By Marian Rhea
Radio Mirror, April 1939
She’s harum-scarum, she dances in the park at three A.M., she dotes on practical jokes, she hates pink, and she’s so impulsive she almost lives behind the eight-ball. Meet Carole, screw-ball comedian, dramatic actress, and radio’s new star.
I was in the audience the Sunday night the new Kellogg show opened at NBC. I watched Carole Lombard at the microphone—beautifully gowned, poised, sure of herself…And I remembered the first time I ever saw her. Twelve years ago, this was, in the casting office at the old Mack Sennett studio. She was wearing a black satin dress and ultra-modern black hat, a little too sophisticated but obviously her youthful conception of what a candidate for the movies should be seen in.
She had just been given a job at Sennett’s and she was walking on air.
“So you made the grade,” another girl said to her, wistfully. “Me—they told me there was nothing doing.”
Carole (only she wasn’t Carole then; she was Jane Peters) reassured her. “Oh, well, you’re sure to get a break some time.” And then she added, casually, “Come on. I’ll buy your lunch to celebrate my break.”
No, it wasn’t so much—to buy a lunch. Only the other girl’s eyes filled with tears and the rest of us there realized then what Carole had seen right away—that there hadn’t been too many lunches recently, for the girl who followed her out the door.
And that incident, so long ago, seems to sum Carole Lombard up, completely. It explains so many things. For instance, it tells you why Carole is the only top-flight, non-singing movie star who has ever been chose to take a permanent place on a big radio variety show. The glamour girls of Hollywood aren’t often considered—believe it or not—captivating enough to be successful week-in-week-out attractions on the air. But Carole was. And the Kellogg people’s choice wasn’t mistaken, either, as you can tell when you listen to those Lombard gurgles coming into your living room. Her personality fairly reaches out and pats you on the back.
It doesn’t require any clairvoyance to know why, either. You like her, on the air and on the screen, because she’s so darn human!
She’s generous, too. “Too generous,” Fieldsie (Madalynne Fields, her best friend) says. But beautifully generous, too.
There are, for instance, the three girls whom Carole is now sending through the University of Southern California and the others whose college education she has financed previously. We haven’t heard so much about them because Carole frowns on any public announcement of her philanthropies, but the thing has got around. Two of these girls can wear Carole’s clothes and fall heir to most of her wardrobe, regularly. It was a Beverly Hills shop keeper who told me of the time that Carole, out shopping, was undecided between two frocks.
“This one is the most becoming,” “Fieldsie” suggested.
“Yes, but this will look the best on —-“ Carole said, naming one of her protégées…And that was the one she bought. She gave $25,000 away last Christmas, too—and I haven’t added an extra cipher accidentally…Not to friends like Clark Gable or “Fieldsie.” Their gifts came out of another fund. This money went to the people she works with—electricians, grips, property men, hairdressers, wardrobe girls and their families. Carole is crazy about Christmas. “Fieldsie” says it is because it gives her an excuse to throw money around.
It was Carole who saw in Margaret Tallichet, a stenographer at Paramount, the potentialities of a screen actress and called a producer’s attention to the fact. It was Carole who talked another producer, only recently, into giving a certain contract player he was about to drop, another chance. I know about this because the producer told me, himself.
“You’re wrong about —,” Carole said to him. “Yes, I know. She’s been doing badly, lately. But that is because she was afraid this was going to happen. Why don’t you be a good sport and give her another chance?”
Being a friend of Carole’s, he did, but when the actress tried to thank Carole, the latter only said, “Skip it.”
She has always been able to take tough breaks of her own—even the automobile accident she was in years ago and its consequences. It happened when she was fifteen. Already out of junior high school and a pupil at Los Angeles High (yes, she has lived in either Los Angeles or Hollywood since she was seven) she was regularly winning Charleston contests at the Cocoanut Grove and those blue eyes of hers were fixed on the movies. She had been in pictures when she was a child—at least she had worked for two days in “The Perfect Crime” with Monte Blue. She now had visions of being a great actress. Then trouble came along.
It wasn’t much of an accident at that. The driver of a car in which she was riding only stopped rather short. But the movable seat came unhinged and Carole, thrown into the windshield, suffered an ugly cut from her upper lip to the middle of her cheek. They marched her into the nearest hospital, where a young doctor, not long past his internship, took a look at the cut and a look at her.
“You’re a pretty youngster,” he remarked. “We’ll try to keep you that way…but it’s going to hurt…”
Well, it did—the fourteen stitches he took in her face without even a local anesthetic. But anesthesia would have meant relaxed facial muscles and a bad scar so Carole gritted her teeth and “took it.”
“I’ll never be in the movies, now,” she said, quietly…Her dreams were over now. She would have to hide herself away, where no one could see and whisper about her “misfortune.” She did hide herself away for months, and scarcely saw anyone.
Inevitably, though, her courage came back and she listened to the advice of a friend. “If you still want to be in the movies, why don’t you try Mack Sennett? He cares more about figure than face, and you do have a figure…”
“I couldn’t,” Carole protested at first. “Who ever heard of a face like this in any kind of movie? It isn’t even comic.”
