What’s Become of the Good Scout?
By Katharine Hartley
Modern Screen, August 1938
She used to be the life of the party, but now she’s the needle in the Hollywood haystack
Where, oh where, has the Carole of yesterday gone? Lombard, the actress, is more predominant on the screen that ever before, but the Carole of the press gatherings, the portrait galleries, the Venice Pier, the Carole who was Hollywood’s favorite Party Girl—what has happened to her? Days past you never had to look twice to find her. In headlines, at preview microphones, in most anyone’s front parlor. She was always there, and conspicuously.
But now Carole is the needle in the Hollywood haystack, and press, public and photographers all find her hard to track down. What’s happened to that good scout who was always available for a laugh, a picture, a gag or a cocktail? That’s what everyone is asking now. And not only us get-arounds in Hollywood, but fans write and want to know, too. “What about Carole? Why no interviews? Has she gone high hat? Where is she? What is she doing?”
Well, here it is finally, not the awful truth, but the very acceptable truth which explains briefly, but conclusively, all those harassing questions. Carole, as you shall soon see, is, in many ways, still the old Carole, only, whereas she used to be “anybody’s copy,” the Carole of today is strictly “not for publication.” And that brings us to the first “why” of the story.
For the answer to that most repeated question of why this sudden desire for personal oblivion and Garboian solitude we must first cherchez l’homme, because there is usually a man behind most female plots, though the reverse has been more often publicized. And in this case we don’t have to look very far, for he is usually right there by her side, a certain Mr. Gable. Gable is responsible for at least eighty per cent of her withdrawals from fanfare, and his responsibility may even be divided into two parts: forty per cent direct influence, forty indirect. Let’s take the indirect first, because at the moment it seems to be the most prevailing. When you ask Carole why she has suddenly adopted this words-off and camera-away policy as far as Clark is concerned, she just loses her lips tight, and for the moment you think she isn’t going to answer you at all. Then the old Carole smile shimmers through and she says, not harshly, but gently, “Well, considering everything, wouldn’t you?”
And because we, eventually, saw what she meant, and saw that she was right, we redirect the question to you. In other words, we’ll try to squeeze you in her shoes (size four and a half A) and then you’ll see it, too. So now, let’s suppose.
You are a famous movie star. You meet and fall in love with another movie star. You begin going places together. The world takes you up, plasters you all over its pages. Glamorous couple, so delightfully suited to each other. Real love at last. And the inevitable speculation—how soon will you say “I do?” In the meantime the world forgets that there is still such a little thing as the movie man’s wife (oh, isn’t he divorced yet?) to be reckoned with.
You haven’t forgotten though. There is talk about a property settlement—that seems to be holding up the parade to the altar, by detour of the divorce courts, but how can that drag out so long? You know that the other woman is a fine woman, beloved by all who know her, but you also know that love turns funny tricks sometimes. If she loves him enough there may be jealousy, for jealousy is the first flower of heartbreak, and jealousy often produces a little bud of its own, a not so fragrant one, a bud with thorns—or as some people call it, scandal. Under the circumstances then, as Carole herself has suggested, what would you do?
There is only one answer, if you’re a wise girl: put on the soft pedal. No more gadding around night clubs, no more even sitting at the tennis matches with the best beau beside you, and the flashlights popping all around. No more being conspicuous, no more calling attention to the fact that where you go he goes, too—and no more, especially no more giving of little white Fords with little red hearts painted all over them, red hearts which mean little though themselves, but which might be interpreted as flagging semaphores, with an “I love you” message. No more of what was gay and glorious and giddy, at least not where the Cyclopean eye of the public can see.
That you would have come to the same decision that Carole did is most certain. It was the only reasonable and right decision she could come to. Also there is more than a modicum of good taste to be perceived in it, too. Regardless of what unpleasant reverberations her publicized association with Gable might cause, there is another little point which only those who know Carole intimately know that she has carefully considered. Carole, unlike many another star in the same situation, is in no way anxious to flaunt her catch in the face of other female fishers. And that Gable is a prize catch, still Mr. Box Office Number One, and personally one of the finest fellows who ever flashed across the Hollywood scene, is something that no one, anywhere, at any time, will ever doubt.
For a lot of us it would be kinda hard to keep it quiet, but Carole has never done any flaunting or rubbing in. Her big heart is too sensitive to other people’s feelings for that, and that includes Mrs. Gable’s. Carole is, in some ways, the greatest Embarrasser of all—though that not-so-dummy Charlie McCarthy is running her a close second these days—but that’s only when it comes to gags and pranks, and then the redder the other person’s face is, the more shrill and delighted her laughter. When hearts or sentimental feelings are concerned, that is another matter. Carole treads on toes, and cripples funny-bones, but hearts never.
