Nationality: American. Born: Jane Alice Peters, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 6 October 1908 (some sources say 1909). Education: Attended dancing and acting schools as a child; Fairfax High School, California. Family: Married 1) the actor William Powell, 1931 (divorced 1933); 2) the actor Clark Gable, 1939. Career: 1921—film debut as a 13-year-old in A Perfect Crime ; 1925—contract with Fox, and appeared in Marriage in Transit ; 1927–29—made a series of Mack Sennett shorts; 1930–37—under contract to Paramount, made a series of successful comedies; later films made for David O. Selznick and RKO. Died: In plane crash, 16 January 1942.
A Perfect Crime (Dwan)
Dick Turpin (Blystone); Gold and the Girl (Mortimer); Marriage in Transit (Neill) (as Celia Hathaway); Hearts and Spurs (Van Dyke) (as Sybil Estabrook); Durand of the Badlands (Reynolds) (as Ellen Boyd)
The Road to Glory (Hawks)
The Fighting Eagle (Crisp); Smith's Pony (short); The Girl from Everywhere (Cline—short)
Half a Bride (La Cava); The Divine Sinner (Pembroke) (as Millie Claudert); Me, Gangster (Walsh) (as Blonde Rosie); Show Folks (Stein) (as Cleo); Power (Higgin);
Matchmaking Mamas (Edwards—short); Ned McCobb's Daughter (Cowen) (as Jennie); High Voltage (Higgin) (as Billie Davis); Big News (La Cava) (as Marg); The Racketeer (Higgin) (as Rhoda); Dynamite (DeMille)
The Arizona Kid (Santell) (as Virginia Hoyt); Safety in Numbers (Schertzinger) (as Pauline); Fast and Loose (Newmeyer) (as Alice O'Neil)
It Pays to Advertise (Tuttle) (as Mary Grayson); Man of the World (Wallace) (as Mary Kendall); Ladies' Man (Mendes) (as Rachel Fendley); Up Pops the Devil (Sutherland) (as Anne Merrick); I Take This Woman (Gering and Vorkapich) (as Kay Dowling)
No One Man (Corrigan) (as Penelope Newbold); Sinners in the Sun (Hall) (as Doris Blake); Virtue (Buzzell) (as Mae); No More Orchids (Walter Lang) (as Anne Holt); No Man Of Her Own (Ruggles) (as Connie Randall)
From Hell to Heaven (Kenton) (as Colly Tanner); Supernatural (Halperin) (as Roma Courtney); Brief Moment (Burton) (as Abby Fane); The Eagle and the Hawk (Walker) (as the beautiful lady); White Woman (Walker) (as Judith Denning)
Bolero (Ruggles) (as Helen Hathaway); We're Not Dressing (Taurog) (as Doris Worthington); Twentieth Century (Hawks) (as Lily Garland); Now and Forever (Hathaway) (as Toni Carstairs); Lady by Choice (Burton) (as Alabam' Lee)
The Gay Bride (Conway) (as Mary); Rumba (Gering) (as Diana Harrison); Hands across the Table (Leisen) (as Regi Allen)
Love Before Breakfast (Walter Lang) (as Kay Colby); My Man Godfrey (La Cava) (as Irene Bullock); The Princess Comes Across (Howard) (as Princess Olga)
Swing High, Swing Low (Leisen) (as Maggie King); Nothing Sacred (Wellman) (as Hazel Flagg); True Confession (Ruggles) (as Helen Bartlett)
Fools for Scandal (LeRoy) (as Kay Winters)
Made for Each Other (Cromwell) (as Jane Mason); In Name Only (Cromwell) (as Julie Eden)
Vigil in the Night (Stevens) (as Anne Lee); They Knew What They Wanted (Kanin) (as Amy Peters)
Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Hitchcock) (as Ann Smith)
To Be or Not to Be (Lubitsch) (as Maria Tura)
Memo from: David O. Selznick , edited by Rudy Behlmer, New York, 1972.
Ott, Frederick W., The Films of Carole Lombard , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1972.
Swindell, Harry Win, Screwball: The Life of Carole Lombard , New York, 1975.
Maltin, Leonard, Carole Lombard , New York, 1976.
