• Weird History

13 Extremely Unexpected Friendships Between Historical Figures

Everyone knows that opposites attract. It's (at least initially) true for romantic relationships, and it's also sometimes true for friendships. There's a whole trove of odd couples from history that continue to spark people's imaginations. But, would you ever think that an award-winning playwright and a professional wrestler would hang out together? How about a porn magazine editor and a televangelist? Or a Jewish American soldier and a Nazi pilot? 

Well, all of those things actually happened—and much more. Let's take a look at some of the strangest pairs of friends throughout history.

  • Joe Louis and Max Schmeling are both members of the international boxing hall of fame. The two had a largely symbolic rivalry during the 1930s. Louis was one of America’s first famous Black athletes, and Schmeling was a German who had an undesirable fan, Adolf Hitler.

    Schmeling defeated Louis in 1936 and found himself exalted as an Aryan hero. Their 1938 rematch was viewed by the rest of the world as a clash between Americanism and Nazism. Louis won that match.

    But neither of these two athletes really wanted to be associated with the symbolism that was forced upon them. They reconnected after World War II and remained close friends for the rest of their lives. Schmeling even helped pay for Louis’s funeral when he passed away in 1981.

  • Apparently, Helen Keller was really good at networking. In addition to Alexander Graham Bell, she also had a close friendship with prolific author Samuel Clemens, AKA Mark Twain.

    Twain and Keller met by pure chance. Keller had been invited to the home of another American writer, Laurence Hutton, when she was only 14 years old. During Keller’s visit, Twain and his friend author William Dean Howells stopped by.

    Twain was in his late 50s at the time, but he and Keller still became good friends. When Keller published her autobiography at the age of 22, Twain wrote her a letter to tell her how much he loved it.

  • The fact that John F. Kennedy and Frank Sinatra were friends isn’t that surprising in and of itself. It’s the nature of their friendship that is pretty shocking.

    According to The Kennedy Half Century, a book by University of Virginia politics professor Larry Sabato, the Kennedy family was connected to a Chicago mob boss named Sam Giancana. Joseph P. Kennedy, JFK’s father, solicited Giancana’s help in scoring a victory for his son in the 1960 primary election. (Giancana was able to help because he had heavy influence over the votes of union workers.)

    So how does Frank Sinatra fit into this? Sinatra served as the middle man between the Kennedys and Giancana, relaying communications between the two of them. Sinatra’s daughter, Tina, confirmed this story in 2000.

  • T.S. Eliot was a British poet and playwright most famous for his poem, “The Wasteland.” Groucho Marx was a comedian, one of the five members of the famous act, The Marx Brothers.

    The unlikely duo became friends only a few years before Eliot passed away after Eliot wrote to Marx in 1961, saying he was a fan and asking for an autographed photo. Marx fulfilled the request and asked for the same from Eliot. The two would write letters to each other for the next few years, until Marx finally came over to Eliot’s house for dinner in 1964.

    Eliot and Marx had a bit of a testy relationship. For example, Eliot promised Marx that he would hang his autographed photo on his wall next to those of his other esteemed friends like W.B. Yeats, but he maybe didn't actually hang up, which led to a feisty exchange between the two. It’s unclear how much the two “friends” really cared about each other.