A Letter to Heaven
Screenland magazine, April 1942
From the heart comes this tribute to Carole Lombard, by one of the many studio workers who counted her as a true and unfailing friend
You said you were coming to our set to visit us next week. You said we’d have fun like we had before. So I looked forward to a lot of laughter. You said that Clark, Ruggles, you and I would have our pictures taken together and that we’d call that ‘little number our anniversary.’ That was last week. You said we’d celebrate too! We’d talk our heads off. I betcha money, this is what we’d have talked about—
Ten years ago a picture started and went brilliantly along all that first morning. Then the company “called lunch.” Now, there’s nothing startling about going to lunch. And we all returned from lunch. All except the leading lady. In a roundabout way we found that she thought the leading man was too much competition for her. While everybody was tearing their hair and saying they’d have to rewrite the story for somebody else, a girl was getting ready to come to the studio. She had just finished a picture and was fixing to go away on a little trip.
Everything was quaintly mournful as we proceeded to “shoot around the girl,” which means we did the scenes with all the other players. Then the producer arrived on the set with the girl who was going on her vacation. Listen, my friends, you should have been there! But you would probably have been knocked down, as I was, in the rush. I never saw people fall over each other faster. Arms waved and dialogue flew and the lights hung aimlessly from rafters. The boys were hailing Miss Carole Lombard. And believe me, Miss Carole Lombard was hailing them!
By three o’clock the lady wasn’t going on vacation anymore. It was suggested that she take the following day to get new clothes. “What’s the matter with trying on the dress ‘Whosis’ was going to wear, for the starter, so you won’t be held up?” she wanted to know. With a pin here and a stitch there, she turned around and said, “How do you like it?” At four that afternoon she was rehearsing and at four-thirty we got the first shot. I forgot to mention that somebody introduced her to the leading man—Mr. Clark Gable. Is it any wonder Carole has had a place in our hearts that NOBODY can replace?
And then we started to have fun. With a whirl of merry gags for which only Carole had the genius of creation. We called her “Bernhardt,” and with knowing amusement, she gave Clark a nickname, too. She had the prop man get the biggest ham she could find. On it we pasted a big picture of Clark. She presented it to him. “Here, Ham,” she said. “Lady, you mean, here’s a ham—don’t you?” he asked. “No. I mean—here—HAM!” He took it. That same day a large package was delivered to Miss Lombard on the set. She looked at Clark and said: “NOW—I REALLY smell HAM!” When she opened it, there was an old circus-size pair of shoes. He grinned. All the rest of the day Carole hobbled around the set in those shoes. There came a happy friendship that all of us were part of. That picture was the first establishment in her niche for comedy. She went up, up, up from them on.
Things were good and dull after we finished. She became a law of comparison to our group. Whenever we were getting ready to start another “opera” we’d say to each other of the feminine angle, “Do you think she’ll be anything like Lombard?” The question still goes.
Whenever I felt blue or down in the dumps, I’d make for Carole’s dressing room across the lot. And inside that door I found a willing ear and lots of laughter. Her buoyancy of spirit always refreshed whoever came near her. Indeterminate somethings became simple nothings, and I’d feel thankful that there was one so close who possessed what few of us are rich enough to have—a wise and understanding heart. I don’t suppose that I ever stopped to wonder that maybe she had troubles, too. She was the one who fixed everything.
You can’t shoot a fella for thinking and I thought it would be a wonderful thing if some day two swell people I knew might get together. I hoped they would. And they did. Their steadfastness in friendship grew into a greater comradeship. Only now and then are we privileged to witness such a union.
Of course, if you weren’t a Lombard fan you wouldn’t have read this far. And if by chance you don’t know it—here’s a little look into that which made her world the more perfect place to live…Carole didn’t know a darn thing about guns and fishing poles. But she learned. And with the vital determination that was hers, she learned RIGHT! She was the glamour girl who liked comfort—dim lights, warm places, and a clean face. So, she put her hair in pigtails—her legs in trousers, a gun on her shoulder and went places with her man in their station wagon. That was her big time. You’ve probably heard about their home in the valley. It was designed by the Gables and “Brownie,” the art director at the studio who has done most of the sets for Clark’s pictures. Clark and Carole knew every flower that was planted and together they watched them grow. When their trees were in bloom we made jam from the fruit of their garden. Carole laughed when I told her we marked it “Plum-Jam-Gable.” One day they went out and found a little calf running around. “I refuse to have anything to do with you,” Carole said to him, “so when we stew you I won’t feel guilty.” But one look into her face made you know that he’d never make stew for the Gables. Maybe you don’t know that Mrs. Gable knew how to run her house. And the recipes she used to give were no good for a girl who was trying to reduce.
