Today marks 74 years since Carole Lombard died suddenly at age 33. She was the victim, along with her mother and one of Clark’s closest friends, of a fiery plane crash near Las Vegas.
A difficult day for Clark Gable and Carole Lombard fans, as in a way it ended both of their lives. Carole’s life was over and with it went Clark’s entire way of life; he was never the same.
Here is a bit of a collection of articles in her memory:
From the article Goodbye, Carole:
“I have seen flames around the plane and there seems to be nobody left alive.”
Out of far West vastness eight thousand feet above the Nevada-California line, came a witness’s horrified sentence, blasting out incredible news. For on that plane were fifteen soldiers. And Carole Lombard. Flickering across the whole world went an incredulous, heart-aching cry, “Carole Lombard isn’t dead!”
It just wasn’t possible. Death and Carole didn’t make sense. A big white-faced man battered at the people who tried to stop him from smashing his way through to the impenetrable mountain to prove it couldn’t be so. Clark Gable, a face and a name known to every person in the country, was an aghast, incredulous husband. “She can’t be dead—“ But in the list of names that ticked out of teletypes everywhere came one line, “Mrs. Clark Gable, Hollywood, California.”
The President of the United States sent a wire. The Civil Aeronautics Board reported everybody dead. Did a gamin spirit, extricating itself from the wreck, tossing back its gay gold hair, laugh suddenly at all this and stretch its hands to us?
Carole Lombard can’t be dead…
She was Hollywood. At the smartest parties, there was a blonde-haired girl, magnificently dressed, swaggering, assured. She’d battered her way from but parts and slumps, from failures and delays to a place near the top, and she was loving it. Hollywood rampant—a white dining table with cushioned chairs like Roman benches, clothes, clothes, clothes—
And then all that went gaily overboard. She met Clark Gable. Clark was all he-man. A boy from Cadiz, Ohio who’d come up the hard way, he found Hollywood glitter and glamour a lot of expensive hooey. “Let me get enough money to have a sure ten thousand a year,” the kid who’d been a fighter and a laborer and a bum maintained, “and I’m all set.” “What about Carole?” friends asked, and Clark said coolly, confidently, “Carole will take it—and like it.”
And how she did! Overnight the lusty, swearing, striding, arrogant gal became a woman. Overnight she became a wife. Crazily human—the gags, the trick presents, the insane jests that took place on every lot where Clark and Carole played, were tradition. But they were man and wife. They slipped away and said words that made them one, and Carole meant it. Her career was second. The man she loved came first.
Clark wanted a ranch, so they bought one out in the Valley. Carole hauled on a sunbonnet and marched about the chicken yard. She studied the alfalfa crops, and she sat up nights listening to weather reports and planning protection for the precious citrus trees. No tiny anxious lantern burning in a single orchard represented more sincere love and hominess than did the lights that blazed on the Gable ranch.
She can’t be dead—
From the article What the Loss of Carole Lombard Means to Clark Gable:
Even when the broken bodies were finally brought down from the mountain, he could hardly be persuaded to leave. It was not until the following Wednesday at the burial service for his wife and his mother-by-marriage and his dear friend that he finally seemed able to gain some strength and courage to go on with life from the very heroism of Carole’s death.
It was only then that he comprehended the shrine in the world’s memory that she will forever occupy, this laughing tomboy, this Sennett bathing beauty who rose to make the highest salary any girl star ever earned, who married and divorced Bill Powell and then married the most sought-after man on earth, this girl who, through death, became the first heroine of the Second World War. She was all flame and passion and generosity, this Lombard girl, and she died as she had lived, gallantly, heroically, doing her duty by her country.
Meanwhile the Encino house is up for sale. Jessie, the cook whom Carole had had for years, Miss Garceau, the secretary, are devastated. The little gag presents have all been destroyed and even the very horses in their stalls and the hand-groomed cows and the cackling chickens seem to sense that desolation has enveloped them.
Shooting on “Somewhere I’ll Find You” has been suspended indefinitely.
At MGM and in Hollywood you will find those who say there will be no tying Clark down to acting now, that he will insist upon going into direct war service. In Hollywood they are talking about “The Carole Lombard Memorial Bond Drive” and some argue that Gable will go on tour, selling bonds in her name.
But the other half of Hollywood, those who know Clark best, argue that he will do both, war work and his own work, and I, personally, side with them.
Clark has long been very aware of his duty to his public and in this loss he will be doubly conscious of the loss in millions of homes today. He will be conscious that that one plane, which destroyed his heart’s security and rent asunder twenty-one other families, is only one small incident in days that are darkened with the memory of Pearl Harbor, and Manila, and the siege of Singapore and the blood on the snows of Russia.
Clark Gable has in him the power to make people forget these things for a little while. That is his responsibility—and his cure.
He will, I am convinced, go on with it after a little while, go on with his handsome head held high and with Carole’s beautiful, heroic image locked within his heart. And may God bless him and keep him while he walks this lonely road.
