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Nicknamed “The Screwball Girl,” screen legend Carole Lombard found her niche during the 1930s when she starred in a number of successful screwball comedies, including My Man Godfrey opposite William Powell, for which she would receive an Academy Award nomination. During her career, she was noted for her beauty, her comedic precision, her charm, and her patriotism. She was one of the true superstars of her time and has endured as one of the greatest to ever grace the silver screen.
Born Jane Alice Peters on October 6, 1908, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Carole Lombard was the youngest of three children and the only girl. While she spent the first part of her childhood in the Midwest, by the time she was six, she was in California and on her way to Hollywood. After her parents’ divorce in 1914, her mother moved the family to the Golden State. There, Carole would be discovered at the age of twelve.
In 1921, Carole was cast in Allan Dwan’s A Perfect Crime, a role she was offered after Dwan saw her playing baseball in the street. This serendipitous meeting would get her foot in the door and from then, it was small roles every so often. In pursuit of her acting, Carole would leave high school for a time, but eventually returned, earning her diploma in 1927.
From 1925 to 1930, she would work for three studios: Fox Film Corporation, Mack Sennet Studio, and Pathé Exchange. Upon parting with all three, Carole signed with Paramount Pictures in 1930 and though she was only 18 years old, she was well on her way. The 1930s would be her decade. And 1934 would prove her breakthrough year.
That year, director Howard Hawks chose to cast her in his film Twentieth Century, a screwball comedy starring alongside John Barrymore (of The Barrymores). Though considerably less known than the stage legend, Carole would shine in the role of Lily Garland and the two would prove a winning team.
A few short years after, Carole was cast in My Man Godfrey (1936), opposite her ex-husband William Powell. Married from 1931 to 1933, the two separated amicably and worked together beautifully. In fact, Powell insisted that she be cast in the film. My Man Godfrey was one of Carole’s biggest successes – both critically and commercially. For her role as Irene, a scatter-brained socialite who falls in love with a derelict hired to be the family’s butler, Carole would receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
In 1937, she would make the Technicolor screwball comedy Nothing Sacred, opposite Fredric March. Of Lombard, director William A. Wellman would go on to say, “She was the greatest star in the world… the greatest actress… she could do anything.” As Carole’s only Technicolor film, Nothing Sacred is said to be one of her favorites.
In the final years of the 1930s, Carole experimented with drama, taking on more serious roles like Fools for Scandal (1937) and the 1939 David O. Selznick picture Made for Each Other, opposite James Stewart. These dramatic turns proved far less successful for Carole however and she would eventually return to comedy, marking it with Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1939), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
Personally, Carole Lombard was experiencing a few changes as well. Having fallen in love with Clark Gable in 1936, Carole and Clark waited three years for him to secure a divorce from oil heiress Ria Langham. Once he finally did, Carole and Clark were married – on March 29, 1939, two weeks after he had proposed to her from a Brown Derby phone booth.
After a decade of nonstop work and overwhelming success, Carole was ready for rest. She and Clark chose to live away from Hollywood, on a ranch in the open country. His nickname for her was “Ma” and hers for him, “Pa.” Together, they were happy: “Pa comes first,” she once said. A simple life made rich, one that matched Carole’s own down-to-earth personality.
Carole once noted the cardinal virtue in life is a sense of humor. “Do you laugh in the right places?” she quipped. “Then, you’ll get along, in fair weather or foul.” Indeed, and Carole Lombard certainly possessed this gift. Of being with her, Clark Gable said, “With her, it was like music, it was completely natural.”
Lombard’s legend is sadly enhanced by her untimely death at age 33. On January 16, 1942, returning to California after attending a successful war bond rally in her home state of Indiana, Carole Lombard tragically died in a plane crash. All 22 on board the plane perished, including Lombard’s mother Bess Peters, Clark Gable’s press agent Otto Winkler, and 15 Army serviceman.
The loss of Lombard and her party reverberated throughout the nation. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke on its behalf: “She brought great joy to all who knew her and to millions who knew her only as a great artist. She gave unselfishly of time and talent to serve her government in peace and war. She loved her country. She is and always will be a star, one we shall never forget, nor cease to be grateful to.”
Two years after her death, the U.S. Navy dedicated a Liberty ship to the screen legend, the SS Carole Lombard.
Part I: IntroductionPart II: Carole Lombard Tributes and Other Pages
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find Her Movies
Part IV: Books, Photos, Art, and Posters
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