But the next day she put on her hat and went down to Sennett’s. “I can’t be killed for trying,” she thought.
She was right. She got herself a job. They put a little grease paint over the streak on her face and for two happy, healthy years she was a target for pies, was dunked, chased, tripped and so generally maltreated before the camera that she had no time to think about her personal “affliction”…until, one day, she suddenly realized that the angry red scar had disappeared, leaving only the faintest of tiny, white lines.
Since then, she has “taken it” in other ways. She “took” the failure of her marriage with Bill Powell. They were terribly in love, those two, in the beginning. She used to call the suave, sophisticated Bill “Junior” and he adored it. They were married and planned to live happily ever after. But Hollywood was even harder on marriage in those days that it is now. The pace a star, any star, had to set and keep left time for nothing else. They grew apart. And when Carole saw this happening, she did the next best thing. She salvaged friendship and has kept it intact—so beautifully intact that when Jean Harlow died it was to his ex-wife, Carole, the best friend he had, that Bill Powell turned in his grief…
Carole has “taken it” since her romance with Clark Gable. But she has continued to mind her own business; has never talked back to the gossips. You only have to see her look at Clark to know how she feels about him. But if she loses him, she’ll “take” that, too, and we’ll be seeing her in the movies and hearing her on the radio, a greater, stronger personality than ever.
Only, I don’t think anything will happen to those two.
I’ve seen them often at the Kellogg rehearsals, Clark sitting in the front row of the auditorium making occasional wisecracks; Carole on the stage with the others, wrinkling an impudent nose at him or sticking out a saucy tongue or maybe just smiling at him with that assured comradeship which bespeaks deep regard.
She never stops working, though, for an instant. She’s a good trouper, Carole. She pays attention, at radio rehearsals, to what’s going on. She takes direction without question.
And Carole off the job? A good deal has been written about the simple, wholesome life she leads. A good many writers have told about her small house and small staff of servants (two) and how she would rather go hunting with Clark and friends than to a night club; and skeet shooting than to a preview, even of her own pictures. But perhaps not so much has been written about the fact that even now, at the height of her career as an actress, she spends a good deal of her spare time considering possibilities if a career apart from screen or radio.
“I’ll never retire,” she told me just the other day. “I’ll always want to be doing something…Maybe advertising, maybe publicity. Maybe I’d like to manage a theater. I don’t know. I just know that when pictures turn thumbs down on me as one day they must, and radio, too, I’ll try something else. I’d go crazy just sitting around.”
She would. Even now, busy as she is, that vitality of hers is like a dynamo driving her to action. Harum-scarum? Certainly. She lets off steam that way. It is as natural for her to get out of a cab and dance in Central Park at three in the morning (as she actually did one time) as to wash her face. Spurred, too, by an incorrigible sense of humor, it is natural for her to play elaborate jokes on the people. They aren’t cruel jokes, though. She hates cruelty. I think one of her greatest faults—and she has faults, of course—is a driving urge to mix into other people’s affairs because she thinks they have been abused.
“Little champion of the downtrodden,” “Fieldsie” calls her, jokingly. But it’s true.
As I think back over the years I have known her, I find countless other habits of thought and action which must be fitted into the mosaic of her character before its portrait can be in any measure complete.
I mean little things and big things, like these for instance…She is always gay in the mornings. Tears come into her eyes when she sees a cripple; years ago her father’s leg was crushed in an elevator and he remained an invalid forever after that. She adopted “Lombard” as her stage name, not because it sounded pretty but because it belonged to a couple whom she adored. She has few women friends, perhaps because her mind works like a man’s, but those she has (“Fieldsie,” Alice Marble, the tennis star, and a few others) would die for her. She gave away thousands for Christmas, but the new house she is building in San Fernando Valley will be moderate in cost.
She was worried over her first radio appearance—afraid people wouldn’t like her—but was willing to take the advice of those she figured knew more about radio than she did. She wears no make-up in public; sometimes her nose is a little shiny. Is crazy about tennis and swimming and is excellent at both. She hates pink. She loves white gardenias.
She has an extremely analytical mind and can read people like the proverbial book; often, and with amazing perspicacity, she pretends to tell fortunes with cards when in reality she is merely analyzing facial characteristics and personality. She loves order and cleanliness. She can drive a car as well as any man and can fly a plane. She loves to shock people with impertinent references to Hollywood Big Shots whose names are usually spoken in reverent whispers. She is over-impulsive but doesn’t try to back out when her impulsiveness has plunged her into a “spot.” She changed her screen personality from a screwball to the serious type she plays in Selznick International’s new picture, “Made For Each Other,” because a certain sense of fitness told her enough was enough. She…
But perhaps you radio fans have already formed your own conception of her, guided by the portrait that comes over the air every Sunday night. Perhaps you have figured out new and interesting things about her that I haven’t touched upon at all. …All of which is fine. The Kellogg show isn’t very old and from what I hear it will offer all kinds of bigger and better surprises as time goes on. But even before it opened, those who know its future and its intent, gave solemn assurance which I now pass on to you…That the Carole Lombard you are now meeting on the air is the real Carole Lombard!