Morella, Joe, and Edward Epstein, Gable & Lombard & Powell & Harlow , London, 1976.
Matzen, Robert D., Carole Lombard: A Bio-Bibliography , Westport, Connecticut, 1988.
Photoplay (New York), June and September 1931, October 1933, March and May 1938, May 1939, and October 1940.
Busch, N. F., "A Loud Cheer for the Screwball Girl," in Life (New York), 17 October 1938.
Dickens, Homer, "Carole Lombard," in Films in Review (New York), February 1961.
Kanin, Garson, in Hollywood (New York), 1975.
McVay, D., "Eternal Images: Carole Lombard," in Films and Filming (London), June 1977.
Chaplin, Charlie, "Carole Lombard" in The Movie Star , edited by Elisabeth Weis (New York), 1981.
Lloyd, A., "Carole Lombard," in Films and Filming (London), October 1983.
Sarris, Andrew, "Carole Lombard," in American Film (New York), March 1989.
Lockwood, C., "Clark Gable and Carole Lombard: A California Ranch House for the Stars of Gone With the Wind and Nothing Sacred ," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.
Morris, R., "Role Models," in Movieline (Escondido), June 1993.
Burroughs Hannsberry, Karen, "Carole Lombard: Gone Too Soon," in Classic Images (Muscatine), September 1994.
* * *
Legend has it that Carole Lombard was cast for her first screen role, as a 13-year old tomboy in Allan Dwan's A Perfect Crime , after the director spotted her playing baseball in the street. Whatever the truth to the story, that role was the beginning of a prolific and often hectic career in which she made more than 40 talking films before her tragic death in a plane crash. Except for a brief interlude to allow her to graduate from junior high school, the actress, appearing first as Carol, and after 1930 Carole, Lombard made movie after movie—creating some of Hollywood's most memorable comedic roles.
Signed by Fox in 1925, she had small parts in Marriage in Transit with R. William Neill and Hearts and Spurs with W. S. Van Dyke before a car accident resulted in the cancellation of her contract. By 1927 she was working for Mack Sennett, for whom she made more than a dozen two-reel comedy shorts with such Sennett stars as Billy Bevan, Mack Swain, Chester Conklin, and Billy Gilbert. Some bit parts in other feature films, such as Raoul Walsh's Me , Gangster , finally led to a Pathé contract resulting in her first all-talking picture, High Voltage , directed by Howard Higgin. In 1930, she signed a seven-year contract with Paramount where she was allowed to develop her comic talents in such films as Fast and Loose , It Pays to Advertise , and Man of the World , in between being used as a decorative blonde in routine roles.
During these years she also appeared in Wesley Ruggles's No Man of Her Own , opposite Clark Gable; Stuart Walker's White Woman , with Charles Laughton; and Ruggles's Bolero , starring George Raft. In 1934 she emerged as a truly first-rate comedienne when she appeared opposite John Barrymore in Twentieth Century , directed by Howard Hawks. This turned out to be the first of four remarkable roles that characterized the best of her performances in the "Screwball" comedies of the 1930s.
From the mid-1930s until her death in 1942, Carole Lombard bounced from studio to studio out on loan from Paramount, appearing in a wide variety of films. At the end of the decade she made two serious films which suggest the potential depth of her talent, George Stevens's Vigil in the Night and Garson Kanin's They Knew What They Wanted . One critic has remarked that it could only have been the need for a dark-haired heroine that kept her from getting the Scarlett O'Hara role in Gone with the Wind .
Her last two films, Alfred Hitchcock's Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be , further broadened her talents and provided a brief glimpse of how those talents could have been used. Her cool reserve might have made her one of Hitchcock's blonde heroines, and Lombard's wit and glamour seem exactly right for Lubitsch's stylish comedies.
Her death, while on a bond-selling tour to aid the war effort, stunned the American people. Clark Gable, her second husband, remained emotionally crushed for years. The telegram of condolence sent to Gable by President Roosevelt seemed to sum up the feelings of the time: "She brought great joy to all who knew her and to millions who knew her only as a great artist. . . . She is and always will be a star, one we shall never forget nor cease to be grateful to."
—Charles L. P. Silet