Carole Lombard was an American movie actress known for her roles in the zany comedy films of the 1930s. Born to a wealthy family and raised by a single mother, she was recruited by director Allan Dwan at age 12, and made her screen debut in 1921 in the film A Perfect Crime. She became one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood in the 1930s and was listed as one of the greatest actresses of all time. Tragically, she died before her time at the age of 33 in a fatal plane crash. Here are 42 facts about the glamorous star.
1. No More Teachers, No More Books
After making her film debut at age 13, Carole Lombard resumed a normal life of going to school and participating in sports, but that only lasted a couple of years. At the age of 15, she got tired of school, dropping out and joining a theater troupe instead.
2. Little Sister
As the little sister of two older brothers, Lombard quickly learned how to hold her own with the boys and insisted in participating in the neighborhood baseball and football games. At the time she was called a tomboy, but she just wanted to be treated as an equal. Who doesn’t?
3. Swears Like a Sailor
Lombard was once dubbed “the profane angel” by one of her directors because of her angelic appearance and surprisingly filthy mouth. Needing a way to ward off unwanted advances from Hollywood “wolves,” as she called them, she had her brothers teach her some choice curse words which she used whenever a man pushed his luck.
4. Transcending Time
In 1993, Lombard proved that beauty is timeless when her image was used in a GAP advertising campaign for khakis. The ad featured Lombard leaning against a bar wearing khakis with the words “Carole Lombard wore khakis.”
5. America’s Comedy Queen
Many of the most popular films of the mid-1930s were screwball comedies, and Life magazine crowned Lombard “America’s Screwball Queen” for her ability to be beautiful and still play a clown.
6. An E for Luck
Carole Lombard was born Jane Alice Peters but was given the stage name Carol by a studio packager from Fox, and she took Lombard from family friends. Lombard later added the ‘e’ to Carole for good luck, and it seems to have worked!
7. Nearly Ruined
Because of an unfortunate car accident in 1926, Lombard’s career was nearly ended just as it was beginning. She was a passenger in a car driven by her 16-year-old friend Harry Cooper, when it crashed, causing the windshield to shatter and slicing her face near her eye and on her left cheek. She underwent plastic surgery but was left with a minor scar, which wasn’t a good thing for the extreme close-ups of the silent movie era.
8. Go for it!
Lucille Ball credits Carole Lombard with giving her the final push she needed to go ahead with her television show I Love Lucy. Ball said that Lombard, who had been a good friend, visited her in a dream and told her to take the risk of entering the relatively new medium.
9. You Look Different
Lombard was asked about her scar several times in interviews over the years. About six years after the accident, one reporter commented that her face had changed, and wondered if it was as a result of the scar. Lombard was quick to set the record straight, insisting that it was age and experience that had changed her face, and not the scar.
10. Nothing at All
When Carole Lombard and Clark Gable starred together in the 1932 romantic drama No Man of Her Own, the on-screen chemistry didn’t continue off screen. She told her director “We did all kinds of hot love scenes…and I never got any kind of tremble out of him at all.” Famous last words!
11. Just One of the Crew
Unlike many Hollywood stars who would only hang out with other stars, Lombard was more interested in befriending the non-actor crew on the sets of her movies. She rarely asked for a dressing room of her own, and instead could be found with the tradesman joking around, smoking, and swearing.
12. Comic or Killer
Back when Orson Welles was just a newbie at RKO studios, he offered Lombard the lead role in a melodrama called Smiler with a Knife. Lombard turned it down, choosing to star in the comedy Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Wells wouldn’t make the movie without her, so he went on to make Citizen Kane instead.
13. Totally Worth It
One of the things most people complain about is paying taxes, but not Carole Lombard! She was such a patriot that she actually defended the income tax system, saying: “Every cent anybody pays in taxes is spent to benefit him. There’s no better place to spend it. I enjoy this country and really think I get my money’s worth.”
14. Frequently Photographed
Lombard was something of a style icon, and no matter what the situation, she was always perfectly put together. She loved fashion and loved being in front of the camera. It’s estimated that she posed for photographers 42,000 times in her life.
15. Loves Music, Loves to Box!
Back in the 1930s, Boxing was almost as popular in America as baseball, and was one sport that Lombard especially enjoyed. She’d occasionally attend fights at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles (known as Grand Olympic Auditorium today), and as a kid, she and her brother took lessons from lightweight champ Benny Leonard.
