She Knew What She Wanted
By Eleanor Harris
Screen Life magazine, March 1941
What makes Carole Lombard different from Ye Average Woman is that she knows what she wants. What removes her to another planet entirely is that she goes after it—and gets it.
Most women lead lives of noisy desperation. They ask everyone, including the corner cop, just which man to marry, what dress to wear today, what car to buy, which recipes to use, and in the end what cemetery to choose for the final collapse. They haven’t the faintest idea of what they want, ever.
But not Carole.
The average woman should be named Jane C. Doe—C for Compromise. Because if she does (by any freak of fate) discover that she wants a career or Clark Gable, she does nothing more than talk about it. Instead, she makes for the most convenient husband in the most convenient rut—and complains.
But as for Carole, no!
Ever since she climbed out of her crib, Carole’s known what she wanted, quickly and precisely. She always aimed straight for it—and got it. Not by trickery or devious means—just by doggedness and, oddly enough, by being natural. This is another miracle for the female of the species. “Natural” is a word that jars on most women’s sensitive ears.
Her most spectacular achievement was Gable—the biggest and most elusive catch in Hollywood. The road to Gable was littered with the bodies of women who had tried and failed. But Carole succeeded—with the same methods she used on every other goal in her short and progressive life.
She made up her mind when he danced past her at the Mayfair Ball four years ago. She’d met him before, acting in that picture called No Man of Her Own. Outside of business hours, she’d met him only one other time, at a cocktail party. During those meetings they’d both been married—and now both were separated. So this was the first time she’d given him that long interested look which made her friends nod knowingly at each other—and then settle back, purring, to watch the excitement.
One reason that Gable was impossible to land was that he was never around. He was always somewhere else instead—and somewhere else meant in the great outdoors. Previews and parties came and went without him—until the Mayfair Ball and Carole. After that, he began taking her out. Which meant going to her favorite playgrounds—nightclubs and parties. He was game, because Carole temporarily interested him. As it turned out, she was even gamer.
Every night, when she descended to her dainty drawing room and the waiting Gable, she was dressed in one of her favorite chic black frocks and clouds of veiling. Lily Dache and Schiaparelli and the brilliant designers of Hollywood all labor mightily to create her stunning outfits.
Clark would say, “Hi, there!” and escort her out to his car—the old and un-bathed Ford, with the top down. Carole would climb in, in her perishable clothes, and be blown into Hollywood. When they alighted at the Beverly Hills Brown Derby or the swank dinner party toward which they were headed,Carole looked as if she’d battled singlehanded with a typhoon. Her hair hung like a matted curtain over her eyes, her hat was decorated with oil and tire marks (of course it blew into the road halfway to town) and her smart black frock was covered with a fascinating film of dust, straws and insects. Carole had two beautiful sedans in her garage, which she could easily have maneuvered Gable into using.
But she didn’t. She did things his way.
You can say, “What woman wouldn’t—for Clark Gable?” I say promptly, “Show me one who would—for more than two dates.”
That was only a trifling hurdle in the conquest of Gable. There were a series of mile-high hurdles ahead. Carole sighted the first enormous one when Gable told her, “I’ll have to get you home around ten tonight—because I’m getting up at three in the morning to go dove hunting.”
The average woman would have chirped, “All right, Clark. Good hunting.” And left it at that.
But Carole didn’t reason that way. After two or three mentions of Gable’s hunting interests, she took the hint. In fact, she took more than the hint—she took to hunting. She, who had spent her entire adult life bathed in the artificial light of sound stages and night clubs, decided to see what sunlight was like. She was a little dubious about it. But she decided to take the chance.
Until that minute, her knowledge of firearms was limited to the water-pistols of her childhood. Nevertheless, she went shopping, and came home with some real shotguns. Then she hired an expert marksman to teach her how to use them—and meanwhile she had the famed designer Irene make her some special hunting suits, to the tune of three hundred dollars an outfit.
Then she was ready. Off-handedly, she informed Gable that she’d like to hunt with him on his next trip. After his first shock of horror, he rallied with grim gallantry. Certainly she could hunt with him, if she liked. But inwardly (as he told an avid audience later) he thought this would mark the end of a glorious friendship. Carole would be shrieking, perfumed, inept glamour girl who would sag at the end of an hour and beg for home and hot water.
He was certainly wrong. After eight hours of hunting, he admitted it out loud. Carole had stuck beside him without complaint and without makeup. By the end of the day she had downed almost as many birds as he, sweat and direct were fighting for first place on her famous face, and she was still pawing the ground for action. Clark eyed her with new respect. That night, staring at her immaculate radiance at the Trocadero, awe joined the respect. It wasn’t every day that he stumbled across someone who looked like an Esquire illustration—and who could also heave a gun eight hours through the underbrush. He was in for more shocks. He loved skeet-shooting—and several days after he told Carole this fact, it turned out that she did too. (The interlude was full of skeet-practice, with a teacher.) From then on, she stood shoulder to shoulder with Clark, smashing clay pigeons out of the sky. Former nightclub pals of hers didn’t believe it until they saw it. For years her only exercise had been lifting a match to a cigarette. But now—! Soon after Clark confided to Carole that he enjoyed sports of fishing, riding, and gardening—Hollywood discovered that Carole liked them too. And liked them with finesse.
