party.

37. A Hero and a Villain

Before Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis was the heavyweight boxing champion of the United States, which meant a great deal more then than it does now (we promise). Unlike Ali, though, Louis was very soft-spoken and humble, and despite prejudices of the time, black and white audiences alike loved him. Therefore, it made perfect sense to pit Louis against German champion Max Schmeling.

Not only was Schmeling a talented enough boxer to take on Louis, but Nazi Germany touted him as a symbol of white superiority.

38. This Time it’s Personal!

Max Schmeling and Joe Louis, representing their respective nations, fought twice. The first time, in 1936, resulted in Schmeling handing Louis his “first professional loss.” The fight left the American public devastated and the German public ecstatic. Adolf Hitler personally congratulated Schmeling’s wife, praising Schmeling as the greatest German boxer.

Two years later, however, Louis and Schmeling had a rematch, with Louis taking a furious vengeance. The second fight ended when Louis gave Schmeling such a beating that he ended up cracking several of Schmeling’s vertebrae!

39. Looks Can Be Deceiving

The sad irony of the entire Schmeling-Louis feud and face-off was that both men were used as pawns. Despite the U.S. hailing him as a hero, Louis had dealt with rampant prejudice all his life, and continued to do so after his great victory. On the other side of things, Schmeling despised his label as a symbol for Nazism, and he would go on to defy Germany by not only protecting his Jewish boxing promoter, but also hiding two Jewish children in his home during the Holocaust!

40. Former Foes

After WWII, Max Schmeling and Joe Louis resumed contact and remained friends for years. Schmeling became a rich man in his later years, and he would frequently provide Louis with financial assistance, even paying for Louis’ funeral in 1981, where he acted as a pallbearer.

41. Crossing Political Borders

It’s safe to say that gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson hated few people more than he hated President Richard Nixon. So you can only imagine what he’d think of Pat Buchanan, the conservative politician who advised Nixon during his 1972 campaign. However, when Thompson covered the campaign as a journalist and met Buchanan, the two men became unlikely friends! As Thompson later said in 2003, he considered politics to be a circle rather than a spectrum, and they managed to find a level of understanding.

42. Reaching the Peak

Despite coming from very different backgrounds, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay made for one of the most famous friendships in history, conquering Mt. Everest together. The two men had an agreement where they would tell everyone that they reached the top together rather than start a petty argument over who made it to the highest point on earth first. In 2003, their sons climbed Mt. Everest together to mark the 50th anniversary of their dads’ accomplishment.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28

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