Our Manhattan explorer discovers Carole Lombard, another beauty who is on her way up, quipped fully with all that it takes.
By: Malcolm H. Oettinger
A publicity office at best is no fairy bower.
Even when it is coolly situated in the white turret of the studio with windows facing north and east, automatic typewriters, built-in office boys and decorative secretaries, a publicity office is a trifle drab.
Yet when Carole Lombard climbed in the fourth floor window with a cheery “Hello!” the spot blossomed into a place of charm and enchantment.
She should be seen to be appreciated, and once seen, never forgotten. A Hollywood graduate with more than the usual honors, Carole has progressed from comedy falls at Sennett’s seraglio of slapstick to the Motion Picture Academy kisses of Warner Baxter, no less. Still in the low twenties, she faces a future filled with what people like to term promise.
Lombard is slim and shapely and her hair taffy-yellow. Her mouth is full, her eyes amused in a tolerant way. She has crowded a lot into her brief span, I should guess. She is sophisticated but not bored, wise but not bitter. She has heard all the questions a beautiful woman hears, and she knows the answers. Hollywood, she says, is a delightful spot for a person with a sense of humor. She should be happy there.
In the first place some misguided soul christened her Carole Lombard, which isn’t her name at all.
Jane Peters was visiting in Los Angeles when a picture director saw her and said,” My dear, come round to the studio for a test at three tomorrow,” meaning no harm whatsoever. That is what makes this an amazing story. She was not forced to sacrifice all in order to get her big chance. Half an hour after the test had been screened before a small but pompous group of high-pressure studio executives, Jane Peters had been signed to play opposite Edmund Lowe, in a Fox picture called Marriage in Transit. That’s how hard it is to break into pictures, but don’t try it.
“Your name,” the executives told Jane, “is too plain. Jane Peters hasn’t any ‘box office’ in it. But we’ll fix that.” And of course they did. Supervisors have been fixing things, permanently, in the cinema industry, ever since Cecil DeMille launched the first bathtub. They decided to call her Carole, after the sparrows and thrushes, and Lombard for the Lombardy poplars, hoping this would make her pop’lar with the public. For a supervisor, that was a fair pun.
Carole Lombard she was. She didn’t care for the label, but who was she to say no? At that early stage of the game, before even a crank has been turned, remonstrance was out of order. And at sixteen one doesn’t demur at the names one is called when a leading role goes with it.
“I was pretty terrible in the pictures,” Carole said. “I rather expected I would be, having had no experience in pictures and no stage training. Besides I was pleasingly plump and that was no advantage, either.”
“So when the picture was finished, I left Fox to apply for work at Mack Sennett’s, the school of hard knocks. There I started working up from the bottom.”
Then Carole told me what other Sennett graduates have told me — that comedy under the Gaelic master is the best schooling for getting camera-wise, for spacing a movement, for timing a laugh. When one considers that Gloria Swanson, Bebe Daniels, Wallace Beery, Raymond Griffith, Betty Compson, and Chester Conklin all came from the pie-slinging lots, the truth of the assertion is apparent.
“Sennett’s was the most delightful madhouse imaginable,” said Carole enthusiastically.” Life was one fall after another. There was a lusty, rowdy spirit of freedom that I’ve never encountered anywhere else. I recommend it. It exposed the sham of pretension, it exploded the petty hypocrisies of people in high places, it flung pies at false dignity. What’s more, Sennett’s develops the sense of humor, toughens the constitution, nurtures ambition, and teaches you the game as it should be played. Two years there gave me a thorough grounding. I left fully prepared to face the world.”
Pathé had seen her in a full-length Sennett called The Girl from Nowhere. Impressed, Pathé signed her. IN a year the blonde Lombard played in a half dozen features with Alan Hale, William Boyd, and other Pathé luminaries.
Every year a dozen or more beauties from the short-comedy field apprentice themselves to DeMille or Fox or Metro, pose for publicity stills, an awake the cold gray dawn to find their options lapsed. Carole Lombard fared better. Her year with Pathé introduced her to a wide public, and incidentally established her in the minds of producers.
When Fox told Alfred Santell to do a sequel to In Old Arizona, he seized upon Lombard for the interesting role of the adventuress.
“We went bye-bye for eight weeks,” said Carole. “In the desert for two months, living in tents. Dandy. Then we saw the picture! It could have been made in somebody’s backyard. But it’s making money and that’s the answer.”
Free-lancing along, Lombard next visited the Paramount lot to do an excellent assignment opposite Charles Rogers. Those who saw Safety in Numbers will remember her smart characterization, her seductive costumes, her adroit handling of saucy lyrics.
There is in all her work a nice deliberation, a reassuring poise, an easy naturalness. Her subtlety is welcome on a screen boasting none too much, her underplaying delightful in a welter of overacting. Even in The Arizona Kid, a sorry vehicle, Lombard displayed superb talkie technique, making at least one role believable in an altogether false picture.
Following Safety in Numbers Paramount sent Carole East to decorate The Best People — a stage play that enjoyed some success five years ago.
“We have a troupe composed of New York actors,” said Carole. “Frank Morgan, and Miriam Hopkins, and dave Hutchinson, from ‘Sons o’ Guns.’ And it’s all quite dignified. Correct, you know. No horseplay. A far cry from the water fights we staged at Sennett’s during any old picture. In the middle of a scene you could expect a bag of water on your head. It was real sport. Then you’d fill a bag and dash after the enemy. In Manhattan it’s all different. It seems we’re artistes here.”
When Al Wood saw Miss Lombard at luncheon one day he told his aid-de-camp to see her about doing the lead in Hemmingway’s “A Farewell to Arms,” presented early in the fall on the stage. But Paramount stepped in and signed her for its exclusive enjoyment. So she has definitely shaken off her comedy classifications.
“I had a hard time convincing people I could do straight parts,” she said. “But once they saw me do them, they believed me when I said I could. Skeptical, you know.”
Offstage she resembles Constance Bennett. Both are wide-eyed, striking blondes with memorable mouths. On the screen Carole is a distinct type unto herself. She has the equipment to play high comedy or slapstick, gold digger or débutante. She should go far. In fact she is already on her way.