Over the next three days, I’ll be sharing the three-part series United Press Hollywood correspondent Frederick Othman wrote after Carole Lombard’s death in January 1942.
This first piece was syndicated in newspapers across the country on January 19, 1942.
Carole’s Off-Screen Fun Equaled Screwball Roles
Writer Friend Describes Pranks, Career of Actress; Carole Also Had Serious Side
Of the press corps in the movie capital, none knew Carole Lombard better than Frederick C. Othman, United Press Hollywood correspondent. He reported her professional career, and, in addition, was a close friend. Therefore, he is particularly qualified to write of her life and her personality.
The first of his three dispatches on Carole Lombard follows:
It is difficult even now to realize that the Lombard laughter never will be heard again, that the Lombard jokes have ended, that the beautiful and gay Carole is gone.
She was the only strictly honest glamour girl in Hollywood, and certainly, the only one who said what she thought when she thought it. She was the girl who opposed a war on principle, who once threatened to chain Clark Gable to a barn door if he tried to enlist, but, when her country became involved in war, became one of the most indefatigable war workers in Hollywood.
And she died in the service of her country. She had gone to Indianapolis to aid in the campaign to sell defense bonds, sold $2,000,000 worth, and died in the airplane that was returning her home from that tour of duty on the home front.
Sacrificed Home for Country
The greatest thing she sacrificed was her home to which she had retired while her movie career was at its height. She returned to the screen in order to pay the huge taxes on he huge income she could earn and thus aid her country’s war effort.
Carole Lombard had two sides, and this serious idealistic side was the one her public didn’t know. The one it did know–the gay, laughing blond girl impelled by high spirits into endless impish pranks, was just as much a part of her. Indeed, her sense of fun off the screen, in her private life, equaled the sense of fun so evident in her last movies.
Once at a Hollywood party, the guests played follow-the-leader and Miss Lombard was the leader. Her boss, a leader of the industry, a gentleman of millions and of dignity, she felt was too stiff and grand.
She spoke to a servant and then began leading the guests on a merry chase through the big house. She led them at last to a bathroom where a filled tub awaited her. She waded through it, and, of course, those who followed, including the magnate, had to do likewise.
“You should have seen him,” she was exclaiming for weeks afterward, “when he found he had to put his pretty pants in the drink.”
She rode around her studio on a motor scooter. If anybody carried a packet of sneeze powder, she told him where to distribute it,
Montgomery Subject of Pranks
Robert Montgomery learned something of her pranks in the 1940 presidential campaign. he was one of Wendell Willkie’s most ardent supporters in Hollywood. At the time he was co-starring with Miss Lombard in a movie. Every night, before he could start home from the studio, he had to scrape the Roosevelt stickers from the windows and windshield of his car with a razor blade. Otherwise, he couldn’t have seen where he was driving. He will learn from this that Miss Lombard was the culprit.
No one around her escaped these pranks, not even Clark Gable. He had finished a picture in which he had a role of which he was particularly fond. He probably showed it a little too much. Any rate, a package, impressively wrapped, was delivered to him. Inside was a ham, done up in a blue ribbon.
When he had finished his part in “Parnell,” one of the worst movies of all time, she showered him with congratulatory messages from an airplane.
She was born in Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1908 and her mother brought her here while she still was a child. She served two apprenticeships–the first in an exclusive finishing school for young ladies, at the behest of her mother; the second in Mack Sennett’s academy for hurling custard pies and wearing a bathing suit with grace and spirit, but only after she had talked her family into letting her be an actress.
Was Horse Opry Queen
The rest of her years she retained an uncanny accuracy in hurling a pie and was willing to demonstrate. But professionally, her career as a bathing queen and pie thrower was not long.She graduated to the horse opry, and became the screen sweetie of such mighty males as Buck Jones and Tom Mix.
“But they never would let me get in the fight,” she would lament, recalling those days. “I had to simper at the hero and scream with terror when the heavy came after me. they never would let me get in there and give the villain a good kick in the bustle.”
Miss Lombard was paid $75 a week as a horse opry queen. But her reign didn’t last long for she came in demand in all the studios as a kind of blond rival to Clara Bow. Those were the years when the Brooklyn bonfire was at her height. Miss Lombard wore skin tight dresses, which revealed every curve, and when she danced for the cameras, she used so much energy she seemed to quiver all over. She was gay always then. She hot all the hot spots; went to all the parties.
Started Screwball Comedies
In 1931, in the midst of this phase of her career, she married William Powell–you know, “The Thin Man”–and, when another phase was beginning, divorced him four years later. It wasn’t until them, when they no longer were man and wife, that she co-starred with him in a movie that represented a new type comedy. It gave the indistry new pep and increased Carole’s check to $400,000 a year. The picture was “My Man Godfrey.” It was the first of the screwball comedies.
Tomorrow: How to become a screwball, and, more importantly, how to make it pay.
A few errors in this piece. The ham was given to Clark by Carole as a joke at the end of shooting their lone joint feature, No Man of Her Own. I also think calling Parnell “one of the worst movies of all time” is a bit of a stretch! She was only married to William Powell for a little over two years.
Part Two coming up tomorrow….