Siblings Who Shaped History

Siblings Who Shaped History

National Siblings Day is April 10, and to mark the occasion, we've created a collection of some of the sisters and brothers who have achieved prominence or even shaped history in entertainment, aviation, sports, and music. From the highbrow of the Barrymores to the laughably lowbrow of the Marx Brothers, from the aeronautical (the Wright Brothers) to the athletic (the Williams Sisters), these are siblings who have definitely hit the heights—and a handful of them even wrote for Guideposts!

Who are your favorite famous (or perhaps not-so-famous) siblings? Tell us in the comments below!

  • Guideposts: Twin brothers Mark and Scott Kelly, the only siblings to have traveled in outer space

    Mark and Scott Kelly

    Astronauts are few enough in number to be considered pretty special people, but twin brothers Scott and Mark Kelly are rare even among this elite crowd: They are the only pair of siblings to have ever undertaken space travel.

    Scott's first spacelight came in 1999, when he was a member of the crew on the Space Shuttle Discovery's third mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. His second spacelight was a mission commander on a 12-day Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station in 2007. His first long-duration spaceflight lasted from October 2010-March 2011; he arrived to the ISS via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and took over command of the station just over six weeks later.

    Beginning March 27, 2015,  Scott spent nearly 11 months aboard the ISS, in the process setting the record for the total accumulated number of days spent in space by an American astronaut (382).

    Mark Kelly was a naval aviator who flew combat missions during the Gulf War. He was selected to be a Space Shuttle pilot in 1996 and piloted his first mission in 2001. He piloted a second shuttle mission in 2006 and commanded two more in 2008 and 2011. His fourth mission was his final spaceflight and the final mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavor. Mark is married to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, an author and aerospace executive and consultant.

  • Guideposts: Serena (left) and Vanessa Williams following a doubles match

    Venus and Serena Williams

    Venus and Serena Williams, born just fifteen months apart, are two of the greatest players in the history of women's professional tennis. The talented siblings are competitive but also supportive of each other, cheering each other on when they are competing individually.  They have met in eight Grand Slam singles finals.

    Venus, the elder sister, was first ranked no. 1 in the world in February 2002, with Serena reaching the top of the rankings just over four months later, but it's the younger Serena who, so far, has had the more accomplished career. She's been ranked no. 1 in the world six times and holds 36 major titles: 21 in singles, 13 in doubles and two in mixed doubles. In 2002 and 2014, she held all four major singles titles simultaneously. Venus is certainly no slacker, however, with 22 Grand Slam titles: seven in singles, 13 in doubles and two in mixed doubles.

    Read Serena's story!

  • Guideposts: The Manning brothers, Peyton (left) and Eli (right), pose with their father, Archie (center)

    Peyton and Eli Manning

    It could be argued the Mannings are the first family of football—they're the first family of quarterbacks, in any case. After all, father Archie enjoyed a stellar collegiate career at QB for Ole Miss—he's in the College Football Hall of Fame—and played 16 years in the NFL. But his accomplishments have been surpassed by two of his sons, Peyton and Eli.

    Peyton, Manning's middle son (the eldest, Cooper, was forced to give up football when he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis in 1982), played for the University of Tenneesee and was the first selection in the 1998 NFL Draft. He spent most of his career with the Indianapolis Colts, where he compiled passing stats that rank him among the best in the history of the game. Peyton led the Colts to a Super Bowl victory in 2007, and after signing with Denver in 2012, he led the Broncos to a Super Bowl 50 victory in 2016. A five-time league MVP, Peyton is now retired from football.

    Not to be outdone, Archie's youngest son, Eli, has made his own mark as a quarterback. He followed in his father's footsteps in playing for Ole Miss, and matched Peyton in being drafted No. 1 in the 2004 NFL Draft by the San Diego Chargers, who traded him that same day to the New York Giants for QB Philip Rivers. Like Peyton, Eli has two Super Bowls victories to his credit, both over the New England Patriots, in 2008 and 2012. He was named the MVP of both Super Bowls he's appeared in.

    Read Archie's story!

  • Guideposts: (clockwise from lower left) Chico, Zeppo, Groucho and Harpo

    The Marx Brothers

    The Marx Brothers were a quartet of siblings that rose from a humble New York upbringing to be legends of comedy whose movies still delight audiences around the world. Leonard (Chico), Arthur (Harpo), who was born Adolph but changed his name, Julius (Groucho), Milton (Gummo) and Herbert (Zeppo) were raised in the immigrant neighborhood of Yorkville in Manhattan. They began as a singing act in vaudeville, but soon began to integrate comedy into their act. Gummo, whose heart wasn't in show business, left the act to serve in World War I, and Zeppo stepped in as a replacement straight man to his trio of zany brothers.

