Remembering Carole Lombard, Hollywood’s First Casualty of World War II – Variety


Carole Lombard got here to Hollywood from the Midwest on the age of 7 and was making Westerns at Fox by age 9.

The legendary star of such classics as “My Man Godfrey” and “Twentieth Century” would rise to turn into a high-paid performer within the center of the Despair. Lombard was identified for her tomboy fashion, for throwing nice events, for her marriages to megastars William Powell and Clark Gable. She was additionally destined to be Hollywood’s first casualty of World War II. She was solely 33 and on the peak of her profession.

“Carole Lombard gave her life within the service of America,” Will Hays, president of Motion Image Producers and Distributors of America, advised Variety in January 1942 because the shock of Lombard’s dying in a airplane crash exterior Las Vegas unfold via the business.

Every day Variety editor Arthur Ungar penned a page-one tribute to Lombard that led the Jan. 19, 1942, version.

“Carole Lombard died within the line of responsibility. She was the primary casualty of present enterprise on this world battle. She was in lively service on a mission in protection of america —  promoting Protection Bonds — when dying immediately overtook her within the skies,” Ungar wrote.

At a time when the nation was polarized about whether or not to enter the battle, Lombard had been an outspoken supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was no shock that she was among the many first in what Variety then known as “the movie colony” to lift her hand to assist the battle effort. U.S. Treasury officers put the film star to work promoting battle bonds to finance the big army and industrial response to Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

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Variety report on Carole Lombard’s battle bond drive

On Jan. 15, Lombard and Hays kicked off the nation’s first bond drive for WWII at a rally in Indianapolis. The setting was private for Lombard, as a local of Fort Wayne, Ind. The Treasury Division’s objective was to promote $500,000 value of battle bonds and stamps; Lombard’s energetic pitch to Hoosiers on the metropolis’s Cadle Tabernacle wound up bringing in additional than $2 million.

After the occasion, Hays (of Hays Code fame) despatched a wire to Gable, who was not solely Lombard’s husband but additionally chair of the Hollywood committee in cost of assigning wartime help jobs to his fellow film stars.

“Nice day right here at the moment. Carole was excellent. Actually, she was magnificent and so they offered on this sooner or later $2,017,513 value of bonds, with a quota of solely $500,000. Each one deeply grateful I really feel I need to ship you this expression of my private appreciation,’ ” Hays wrote, in line with Variety’s protection.

Accompanying Lombard on the trek to Indianapolis was her mom, Elizabeth Peters, and Otto Winkler, a longtime MGM publicity government who had for years dealt with Gable’s PR wants — an enormous job for the star (identified within the biz as “the King”) of “Gone With the Wind,” “It Occurred One Night time” and “Mutiny on the Bounty.” Winkler had been finest man at Gable and Lombard’s 1939 marriage ceremony.

Lombard, Peters, Winkler and others acquired on a business TWA flight at round four a.m. on Jan. 16 that stopped in Albuquerque. At that time, 4 passengers acquired off to make room for 15 Military Air Corp. aviators and enlisted males. From there, the flight stopped once more in Las Vegas. Not lengthy after it took off once more for Burbank airport the airplane hit the excessive peak of Nevada’s Mt. Potosi, about 50 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

Carole Lombard death WWII

The wreckage was strewn for miles. The mountainous crash web site was exhausting to achieve within the coronary heart of winter. The violent impression made our bodies of the 22 victims troublesome to determine. Gable, who had reportedly been ready for his spouse at Burbank airport, chartered a airplane and headed to the scene as quickly as he discovered of the tragedy.

Because the unhappy information sunk in, tributes from her business colleages had been shared extensively via the pages of weekly Variety and Every day Variety. Lombard was revered by crew members and studio staffers far and large because the consummate professional, the previous Mack Sennett bathing magnificence who labored her method up from two-reelers as a baby to high billing by dint of expertise and dogged dedication. Hers is one of the tales that cemented an everlasting Hollywood cliche. “Her life typified the favored conception of Hollywood — small city lady from Fort Wayne attaining riches and fame,” Variety noticed in its obituary for Lombard.

Born Jane Alice Peters on Oct. 6, 1908 (Variety initially cited her delivery yr as 1909 and her age as 32 on the time of the crash), Lombard relocated from Fort Wayne to Hollywood together with her mom and brother when movement photos had been of their infancy. By the point she was a youngster, she was showing in oaters with fashionable star Buck Jones. She briefly attended Fairfax Excessive College, however her star started to rise when she was forged in “bathing magnificence” shorts produced by Mack Sennett. Lombard’s first reference in Variety got here with a casting discover within the Nov. 23, 1927, version for Sennett’s “two-reel comedy burlesque on ‘Carmen.’ ”

Lombard moved on to contracts with Pathe and a seven-year hitch at Paramount Footage, the place she developed her fame for comedy and met her first husband, William Powell. She was married to the long run star of “The Skinny Man” sequence from 1931-33. As her profession blossomed, Lombard labored tirelessly, making motion pictures for MGM, Columbia Footage, Common Footage, RKO, Warner Bros. and Selznick Worldwide Footage. Variety’s obituary for Lombard famous that she was a real baby of photos who by no means as soon as appeared professionally on stage. She earned her solely Oscar nomination for her work within the 1936 romantic comedy basic “My Man Godfrey,” by which she co-starred with Powell after their break up.

