Star of the Golden Age
Carole Lombard (born 6 October 1908) was one of the top stars of the 1930s. In fact, she was the highest-paid star in Hollywood for a while. She was a lovely, gifted actress who could do romance, drama and comedy. While her name has become associated with tragedy due to her untimely passing at age 33, during her life she was a prototype comedienne.
|Carole Lombard for Dynamite, 1929.|
In fact, Lucille Ball, then a serious dramatic actress, later became the world's favorite female screwball comic after claiming that Lombard came to her in a dream and told her to take "I Love Lucy."
Aside from her acting, one of Carole's greatest talents was taking some of the most sophisticated glamour photos ever create in Hollywood, before or since. Some would say that she was the original glamour girl. However, Carole was a simple girl at heart who had few pretensions about glamour or Tinseltown.
Oh, and she was married to that Clark Gable guy.
Let's take a tour of the life of the fabulous Carole Lombard.
Carole's original name was Jane Alice Peters, and she was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Carole moved to Los Angeles in 1914 after her parents separated. She lived near Venice Boulevard.
Carole starred in some of the top screwball comedies of the 1930s, most notably "My Man Godfrey." In all, she starred in 55 films, beginning in 1921.
|This and the next photo, apparently taken on the same set and quite possibly on the same day, show the two extremely different sides of Carole Lombard.|
Carole was second cousin of legendary director Howard Hawks ("Sergeant York"). However, she got into the film industry on her own when director Allan Dwan chose her for a role in "A Perfect Crime" (1921).
Not long after, Carole signed a contract with Fox Film Corporation at age 16. She was dropped by Fox after she was in a 1925 car accident that affected her appearance.
Carole kept working at bit parts, and finally got another contract, this time with Paramount, in 1930.
While Carole was in many films as a leading lady in the early 1930s, she did not become a true top star until "Twentieth Century" in 1934. It was directed by... Howard Hawks.
"Twentieth Century" was a classic screwball comedy, and that became Carole's forte. In fact, her very last film released in 1942, "To Be Or Not To Be," also was a screwball comedy.
Carole was a busy girl in 1932, starring in five films. The most significant was "No Man of Her Own," a romantic comedy that starred Clark Gable. It was the only time Gable and Lombard ever appeared on screen together, and it has become a cult clsssic due to its highly suggestive scenes.
Carole was married to actor William Powell while working with Gable, who reportedly did not impress her. She claimed that she had a hard time keeping a straight face while working with him, and after the production she sent him a canned ham to show what she thought of him.
After her divorce from Powell and the death of another fiancé, singer Russ Columbo, in a tragic accident in 1934, she changed her mind about Gable and accepted his proposal.
|As shown by Carole's prominence in this poster, she already was considered a hot property by 1927.|
Gable and Lombard's actual courtship had its share of similarities to the comic nature of "No Man Of Her Own." Shortly before they were involved, Carole reportedly read the 1936 book "Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell. Carole saw herself playing the lead along with Gable and sent him a copy. She attached to it a note reading "Let's do it!" Gable assumed she was referring to something else associated with that phrase and called Carole for a date. When the misunderstanding was quickly cleared up, he refused to even consider starring with her, and kept the copy of the book she had given him thereafter in his bathroom. Ironically, he later did appear as the lead in the film (reportedly to get the funds to pay for the divorce that enabled him to marry Carole), but Carole failed to get the part of Scarlett O'Hara after a legendary casting process. In fact, Gable and Lombard eloped while Gable was in the middle of filming it.
Carole Lombard and Clarke Gable honeymooned at the Barbee Hotel on the Barbee chain of lakes in Kosciusko County, Indiana. Why Indiana? Carole's home state.
|"No Man Of Her Own" (1932) with Gable and Lombard. This particular shot promoted the founding of Hollywood's League of Decency, the "Hayes Commission."|
Hollywood before 1934 was extremely liberal. Bad guys sometimes prevailed in the cinema, and there was an amazing amount of sexual suggestion and provocative situations. All this changed due to the Hayes Commission in 1934, and the Hayes Commission was instigated by the openly romantic flirtations and "hot love scenes" (as she called them) betwixt Carole and Gable in "No Man Of Her Own."
Carole did not need to push the edge to be successful, though. As a mark of Carole's versatility, she even starred in a horror film, "Supernatural," in 1936.
