Carole Lombard was born Jane Alice Peters on 6th October 1908 to a wealthy family in Fort Wayne, Indiana. She was the third child of Frederic Peters (1875–1935) and Elizabeth "Bessie" Knight Peters. Caroles parents had a strained marriage and in October 1914, her mother took the children and moved to Los Angeles.
Carole attended Virgil Junior High School, where she was a tomboy and excelled in sports. While playing baseball caught the attention of the film director Allan Dwan, which led to her screen debut in A Perfect Crime (1921). The movie wasn't widely distributed but the expirience spurred Carole on to look for further film work. The teenager attended several auditions, but none were successful. While appearing as the queen of Fairfax High School's May Day Carnival at the age of 15, she was scouted by an employee of Charlie Chaplin and offered a screen test to appear in his film The Gold Rush (1925). Lombard was not given the role, but it raised Hollywood's awareness of the aspirant-actress. Her test was seen by the Vitagraph Film Company, who expressed an interest in signing her to a contract. Although this did not materialize, the condition that she adopt a new first name ("Jane" was considered too dull) lasted with Lombard throughout her career. She selected the name "Carol" after a girl she played tennis with in middle school
In October 1924, at the age of 16, she signed a contract with the Fox Film Corporation for $75-per-week. She abandoned her schooling to embark on this new career. Fox were happy to use the name Carol, but unlike Vitagraph they disliked her surname. From this point she became "Carol Lombard", the new name taken from a family friend.
The majority of Carole's appearances with Fox were bit parts in low-budget westerns and adventure films.She got her first break the following year opposite Edmund Lowe in the successful drama Marriage in Transit. Soon dropped by Fox following a car accident which left a scar on her face.
Carole appeared in 15 short films of Pathé Exchange between September 1927 and March 1929, and then began appearing in feature films such as High Voltage and The Racketeer. After a successful one-off appearance opposite Warner Baxter in Fox's The Arizona Kid, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures who cast her in the Buddy Rogers comedy Safety in Numbers (1930).
In 1930, Lombard returned to Fox for a one-off role in the western The Arizona Kid. It was a big release for the studio, starring the popular actor Warner Baxter, in which Lombard received third billing. Following the success of the film, Paramount Pictures recruited Lombard and signed her to a $350-per-week contract (gradually increasing to $3,500-per-week by 1936)Lombard began appearing in comedies with William Powell such as Man of the World and Ladies Man. Carole had been a fan of the actor before they met, attracted to his good looks and debonair screen persona, and they were soon in a relationship. The differences between the pair have been noted by biographers: she was 22, carefree, and famously foul-mouthed, while he was 38, intellectual, and sophisticated. Despite their disparate personalities, Lombard married Powell on June 6, 1931, at her Beverly Hills home.The marriage to Powell increased Lombard's fame, and the two would continue to occasionally star together throughout the 1930s.
Carole continued to please critics with her work in Up Pops the Devil and I Take this Woman (both 1931). In reviews for the latter film, which co-starred Gary Cooper, several critics predicted that Lombard was set to become a major star. She went on to appear in five films throughout 1932. No One Man and Sinners in the Sun were not successful, but Edward Buzzell's romantic picture Virtue was well received. After featuring in the drama No More Orchids, Carole was cast as the wife of a con-artist in No Man of Her Own. Her co-star for the picture was Clark Gable, who was rapidly becoming one of Hollywood's top celebrities. The film was a critical and commercial success. It was the only picture that Gable and Lombard, future husband and wife, made together.
In August 1933, Lombard and Powell divorced after 26 months of marriage. At the time she blamed it on their careers, but in a 1936 interview she admitted that this "had little to do with the divorce. We were just two completely incompatible people." She appeared in five films that year, beginning with the drama From Hell to Heaven and continuing with Supernatural, her only horror vehicle. After a small role in The Eagle and the Hawk, a war film starring Fredric March and Cary Grant, she starred in two melodramas: Brief Moment, which critics enjoyed, and White Woman, where she was paired with Charles Laughton.