Everything they did was a special occasion. The nights they took themselves away from their fire and went to the local movie house she’d sparkle and say: “Pappy and I are going to the movies!” They’d go on picnics and there’d always be little surprises for each other. And we’d scream when she’d tell the combinations they ate. “It would poison ordinary people—but we’re crazy—so nothing hurts us!”
And such a disposition. That’s what made her so beautiful. Her thoughtfulness was ever talked about. Months before Christmas she’d start making lists to buy presents for those she loved. She always shopped herself—always knew what everybody needed. Her room would be piled high to the ceiling. She remembered the things that should be remembered. She wrote every note herself—answered every letter. There was never anything half-way about Carole.
I know many of the people with whom she had business dealings. They worshipped her. Nothing was ever wrong—everything was just right.
She was friend to the little fellow. “They’re the ones who make pictures,” she’d often say.
When an airplane crash carried some of our studio people to their death and some to incurable injuries, it was Carole who attended the funerals—Carole who visited the hospitals—Carole who knew what to say when she was the ones who had legs cut off and backs broken. Carole who brought them their favorite flowers—their favorite candies, their favorite books, and their favorite stories. She visited them when they went home—not just the first few days. For she never wearied in well-doing. When they would have been forgotten or classified as “unable to work” it was Carole who saw to it that they were put back to work. “No difference now” is what she said. Her generosity seemed to open the way for a bigger flow of goodness.
If a bunch of us were talking or laughing on the set and she was in her room or in another corner, she’d yell: “Bring it over here—or wait till I get there—don’t you know you can’t leave me out of ANYTHING???” And we could always let her in on what we did or said.
An almost fatal accident had left scars on her face, above her eyebrow, on her cheek and on her lip. She’d joke with the cameraman and say, “How about my ‘operations’—do they show?” But never once did she tell the camera man that she preferred the other side of her face; never once did she wonder if he’d make her look pretty enough. Strangely, these scars seemed only to enhance her great beauty. I remember her telling how she was strapped to the table while these scars were sewn; they were unable to use ether. “Did it hurt?” I was brainless enough to ask. Her big blue eyes popped. She should have fed me soap! “Sister,” I thought, “You’ve got guts!” I’ll never forget what one of the boys said when we realized how she must have suffered. He said: “She’s a SOLDIER!”
Her love for her family, for whom she always had time, was great. Her mother said, the day before they left, “I don’t approve of flying—but what my baby wants is tops with me. And whatever happens—I’ll be with her…” These are the things we would have talked about…
And now, before I close—
Clark called a day after you left and asked: “What time do we start our picture in the morning?” “Eight o’clock.” “Holy cats,” he yelled, “that’s the middle of the night—I haven’t worked for four months—maybe I won’t be able to make it!” That tickled me. At seven-thirty your Clark was there. And he started the picture—was in the very first shot—with twenty-one kids from nine years down. They pulled at his coat and yelled “Bang, bang” in his ears and they interrupted his dialogue. He worked. He was swell. You know he would be! The next day, Friday, all day long we talked about you, Clark, Ruggles and I. I asked him how all your pets were. He laughed, “Wait till ‘Maw’ finds out that the two dogs and the cat slept with me last night.” I knew you’d get a bang out of that. He called the air office every hour to see if you’d be on time. He was planning such funny jokes for your homecoming.
Friday afternoon, just before we stopped shooting, the boys pulled a gag on Clark. He was to enter the scene carrying a Gladstone bag. The boys loaded it with five dozen books. Ruggles said: “Okay, Clark, just come in and throw the bag across the room.” Clark put his hand down to grab the case. We were all watching. “Holy smokes!” he shouted, “I’m nailed to the floor!” I knew you’d get a kick out of that, too.
You know, Clark is a sweetheart, Carole, dear. After ten years of great success, he’s just like he was—only nicer. That’s because he knows you.
Outside they’re yelling something about a beautiful girl killed in a crash. She was coming home from a mission of mercy. Her mother too.
You were coming to visit us next week…
Now, about Clark. He couldn’t be with people who loved you both more. Besides that, he’s with all the boys who have been around him since he first started here at MGM. They will dog his tracks to help him through.
We’ll cry. We’ll cry lots. None of will want the other to know how much. And then we’ll be laughing again because we’ll be talking about those crazy, dear moments you let us share with you. You are blessed with all the fullness of a complete life, for to know you is to love you. There is no one in all this world who can ever take your place. So, you’ll be with us, I betcha money.
Wherever you are at this moment, darling, the place is good. And those therein are made brighter with your laughter.