By James Street
Movie and Radio Guide, May 1940
Carole Lombard, the frosty-faced trigger-tongued court jester in the Cinema Kingdom of Graustark, had to keep her mouth shut for two weeks in 1925 because of an accident. Her injury didn’t hurt her much, but the imposition of silence nearly killed her and she’s been trying to make up for lost time ever since.
She talks so fast, so much and so cleverly that Clark Gable, her husband and by legal rights the master of the manor, scarcely can slip a word in sideways even if he wants to. And he usually doesn’t try, for he likes to listen to and laugh with his wife, the firecracker girl who talks a man’s language, including a few oaths, on occasion.
It’s a winning marital combination—two happy people who do just as they please but never bruise anybody or anything. It’s been a long haul with the Gables, a mighty rough road and a high grade, but now they have what they want—fame and each other.
Just to appease a lot of teacup and tatting curiosity, including my wife’s, Mrs. Gable is not going to have a baby. At least she said she isn’t, and I believe her because I trust her word.
“If I were to have a baby, I’d shout it from the housetops,” she said. “And I can shout. Want to hear me?”
We didn’t. But she shouted anyway, just because she felt like shouting. After judging the quality of her shout I hazard the opinion she can make herself heard.
Mrs. Gable hereafter will be referred to as Miss Lombard in this piece. She is very proud to be Mrs. Gable and is doing a good job of wifing, but she simply will not submerge herself in matrimony. It would be impossible to keep Miss Lombard submerged in anything. She’s an actress and she always will be.
She’s Carole Lombard, the reliable morning star in this incredible kingdom where so many stars fall as they did on Alabama.
He’s Clark Gable, the evening star that is always there. You can chart your course by those two stars. You can count on them. But when knocking-off time comes, when the day’s work is done Miss Lombard becomes Mrs. Gable and her husband is “the old man.”
Some folks call her “Ma Gable.” It doesn’t fit. She’s not the “ma” type. She’s the girl next door with whom you sit on the steps and talk, to whom you tell your plans and hopes. And she never laughs at you, but squeezes your hand and says, “I know how you feel and I’m on your side.”
The Gables insist upon their private lives being kept private. They think there are some things that are nobody’s pop-eyed business and Hollywood can lump it. Their home at Encino is their castle and they allow only the chosen few to enter. They have been criticized. The public and press demand many things of the stars they make, but you don’t make demands of the Gables. They deglamorize themselves at home.
Miss Lombard doesn’t like glamour, anyway, although she oozes it naturally. She can make the old feel young, arouse the living and quicken the dead.
She’s as easy to meet as the neighbor’s wife. At the introduction, she tosses her head and shakes hands, a good husky handshake—the kind you get back in Indiana, where she came from. Then she walks across the room and pops into a chair, crosses her legs, reaches for one of her own cigarettes and bums a match. She bends quickly and scratches her ankle. I don’t know if her ankle itched or if it’s a habit. I didn’t ask her. I reckoned it was none of my business—or yours.
“What goes on?” she asked. Then she began interviewing us—Evans and Plummer of Movie and Radio Guide and me. Finally, simply by the ungentlemanly method of interrupting, I got in a question, something like “What are you doing this afternoon?”
“Oh, I’m taking a golf lesson. Want to come along? It’s a mar-ve-lous game. Simply won-der-ful! Of course, I’m not so hot at it, but I’m learning.”
If Miss Lombard doesn’t master golf it’ll be just about the only sport she hasn’t mastered.
The talk got around to pictures and to her husband. She called him “the old man” four times and “pa” twice. “He’s a great guy,” she said. “Look him up. Run out to the farm and see him. We’ve got a great farm. Twenty acres. It’s mar-ve-lous. Chickens, dogs, cats! That remind me. Here’s a funny one. When we got the cat we named it Joe Louis. But had to change it to Josephine. What a scrapper. Chases the dogs and ever’thing.”
We wondered if that “ever’thing” might include us if went out to “the farm,” which sounded like a scene in “You Can’t Take It With You.”
There has just been a tragedy at the Gables’. A tree was blown down. A twelve-year-old tree. When the Gables had it set out the tree expert neglected to take it out of the tub, but just planted tub and all. So a breeze got it. Oh yes, they have winds in Hollywood. In fact, the wind blows quite often and so does Hollywood.
But Miss Lombard is not upset about the tree. They are going to replant it, this time out of the tub so the roots can grab a hold of the earth and live and thrive as a good tree should.
She’s a mite bothered, however, about the chicken situation out at “the farm.” She and “pa” have 100 New Hampshire Reds. She knows her chickens. Nine out of ten persons in Hollywood don’t know the difference between a New Hampshire and a Rhode Island, but she does. However, she frets a bit because they artificial lights in the hen-houses and the lights go on before darn. The hens work overtime.
“I expect to wake up some morning and see the chickens picketing us.” She lit another cigarette and bummed another match. I gave her a deck of matches.
She sells the eggs to the retailers for all the traffic will bear and to her friends for twenty-five cents a dozen, C.O.D. Miss Lombard is a very smart business woman. She is very rich and pulled herself up by her shoulder-straps. She began to get famous, however, by not wearing shoulder-straps or much else.
Back in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where she was born, she was Jane Peters, the tomboy. She moved to Los Angeles when she was seven and fiddled around with the movies even as a child. But she was no prodigy. Today, at thirty-one, she’s one of the best craftsmen in the business. She never kids herself. She criticizes her own work and anybody else’s when she thinks they have hammed.
