Is Carole Lombard in Love at Last?
By Frederick Lewis
Liberty magazine, November 14, 1936
Romantically speaking, the most important news to come out of Hollywood this year is the often-repeated story that Carole Lombard and Clark Gable are in love.
At first practiced observers close at hand were inclined to set down all this talk as just another fan writer’s disordered dream.
Carole, the socially mad! Clark, the socially rebellious! It didn’t seem possible.
Now, Hollywood is looking forward confidently to the marriage of this strangely assorted pair.
The wedding won’t take place next week or next month. It can’t. For one thing, there’s Mrs. Gable.
Property settlements are hard enough to arrange in any divorce. They are especially difficult in California. And when the divorce is in California and there’s also a seven-year movie contract at five thousand dollars a week—well, a property settlement is hell.
Not that Rhea Gable is the grabbing sort. She had more money than Clark had when she married him, and she has it still. But even if she were inclined to let Gables be bygones, her lawyers won’t let her. Right now Clark Gable is just beginning to cash in on the world’s greatest drawing power. You can be sure they won’t let Rhea give him up too easily to any Botticelli blonde.
But Carole Lombard is a Botticelli with a square chin. She is a girl who gets what she wants—and she wants Clark Gable.
So, you say, do fifty million other women.
True; but Carole has the advantage of propinquity. She can move right in close—and does. For months, now, she and Clark have been so close as to be practically indistinguishable to the naked eye.
Carole has another advantage: Clark Gable wants her.
And why shouldn’t he? Venus de Milo is five feet four inches tall. So is Carole. Venus’s hips are thirty-six inches around. So are Carole’s. Venus’s bust measure is thirty-four and three quarters inches. Carole’s is thirty-four. Venus’s waist is twenty-eight and a half inches. Carole’s—listen, Venus!—is twenty four.
Carole wasn’t always that way. Back in the Mack Sennett days she was decidedly on the plump side. Even when she broke into big time at Paramount, she was a “sixteen.” But Madame Sylvia pummeled her down to a “twelve” in thirty days—and she has never gained a pound since.
Carole is very proud of her acquired symmetry. She wears the tightest dresses in Hollywood, with as little under as the law allows. Production was held up for minutes not long ago while the property department found her a pair of white silk panties.
Of her face she thinks little or nothing. Photographers think a great deal. She shares with Dietrich and Colbert the distinction of having had her picture taken more than two hundred thousand times. This is some kind of all-time record, which only Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, and Loretta Young have even approached.
Aside from her physical perfections, Carole Lombard is just about the squarest shooter in Hollywood. She has a glorious flair for friendship. Madeline Fields—Fieldsie to all Hollywood—was a sister bathing beauty in the Sennett tank. She has been with Carole ever since as companion and secretary.
When the reporters cracked down on Clark Gable to find out if he has picked his next wife, the big boy was characteristically noncommittal. All he would say about the hypothetical new love—he hadn’t fallen for Miss Lombard then—was: “She’s got to be a good sport and have a sense of humor.”
Carole has shown herself a good sport in many different ways—never more effectively, perhaps, than in keeping her cheerful optimistic attitude through a childhood in Fort Wayne, Indiana, which was shadowed by the unhappy marriage of her father and mother.
“It left scars on my mind and heart,” she once said.
Her mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Peters, brought her to Los Angeles when she was seven. She was Jane Peters then. Later Jane Alice Peters; then Carol Jane Peters; then Carol Lombard; then Carole Lombard. The Lombard came from an old friend of her mother. The e on the Carole came from a numerologist’s say-so.
At fifteen she went to a party, sat next to a Fox Film official, and came home with a movie contract. Her first role was in Marriage in Transit, opposite Edmund Lowe. The critics gave her a hand. Her future seemed assured. Then a runaway motorcar busted itself into a tree and Carole’s face into the windshield. It would have been good-by career for most girls, but not for Carole. She went to the best plastic surgeon in California, and—well, you can judge for yourself as to results.
On the screen the heavy make-up powder hides all trace of the scar. Even across the dining table, where I sat not so many moons ago, it is wholly imperceptible. But if it hadn’t been for the girl’s own gameness and patience, all might have been different.
“My mouth was so stiff,” she explains, “that for several months I could hardly move it. I just had to keep a stiff upper lip!”