The year 1934 marked a high point in Lombard's career. She began with Wesley Ruggles's musical drama Bolero, where she and George Raft showcased their dancing skills in an extravagantly-staged performance to Maurice Ravel's "Boléro". Before filming began, she was offered the lead female role in It Happened One Night, but turned it down because of scheduling conflicts with this production. Bolero was favorably received, while her next film, the musical comedy We're Not Dressing with Bing Crosby, was a box office hit.
Lombard was then recruited by the director Howard Hawks, a second cousin, to star in his successful comedy film Twentieth Century, a pioneering film in the screwball comedy genre, which also proved a watershed in her career and made her a major star. Hawks had seen the actress inebriated at a party, where he found her to be "hilarious and uninhibited and just what the part needed",and she was cast opposite John Barrymore.
The next films Lombard appeared in were Henry Hathaway's Now and Forever (1934), featuring Gary Cooper and the new child star Shirley Temple, and Lady by Choice (1934), which was a critical and commercial success. The Gay Bride (1934) placed her opposite Chester Morris in a gangster comedy, but this outing was panned by critics. After reuniting with George Raft for another dance picture, Rumba (1935), Lombard was given the opportunity to repeat the screwball success of Twentieth Century. In Mitchell Leisen's Hands Across the Table (1935), she portrayed a manicurist in search of a rich husband, played by Fred MacMurray. Critics praised the film and it is remembered as one of her best films. The pairing of Lombard and MacMurray proved so successful that they made three more pictures together.
Lombard's first film of 1936 was Love Before Breakfast, described by Gehring as "The Taming of the Shrew, screwball style". In William K. Howard's The Princess Comes Across, her second comedy with MacMurray, she played a budding actress who wins a film contract by masquerading as a Swedish princess. The performance was considered a satire of Greta Garbo, and was widely praised by critics. Lombard's success continued as she was recruited by Universal Studios to star in the screwball comedy My Man Godfrey (1936). William Powell, who was playing the titular Godfrey, insisted on her being cast as the female lead; despite their divorce, the pair remained friendly and Powell felt she would be perfect in the role of Irene, a zany heiress who employs a "forgotten man" as the family butler. The film was directed by Gregory LaCava, who knew Lombard personally and advised that she draw on her "eccentric nature" for the role. My Man Godfrey was released to great acclaim and was a box office hit. It received six nominations at the 9th Academy Awards, including Lombard for Best Actress.
By 1937, Lombard was one of Hollywood's most popular actresses and also the highest-paid star in Hollywood following the deal which Myron Selznick negotiated with Paramount that brought her $450,000, more than five times the salary of the U.S. President. As her salary was widely reported in the press, Lombard stated that 80 percent of her earnings went in taxes but that she was happy to help improve her country. The comments earned her much positive publicity, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent her a personal letter of thanks.
Her first release of the year was Leisen's Swing High, Swing Low, a third pairing with MacMurray. The film focused on a romance between two cabaret performers, and was a critical and commercial success. It had been primarily a drama, with occasional moments of comedy, but for her next project Lombard returned to the screwball genre. The producer David O. Selznick was eager to make a comedy with the actress, impressed by her work in My Man Godfrey, and hired Ben Hecht to write an original screenplay for her. Nothing Sacred, directed by William Wellman and co-starring Fredric March, satirized the journalism industry and "the gullible urban masses", with Lombard playing a small-town girl who pretends to be dying and finds her story exploited by a New York reporter. Marking her only appearance in Technicolor, the film was highly praised and was one of Lombard's personal favorites.
Lombard continued with screwball comedies, next starring in what Swindell calls one of her "wackiest" films, True Confession (1937). She played a compulsive liar who wrongly confesses to murder. Lombard loved the script and was excited about the project, which reunited her with John Barrymore and was her final appearance with MacMurray. Her prediction that it "smacked of a surefire success" proved accurate, as critics responded positively and it was popular at the box office.
