Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s
Famous and Infamous" by Marlene Wagman-Geller;
Sourcebooks (368 pages, $16.99)
was International Women’s Day, and a viral video from
the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation gave
the message "we’re not there yet," meaning
we’ve got a long way to go before the end of the
discrimination and oppression of women.
is the sentiment inspired by Marlene Wagman-Geller’s
"Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind
the World’s Famous and Infamous," a well-crafted
exploration into the lives of 40 women who were coupled
with some of history and pop culture’s most prominent.
majority of these women did not have happy lives. Though
the book provides exceptions (Jackie and Rachel Robinson
and Douglas and Jean MacArthur stick out as relatively
happy couples compared to the rest, though clearly they
had their own battles), the majority of these men either
were extensively unfaithful to their partners, abandoned
their partners and/or children in times of need (Of
Alfred Hitchcock and his wife Alma’s first and only
child being born: "He was absent during the
delivery, explaining he could not bear the
suspense.") or both.
Gilot, Pablo Picasso’s longtime girlfriend, decided to
leave him after his public affairs and private verbal
abuse, and he responded by blacklisting her in the art
world and cut off all contact with her and their
children for the rest of his life.
Mahatma Gandhi’s wife, Kasturba, picked up the same
scarce dietary habits at home as he did while
imprisoned, he wrote "I am not in a position to
come and nurse you. If it is destined that you should
die, I think it is preferable that you should go before
a drunken, jealous rage, F. Scott Fitzgerald pointed a
gun at girlfriend Sheilah (her response: "Take it
and shoot yourself, you son of a b----. I didn’t pull
myself out of the gutter to waste my life on a drunk
list goes on.
while much of the book resonates with the wide range of
horrors these women went through at the hands of their
lovers, its focus is their own strength and power that
inspired change to the world.
Hitchcock suggested, against her husband’s wishes,
that Janet Leigh perish in the first third of
"Psycho," and that the infamous shower scene
include music (Alfred wanted silence).
Dali often dictated what her painter husband Salvador
she never received credit, Mileva Einstein collaborated
with husband Albert on the theory of relativity.
list goes on, too.
times the cheekiness of the commentary can be a bit
off-putting (Of Albert and Mileva Einstein’s
relationship: "It was not love at first sight, but
it was a meeting of minds — akin to E meeting
mc2."). And in the chapter on Pamela Courson,
girlfriend of The Doors’ Jim Morrison, the author
refers to the couples that are interred in the eerily
romantic Pere Lachaise in Paris, including Abelard and
Heloise, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (the one
lesbian couple featured in the book) and Simone de
Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre — the last of which is
false; they are buried side by side at Montparnasse.
distractions aside, the book’s easily digestible
format of short chapters noting the highs and lows of
these women’s lives is attention-grabbing and
enlightening, proving that although we might not know
their stories, we should.
the issue of gender equality, we may not be there yet,
as Sunday’s video reminds us. But giving a voice to
women like these is a vital step.