16. Famous Fight Scene
All that boxing experience paid off in her 1937 film Nothing Sacred, which is best remembered for its fight scene. In the film, Lombard, who is pretending to be dying of radium poisoning, needs to find a way to make herself seem ill to fool the doctors. Wally, the reporter and love interest who is helping her perpetrate the hoax, suggests she fight him. Wally punches Hazel in the jaw, knocking her out, but when she wakes up, she decks him back. Fair is fair!
17. How About My Ex?
Despite their divorce, William Powell and Carole Lombard remained friends, which is what got her the starring role in My Man Godfrey. Lombard was not the studio’s first choice for the role of Irene, but the director really wanted William Powell to star, and he refused to take it unless they cast her as well.
18. Too Late to Retract
Had she not died in the plane crash Lombard had been scheduled to make another appearance at a war bond rally. Obviously, that never came to pass, but due to syndicated columns having early deadlines, the column reporting her appearance was published four days after her death. Oops!
19. Quit Acting!
Lombard started out her film career playing bathing beauties and getting hit in the face with custard pies. When Columbia pictures “borrowed” her from Paramount to film Twentieth Century with John Barrymore, director Howard Hawks gave her some advice. He told her to do whatever feels natural for the scene and to quit acting, even threatening to fire her if she didn’t. For the rest of the film she totally let go, and after that, her acting career took off.
20. Too Much Them
Like many actresses at the time, Lombard wanted to play Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, but director David O. Selznick wouldn’t hear of it. Gable had already been cast as Rhett Butler, and Selznick was afraid that the off-screen lovers would take over the movie on-screen. Since Vivien Leigh took home the Oscar for her role, it was probably the right choice in the end.
21. Making the List
In 1999, Carole Lombard was named one of the top 25 Greatest Female screen legends of the 20th century, coming in at #23, just behind Jean Harlow. The list also included screen legends such as Vivien Leigh, Rita Hayworth, and both Katherine and Audrey Hepburn, so Lombard was in good company.
22. Totally Incompatible
William Powell and Carole Lombard divorced after just over two years of marriage. At the time, they blamed it on their careers. In a 1936 interview, Lombard admitted that their careers had nothing to do with their breakup, and they were just two really incompatible people.
23. Improvise Freely
Howard Hawks, director of Twentieth Century, gave Lombard and John Barrymore carte blanche to improvise as much as they liked during the film. He told Peter Bogdanovich in an interview “When people are as good as those two, the idea of just sticking to lines is rather ridiculous.”
24. Putting a Stop to It
Harry Cohn, the head of Colombia Pictures, was a pretty big jerk and he kept making passes at Lombard while she was filming Twentieth Century. To get rid of him once and for all, Lombard and Hawks came up with a plan to embarrass Cohn. One day, while Hawks was in Cohn’s office having a fairly serious discussion, Lombard rushed into the office shouting “I’ve decided to say yes!” and acted as if she was about to take off her clothes.
Hawks feigned disgust, saying “I’d better get out of here if this is the kind of studio you run,” and left. Cohn was so shocked he asked Lombard to leave and never bothered her again. Problem solved!
25. Helping Out a Friend
Twentieth Century essentially cemented Lombard’s star status, and as she gained power, she used it to help out friends, including John Barrymore, whose career had been steadily going downhill. Lombard pushed to get him the role of Charley Jasper in the 1937 film True Confession. The studio wasn’t keen on hiring him, but Lombard insisted, and they conceded. Barrymore died a few years later of cirrhosis, but they remained friends for the rest of his life.
26. Other Great Love
Before Clark Gable, Lombard was truly and madly in love with the handsome singer Russ Columbo. The pair started a highly publicized romance in 1933, and he seemed to accept all of Lombard’s quirks, including her colorful language. Many people thought they would eventually get married, but gossip columnist Hedda Hopper questioned Columbo’s masculinity and suggested that their relationship was not based on sex.
Regardless, Lombard was hopelessly devoted to him, continuing to date until a freak accident caused his death in 1934.
27. Do it Again!
Comedy was not exactly Alfred Hitchcock’s forte, but he allegedly took the film Mr. and Mrs. Smith for the opportunity to work with Carole Lombard. During the shoot, Lombard directed Hitchcock’s cameo, making him do the scene over and over.
28. Doing Her Part
Lombard was as big an American patriot as there was. She desperately wanted to do her part for the war effort, and she traveled to Indiana to promote war bonds in her home state. During the day, she led a bond rally in the state capital, encouraging the crowd to buy bonds. That night, she appeared on stage with the governor, and sang the national anthem without a band. She more than quadrupled her $500,000 quota, selling a whopping $2,017,513 worth of bonds in a day.