She has kept it ever since. When she recovered, her studio had troubles of its own and forgot all about the plump little girl who had played with Eddie Lowe. Undismayed, she took her curves over to Sennett’s laugh factory and sold them camerawise, as Gloria Swanson and Marie Prevost and Phyllis Haver had done before her.
Then, as the Sennett vogue passed, she played a season in the horse operas with Tim Mix and Buck Jones. She was good. But the horse age was passing, too. So the glamour girl hung up her saddle, took off her poundage, and went in for heavy dramatics on the Paramount lot.
All of which is by way of showing that Carole squares perfectly with Clark Gable’s first requirement. As for her sense of humor, she is an incurable ribber. In the early stages of her palship with Gable, he was emerging from a triumphant Chinese Theater premiere of one of his pictures, autographing programs, waving to cheering multitudes, when a Western Union boy bearing a huge ham fought his way through the crowd. On the outside wrapper was Gable’s own picture. Inside was Carole Lombard’s card.
A few weeks later, on the eve of St. Valentine’s Day, he drove his car into the garage of the Beverly Hills Hotel, where he was staying, and steered for his usual stall.
“I’m afraid it’s already occupied, Mr. Gable,” said the watchman.
Clark got out, and, to his amazement, discovered a dilapidated Model T Ford, painted white, with a pattern of large red hearts. Tied around the body was a huge red ribbon with a card reading: “To My Valentine, from Carole Lombard.”
This isn’t a pose. She has an insatiable appetite and a bottomless capacity for amusement. “I’d like never to do anything in my whole life but laugh,” she once said.
It is easy to see how this would appeal to a somewhat repressed but actually fun-loving fellow like Gable. Both Josephine Dillon, his first wife, and Rhea Langham, his second, were thoroughly serious women. Both were ten years older than he. In Carole—imaginative, modernistic, unconventional, and oh, so young!—he finds the exact antithesis of the women he had known.
Here is a girl who talks in a brisk slangy lingo; who is frankly thrilled by sapphire jewelry, perfumes, new hairdresses, and sleeping raw; who is ready at a moment’s notice to go more places and do more things than Josephine and Ria ever dreamed of.
But don’t think that there is anything childlike about Carole Lombard’s mind. Latterly she has acquired a poise which amounts almost to dignity—and a well-aimed eye for the main chance.
A good deal of this worldly wisdom was doubtless acquired in Carole’s frequent jousts with Cupid in the years before she met Clark Gable. In 1931, when she married Bill Powell, she declared that she had already experienced six of the seven kinds of love, and that the one with Junior, as she always called Powell, was to be the seventh. In other words, it is not so much a question whether Carole is in love at last as it is whether she is in love again.
On her prenuptial list were child love, which she claims to have felt deeply at the age of eight for a playmate named Ralph Pop; emotion or physical love, which she sent in for in her teens (in a nice way, of course); ideal love, which doesn’t exist; on-the-rebound love; companionship love, which is all right in its way but doesn’t get you anywhere; maternal love, which takes a little boy and sends him on a man’s errand; and, as she naively added, “real love—my love for Junior, Junior’s love for me.”
They met in a picture called Ladies Man, which Bill Powell certainly was not at that time. Five years of unhappiness with his first wife, Eileen Wilson; five years of separation before divorce; a long lonely mood-shadowed absence in Europe—then Carole. At their first meeting they talked nine hours. But it was months before bill could persuade her to marry him.
“We’ll never get on,” she used to say at this period. “Bill will strangle me—or, at least, he’ll want to. He likes order and dignity and an organized kind of life. I can’t live that way. I always do whatever occurs to me at the moment. Bill won’t be able to stand me. He wants to marry and settle down. I couldn’t settle down. It would kill me!”
Following this blast, they were married. Whereupon Bill blossomed socially into the most popular man in Hollywood. Now he went everywhere and did everything. He even outdid his wife in perpetrating practical jokes and laughable folderal.
Everybody commented, too, how much love had done for Carole. She became lovable, tender, still witty but with less sting. She seemed suddenly to mature, to acquire graciousness.
But hard luck dogged the young wife’s footsteps. She became ill on her honeymoon, and remained so, off and on, throughout the first year of her marriage. She would no sooner get started on a picture than she would have to quit.
