by Daphne Carruthers
Modern Screen, April 1942
We won’t be seeing her anymore, but in a man’s heart and home, in aching memories, in changed lives, she still throbs with shining loveliness!
“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—
For friendship is a permanent record, set in granite, and all Hollywood was Carole’s friend. Jack Benny, whose radio program had followed the fatal news of December 7th, and who had gone through his own illnesses and troubles, could not speak to his world on Sunday night after that crash. He’d just made a picture with Carole. Living in his memory were her merry jokes and her sturdy workmanship, the sight of her gaily marching through their scenes. The people on the lot, the extras, the stand-ins, the employs who knew her as a gallant sincere friend. They knew that a recent edict against swearing on the set had sent a rueful Carole to practicing “Oh, hecks!” and circumlocutions for her gamin language, and they knew, too, how really womanly she was beneath all this how of hardboiled strength.
Carole dead? Alice Marble shook a blonde head in unbelief. When Alice was recovering from a collapse in Paris, Carole was taking lessons from Eleanor Tennant, her coach. Into the frail girl’s life poured the unfailing stream of Carole’s vital interest. “Send a letter to her from me, Teach,” she told Miss Tennant. “Stick in this check for a hundred dollars—she can buy a present to pep her up.” And when they met, Carole had an inspiration, Alice had a voice, and singing gives one confidence. Carole had a voice teacher. Studying with her was one of the chores Carole had taken on and couldn’t quite make. Suppose Alice took lessons?
She did. She went into the State Competition and she developed “killer instinct” that Carole preached. And over the top she went, strong, sure, a tennis ace, then singing at the Waldorf. Working at her job as Assistant Director of Physical Fitness in Civilian Defense, she heard the incredible news.
Russ Colombo’s mother had laid down her letters. When Russ died suddenly, his mother, too ill to bear the news, waited for letters from him.
“Don’t tell her,” Carole dared firmly. “There’s no reason she should be hurt. We’ll read her letters from him, tell her he’ll come—“ and so to the end, the mother was happy, waiting, touching letters, hearing—Wherever they may be, those friends of Carole’s gone ahead, they’d be saying it too—Carole dead? She can’t be!
It wasn’t all easy. The world saw the Glamour girl made Gamin Girl. The world saw her striding through the town and country. “She hunts like a man,” Harry Fleishman said. “She carries her own equipment, retrieves her own birds, handles a 410 shotgun, never complains—“
The studios saw her putting a new touch into decorating. They saw offices with gay curtains, pine writing tables, chintz chairs and sofas. Like the throwing back of shutters letting in light, Hollywood was suddenly bright and fresh again.
They saw her joking with “Pa” Gable, they saw her laughing and shouting.
But there was another side. She went into the desert with a purpose. There was a time when she stayed there, away from the night life and parties, anxiously furrowing that broad brow of hers over health schedules and booklets, anxiously studying the routine her doctor gave her.
There were rumors and stories and Clark, scowling blackly, denied them. But Carole wasn’t bothering—she had a dream, and she was working at it with her selfless, little girl courage.
A dream that died.
She came back out of the retirement with her mouth a little tight and a shadow in her clear eyes. There wasn’t to be a baby after all. She had to fold up the booklets and schedules; she had to tuck away some rather special prayers. So—
“What’ll I do, Pappy?” she asked Clark.
It wasn’t enough for her, the hard, grueling work of the studios, the extra warm friendliness that overlooked no needs, the social life and the ranch. It wasn’t enough. The stars were fretting about income taxes, they were scolding and figuring and trying to think up ways to dodge taxes. Blonde hair tosses back, scornful grin flashing, Carole hooted at them. She’d worked herself to dangerous thinness, dangerous fatigue, and she’d earned $465,000, and now the government wanted sixty percent of it. What was she going to do? She was going to pay it. “For what the country’s done for me and you, that’s too much? It isn’t too high,” Carole said. The others flushed a little and high tax talk wasn’t fashionable any more.
But it wasn’t enough for Carole—
“What’ll I do, Pappy?”
Clark has the answer ready. He’s a big man, a rough man, without veneer. From the day war was declared by the United States, he’d been working and thinking about the job that a he-man has to take on now. He was chairman of the motion picture committee in charge of bond sales, and he was the one to assign stars to entertainment at the camps. The lights in the gun-room at the ranch burned late while Carole and Clark worked shoulder to shoulder mapping out campaigns for the country.
“It isn’t enough, Pa. What’ll I do, me, myself?”
“How about selling stamps and bonds back home in Indiana?”
She liked the idea. “I’ll take Mother along,” she said, and Clark wanted Otto to go, too. Otto Winkler, their publicity man and friend. Otto had gone over the border with them when they were married. Clark trusted him with his life—and with something more precious, his gay girl, his wife.
The party set off. Carole marched to the train platform and told the people there about the bonds. At last she had something to do with those crowds that jammed up to stare at her. At last she could pour all the vitality of her taut little body and string little soul into a cause she believed, a meaningful cause.
Salt Lake City, Chicago, Indianapolis—
She shoved back that mane of hair and talked. How she talked! And how she sold! It seemed almost unbelievable, but the totals sped up and up—Carole had sold two million dollars worth of bonds.
She got Clark on the telephone. He told her he’d bring Mrs. Winkler and come to meet her. Would she come by train? She pondered. “Heads it’s the plane—“ A coin flipped and destiny moved a hooded head—Why? We may never know.
The plane was late. A huge-framed man began to pace a little nervously, but he laughed and reassured his companion. “They’re all right—weather bad maybe—nothing can happen to Carole—“
The hours went on. An ominous message came in. “We cannot establish contact with the plane—“
But this was Carole, the Gamin Girl, the lusty, laughing, striding rancher, the strong, the free, the sure—this was Carole who joked with everyone. This was Carole whose voice was still merry and warm in her husband’s heart.
Far out on Table Rock Mountain, this night of January 16th, a plane cracked into a mountain, flames soared, bodies hurtled—there was a moment’s horror of sound and flame and then silence—
Clark was impatient now, desperate. He demanded horses, supplies, people. Then he’d go alone. He wasn’t waiting here, not any longer.
Death was no stranger to Clark gable. He was playing in a picture with another beloved screen star when it swooped down over the studio. He had to finish the picture with a shadow, and once he turned away, his fists clenched and said between his teeth, “I can’t do it, I can’t DO it—“ Death had come to Jean Harlow then. But this was Carole, his wife.
“I’m going out there,” he roared. “You can’t stop me. I’m going.”
And then they brought the word—
Teletypes clicked out their unbelievable message, Wires flashed hot with it. A cinema montage of rolling newspaper presses, shouted headlines, radio dials twirling, aghast, unbelievable faces—
A man’s heart bleeding, torn, wrenched.
Did a little gamin form rise from that wreckage, toss back its blonde hair and grin? Did she stare in amazement at the crashing of words, words, words, lamenting, describing? Did she whisper, “The President—talking about me?” And did her hands stretch out in blind helpless pity to someone who could not accept or believe—
If she did, she saw a wonderful thing. Planes speeding off an assembly line in shining rows—ships raising invincible prows—guns blunt-nosed and mincing—she sees them roll on and on and on with the power that one small girl’s eager husky voice has given them. For two million dollars worth of bonds go marching on—
Carole Lombard is not dead. She is alive in the stirred hearts of those who knew her. But in more than that, she is alive. Somewhere she is laughing in sunlight and saying, “What’ll I do now?”
Silent, brooding, lost, Clark Gable is going back to work. He’ll work for defense—and he’ll finish the picture on which he’d done one day’s stint. It’s name—“Somewhere I’ll Find You.”