True Confession was the last film Lombard made on her Paramount contract, and she remained an independent performer for the rest of her career. Her next film was made at Warner Bros., where she played a famous actress in Mervyn LeRoy's Fools for Scandal (1938). The comedy met with scathing reviews and was a commercial failure, with Swindell calling it "one of the most horrendous flops of the thirties".
Fools for Scandal was the only film Lombard made in 1938. By this time, she was devoted to a relationship with Clark Gable. Four years after their teaming on No Man of Her Own, the pair had reunited at a Hollywood party and began a romance early in 1936. The media took great interest in their partnership and frequently questioned if they would wed. Gable was separated from his wife, Rhea Langham, but she did not want to grant him a divorce. As his relationship with Lombard became serious, Langham eventually agreed to a settlement worth half a million dollars. The divorce was finalized in March 1939, and Gable and Lombard eloped in Kingman, Arizona on 29 March. The couple—both lovers of the outdoors—bought a 20-acre ranch in Encino, California, where they kept barnyard animals and enjoyed hunting trips.
While continuing with a slower work-rate, Lombard decided to move away from comedies and return to dramatic roles. In 1939 she appeared in a second David O. Selznick production, Made for Each Other, which paired her with James Stewart to play a couple facing domestic difficulties. Reviews for the film were highly positive, and praised Lombard's dramatic effort; financially, it was a disappointment. Lombard's next appearance came opposite Cary Grant in the John Cromwell romance In Name Only (1939), a credit she personally negotiated with RKO Radio Pictures upon hearing of the script and Grant's involvement. The role mirrored her recent experiences, as she played a woman in love with a married man whose wife refuses to divorce. She was paid $150,000 for the film, continuing her status as one of Hollywood's highest-paid actresses, and it was a moderate success.
Lombard was eager to win an Academy Award, and selected her next project—from several possible scripts—with the expectation that it would bring her the trophy. Vigil in the Night (1940), directed by George Stevens, featured Lombard as a nurse who faces a series of personal difficulties. Although the performance was praised she did not get her nomination, as the sombre mood of the picture turned audiences away and box-office returns were poor. Despite the realization that she was best suited to comedies, Lombard completed one more drama: They Knew What They Wanted (1940), co-starring Charles Laughton, which was mildly successful.
Accepting that "my name doesn't sell tickets to serious pictures",Lombard returned to comedy for the first time in three years to film Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), about a couple who learn that their marriage is invalid, with Robert Montgomery. Lombard was influential in bringing Alfred Hitchcock, whom she knew through David O. Selznick, to direct one of his most atypical films. It was a commercial success, as audiences were happy with what Swindell calls "the belated happy news ... that Carole Lombard was a screwball once more."
It was nearly a year before Lombard committed to another film, as she focused instead on her home and marriage. Determined that her next film be "an unqualified smash hit", she was also careful in selecting a new project. Through her agent, Lombard heard of Ernst Lubitsch's upcoming film: To Be or Not to Be, a dark comedy that satirized the Nazi takeover of Poland. The actress had long wanted to work with Lubitsch, her favorite comedy director, and felt that the material—although controversial—was a worthy subject. Lombard accepted the role of actress Maria Tura, despite it being a smaller part than she was used to, and was given top-billing over the film's lead, Jack Benny. Filming took place in the fall of 1941, and was reportedly one of the happiest experiences of Lombard's career.
When the U.S. entered World War II at the end of 1941, Lombard traveled to her home state of Indiana for a war bond rally with her mother, Bess Peters, and Clark Gable's press agent, Otto Winkler. Lombard was able to raise over $2 million in defense bonds in a single evening. Her party had initially been scheduled to return to Los Angeles by train, but Lombard was anxious to reach home more quickly and wanted to fly by a scheduled airline. Her mother and Winkler were both afraid of flying and insisted they follow their original travel plans. Lombard suggested they flip a coin; they agreed and Lombard won the toss.