From the article A Letter to Heaven:
Clark called a day after you left and asked: “What time do we start our picture in the morning?” “Eight o’clock.” “Holy cats,” he yelled, “that’s the middle of the night—I haven’t worked for four months—maybe I won’t be able to make it!” That tickled me. At seven-thirty your Clark was there. And he started the picture—was in the very first shot—with twenty-one kids from nine years down. They pulled at his coat and yelled “Bang, bang” in his ears and they interrupted his dialogue. He worked. He was swell. You know he would be! The next day, Friday, all day long we talked about you, Clark, Ruggles and I. I asked him how all your pets were. He laughed, “Wait till ‘Maw’ finds out that the two dogs and the cat slept with me last night.” I knew you’d get a bang out of that. He called the air office every hour to see if you’d be on time. He was planning such funny jokes for your homecoming.
Friday afternoon, just before we stopped shooting, the boys pulled a gag on Clark. He was to enter the scene carrying a Gladstone bag. The boys loaded it with five dozen books. Ruggles said: “Okay, Clark, just come in and throw the bag across the room.” Clark put his hand down to grab the case. We were all watching. “Holy smokes!” he shouted, “I’m nailed to the floor!” I knew you’d get a kick out of that, too.
You know, Clark is a sweetheart, Carole, dear. After ten years of great success, he’s just like he was—only nicer. That’s because he knows you.
Outside they’re yelling something about a beautiful girl killed in a crash. She was coming home from a mission of mercy. Her mother too.
You were coming to visit us next week…
Now, about Clark. He couldn’t be with people who loved you both more. Besides that, he’s with all the boys who have been around him since he first started here at MGM. They will dog his tracks to help him through.
We’ll cry. We’ll cry lots. None of will want the other to know how much. And then we’ll be laughing again because we’ll be talking about those crazy, dear moments you let us share with you. You are blessed with all the fullness of a complete life, for to know you is to love you. There is no one in all this world who can ever take your place. So, you’ll be with us, I betcha money.
Wherever you are at this moment, darling, the place is good. And those therein are made brighter with your laughter.
From the article How Clark Gable is Conquering Loneliness:
It is a strange phenomenon, but any psychologist will tell you that the greatest sense of grief from a death is frequently felt three months after the event. Gable hit this period in mid-April. It was during that a Hollywood member of the Signal Corps talked to him about the possibility of his getting a commission in this branch of the service. Gable brooded on this in silence for days, finally announced that he now felt he should stick to acting unless Washington definitely called him for some specific war work. Actually Washington had already let it be known that what it most wanted of Gable was for him to keep on acting.
MGM quickly submitted a trio of scripts to Gable for his next picture. Interestingly, the one he chose to do first was one dealing with life-after-death, the first essay he has ever made into the supernatural. After that, he goes into a highly romantic, a most poetic role in “The Sun is My Undoing.”
But the greatest proof of Gable’s courageous snap-back is the fact that when Metro, who had been sold on the title “Somewhere I’ll Find You,” approached him recently with the idea of releasing his present picture under that original title instead of the second-choice substitute, “Red Light,” he was not too disturbed. You may, after all, see Clark Gable playing in “Somewhere I’ll Find You” and you will know then that he has made himself strong enough so that he can no longer be hurt by a few unimportant words.
Meanwhile he has seen to it that every fan letter of sympathy that reached him—and they came in the literal hundreds of thousands—has been answered and he has begun to go out a little to the houses of those friends who understand him and where he can feel relaxed. He now goes for dinner with Howard Strickling and his vivid wife, Gail, or with the Walter Langs, where he laughs at the gay wit of Mrs. Lang who used to be Fieldsie, Carole’s closest friend and confidante, or with Phil and Leila Hyams Berg, Phil, who is his agent, and Leila whom he’s known ever since the first day he walked on the Metro lot.
One thing the Government has promised to let him do (and he is immensely eager to get at it) and that is to make a series of short subjects to be shown to the service lads. What they will be on, when and where they will be made, he himself doesn’t know and he isn’t asking. He just wants to do them. As for Bond buying, the day after we went into the war, he bought the full quota that any individual is entitled to buy in any one year. He got his 1941 quota on December 8, his 1942 quota on the second of January. He’s got standing orders at his bank to buy the top limit for him if at any time this ruling may change.
Clark loved Carole with the passion that only a strong man of temperament, intelligence and imagination can love the woman who inspires the best in him. She was superior, beautiful, laughing, generous person, this Carole, and Clark knows he can never replace her image in his heart.
Yet he is, for all that gleam in his eye, for all that persuasive smile of his, a domestic man, who loves his home and thus, inevitably, I believe, there will be another chapter to his life story. And like all people who triumph over the events that could have defeated them, he’s coming out of this stronger than ever.
Personally I like to think about a story he told me years ago, about how, when he was first learning to act, he had to learn to smile. It wasn’t natural to him, until one day somebody told him that only the brave smile well.
He’s smiling now, carefully and deliberately, and he intends to keep on smiling. It’s an attitude to keep remembering these days of 1942.
Remembering Carole Lombard today.