But this sudden hauling in, this sudden desertion of Hollywood’s fun lanes, when Carole used to so obviously enjoy interviews, antics and fashion parading, and every hilarious hullabaloo connected with her fame—hasn’t that cramped her style, put a dent in her life? That’s the next question that anyone asks, and the answer for that one, too, is Mr. Gable, the other forty per cent of the influence that he has brought to bear on her personality, the direct influence that his particular likes and dislikes have had on her. For example, Miss Carole Lombard, recently of the Salon, has become one of Hollywood’s most ardent and most expert devotees of that hitherto masculine art, skeet shooting.
When the “True Confession” troupe went to Lake Arrowhead on location not so many months ago, Carole said “Goody!” or something to that effect, “we’ll set up a shooting range, I’ll take along my trusty little shotgun, and we’ll pop off a few clay pigeons, eh what?”
The boys she said it to happened to be Claude Binyon, script writer, and Fred MacMurray, struggling hero of said script, and, as it happened, she was saying it to two of the best skeet hooters in town, as they not modestly informed her themselves.
From then on the only ones who did any talking about the coming recreational event were Binyon and MacMurray, and when they mentioned Carole as a participator, it was always, “Oh yes, Carole’s going to try, too.” They were, and they were later to rue it, just too, too patronizing. It was their surmisal that Carole went in for the sport just for the excitement of hearing the gun go off. That she would do anything but wave her gin at the blue sky, and wonder afterwards why she hasn’t hit anything—that never, for a moment, occurred to them. Movie actress goes in for skeet shooting, ha, ha! Well, they can be excused for their attitude, because it’s safe to say that most anyone, even you and I, would have felt the same.
But came the dawn, and we mean really the dawn. They had tried several times to get to the shooting range, after picture shooting, but the day and the light was always too far gone by then, so Carole, with her usual exuberance said, “All right, boys, tomorrow morning. I’ll have my maid phone you at five, and we’ll try it then. And you be here, too!” noting the already sleepy look in their eyes.
So there she was, fresher and brighter than anyone has a right to look at that hour of the morning, and there they were, straggling out, trying to look happy. There too were a couple of policemen from Arrowhead, who, hearing reports, had come over to see what all the shooting was about.
They soon saw. There was Binyon and MacMurray, hemming and hawing, and trying to make excuses, and Carole, copping all honors, one right after another, “Deadeye Dick herself,” one of the policemen marveled, openly and loudly. This same policeman, whose astounding name is Mickey Finn, finding a new shrine at which to worship, afterwards spent an hour every morning shooting with Carole (Binyon and MacMurray had given up after the first day). “Say,” said Mickey once, unable to contain his admiration any longer, “you sure have had a good teacher!”
“I’ll tell him that,” Carole answered. “He’ll get a kick out of it, coming from you.” And no doubt Gable did.
There are other things, too, which have taken the place of nightclubs, soirees and gala Hollywood events. Clark always did prefer horses to hors d’oeuvres, and farming to flattery, and these two things to which he has won Carole wholeheartedly. There’s that ranch of his out Valley way, where they ride and hunt, where the conversation has nothing to do with parts, parties, or personalities, but which is singularly full of such words as crops, fertilizer, alfalfa and gophers.
It’s a place where “swing” is something that applies only to the way you hurl an axe at wood, not something that sends you cavorting over a dance floor. It’s a place where clothes are worn with an eye to their resistance against saddle leather, and not for what they might do toward creating new fashions. It’s a place where other Valley farmers come and go, not to get a look at that “moom pitcher fella,” but to find out how in the devil he’s going to turn that clover patch into something profitable, because he’s got good ideas, that one, and the ideas he’s got maybe they can use sometime, too. Sundays Clark and Carole usually return the calls. Up and down, back and forth, the length and breadth of the valley, they make the rounds. “Boy, has Mrs. Ellsworth got some chickens! Clark, did you see those cute little Japanese bantams? Why can’t you get some of those?”
Now, Carole’s going into ecstasies over chickens is something that some people don’t like, and in a way we don’t blame them. Carole was much too much of an ecstasy incarnate in the old days for us to get used to her new farm-and-fowl fancies of today. Right now I’m looking at a picture of Carole at her most Caro-luscious best, wearing a satin dinner frock, a white fox clinging to her shoulders, and in her eyes, and in the lines of her whole body, that one indefinable something which we, for lack of a better word, call glamor.
She had it once, but where is it now? When Carole used to make her twice-a-month appearance at the studio portrait gallery, the photographers always knocked off pictures of her like that, one after another. But they don’t even get her in there anymore. (True, the studio did get her in for some very romantic ones with Gravet while she was making “Fools for Scandal,” but that was a special gesture on her part, and one not likely to be repeated soon.)
