Few would argue that Alfred Hitchcock, Jackson Pollock and Fyodor Dostoyevsky were not natural-born artists, greats within their respective media. Even creative geniuses, however, have collaborators.
Whether talented artists in their own respect, or invaluable professional contributors and personal support systems to their partners, husbands or fathers, the women behind some of the most accomplished creative forces in history not only lived most of their lives in quiet collusion, but have spent much of history behind the curtains of their man's fame. Proper credit is far past due.
A Google search on "Zelda Fitzgerald" yields more results for "F. Scott Fitzgerald" and "F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald" than it does for the woman herself - telling for a woman who was, for most of her life, and even after her death, thought of merely as an extension of her acclaimed husband.
However, Zelda Sayre was far more than the glamorous side of a Fitzgerald power couple. She was an Alabamian rebel and a creative spirit who danced, painted, and wrote copiously. Indeed, her talent was such that her own husband plagiarized her work, lifting exact words from the pages of Zelda's diaries for dialogue in The Beautiful and the Damned and even writing down the words she spoke to use for his character Rosalind Connage in This Side of Paradise. Though Zelda's own creative work gained little recognition, F. Scott's prosperous career would not have been so without the (often unintentional) contributions of his wife.
Her legacy marred by a tragic suicide stemming from her husband's betrayal, the youngest daughter of Karl Marx was a powerful force in European politics and literature in the decades preceding her demise. One of the first members of the Social Democratic Federation, Eleanor Marx was an ardent organizer, writer and orator for the cause.
Karl Marx saw much of himself in Eleanor, but his daughter argued, vehemently, for something on which he was mostly silent - the rights of women workers. Eleanor Marx was an early proponent of a feminist socialism; though her depression and heartbreak ultimately overwhelmed such theoretical and practical passions, she left a lasting mark on the movement she inherited from her father, who left her the significant task of translating Das Kapital into English when he died.
In speaking to the New York Times about why she published so little work over such a long period of time, author Lorrie Moore explained that she doesn't know very many men who are teaching, writing and raising kids at the same time, and that "writers all need Vera." Moore was, of course, referring to the legendary Vera Nabokov, assistant, editor, secretary, translator, archivist, teaching assistant and wife of Vladimir Nabokov. Though Vera's unparalleled spousal commitment left little time for her to dedicate to her own work, even the most serious of Nabokov devotees cannot praise the Russian author without giving due credit to Vera, without whom his magnum opus would have burned in a trashcan.
Dismissed throughout history as spoiled and jealous, a woman who contributed to an infamously troubled marriage, as well as the death of her husband, literary genius Leo Tolstoy, Sophia Tolstaya was a much more complex human than her critics have opined. It's hard to believe that anyone would have time for the arts, or anything at all, while raising 13 children, but Sophia took on the role of mother and housekeeper, in addition to secretary, literary agent and photographer.
Though some of Tolstoy's success has been attributed to the tireless work (in the form of copying manuscripts) to Sophia, the author of her biography, Alexandra Popoff, says Sophia's involvement in his work was huge and that she still doesn't receive enough credit for the emotional support she lent to her frequently and severely depressed husband. Indeed, Popoff says, "Sophia was central to Tolstoy’s creativity and it is impossible to imagine his life and works without her."
Fyodor Dostoyevsky had already published two novels by the time he married Anna Grigoryevna Snitkina, but he was living in debt and grappling with the emotional turmoil of losing his first wife and falling in love with another woman who refused to marry him. Thus did Anna pick up the pieces: She took over his finances, opened a bookstore, read and critiqued his manuscripts, all the while becoming one of the first women in Russia to seriously pursue philately (the study of stamps). By the time Dostoyevsky died, he was free from debt and had dedicated Brothers Karamazov to his partner in all things. Anna continued to collect photographs, letters and manuscripts after his death and eventually published his biography, as well as her own memoir.
Alfred Hitchcock, considered by many to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, has a Wikipedia page dedicated solely to the awards he amasses, both in life and in death. Not mentioned on the page, however, is the woman who contributed to every single one of his films (most notably, Psycho) - his wife, Alma Reville. Besides being Hitchcock's primary sounding board and the only person to whom he conceded the final word when it came to creating his films, Reville was an editor, producer, director and screenwriter herself.
In accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, Hitchcock concluded:
"I beg to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, encouragement and constant collaboration. The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter, Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracle in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville."
Technically, Margaret Keane's former husband Walter Keane was not a great male artist. But his proven lack of painting skills didn't stop him from laying claim to Margaret's work until the day he died. Abhorred by art critics but adored by the public, Margaret Keane was the force behind the Big Eye paintings sold by the millions throughout the 1960s.
Despite the grueling hours Margaret spent locked up inside painting, Walter took full credit for her work, and it wasn't until 1970, years after they divorced, that Margaret finally went to the press with the truth. Though she won $4 million in damages after taking the charming liar to court, he had already spent the entire fortune. Nonetheless, Margaret told The New York Times that it's "a blessing" to finally be able to sign her own paintings.
Though she was romantically involved with Wassily Kandinsky for over a decade, Gabriele Münter was not just a mistress who happened to paint; she was a founding member of the avant-garde Neue Künstlervereinigung (New Artists' Association). Along with Kandinsky and Franz Marc, she helped form the Expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). Though some of the works of the Der Blaue Reiter were lost to the Nazis, Münter recovered many of them when she returned to Germany after World War II. Despite a period of inactivity during the war and following the end of her relationship with Kandinsky, Münter began painting again and with her partner founded the Münter Eichner Foundation.
Perhaps a well known name in the art world, Lee Krasner does not prompt the kind of recognition in the rest of the world as does, say, her husband, Jackson Pollock. A leader during the peak of Abstract Expressionism, the immensely talented painter lived much of her life in the shadows of Pollock - as Mrs. Jackson Pollock throughout his career and as Mr. Jackson Pollock's widow afterwards.
A fiercely independent and self-critical artist, Lee Krasner was largely ignored by the male-dominated art scene. For many years she sacrificed her own work to care for her alcoholic and self-destructive husband, but lived to see a retrospective of her work at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, as well as the early plans for a retrospective at MoMA, which took place shortly after she died.