    The Brothers made their Broadway debut in 1924 in I'll Say She Is and followed that up with The Cocoanuts and Animal Crackers, which were adapted into their first two pictures. They would make 13 movies together, though Zeppo stepped away from the act after their fifth, Duck Soup. The three remaining brothers would each continue working as long as they lived. Groucho went on to success as a comedic quiz master on the game show You Bet Your Life, Chico led a big band and continued to play his Italian character in movies and television, and the silent brother, Harpo (who could speak perfectly well in real life), did guest spots and appeared in commercials for television.

  • Guideposts: Orville (left) and Wilbur Wright

    The Wright Brothers

    Orville and Wilbur Wright were the ambitious brothers who made the key breakthrough in making it possible for men to fly. To take advantage of the cycling craze that had overtaken the country, the two Midwesterners (Wilbur was born in Indiana in 1867, Orville in Ohio four years later) opened a sales-and-service bike shop in 1892, eventually manufacturing their own brand of bicycles.

    Soon thereafter, spurred by coverage of gliding experiments undertaken by German aviator Otto Lilienthal, the Wrights began to take an interest in aeronautics. After some study, they began to experiment, practicing gliding first to gain a familiarity with controlling a glider before undertaking mechanized flight, in contrast to other would-be pioneers of the day who were attaching motors to their flying devices without a clear understanding of how they would control them once in the air (assuming they managed to get aloft).

    Having approached the design of their flying machine with caution and patience, the Wright Brothers, having relocated to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1900, and it was there, on December 17, 1903, that the Brothers made two flights each. There were five witnesses on hand to watch as, at 10:35 a.m.,  Orville made the inaugural flight of 120 feet in 12 seconds (a speed of 6.8 miles per hour), a brief air journey that changed history.

  • Guideposts: Comic siblings Jerry and Dick Van Dyke

    Jerry and Dick Van Dyke

    Dick and Jerry Van Dyke have both enjoyed successful careers as actors. Elder brother Dick may have achieved greater fame, but Jerry, six years Dick's junior, is no slouch in that department.

    These midwestern siblings—Dick was born in West Plains, Missouri; Jerry in Danville, Illinois—both specialized in comedic roles, but they followed different paths to stardom. Dick left high school in 1944 to enlist in the military, hoping to qualify for pilot training, but he came in under the weight requirement. He finally was accepted into the Special Services, serving as a radio announcer and entertaining troops stateside. After the war, Dick worked as a radio DJ and in a comedy duo that toured the West Coast before making his Broadway debut in 1959. He was awarded the lead role of Albert Peterson in Bye Bye Birdie in 1960, and the acclaim that role brought him led to such successes as the popular sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show and the Disney classic Mary Poppins, and Dick hasn't slowed down since.

    Jerry was already working as a standup comic during his high school years and after graduating, he too joined the military, performing at military bases around the world. He made his television debut as a guest star on The Dick Van Dyke Show (he played Rob Petry's brother, Stacey, in several episodes). That led to a stint as a game show host and a number of movie roles. He turned down the role of Gilligan on Gilligan's Island but accepted the lead role on the infamously bad sitcom of the same era, My Mother the Car. Thereafter he continued working as a standup comic and performing in guest spots on a number of television shows.

    In 1989, Van Dyke accepted the supporting role of Luther Van Dam, a slightly addled college football coach, on the long-running series Coach, earning four Emmy nominations in the process. He remains active today, making guest appearances on a wide variety of television shows.

    Read Dick's story!

  • Guideposts: Sisters Olivia de Havilland (left) and Joan Fontaine

    Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland

    There have been any number of sets of sisters who forged successful careers in motion pictures—Natasha and Joely Richardson, Constance and Joan Bennett,  Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave—but perhaps the most acclaimed thespian sisters of them all are Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland.

    Fontaine and de Havilland were born in Tokyo, Japan, to British parents, Lillian Augusta, a  successful stage actress, and Walter Augustus de Havilland, a Cambridge-educated English professor and patent attorney. Between them, the two actresses are credited with more than 90 feature films, dozens of television appearances, eight Academy Award nominations and three Best Actress Oscars. Not to mention 195 years (and counting) of living—Fontaine passed away in 2013 at the age of 96 and de Havilland, who resides in Paris, France, is still going strong at 99.

