NBC Insider Exclusive

Create a free profile to get unlimited access to exclusive show news, updates, and more!

Sign Up For Free to View
NBC Insider Oppenheimer

The Real Life Story of Kitty and Robert Oppenheimer, and the Scandalous Beginning of Their Marriage

The relationship between Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer had all the drama in real life as it does on the silver screen.

By James Grebey

Christopher Nolan’s new film, Oppenheimer (now streaming exclusively on Peacock), is a breathtaking biopic that tells the story of the titular J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the man primarily responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb. While the majority of the three-hour film focuses on the invention of the bomb in the deserts of New Mexico and the (metaphorical) fallout from the Trinity Test, Oppenheimer’s personal life is depicted, too, including his marriage with his wife, Kitty (Emily Blunt). And, their marriage had all the drama in real life as it did on the silver screen. 

Inside the Real Life Marriage Between Robert and Kitty Oppenheimer

Kitty Puening, Before She Met Robert

Katherine "Kitty" Vissering Puening was born in Germany on August 8, 1910. When she was nearly 3, her family emigrated to the United States where they settled outside of Pittsburg. She grew up speaking German and English, eventually going to college and traveling to Germany to study in 1930. That’s where she met the first of her four husbands, an American music student named Frank Ramseyer. This marriage was annulled in 1933. 

RELATED: The True Story of Oppenheimer’s First Love, Jean Tatlock, And How She Shaped His Views

At a New Year’s Eve party in 1933, Kitty met her second husband, Joseph Dallet, Jr., the Dartmouth-educated son of a prominent businessman. Four years prior, Dallet had joined the Communist Party of the United States, and after they got a common-law marriage, Kitty joined as well. They separated in 1936, but upon learning that her mother had been hiding Dallet’s letters to her, Kitty set out to follow him to Spain, where Dallet was volunteering to fight against fascists in the Spanish Civil War. They met up in France, but before Kitty could join him on the front lines in Spain, Dallet was killed. 

Upon returning to the United States, Kitty enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania to continue her studies, eventually meeting Richard Stewart Harrison, a medical doctor. They were wed in 1938 and moved to Pasadena, California. That’s where she met J. Robert Oppenheimer. 

How Did the Oppenheimer's Marriage Begin?

A scene from Christopher Nolan's "Oppenhiemer"

As seen in Oppenheimer, the pair met at a party and soon began having an affair. This was after Oppenheimer had broken up with Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), and he was dating around. Oppenheimer invited Kitty and her husband to join him for the summer at his New Mexico ranch, Perro Caliente, but Harrison declined. In 1940, Kitty became pregnant, and she and Harrison amicably divorced. She married Oppenheimer on November 2, 1940, and their son Peter was born the next year on May 12. 

RELATED: Why Did Oppenheimer Say, "Now I am Death, the Destroyer of Worlds" And What Did it Mean?

The Oppenheimers did indeed leave their baby son with their friends, the Chevaliers, though they retook custody of the boy before heading to New Mexico for the Manhattan Project. Kitty became pregnant again and had the couple’s second child, a girl named Katherine, on December 7, 1944. Though not depicted in the movie, Kitty left Los Alamos with Peter in April of 1945 and stayed with her parents, citing depression. She left her daughter in the care of another couple at Los Alamos who had recently lost their own son, though Kitty and Peter returned in July of 1945 before the Trinity Test. 

What Happened to Kitty After Robert Died?

After the end of World War II, Kitty remained with Oppenheimer, moving to New Jersey when he accepted Lewis Strauss’ offer to be director of the Institute for Advanced Study. An alcoholic, Kitty somewhat frequently injured herself or drank and took pills to the point where she was unwell. 

They remained together until the end (and Kitty held grudges her husband seemingly could not, as she didn’t shake Edward Teller’s hand as depicted in the film). Oppenheimer died of cancer in February of 1967. After his death, Kitty began seeing Robert Serber, the recently widowed friend of the Oppenheimers since their days in Pasadena and through the Manhattan Project. In 1972, they bought a yacht and intended to sail to Japan via the Panama Canal, but Kitty became ill during the voyage and died of an embolism in Panama City on October 27, 1972. Serber and her daughter scattered her ashes near where they’d scattered Oppenheimer’s ashes. 

How To Stream Oppenheimer?

Oppenheimer is now streaming exclusively on Peacock alongside a slew of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

The NBCUniversal platform currently offers two monthly subscription plans: Premium ($5.99 a month with ads) and Premium Plus ($11.99 a month with no ads and download access for certain titles). If you're a student, you can enjoy the Premium plan for just $1.99 for an entire year!

Looking for some theatrical action in the meantime? The HoldoversMy Big Fat Greek Wedding 3The Exorcist: BelieverFast XRuby Gillman, Teenage KrakenFive Nights at Freddy's, and Strays are all streaming on Peacock!

Originally published Jul 25, 2023.