Carole had decided that she liked Gable…so she went to work to like the things he did. How many average women…? But you know the answer. None.
However, there was a lot more to it than that. There was naturalness. This was another astonishing discovery to Gable. For years women had mobbed him, in the same old way. They flattered him, clung to him, attempted to draw him out—and were a relentlessly cooing audience to his every word. He was used to this, mildly amused, and deeply disinterested.
Now he found himself with Carole. On their long drives toward hunting, fishing and skeet-shooting, she didn’t act like the platoons of women before her. She acted like herself. She talked and talked and talked—about politics, baseball, books, and everything but Hollywood. And when Carole talks, she doesn’t talk—she shouts. To vary the shouting, she screams, and also she swears like a trooper.
Clark loved it. He drove along in the old Ford, his teeth clenched on a pipe and wearing a continual grin. Meanwhile Carole shrieked beside him—her latest opinions on everything but Carole. Never once did she mention herself. She was stimulating, she was entertaining, she was first-rate company. She was, in a word, natural.
She was natural even when they weren’t together. She played jokes on him—jokes which are famous by this time. You remember the time she sent him a huge baked ham as a comment on his acting ability. You remember how she laughed herself sick over a one-ton iron statute of Gable, made by an admiring fan—and how she insisted on setting it up in the middle of her lovely drawing room. You remember how, when they quarreled (often), the first to relent would send the other a stuffed white dove of peace.
Now there are eighteen stuffed doves perched on a shelf of their new home.
Thanks to Carole, life became highly entertaining to Gable. He never knew, from day to day, what new thing would appear. And now that they are married, he still doesn’t know. What’s more, marriage hasn’t changed her. Her closet is still stocked with overalls, slacks, gingham garden dresses and hunting suits. She wanted Gable, so she worked hard at getting him. But it was always honest work. She never posed as anything she wasn’t—and she was completely natural. The result is a perfect marriage.
But this grand-slam victory didn’t surprise her friends at all. They yawned when told of the Lombard-Gable match. “Of course, of course,” they said irritably. “When Carole decides on something, she always gets it. Now tell us some real news.”
After all, they knew her record. They remembered her in her school days at Los Angeles High School. Even then, she stated far and wide that she wanted a movie career. The other young would-be actors at the school pooh-poohed her. Why the movies? They demanded. In those days, the moving picture industry was small and undignified. Besides, it was unglamorously located right here at home. “What you want,” they told Carole, “is New York and Broadway.”
“Not me,” Carole said flatly. “I want what’s within spitting distance. I want what’s right here. I want Hollywood.”
She proceeded directly ahead. She cut classes whenever possible, and did extra work. She entered—and won—every dance contest at the Ambassador Hotel. She shared gasoline expenses with another extra, Madeleine Fields, who owned a cartoon-copy of a car. Together the two battered on studio gates, and for years they had only a toe-hold. Then they became Mack Sennett bathing beauties…and Carole graduated from one-piece suits in one-reel pictures to featured parts, and finally leads. Madeleine, her pal, became her secretary and then the wife of director Walter Lang—and remained her best friend.
While art-conscious young actors were butting their heads against Broadway, Carole had climbed steadily up in pictures. She’d had every obstacle, the biggest one being that she had absolutely no pull. After all, who was she? Nothing more than a local girl whose real name was Jane Peters. Her relatives were her mother and two brothers, one of whom ran the linen department at Barker Brothers’ Department Store. The other worked on the stock exchange. No moving picture power there.
But she overcame lack of pull by persistence. She overcame an automobile-wreck-scar on her face, by ignoring it. When she found that she liked William Powell tremendously—she overcame him, too. Their union was based on being exactly alike. Both of them lived for pictures, parties and previews. When the sun set, both of them climbed into formal clothes and automatically headed for bright lights. When the sun rose, both of them automatically put on dark glasses and stayed under cover.
Undoubtedly they were too much alike. Things were pleasant, but plodding. The only adventure in their married life happened every evening, and consisted of getting ready to go out. It was this: When it was time to dress for a party, Powell would go upstairs to get ready. Carole lounged downstairs over a newspaper. When Powell was showered, shaved, and completely dressed except for his tie (which he was then working on), Carole would saunter upstairs. She would carefully bathe, dress, make-up, and, just as she picked up her bag and gloves—Powell would finish tying his tie. They would link arms, and sweep out the front door together.
That was it. He was that slow in all his movements—and Carole was that fast. His idea of Heaven was sitting. Carole’s Heaven was sitting too—until she sat for several years. Then they had a friendly parting.
That is the history of Carole Lombard, who in a few brief years achieved the miracles of fame, money, acting ability—and Gable. Her recipe was simple; she knew what she wanted and she just naturally went after it!