From the Archives: ‘Tomboy’ Carole Lombard Earned $2,000,000
Carole Lombard was a tomboy who grew up to earn $2,000,000.
As a Hoosier schoolgirl, she could run faster and jump farther than any of her classmates. Known simply as Jane Peters, she came to Los Angeles and appeared in plays at Fairfax High School.
From that it was a few leaps to stardom.
She was one of the youngest and loveliest graduates of Mack Sennett’s “Pie Throwing Academy.”
She was married first to William Powell, suave and debonair lover of the films, and later to Clark Gable.
To her, Gable was not the subject of demure adoration. He was just “Pappy,” a husband who was a chum with whom she went hunting, playing and living without ostentation in their ranch cottage near Encino.
Her career on the screen can be gauged by the male actors with whom she costarred. She played opposite Powell, Gable, George Raft, John Barrymore, Bing Crosby, Robert Armstrong, Cary Grant and Charles Laughton.
DEATH CANCELS PREVIEW
Ironically, her latest picture, “To Be or Not to Be,” shows her escaping from Nazi-occupied Poland in a transport plane. It was to be “sneak-previewed” at an Inglewood Theater today. Death in a transport plane is canceling the preview.
The actress was the first film notable to die in an air crash since Will Rogers and Wiley Post were killed Aug. 15, 1935, near Point Barrow, Alaska.
At 32, she died suddenly, barely out of girlhood, just as Thelma Todd and Jean Harlow had died while young. All three were vivacious on the screen and off.
William Powell had loved and married Carole Lombard. He loved and reputedly was engage to marry Miss Harlow and was at her bedside when she died.
Miss Lombard was the envy of fashion designers.
Travis Banton used to say, “You could throw a bolt of material at Carole and whichever way it landed, she looked smart.”
That description of her figure was the culmination of a career which grew from playground pranks in her birthplace, Ft. Wayne, Ind.
Born Oct. 6, 1909, she was highstrung and enthusiastic. When her brother got a set of boxing gloves she became his sparring partner.
When the neighborhood kids organized a ball team, Carole was the star first baseman. A tomboy, and a good one, she defended her position until her battlescarred teammates became resigned to it.
She was just Jane Peters in those days. Her full name was Carol Jane Peters, which did not become Carole (with an “e”) Lombard until she was on the screen.
Her mother brought her to Los Angeles when Carole was 7. They liked it so well that they stayed.
At Virgil Junior High School she won trophies and medals for running and broad-jumping. As her high school days continued, she became expert in swimming, horseback riding, aquaplaning, tennis and golf.
She studied dancing and acquired grace and poise.
At a dinner party, a studio executive suggested she take a screen test.
The test clicked and Carole was off. She won a role with Edmund Lowe in a melodrama, “Married in Haste.” Quickly she stepped to three westerns, playing a leading lady to Tom Mix and Buck Jones.
Friends told her how Gloria Swanson, Marie Prevost and Harold Lloyd had used the Sennett comedies as springboards to stardom. So she obtained a contract from Mack Sennett and went to work in the comedies for a year and a half.
GETS HIGH PAY
The Fox studio grabbed her from Sennett for an appearance in “Me, Gangster.” Carole began the sure climb in pay increases which in 1937 hit a peak of $460,000, highest of any woman in pictures. Since then her earnings have remained at $400,000 or better every year.
Wealth did not impress her. “I hope,” she said recently, “that I never lose the thrill of buying a new dress. Sure, I could buy a dozen dresses at a time, but what fun is that? I like to shop around. I like to buy a suit and wonder if ‘Pappy’ (her pet name for Gable again) will like it. I like to buy one hat and hope it’ll look silly, but not too silly.”
INJURED IN AUTO
Luck was not always hers. Back in the ‘20s, before safety glass was on every automobile, she once was thrown through a windshield and her face was badly lacerated.
Quick surgery and subsequent plastic surgery at her home save her although her facial muscles were immobile for weeks.
Like Will Rogers, she pricked the balloons of fakery. Through a typographical error, her name came out on the screen more than a decade ago with an “e” that never before had been added to the “Carol.”
ALIBI FOR MISTAKE
Her studio, to alibi for the mistake, said a numerologist had advised her that a 13-letter name would be better for her than one of 12.
“Don’t let ‘em kid you, honey,” Carole told friends. “That’s a lot of bunk, but since they’re paying me so well, I don’t care how they spell my name.”
Her vocabulary was sprightly. It fitted her for subsequent roles in the “screwball comedies” she made famous.
Her surprise wedding to William Powell took place quietly in her mother’s Beverly Hills home. The couple honeymooned in Hawaii after the ceremony on June 26, 1931, but Carole divorced Powell in Reno on Aug. 18, 1933, on conventional charges of mental cruelty.
Her marriage to Gable on March 29, 1939, was hailed as an ideal romance, This wedding, too, was without Hollywood fanfare. Besides the clergyman, the only witnesses present in the Methodist Church in Kingman, Ariz., were the pastor’s wife and a high school principal who was summoned from his neighboring home.
The Gables moved into a unpretentious ranch house but never entertained large groups or gave large parties to maintain a “front.” There was no guest room.
Some criticized her once for declaring she wanted to make pictures so she could give her government more income taxes. She was unimpressed at the accusations of egotism. “It’s the best damned land there is,” she answered.
