Netflix's Documentary "A Secret Love" Tells the Story of a 72-Year Romance (2022)

  • A Secret Love, a new Netflix documentary, profiles Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue, who met in 1947 and were together for over 70 years.
  • Donahue played for the baseball team that inspired A League of Their Own.
  • A Secret Love was made by Henschel and Donahue's great-nephew, Chris Bolan.

Warning: Contains spoilers for A Secret Love.

Our advice? Don't watch A Secret Love, a new Netflix documentary out April 29, without tissues. Lots of them. In the exquisite documentary, produced by Hollywood's Ryan Murphy, Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue reflect on their six decades together. For much of that time, Henschel and Donahue kept their relationship a secret. They felt they had no other choice.

Henschel and Donahue, who affectionally call each other nicknames like "my honey," throughout the film, began dating in 1947, a time when lesbians were arrested in bar raids and homosexuality was practically verboten. They lived discreetly as a couple in Chicago for decades.

"We didn't think we were brave. We thought we were living a normal, happy, pleasant life. It was very easy, because we were so happy, and so glad to be together," Henschel tells OprahMag.com.

Netflix's Documentary "A Secret Love" Tells the Story of a 72-Year Romance (1)

Filmed over the course of four years, and directed by Donahue's great-nephew, Chris Bolan, A Secret Love captures a bittersweet truth for the couple. At the same moment they could finally live openly, life became harder than ever. As the documentary explores, before she passed away last year, Donahue, once a professional athlete, could hardly hold an object due to complications from Parkinson's Disease. Henschel, four years Donahue's junior, was pressured by her partner's large family to move to a nursing home–but didn't want to lose their hard-won independence.

After living as a couple for decades, breaking societal norms for the sake of their own happiness, Henschel and Donahue confronted a challenge not even they could surmount: Aging.

In A Secret Love, the couple voyages into the final phase of their relationship–side-by-side, as always. Here's what you need to know about the true story that inspired A Secret Love.

Netflix's Documentary "A Secret Love" Tells the Story of a 72-Year Romance (2)

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Pat Henschel and Terry Donahue began dating in 1947.

The couple got together in an era when queer relationships were largely secret, at best—and dangerous, at worst. "In the '40s, you had to be very careful," Donahue explained in the documentary.

The women both grew up in Saskatchewan, a province of Canada, and met while playing ice hockey in Moose Jaw, Canada. At the time, Donahue, then 22, was spending most of her days in the U.S. as a catcher for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Netflix's Documentary "A Secret Love" Tells the Story of a 72-Year Romance (3)

Before meeting each other, Donahue and Henschel dated men. In fact, Henschel had even been engaged. But they knew what they felt for one another right away: "True love," Henschel, who was 18 when she met Donahue, says.

The couple moved to Chicago, where they lived for most of their lives. There, they also amassed a group of friends, mostly in the LGBTQ community, with whom they could be themselves. "We had incredibly wonderful friends. We just loved them," Henschel says.

Netflix's Documentary "A Secret Love" Tells the Story of a 72-Year Romance (4)

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They were in their 80s when they opened up to their family.

Less than a decade ago, when Donahue was in her late 80s, she finally told her sprawling family in Canada the truth about her relationship with Henschel. Bolan recalls the moment his great-aunts got candid with him.

"We were having a rum and coke in the living room, and they said, 'We have something to tell you: 'We're gay,'" Bolan tells OprahMag.com. "There was a pause, and I said, 'I think this is wonderful.' They felt comfortable by my reaction. The floodgates opened, and they proceeded to tell me all these stories."

From that moment on, Bolan, an actor, wanted to turn their story into a film, even if his great-aunts didn't quite understand his enthusiasm. "They genuinely feel like they lived their true lives—what's so interesting about that?" Bolan says. "But throughout the film, we see why it's such a powerful story."

Netflix's Documentary "A Secret Love" Tells the Story of a 72-Year Romance (5)

Pat Henschel, Terry Donahue, and Diana Bolan

Terry Donahue's career inspired the movie A League of Their Own.

A Secret Love isn't the first time Donahue's life has gotten the big screen treatment. She was part of the all-women's baseball league that inspired the 1992 movie A League of Their Own. According to Bolan, she also served as a consultant for the film.

Donahue was a catcher and utility midfielder for the Peoria Redwings, a team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The league, which existed from 1943 to 1954, was formed by baseball execs as a response to WWII. While the majority of men were fighting overseas, women kept the ball game going.

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And yes, Donahue and her teammates really did wear those short skirts and tunics seen in A League of Their Own.

Terry Donahue passed away in 2019.

Terry died at a nursing home in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada at the age of 93. She and Henschel were together for 72 years.

Henschel is still alive, and lives in a nursing home in Canada. She and Donahue's niece, Diana Bolan, often think of how Donahue would process the documentary's release. "Terry would be surprised and pleased, and happy to know that it's happening," Henschel says. "She'd say, I'm glad I was a part of this."

Netflix's Documentary "A Secret Love" Tells the Story of a 72-Year Romance (6)

Before she passed, Donahue was able to see an early version of the documentary. "Auntie Terry's blue eyes just beamed. She chuckled and said, 'I can't believe anybody would be interested in our life!' She was so thrilled, and just kept chuckling," Diana tells OprahMag.com.

They remained madly in love their entire lives.

Diana was with the couple frequently after they moved to Canada, and can attest to their unending affection. "They were so close. It was such a strong love. I've never seen anything like it, ever," she says.

Their bond is also evident throughout the documentary, where they share constant compliments and kisses. A Secret Life even features their wedding.

Netflix's Documentary "A Secret Love" Tells the Story of a 72-Year Romance (7)

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"The world needs examples like this, whether you're gay or straight," producer Brandon Mason tells us.

Filmmakers think A Secret Love is a universal story.

A Secret Love pairs Henschel and Donahue's extraordinary romance with the struggles of aging and caring for elderly loved ones. "We have these two remarkable, independent women who relied on no one their entire lives, who now had to look to other people to help them," Mason says.

"Every single human being is dealing, or will deal, with somebody in their lives getting older. That is very emotional," producer Alexa L. Fogel adds.

By profiling his great-aunts, Bolan hopes A Secret Love combats "major ageism" in the U.S.

"We highlight these two beautiful women who are in their late 80s and early 90s—but they are relevant. And they are important. And they do have something to say. They don't need to be put away and forgotten about. They need to be celebrated," Bolan says.

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Elena Nicolaou

Elena Nicolaou is the former culture editor at Oprah Daily.

This content is imported from OpenWeb. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

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FAQs

Is A Secret Love based on a true story? ›

"A Secret Love" is the true story of a long-lasting romance between two women, Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, who kept their relationship a secret for almost 70 years.

What is the documentary A Secret Love about? ›

Is A Secret Love still on Netflix? ›

Ryan Murphy serves as a producer on the film, while Jason Blum serves as an executive producer under his Blumhouse Productions banner. It stars Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel. It was released on April 29, 2020, by Netflix.
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A Secret Love
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Are Terry and Pat still alive? ›

The documentary arrives with a bittersweet air, having followed Pat and Terry from 2013 to 2018. Sadly in 2019, Terry passed away at the age of 93 after battling Parkinson's disease at the end of her life. In 2017, the couple moved to Saskatchewan, Canada, where Pat still lives now.

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