No, she’s a catch-as-catch-can subject for the publicity camera these days, and that, of course, means that only the candid cameras catch her—with entirely different results. Carole making faces, Carole with her mouth wide open, screeching at the top of her lungs. Carole shaking her finger at the director, Carole biting her tongue. Carole sprawled on the floor, shapely legs twisted under, playing mumblety-peg with a prop boy. Carole in overalls, rumpled riding trousers, and cotton house frocks. They snap these pictures of her, and then take them to her for an okay. Instead of being alarmed, instead of shouting that she’ll sue if those get into print, she does just the opposite.
A new candid cameraman recently took her such a batch to okay, and, in fear and trembling, backed twenty paces away while she looked them over. Then he heard her shout, saw her throw her arms about. That settled it. He beat it back to the safe ground of the publicity department. A few minutes later the phone rang. It was Miss Lombard.
“Yes?” said the new young man, trembling.
“Marvelous! Marvelous! Got any more?”
How could he have known that she was just shouting for joy, that the waving arms were meant only to call everyone around so they could enjoy a laugh, too? “Look, gang, don’t I look aw-ful! Isn’t it won-derful?”
Nowadays, it’s the publicity department which has to say, “But don’t you think, Miss Lombard, don’t you think that this is a little too—well, candid, shall we say?”
Candid! Why it’s the very stuff she’s made of. Painfully frank all her life, conscientiously brutal, especially where she herself is concerned, it’s only natural that unflattering candid shots receive no taboo from her, though they may be the vain-bane existence to others.
But there is still another reason for this sudden letdown where beauty, posing and fashions are concerned, and that brings us to the other twenty percent of the cause of it all. It is Carole’s own personal reason, which, though last, is not least, and deserves some consideration. She has been in this business about a decade now, deep in it, and all this time she has been just about all that anyone could ask of her.
When it was important for her career, Carole let herself be a clotheshorse. She introduced countless screwy fashions, and got away with them. When it was important, she let them line up the interviewers, and she gave story after story, and no writer ever went away unsatisfied. When it was all part of the game, she went to parties and gave parties—skating parties, hospital parties, jungle parties, and so on—the kind that got talked about, not only from mouth to mouth, but paper to paper, magazine to magazine. Her parties were like a trademark. She was known for them, as Elsa Maxwell is known for hers.
Then came the gag-gift era. Carole sending people white elephants, whole lot houses, museum relics, and what not. All this took time and money and energy, because these weren’t things that other people people thought up for her, and mapped out like a blueprint. They were Carole’s own ideas, carried along on the strong wave of her spontaneity. She put everything she had into it, and got a lot of fun out of it, too. But after so many years of putting in like that there is no inevitable result—you’re bound to grow tired. You’re bound to find that it has demanded high taxes, and that’s what Carole has discovered. She just finally got fed up with it, and having reached a point in her career where she doesn’t have to play those parlor games anymore, she has just plainly side-stepped them for other more vital and interesting things.
Her career today stands on its own. There is no longer any life cord between it and her personal doings, so at last Carole can afford to let down on the latter. What it amounts to is almost a relaxation from relaxation, because Carole once worked harder at entertainment than anyone can realize. Now she deserves a change, and it’s only a meanie who would begrudge it to her.
Let’s not be meanies then about the turn the Carole tide has taken. The good scout is still there, only there are no microphones to broadcast it. She still sees her friends, says hello to press boys, even has her small parties, but it’s all behind the scenes. Not so long ago a cameraman at the studio happened to say that he was getting hold of the uncensored newsreel of one of the Shanghai bombings, and was going to look at it in the projection room. “What?” shouted Carole. “Wait for me. I want to see it, too! Only I have to make some phone calls first.”
Twenty minutes later Clark Gable drove in through the gate in that station wagon of his which proudly wears a plate marked “Press.” With him were several of his cronies, Fieldsie, and others of Carole’s friends. Carole, with the Good Humor man at her side, met them at the door of the projection room. “Come on, gang, hurry up! In here!” and she handed each of them a chocolate covered ice cream stick as they filed by. That’s Carole idea of a part now, 1938 style. Nothing planned in advance, no invitations sent out, only a hurry-up “bring along whomever you can get, and get here quick.”
What? No fancy dress costumes, no ice skating rink to be rented at an exorbitant expense? What’s there about it, then, for the wire release, to be dot-dashed across the country to a hundred different newspapers? Nothing. Simply nothing, and that’s as Carole wants it to be.
So let’s let her have it her way. She’s given us fun and excitement enough so that we have no right to be greedy and ask for still more. Besides, it isn’t as though she had retired completely, as she once threatened to do. The screen may be up as far as her private doings are concerned, but there is still, and thank goodness, another screen across which she prances in full view—the hearty, hilarious, happy-go-lucky Lombard of Celluloid!