Her latest picture, “To Be or Not to Be,” is an Ernst Lubitsch production for Alexander Korda. In it Carole and Jack Benny perform as Shakespearean actors in Poland, see the Nazis pour in and they escape by wearing Gestapo uniforms and flying to Scotland.
SCENE ON PLANE
As the production stands before release, the entire troupe of comedians, including one impersonating Hitler, celebrates in the transport plane.
Suddenly, motor trouble develops. The actors, stars and all, parachute to safety. That was Carole’s good fortune in pictures.
In her last flight in real life, she wore no parachute.
All Hollywood Mourns Popular Actress’ Death
William Powell, her former husband, with whom she appeared in pictures, said at his Palm Springs home, “I am so unbelievably shocked that I don’t know what to say.
UP ALL NIGHT
“My wife and I have been up all night waiting for reports. Our deepest sympathy goes to Clark Gable and Carole’s two brothers.” Powell is now married to another actress, Diana Lewis.
Miss Lombard’s secretary, Madeliene Fields, whom she called “Fieldsie” for years, was reported prostrated with shock.
“The hand of every actor in Hollywood is extended in this moment to Clark Gable,” said Edward Arnold, president of the Screen Actors Guild. “It is doubly tragic, as Miss Lombard was returning from an important patriotic duty in connection with national defense.”
Arnold referred to the nationwide campaign in which Miss Lombard had sold $2,207,513 worth of Defense Bonds.
IN LINE OF DUTY
Howard D. Mills, State administrator of the Defense Savings staff of the Treasury Department, said, “Miss Lombard, her mother and Mr. Winker gave their lives for the safety and future well-being of the United States as truly as the soldiers with whom they were traveling in the plane, also in the line of duty.”
Ginger Rogers, whose dressing room adjoined Miss Lombard’s at R.K.O. Studio, said, “The world has lost a wonderful girl, the motion-picture industry has lost a valuable star who brought joy to millions and her associates have lost a wonderful friend.”
Other expressions of sorrow follow:
Harold Lloyd: “The shock is so great I still can’t believe it. She will be missed by all who knew her, and like other great personalities in pictures who have passed on, she can never by replaced.”
Joseph Breen, R.K.O. executive vice-president: “The industry has lost a fine actress, and Hollywood a lovely woman. It seems impossible to believe that Carole Lombard will not be seen again in our studios and homes.”
Lupe Velez: “I can’t believe it. It’s too awful. I can only add my respects and my very deep sorrow to all those who will never forget her.”
Bonita Granville: “Sorrow in our great loss is softened by the knowledge that she gave her life in the service of others and that is the way she would have wanted it. Hollywood will not be the same without her.”
Sol Lesser: “Carole Lombard will be greatly missed, not only by the public which gained so much entertainment from her talents but also by her Hollywood coworkers who gained so much from her friendship.”
Gene Raymond: “I cannot express in any words how shocked I felt over this tragedy.”
Charles Laughton: “Happy in her home life, loved by many friends, recognized as one of our finest actresses, Carole Lombard will not be forgotten in Hollywood. I am terribly shocked by this sad news.”
Ann Sheridan: “Unbelievable and too tragic, one of the greatest troupers, one the finest souls I’ve ever worked with.”
Lloyd Bacon: “Hollywood is inexpressibly saddened by the loss of Carole Lombard, one of the industry’s best-loved personalities.
Errol Flynn: “Carole Lombard’s tragic death means that something of gayety and of beauty have been taken from the world at a time they are needed most.”
James Cagney: “Carole Lombard died doing her job for her country. Every one of us is proud of her, though saddened by her passing.”
J.L. Warner: “Mrs. Warner and I have been inexpressibly shocked by the tragic news concerning Carole Lombard and the other passengers. Miss Lombard has given her many talents to the world in generous measure. Hollywood and the rest of American will never forget her courage, her gayety and her good words.”
Marlene Dietrich: “What can one say in such a cruel moment? My feeling is one of the deepest and most terrible shock. Carole was a very dear friend. We grieve, all of us, in Hollywood.”
Robert Taylor: “There is nothing one can say. It is too terrible.”
Walter Pidgeon: “I am too shocked to express anything but the deepest grief.”
Spencer Tracy: “So little can be put into words when tragedy of this kind strikes.”
WATCHED HER GROW
Tay Garnett: “Hollywood watched her grow from Jane Peters , the high-spirited girl of early studio days, to Carole Lombard, one of Hollywood’s most highly respected actresses. I can only add my respect and grief to that of others who will never forget her.”
Robert Stack: “She was one of the swellest persons I ever knew.”
Gregory La Cava: “It is so shocking that I can only say the loss is a tremendous one for all of us.”
Edward F. Cline: “Carole was always there with the sunny smile and helpful hand for her co-workers. Creating happiness was her life work and she did her job well.”
Claudette Colbert: “She was one of the most genuine personalities in Hollywood.”
Joel McCrea: “She was the gayest spirit in Hollywood.”
Alfred Hitchcock: “I can express but the sincerest grief.”
Fred W. Beetson, chairman of the Hollywood Victory Committee for stage, screen and radio:
“On behalf of the Hollywood Victory Committee and all of our associates in the motion-picture industry we mourn the loss of Carole Lombard and Otto Winkler, who gave their lives in the service of their country. Our sorrow is deep, yet through it we feel a pride in the memory of Miss Lombard and Mr. Winkler. Both were soldiers in the service of their country. Our memorial to them will be the continuing efforts of all of us to carry on the great work they were doing so ably.”
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