Bill worried about her. There is no doubt but that he tried to get her to give up her career and take it easy. Well, Carole has fought hard for the position she holds and she isn’t the type that gives up easily.
Then, too, there was the question of hours. Bill was making a few big pictures a year. Carole, at that time, was making a good many smaller ones. Between pictures Bill would want to run away for a little vacation. If he did so, he ran alone. So they talked it all over one Fourth of July morning. “Bill and I are adult persons,” Carole explained—and the next day Carole was on her way to Reno.
All Powell would say was, “For Carole and me there simply was no married life.”
Their story that there had been no quarrel was accepted by Hollywood as true—and their conduct after Carole returned abundantly confirmed it. Divorce seemed to make little or no difference to the friendly relations between them. The very first night after her return, Gloria Swanson gave a dinner for them, then the Barthelmesses, then the Clive Brooks. They were seen tete-a-tete at the Derby, the Grove, the Colony, and the Culver Club. They went to the premiere of Dinner at Eight. When Ronnie Colman came home from the Goldwyn wars, Carole gave him a party—such a party!—and borrowed Bill’s house to give it in.
Of course the pace couldn’t last. The studios were calling. Bill went into his routine. Carole went into her dance’ it was Bolero, with George Raft. Presently the gossips went to work.
Carole’s bungalow dressing room on the Paramount lot is right next door to Gary Cooper’s. Here is a social center for Paramount players. Everybody is always dropping in—but the fan writers make a good deal of the fact that tall Gary was among the droppers.
Cooper was, at that time, at the peak of his romance with Countess di Frasso. Everybody knew that. When someone ran to Bill Powell, he laughed: “A romance with Gary? Don’t be crazy!”
Then the gossips switched, first to George Raft—who, it turned out, was concerned only because he couldn’t have his own favorite cameraman and was forced to take Carole’s—and later to Gene Raymond. But Carole squelched all these rumors with: “I do not believe that screen stars should marry.”
Soon, however, she had fallen under the spell of Russ Colombo’s golden voice and ebony eyelashes. When he met his tragic death, she put on black.
“Russ and I loved each other,” she explained. “Eventually, I believe, we would have married. How soon I don’t know. His love for me was the kind that comes rarely to any woman. I never expected to have such worship, such idolatry, such sweetness from any man.”
But she promptly consoled herself with Bob Riskin, champion screen writer. He was not only seen everywhere with Carole, but was said to do his most inspired writing in the patio of her new house. All she would say was: “I have always attached myself to interesting minds, to people who stimulate me mentally and spiritually.”
It can’t be that Bob’s mental stimulus died. He wrote Mr. Deeds Goes to Town after he was superseded in Carole’s affections. So it must have been something spiritual that the brawny Mr. Gable supplied.
Mrs. Donald Ogden Stewart, wife of the writer, was not strong enough for an evening party, so Donald and Clark and Jock Whitney threw an evening party for her in the daytime. Hollywood arrived for luncheon at the Stewart homestead in full evening dress. Practically all of the guests had assembled when gongs sounded, an ambulance backed up to the front door, and a beautiful lady in startling white and ostrich-plume hat was carried in on a stretcher. It was Carole.
Now, Gable had seen Carole before. They had played together in No Man of Her Own. But that was when they were both married and working hard at it. Now Clark was separated from Rhea, Carole divorced from Bill. All afternoon they were inseparable. They have been ever since.
Will it last?
With Carole, yes. Whatever she may been before, there is no doubt about her being in love at last.
There was a little flurry when Carole and her delightful ex went to Universal to play in My Man Godfrey. Jean Harlow, who had moved into the blonde vacancy in Bill’s life, was said to be not a bit keen about it. How Clark felt, nobody knows.
But after it was all over Bill went back to Jean, and Carole—well, it can’t be said that she had really left Clark, but she is certainly with him now.
Whether she will be with him a year from now, five years from now, depends largely on whether she is willing to fit into his life.
I know Clark Gable. He won’t keep up this social whirl long. And now he is running around with the partyingest girl in the cinema capital.
Bill Powell followed the Lombard pace for two years.
How long will Gable follow it?
Will he follow it to the altar?