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Salute to Carole Lombard

Carole Lombard was born in Fort Wayne IN in 1908. In 1914 she moved to L.A. and at 12 was put in a film after being spotted playing baseball. She got the bug and went looking for more work. She auditioned for Chaplin's The Gold Rush, and at the age of 16 got signed to Fox. She got several bit parts and even one lead, but unfortunately Fox decided to let her contract go. She got a contract with Mack Sennett, but then fate threw her a curveball. She was out on a date a was in a car accident. The windshield shattered and cut her face. She underwent corrective surgery without anesthetic, but still had a scar. She used makeup and lighting and posture to try to hide it. Sennett publicized her curves, looking to get attention from her face to her body.

She enjoyed great success at Pathe, the distributor of the Sennett shorts she played in, eventually getting lead roles. She made another movie at Fox and then went to Paramount. She married William Powell (who besides being in My Man Godfrey with Lombard was the star of the popular Thin Man series of movies) and quickly became very popular for aa run of screwball comedies that she made. Her marriage to Powell didn't last and she later became involved with and married the "king of Hollywood" Clark Gable. She had worked with Gable as far back as the 1920's when they worked together as extras on several films including Ben Hur, and later they were in No Man of Her Own together. She turned down another chance to work with him in It Happened One Night (she also turned down Mr. Deeds Goes To Town and His Girl Friday). 

Lombard tried to get a name for herself as a dramatic actress, but never could quite get any traction that way. The country wanted to see her do comedies. She returned to comedy, helping convince Hitchcock to do a rare comedy. Her last movie was a comedic jab at the Nazis in To Be Or Not To Be. Lombard wanted to help do her part off screen too, so she decided to do a tour to sell war bonds. In Indianapolis she was trying to raise $500,000.00 and raised over 2 million. It was a triumph that was to be short lived unfortunately.

Lombard was with her mother and Gable's PR man on that trip. Her mother had had a premonition and was adamant that they take a train home and not fly. Legend has it that Lombard was worried about Gable beginning an affair with Lana Turner, whom he was filming with at the time, so she wanted to hurry back. She and her mother tossed a coin and Carole won. The boarded a plane, which made a stop in Las Vegas. There was a mountain just outside of Vegas that had it's beacon turned off due to fear that the Japanese might attack. The pilot of the plane didn't see it and flew right into it. Everyone on board died. Gable was grief stricken and wanted to go to the site to look for Carole. His handlers convinced him to stay at a nearby hotel while they searched in his stead. They confirmed the worst.

While many famous actresses have died young and had their stories turned to myth and exaggerated beyond all recognition, somehow Carole Lombard mostly escaped this. Maybe it's because she wasn't the broken, tragic person that so many of the others were. She worked hard and was responsible. She died serving her country by raising money for the war. After her death a grief stricken Gable joined the armed forces and was attached to a film group that went on missions to record bombers. Lombard even had a ship named after her by the Navy, a ship that helped rescue hundreds of soldiers during the war. She was known to be be someone who spent more time with the crew on movie sets than with the other stars, who could cuss a blue streak and had no pretensions, one of the guys as it were. 

It's not like Lombard has exactly faded into the mists of time. Her movies are still shown and many still know her name. But she isn't as universally known as Marilyn Monroe, or Jayne Mansfield or Jean Harlow (who died a few years before Lombard, was also romantically involved with William Powell, was making her last movie with Clark Gable, and was buried in the same cemetery as Lombard). For the woman who made Twentieth Century, My Man Godfrey, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, To Be Or Not To Be and many other great films, this is a sad circumstance. Even though our culture seems to love a tragic death, it seems Carole's stability robbed her of some of the legendary status of some her less well adjusted peers and successors.  So I try to rectify this somewhat with a salute to a great comedy star, Carole Lombard.


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