Saturday, October 17, 2015

LIGHT A CANDLE FOR CAROLE LOMBARD


By the end of the 1930's decade she was the highest paid woman in Hollywood. She had it all: Incomparable good looks, a wonderful sense of humor, married to international star Clark Gable, and idol to millions of women who saw her as free-spirited female. But, her storybook career came literally crashing down on her on the night of January 16, 1942.

Born Jane Alice Peters in Fort Wayne, Indiana on October 6, 1908, Lombard and her two brothers moved to Los Angeles with their mother when their parents' marriage fell apart. She had an aptitude for athletics and was noticed playing baseball by director Allan Dwan, who was scouting for a "cute looking little tomboy" for his next picture.

Lombard was cast in many different roles and as she grew older, she found herself playing "leading lady" parts. When she married William "The Thin Man" Powell, in 1931, her career took off. She divorced Powell two years later. Filmmakers discovered that Lombard had a knack for humor and soon she became highly regarded for her "screwball comedies".

Lombard starred in only one film that could be described as a "horror/thriller". Released in New York by Paramount on April 21, 1933, the pre-code SUPERNATURAL was an early tale of spirit possession, Intended as a sort of follow-up to WHITE ZOMBIE, SUPERNATURAL was produced by Victor and Edward Halperin and with the same writer and film crew as the 1931 surprise hit film starring Bela Lugosi. Lombard reportedly disliked the role she had signed on for and argued on the set with the Halperins.

The reviews were mixed, and even with Lombard headlining the film, SUPERNATURAL did not meet Paramount's expectations at the box office, ending the potential continuation of the zombie/life after death cycle of movies produced by the Halperin brothers. Possessed (no pun intended) of a weak story, SUPERNATURAL is an otherwise moody, atmospheric, even noir-ish film and should be included in all lists of early 30's horror titles. In his excellent book, Horror Noir: Where Cinema's Dark Sisters Meet (McFarland & Co., 2011), author Paul Meehan opines, "Director Victor Halperin sustains the unearthly mood throughout, conjuring the atavistic terrors of the past against a realistic, modern-day backdrop."

Supernatural reviewed in PHOTOPLAY, July 1933.

In 1941,when the United States declared war on Japan, Lombard was the first movie star to enlist her stature as a famous star to help raise money for war bonds. She traveled to her home state of Indiana with her mother to attend a war bond rally. The rally was a huge success and raised $2 million during the single event.

In the early morning of January 16, 1942, Lombard, her mother, her then husband Clark Gable's press agent Otto Winkler, and a group of servicemen boarded a plane headed back to Los Angeles. They were originally planing to return by train, but instead elected to take a faster route. One account claims that Lombard wanted to get back to Gable as quick as possible to make up for their spat over his carrying on with another screen siren, Lana Turner.

After refueling in Las Vegas, the plane took off at 7:00 PM,  Approximately, twelve minutes later, it crashed at 8,200 feet into a cliff face of Potosi Mountain, a little more than 30 miles south of Las Vegas. All 22 aboard were killed instantly. A team of rescue workers recovered the victims, including Lombard's body, which was photographed wrapped in a blanket. She was 33 years old.

Rescuers remove Carole Lombard's blanket-wrapped body from the crash site.

Her remains were transported to California, where she was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. The name on her headstone reads: "Carole Lombard Gable",

Along with her fame as a Hollywood star, Carole Lombard can be considered a true American patriot. She sacrificed herself for her country, not in battle but by selflessly volunteering her time and using her influence as a celebrity to raise money to help fight and defeat the enemy. She was nominated for an Academy Award, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, known to be a "natural prankster", was liked by everyone, and was said to have a figure "made to be swathed in silver lame." She will deservedly be forever remembered as one of Hollywood's greatest screen actresses.

After Lombard's death, Clark Gable was married twice more. When he died in 1960, he chose to be buried next to his beloved platinum blonde, Carole.


Carole Lombard photographed in 1934.

A promotional shot from Supernatural.

Supernatural fashion statement, NEW MOVIE, June 1933
 
Lombard's gown from Supernatural was haute couture in the day.
A pre-KING KONG Fay Wray is pictured on the left.
From PHOTOPLAY, June 1933.
A portrait by George Hurrell from PHOTOPLAY, June 1933

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