    Read Joan's story!

  • Guideposts: George (left) and Ira Gershwin

    George and Ira Gershwin

    Though composer George Gershwin and his lyricist brother, Ira, both worked with other people, they are understandably connected in the minds of the public. With their run of theatrical hits in the 1920s and '30s, they gave Broadway musicals a new level of sophistication.

    Their parents, of Russian and Ukrainian Jewish descent, migrated to New York City as young adults—mother Roza (later Rose) first; father Moishe (later Morris) followed—and they were married soon thereafter. They changed the family name from Gershowitz to Gershwine, a spelling that George changed after his musical career was underway. Ira was the firstborn (of five) to the family, with George arriving nearly two years later.

    The brothers' Broadway collaborations began in 1924 with Lady Be Good, followed by Oh, Kay! (1926), Funny Face (1927), Show Girl (1929), Strike Up the Band (1930), Girl Crazy (1930), Of Thee I Sing (1931) (the first musical comedy to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama), Pardon My English (1933) and Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933).

    In 1937, George, who had branched out into classical compositions in 1924 with Rhapsody in Blue, began to experience headaches and mood swings. No medical cause was found until George collapsed into a coma. Doctors then realized he was afflicted with a brain tumor, but emergency surgery was unsuccessful and he died on July 11, 1937, at the age of 38.

    Ira waited nearly three years before working again, but he went on to collaborate successfully with the likes of Jerome Kern, Kurt Weill and Harold Arlen. He died in 1983. 

    In 2007, the United States Library of Congress named its annual Prize for Popular Song after the brothers Gershwin.

  • Guideposts: Swinging, singing siblings The Andrews Sisters (L-R Maxene, Patty, LaVerne)

    The Andrews Sisters

    The Andrews Sisters sold well over 75 million records and enjoyed 113 charted Billboard hits. Forty-six of those records reached Top 10 status—that's more than Elvis Presley or the Beatles.

    These close-harmonizing siblings were born in Mound, Minnesota, with LaVerne arriving first, Maxene following five years later and Patty two years after that. Their family name, Andreos (their father was Greek, their mother Norwegian), was later anglicized to Andrews.

    Patty was just seven years old when the trio was formed; five years later, they won a talent contest at Minneapolis' Orpheum theatre, where LaVerne earned money by playing piano to accompany the silent movies of the day. When their father, a restarauteur, lost his business, the girls went on tour to support the family. They initially imitated another popular trio of singing siblings, the Boswell Sisters, but by the late 1930s, they'd created a sound that was their own; by the 1940s, they were a national sensation.

    The sisters were very active in support of the war effort during World War II, entertained Allied troops in the United States, Africa and Italy, visiting military bases, war zones, hospitals, and munitions factories; they also recorded songs during those years that were meant to lift the spirits of troops fighting overseas, among them Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, (I'll Be with You) in Apple Blossom Time, Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree, Here Comes the Navy, and Hot Time in the Town of Berlin, recorded with Bing Crosby (who had a famous sibling of his own, bandleader and crooner Bob Crosby).

  • Guideposts: Ethel, John and Lionel Barrymore (l to r)

    The Barrymores

    Actors Lionel, Ethel and John Barrymore carried on a family theatrical tradition that extended back for generations and continues today with the successful career of John's granddaughter, Drew Barrymore. All three of the siblings were born in Philadelphia (in 1879, 1879 and 1882, respectively) to actors Maruice Barrymore and Georgiana Drew. Neither John nor Lionel initially had a desire to be in the theatre—they would both have preferred to be painters—but it seemed destiny had other plans for them. 

    Even Ethel was driven to act against her wishes, in a sense, when her mother died from tuberculosis when Ethel was just 14, and she and older brother Lionel were forced to seek work. Two years later, Ethel made her Broadway debut at 16 in a play called The Imprudent Young Couple. Lionel, too, was acting in his teens, appearing with his grandmother Louisa Lane Drew in a production of The Rivals at 15. His Broadway debut came a few years later when he appeared in plays with his uncle John Drew Jr.

    John appeared on stage with his father in 1900 and with Ethel the following year before beginning his theatrical career in earnest in 1903. His work in such Shakespeare tragedies as Richard III and Hamlet led to him being pronounced by many as the greatest living American tragedian.

    All three Barrymores eventually enjoyed long and successful careers in motion pictures, though Ethel devoted most of the 1920s and '30s to the stage, appearing in just one full-length motion pictures during those decades.

    Read Lionel's story!

Comments

Slideshow Library