Some folks are under the impression that Miss Lombard danced her way into the movies. That’s an error. She danced the Charleston in contests around Los Angeles and often won cups which she sold for $15 each. Joan Crawford used to compete with her.
Out of Virgil High School, Miss Lombard began climbing the barriers that were between her and fame.
She got on at Fox studios and they asked her to change her name.
“I took Lombard because I adored Mr. and Mrs. Harry Lombard, friends of our family. I just picked up Carole because I liked it. At first I dropped the ‘e’, but I tacked it on later for good measure. My first idea was to name myself Carrolle. There’s a flossy one.”
She broke into a laugh. “Then I thought of Carrulle. Isn’t it won-der-ful. Carrulle Lombard! But I got sane in time.”
If any fan of that lady’s has an idea Miss Lombard is zany, then that fan is wrong. Miss Lombard can be very serious about serious things. She’s serious about her home and her husband. There is none of that honey-dewed lovey-dovey stuff about them, but an understanding, an affinity. They like the same things. Mr. Gable is an active outdoor man and his wife is determined to keep up with the pace he sets. Or maybe it’s just the other way ‘round. Perhaps she sets the pace. Mr. Gable is very much the man of the house. When a decision is to be made, he talks it over with her. But he has the final say. That’s about the home, of course. In their work, they are people apart. They are sensitive, ambitious, proud.
They don’t talk shop at home. They talk about little things—the price of dog-feed, for example. They enjoy discussing current events—war, third term and the price of potatoes. They argue about current events.
Miss Lombard is not the most diplomatic person in Hollywood. Speaking of her visit to Atlanta for the premiere of “Gone with the Wind,” she said, “The mayor of Atlanta is the best mayor in the country. He’s mar-ve-lous! He handled that thing just right.”
Now, after all, there are a heap of mayors who might disagree with her, but she doesn’t care.
The minute Atlanta is mentioned, they both immediately express their admiration for Mr. and Mrs. John Marsh. Mrs. Marsh wrote “Gone with the Wind.” She’s Margaret Mitchell to millions, but they are the Marshes to the Gables.
“They are won-der-ful,” Miss Lombard reached for a coke. (Maybe that’s the Atlanta influence.) “John Marsh is a real fellow. He protects his wife as though she were a little girl. And they have such a happy home.”
Miss Lombard was serious then. She obviously admires a man who will protect his wife and build a happy home.
She spoke of herself only a few times. Once was to criticize herself in a recent picture.
The Gables seemingly have adjusted themselves well. They are completely tolerant of each other. They have taken some beatings from life, but they are smart enough and old enough to know what they want. And they want to remain stars and they want each other and their home.
Miss Lombard didn’t say she wanted a baby, but she talked often about children. Her best friend, Madalynne Field (Mrs. Walter Lang), has a baby and Miss Lombard is the godmother. She’s very proud of being a godmother and kept talking about it. Again she was serious, but suddenly began laughing.
“That Fieldsie (her pet name for her friend) had a funny experience with her baby. She didn’t know she was going to have one until only a few months before the youngster was born. I’ll swear it. And she did everything she shouldn’t have done, including exposing herself to measles.”
Miss Lombard is utterly unorthodox. Her conversations would startle prim ladies but her expressions are honest and from the heart. If she decorates her statements with a few oaths, the raw-meat words do not detract from her womanliness. She’s completely feminine.
When she hunts, she cleans her own ducks. She pulls her own oar when she fishes. She cleans her own guns. That’s one reason her husband is in love with her. She’s his kind of woman.
If she’s got a peeve she’ll express it and get it off her mind. Discussing books and shows, she almost shouted, “I wasn’t so crazy about ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ My pet peeve are pictures that botch up good stories. Remember Bromfield’s ‘The Rains Came’? Will you tell me how in the name of so-and-so and so-and-so they could have possibly botched up that beau-ti-ful, mar-ve-lous book the way they did?”
Her other peeve are comedians who try to burlesque real comedy.
“Real comedy should be played straight. It’s corny, hammy and sinful to burlesque real comedy.” She jumped to her feet and walked across the room quickly. She had to work off the nervous tension.
Miss Lombard has not always been the flamboyant, verbose, don’t-give-a-whoop person she is now. She can afford to be independent now. She has money, fame and Clark Gable. She knows she has a talent that the public will pay to see. It’s not conceit. She simply knows where she stands in the movie business and she won’t take back-talk.
Back in 1925, however, she thought she was a gone gosling. In an automobile accident her face was cut from her upper lip to the middle of her left check. The story that her beauty was saved by long and expensive treatment is not true. She was rushed to a small hospital nearby and a surgeon took fourteen stitches to her face. He got to her in time. He asked her if he could do the job without an anesthetic because he did not want her facial muscles relaxed while he sewed. Miss Lombard nodded her approval and that man saved her beauty.
When he had finished the operation he told her politely, “Lady, excuse my language, but you’ve got guts.”
For two weeks she couldn’t talk, but she got in some good licks at thinking. She thought she was licked and for nine months she moped. A scar-faced woman in the movies! Never! Lonnie Dorsey, an assistant director, feared she would crack up and suggested she try to get a job with Mack Sennett.
“Lonnie—“ Miss Lombard smiled—“said that over at Sennett’s they were more interested in figures than faces. But I knew he was thinking that if I got with that madhouse bunch I’d forget myself. It worked.”
The scar scarcely is visible now.
“I’m one woman,” she said, “who never talks about my operation.”
Next week Movie and Radio Guide presents Part II of James Street’s Carole Lombard-Clark Gable story, “Two Happy People.”