Carole earned an Academy Award nomination for "My Man Godfrey" in 1936.
Carole arranged to work with Alfred Hitchcock in "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (1941). It was a huge success and one of Hitchcock's first jobs in Hollywood. He later became famous for directing pretty young blondes in starring roles, and Lombard was the first.
Gable and Lombard only came to realize their attraction after they met again at a party in 1936. The pair eloped and married in Kingman, Arizona on 29 March 1939, then bought an estate in Encino, California.
|Carole Lombard, Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty, by Edwin Bower Hesser (1928).|
Gable had difficulty arranging the marriage. He was married to another woman, Rhea Langham, and she refused to grant him a divorce. Finally, she accepted a "settlement" of $500k.
Gable and Lombard never had any children, as Carole suffered two miscarriages.
|Gable/Lombard, Shirley Temple, Melvyn Douglas and Charles Laughton in the back - 1941 war benefit.|
Lombard was an adherent of the Bahá'í Faith.
|Carole at the racetrack.|
Carole starred with two other iconic legends in 1939, Cary Grant in "In Name Only" and Jimmy Stewart in "Made For Each Other." Neither could match the film that Gable appeared in that year, however: "Gone With The Wind."
Ernst Lubitsch was Lombard's favorite comedy director, and she decided to appear in his film "To Be Or Not To Be" with Jack Benny. She received top billing. The film was her last, and it was not released until after her death.
"Personally, I resent being tagged ‘glamour girl.’ It’s such an absurd, extravagant label. It implies so much that I’m not." - Carole Lombard
"I enjoy this country. I like the parks and the highways and the good schools and everything that this government does. After all, every cent anybody pays in taxes is spent to benefit him. I don't need $465,000 a year for myself, so why not give what I don't need to the government for improvements of the country. There's no better place to spend it."
Carole on why she wouldn't work with Orson Welles, the "boy wonder of Hollywood":
"I can't win working with Welles. If the picture's a huge hit, he'll get the credit and, if it's a flop, I'll be blamed".Accordingly, Carole turned down a project that Welles had pitched to her, "Smiler With A Knife," which was never made. She made "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" instead, and he dropped his proposed project and instead made "Citizen Kane."
Carole Lombard's philosophy:
"I live by a man's code, designed to fit a man's world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman's first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick."
"I think marriage is dangerous. The idea of two people trying to possess each other is wrong. I don't think the flare of love lasts. Your mind rather than your emotions must answer for the success of matrimony. It must be friendship -- a calm companionship which can last through the years."
While Carole and William Powell's marriage did not last, she respected him highly and worked with him again years after their divorce. She said that Powell "is the only intelligent actor I've ever met."
While Carole married and dated big stars, she was known for being friendly with the crew on her movie sets. In fact, unlike big stars who then had dressing rooms and today have huge trailers, Carole didn't even have a dressing room on any of her films though she easily could have requested one.
|Carole at Christmas during the 1920s.|
Carole's portrayal of scatter-brained society girls in the 1930s led to the creation of the terms "dumb blonde" and "she's so blonde."
|Carole Lombard by Eugene Robert Richee.|
Carole almost worked with Charlie Chaplin in "The Gold Rush" (1925), which would have been a major breakthrough, but her screen test did not win her the role.
|Twenty year old Carole Lombard in Show Folks, 1928.|
While Gable and Lombard married in Arizona and honeymooned in Indiana, legend has it that they spent their wedding night in William Randolph Hearst's castle in San Simeon.
|Carole Lombard at a party at the home of former co-star Ricardo Cortez on her right. Two other former co-stars hover: Cary Grant and Clark Gable. (This is before her involvement with Gable).|
Carole's dog was a dachshund named Commissioner. The dog reportedly did not like him until Carole's death, then grew fond of Gable.
|Carole Lombard in "To be or Not to be" 1942. C. Lombard's costumes by Irene.|
Carole Lombard raised over $2 million in war-bonds in ONE day. After her last event, she was in a plane crash shortly after taking off from Las Vegas on a military transport. Pieces of the wreckage still litter the side of mountain that the plane hit to this day.
Her last words to the public before leaving on a fund-raising flight for the war effort, January 15, 1942:
"Before I say goodbye to you all, come on - join me in a big cheer - 'V for Victory!'"
|Clark Gable and Carole Lombard in No Man Of Her Own (1932).|