In the early morning hours of January 16, 1942, Lombard, her mother, and Winkler boarded a Transcontinental and Western Air Douglas DST aircraft to return to California.[note 9] After refueling in Las Vegas, TWA Flight 3 took off at 7:07 p.m. and approximately 23 minutes later, crashed into "Double Up Peak" near the 8,300-foot (2,500 m) level of Potosi Mountain, 32 statute miles (51 km) southwest of Las Vegas. All 22 aboard, Lombard and her mother included, plus 15 army servicemen, were killed instantly.
Gable was flown to Las Vegas after learning of the tragedy to claim the bodies of his wife, mother-in-law, and Winkler, who aside from being his press agent had been a close friend. Lombard's funeral was held on January 21 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. She was interred beside her mother under the name of Carole Lombard Gable. Despite remarrying twice following her death, Gable chose to be interred beside Lombard when he died in 1960.
Lombard's final film, To Be or Not to Be (1942), directed by Ernst Lubitsch and co-starring Jack Benny, a satire about Nazism and World War II, was in post-production at the time of her death. The film's producers decided to cut part of the film in which Lombard's character asks, "What can happen on a plane?" out of respect for the circumstances surrounding her death. When the film was released, it received mixed reviews, particularly about its controversial content, but Lombard's performance was hailed as the perfect send-off to one of 1930s Hollywood's most important stars.
At the time of her death, Lombard had been scheduled to star in the film They All Kissed the Bride; when production started, her role was given to Joan Crawford. Crawford donated all of her salary for the film to the Red Cross, which had helped extensively in the recovery of bodies from the air crash. Shortly after Lombard's death, Gable, who was inconsolable and devastated by his loss, joined the United States Army Air Forces. Lombard had asked him to do that numerous times after the United States had entered World War II. After officer training, Gable headed a six-man motion picture unit attached to a B-17 bomb group in England to film aerial gunners in combat, flying five missions himself. In December 1943, the United States Maritime Commission announced that a Liberty ship named after Carole Lombard would be launched. Gable attended the launch of the SS Carole Lombard on January 15, 1944, the two-year anniversary of Lombard's record-breaking war bond drive. The ship was involved in rescuing hundreds of survivors from sunken ships in the Pacific and returning them to safety.
In 1962, Mrs. Jill Winkler Rath, widow of publicist Otto Winkler, filed an unsuccessful lawsuit for $100,000 against the $2,000,000 estate of Clark Gable in connection with Winkler's death in the plane crash with Carole Lombard. The suit was dismissed in Los Angeles Superior Court. Mrs. Rath, in her action, claimed Gable promised to provide financial aid for her if she would not bring suit against the airline involved. However, Mrs. Rath stated, she later learned that Gable settled his claim against the airline for $10. He did so because he did not want to repeat his grief in court and subsequently provided her no financial aid in his will.
Carole Lombard's Legacy:
Carole was among the most commercially successful and admired film personalities in Hollywood in the 1930. She was particularly noted for the zaniness of her performances.
In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Lombard 23rd on its list of the 50 greatest American female screen legends, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6930 Hollywood Blvd. Lombard received one Academy Award for Best Actress nomination, for My Man Godfrey. Actresses who have portrayed her in films include Jill Clayburgh in Gable and Lombard (1976) Sharon Gless in Moviola: The Scarlett O'Hara War (1980), Denise Crosby in Malice in Wonderland (1985), Anastasia Hille in RKO 281 (1999) and Vanessa Gray in Lucy (2003).
Lombard's Fort Wayne childhood home has been designated a historic landmark. The city named the nearby bridge over the St. Mary's River the Carole Lombard Memorial Bridge.
♥ I live by a man's code, designed to fit a man's world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman's first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick.
♥ Relax, Georgie, I'm just making my collar and cuffs match.
♥ Bill Powell is the only intelligent actor I've ever met.
♥ I've lived by a man's code designed to fit a man's world, yet at the same time I never forget that a woman's first job is to choose the right shade of lipstick.