29. Mayor for a Day
In the 1930s and 40s, it was common for celebrities to be named honorary mayors of their communities, and Lombard was no exception. When Culver City named her mayor for the day in July of 1938, her first and only act was to declare July 8 a legal holiday for all Selznick International employees, and threaten to call the police on anyone who came to work.
30. Flipping a Coin
Neither Otto Winkler (Lombard’s press agent) nor Lombard’s mother were keen on flying back from Indiana, but Lombard was insistent that she had to get home as quickly as possible. To settle the dispute, they decided to flip a coin. Heads train, tails, plane. Lombard won the toss and they got on the plane. If only it had gone the other way!
31. What Can Happen?
The plane crash that killed Lombard occurred while her final film To Be or Not to Be was in post-production. The producers wisely decided to leave out a line from the film where Lombard said “What can happen in a plane?” realizing that it probably wasn’t in good taste to leave it in.
32. Not What He Was Expecting
Fredric March, Lombard’s co-star in Nothing Sacred, was known for hitting on his leading ladies. When he attempted to seduce Lombard, she was ready for him, and he got a huge surprise. She invited him into her dressing room, and as soon as she picked up her skirt, he was treated to the sight of an anatomically-correct sex toy between her thighs. Not surprisingly, he left her alone after that!
33. Family Ties
One of the reasons why director Howard Hawks might have been so protective over Carole Lombard when it came to Columbia Pictures exec Harry Cohn is because he and Lombard were actually second cousins!
34. Second Time’s a Charm
Four years after starring together in No Man of Her Own, Lombard and Clark Gable crossed paths again under different circumstances. They met again at the Mayfair ball which she hosted, and this time, there was a spark. Rumor has it that Gable invited Lombard back to his hotel room that night, to which she allegedly replied: “Who do you think you are, Clark Gable?”
35. Almost Inseparable
Though Gable was still married at the time, from the moment they met again at the ball, the pair were almost inseparable until her death, never being apart for more than six days. Two years after their romance began, the pair announced their relationship to the public. As if they didn’t already know!
36. Family Custom
One of Gable’s and Lombard’s traditions was to give each other silly presents after they’d been apart for as little as a day. He once sent her a life-sized iron statue, and she gave him a ham when they were dating. Their entire ranch house was filled with similar gag gifts just for the purpose of making her laugh.
37. Wish Denied
For all of her riches and successes, there was one thing that Lombard desperately wanted and never got—a child. Since Gable had fathered children with his other wives, the problem was assumed to be Lombards. She apparently suffered from some kind of medical condition that prevented her from having children, and though they didn’t know it then, the smoking, drinking, and caffeine probably didn’t help.
38. Unheeded Warnings
Lombard died in a plane crash, returning home from selling war bonds in Indiana. An even more tragic aspect of her death is that it probably could have been avoided had she just listened to a pair of warnings she’d received before boarding. Prior to the trip, Lombard and her mother visited a psychic who told her to “Keep out of planes in 1942, there is danger in them for you.” Her press agent, with whom she was traveling, also begged her to take the train, having had a premonition about a plane crash. If only she’d listened!
39. Death by Infidelity
The official cause of Lombard’s death was a plane crash, but some say that Gable was indirectly responsible for her death, because of his rumored cheating. According to recent revelations about the fateful trip, the couple had supposedly fought the night before about his cheating, and she was in a hurry to get home to save her marriage. Doubly tragic!
40. Eternal Grief
Clark Gable never got over Carole Lombard’s death. After the crash, he became depressed, reckless, and suicidal, and enlisted in the US Air Force in 1942. Although he lived another 18 years and remarried twice after, he still wanted to be buried beside his true love Lombard upon his death.
41. F.B.I. Investigates
After the crash, the F.B.I. started a file on Lombard, mostly to investigate the cause of the crash that killed her. A witness to the crash claimed to have seen flames shooting out of one of the motors, and the F.B.I. wanted to find out if the plane had been sabotaged. Various letters sent to the F.B.I about the crash speculated everything from espionage to sabotage by the Nazis to a U.F.O. No concrete evidence of any of these things was ever found, and they went with a verdict of no sabotage.
42. Always Remembered
After her death, President Franklin D. Roosevelt eulogized Lombard saying, “She is and always will be a star, one that we shall never forget, nor cease to be grateful to,” and declared her the first woman killed in the line of duty during the war.
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