By the mid-1930s Lombard was incomes $465,000 a yr from “photos and radio,” and she or he wasn’t shy about spending it.

“At the moment, 1935, she was extensively publicized as ‘the perfect dressed girl in Hollywood,’ and an inventor of novel events, such because the renting of concessions on the amusement pier at Venice for a social perform!,” Variety famous in Lombard’s obituary.

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Carole Lombard’s last movie was Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be or To not Be.”
United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstoc

Lombard was hailed for her loyalty to crew members through the years, and for her lack of pretension.

“Many a star felt the sting of her salty rebukes, however to rank and file she was an incredible man— an appellation reserved for only a few within the image enterprise. The common-or-garden within the studios really feel her loss way more genuinely and keenly than the marquee tribe,” Variety wrote.

After her marriage to Gable, Lombard developed a fame for turning down plum roles with a purpose to coordinate her work schedule together with his. When not on the job, the 2 had been reported to spend most of their time away from Hollywood’s social scene out on the 20-acre ranch in Encino that Gable and Lombard purchased a couple of months after eloping in Kingman, Ariz. on March 29, 1939. Half of Lombard’s legend on this interval was that she took up capturing and searching with a purpose to take pleasure in holidays together with her outdoorsy husband.

On Jan. 12, 1942, Lombard, Peters, Winkler and others set off from Los Angeles by prepare for Indianapolis. Lombard had been anticipated to additionally return dwelling by prepare however she opted to fly on the final minute, reportedly over the objections of her mom and Winkler. Later, studies surfaced that she was attempting to get dwelling quicker to move off a blossoming affair between Gable and a younger Lana Turner.

“She died for her nation,” the Treasury Division mentioned of Lombard in a press release. President Roosevelt additionally paid his respects to 1 of his most enthusiastic Hollywood supporters.

“Mrs. Roosevelt and I are deeply distressed. Carole was our good friend and visitor in happier days. She introduced nice pleasure to all who knew her and to the thousands and thousands who knew her solely as an incredible artist. She gave unselfishly of her time and expertise to serve her authorities in peace and in battle. She beloved her nation. She is and all the time will probably be a star, one we will always remember or stop to be grateful to,” Roosevelt mentioned.

Every day Variety’s Ungar echoed Roosevelt’s sentiments in his tribute to Lombard.

“She was only a down­ to ­earth human, and all the time wished of us to realize it. She by no means took benefit of employer or worker. She gave her all in loyalty and talent to the image enterprise — setting an instance that many others within the business can and will comply with. She was an everyday fellow. The business will all the time idolize her reminiscence, and the best monument that may be erected in her honor is for all of us in present enterprise to comply with via. Be troopers of our nation. Purchase, and get others to purchase unstintingly Protection Bonds. That’s what the movie business’s high star was doing when battle claimed its first casualty from present enterprise.”

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Carole Lombard in 1931 (George Hurrell)
George Hurrell/Columbia/Kobal/Sh

Lombard’s dying pressured United Artists to make hasty modifications to her final film, Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be or To not Be,” an anti-Nazi satire that includes Lombard and Jack Benny because the leaders of a Polish theater troupe. The film was “within the slicing room” with producer Alexander Korda on the time of the airplane crash. Benny was so distraught by the loss of his co-star that he bowed out of his common Sunday night time NBC radio program that week. Variety later reported that two strains of Lombard’s dialogue associated to “a lady in an airplane” had been modified earlier than “To Be or To not Be” was launched in March 1942, to nice acclaim and large field workplace.

Lombard’s funeral was held on Jan. 21, 1942, when she and her mom had been interred at Forest Garden in Glendale. Spencer Tracy, Zeppo Marx, Myrna Loy, Fred MacMurray, William Powell, Louis B. Mayer, Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst had been among the many few dozen company. Variety reported that Gable was “white-faced and stricken” in the course of the transient ceremony. (Gable would finally be laid to relaxation at subsequent to Lombard though he had two extra marriages previous to his dying in 1960.) A day later, Walter Pidgeon delivered the eulogy on the funeral for Winkler, a loyal MGM soldier who died “within the line of responsibility on project.”

Because the U.S. adjusted to preventing one other international battle, the loss of one of Hollywood’s brightest lights grew to become a potent instance of the leisure business’s contributions to the epic battle in opposition to fascism.

“Our sorrow is deep. But, via it, we really feel a pleasure within the reminiscence of Miss Lombard and of Mr. Winkler. Each had been troopers within the service of their nation. Our memorial to them would be the untiring efforts of all of us to hold on the good work they had been doing so ably,” mentioned Fred W. Beetson, chairman of the Hollywood Victory Committee for Stage, Display and Radio, in January 1942.

One yr to the day after her dying, Lombard’s legacy was invoked when Indiana led the nation “in a vigorous 15-day battle bond drive” that ended Jan. 15 with a $3.5 million haul. Indiana Gov. Henry Schricker attended a tribute dinner to Lombard held in Indianapolis to mark the yr since her passing. On the occasion, Variety reported {that a} “transcription” recording of Lombard’s voice was performed, giving her one final likelihood to induce the group to “keep on, purchase extra bonds, extra bonds and extra bonds till this battle is gained.”


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