“Be Modern or Be a Wallflower…says Carole Lombard” (Modern Screen, August 1935)

he girl of today, says the ultra-popular Carole, must have a variety of interests and keep up with the times. She must be modern enough to stay ahead of the parade instead of lagging behind — a forgotten wallflower

By: William F. French

We we’re talking about what it takes to put a girl up where every girl wants to be, when Carole Lombard — fresh, healthy and confident, after two weeks rest in the mountains — aired her outlook on it all.

“No,” she replied, “I don’t think luck has much to do with a girl amounting to anything worth while. I think it’s more a matter of alertness, of being wide-awake and alive. These days a girl has to be modern or else be a wallflower. The year 1935 hasn’t time to stop and pay its respects to the old-fashioned girl who is sitting quietly in the corner. Instead of waiting to be asked, a girl has to get out in front of the parade, where she’ll be seen. The time is past when a girl can attract attention being a passive verb, so to speak. She must be active, and in time with the times. She must be modern.”

“Modern girls don’t have to get noisy and boisterous and cheap to get into things. They don’t have to be fast to live fast. A hundred sensible, constructive, progressive interests are open to them. They no longer have to clamp the lid on their energy until it explodes into unhealthy channels. The up-to-date girl has a variety of interests. She rides, she drives, she plays bridge, she reads, she follows the latest plays, she studies, she goes in for sports with a zest. She doesn’t putter. She doesn’t do things half-way. She does things with a will, never half-heartedly. Norma Shearer is an excellent example of being modern. There is nothing half-hearted about her, with her determination to progress and her score of interests. Joan Crawford is modern, knowing what she wants and going after it. Katherine Hepburn, with her independence of spirit, is ultra-modern.”

“Determination, independence, health, intelligence, zest, alertness and a variety of interests. Mix well and season with a happy sense of humor, and you have what it takes to be modern. But don’t forget that seasoning. It is the thing that makes all the others possible. And you must learn to stick with a thing until you whip it. These days a girl simply must go in for sports, both for health and for popularity. Men expect girls to swim with them, ride with them, play tennis with them and even, perhaps, go fishing or hunting with them.”

“I go in for athletics and sports as intensively as I do for work. When I took up tennis I had an instructor and, even now, though I’m rather good at it, I still coach. I’m taking up flying because I think it’s part of a present-day education, and because I think we will all be flying before long.”

“I can’t afford not to keep up with new things. And neither can any other girl, whether she is in society or in a bargain basement. She can find time and means to keep in step with the times. She simply must learn to dance well, to swim, to play golf and bridge. There are ways to accomplish this if she has the will. And if she hasn’t the will, and isn’t willing to pay the price and effort, she will never get the things her heart just aches for and longs for.”

“Don’t believe, girls, that you don’t have to do the things the movie stars do in order to get what you want. You do have to. Because life demands the same of you as it does of them. When you hear what a casting office asks of a girl, don’t marvel. That office asks: ‘Can you swim, can you dance, can you drive, can you play tennis, can you wear a gown attractively, do you know how to walk, can you make yourself interesting?’ Your employer and your friends may not be asking you those questions quite so bluntly. But they are finding the answers to them in their own way. And if you fall short you’ll get as little as little notice from them as the unprepared movie applicant gets at the casting office.”

“In the past fifteen years, women have gone a long way, and have claimed a lot of privileges, for which all women must pay. The progressive ones have crowded so far ahead that the ones who lag at all, are left behind and forgotten. We, as women, asked to be included in men’s sports, interests, activities and even in their political problems. We got our wish. And to live up to it, we must be modern. Perhaps it is unfortunate that all girls must keep up with the pace set by the most successful ones. But I, personally, don’t think so. Instead, I think it is forcing them all into broader, happier, more useful lives.”

“Today, the girl in the Iowa village, or the Pennsylvania hamlet, must keep up-to-date on styles and on manners, because the movies are constantly showing her friends how she ought to act, how she ought to look and what she ought to be able to do. She can’t hide from progress, no matter where she goes. The small city judges the girls on its local beach by the same standards as the world judges the stars at Malibu. And it has a right to do so. Don’t say that you haven’t a chance. Two out of every three stars in Hollywood didn’t have a chance either — once. They worked in department stores, restaurants, and even factories. They were home girls, chorus girls and starving extra girls. But they were modern, and made their ‘break’.”

“Being modern doesn’t mean going in for fads, wearing ultra-modern or spectacular clothes, or doing strange things. The girl of today has too many interests, too much to do, to waste her time that way. She centers on efficiency. She must! But she keeps up with the latest in everything. She reads the newest and best books even if she doesn’t like them and doesn’t agree with them. If I had a dollar for everything I’ve read that I don’t like or don’t agree with, I’d have enough money to buy a race horse. And get some change back!”

“You aren’t wearing clothes five years out of fashion, are you girls? Then why struggle along with habits and viewpoints ten years out of date? You can’t get ahead by staying behind. And don’t think those boys in your home town don’t know what a modern girl looks like and how she acts. If they ever go to the movies they do. Your boss may look a little seedy himself. But don’t imaging he hasn’t been watching the modern girls on the screen, and checking you against them. He has, and if you think you can fall away below the standards set by the little shop girl or stenographer in the picture and still stand ace high in his opinion, you are sadly mistaken.”

“Speaking of wallflowers, don’t imagine that girls become wallflowers because they are not beautiful. It’s because they are out of everything, standing up against the wall somewhere forgotten. They are even in the shows. There we used to call them ‘back-drop props.’ They were put up against the backdrops because they lacked personality, because they didn’t stand out. There are wallflowers in the colleges and high schools, in offices and bargain basements, and in politics and society. Only you seldom notice them. They don’t count. You’ll also find them in the movies and in homes, picking up the crumbs that the modern girls drop.”

Carole talked easily — a slight gesture or a shrug of the shoulders emphasizing her points. She has been climbing the ladder of success and fame, two steps at a time, the past year. Particularly, since she played in Twentieth Century with John Barrymore, who taught her to forget herself and to put her every thought into the thing she was doing. Now she seems so much surer of herself than she did a year ago. If ever a woman has found herself that woman is Carole Lombard.

“Can any girl be modern?” she continued, in answer to our question. “Certainly, she can. And she does not have to undergo any radical changes in being so. In fact, the average girl is only a little short of being modern now. But that little is just enough to keep her from stepping out ahead of the crowd — just enough to keep her from doing something really worth while. The first step toward becoming really up-to-date is to be yourself. And, strange as it may seem, the best way to be yourself is to forget yourself. Forget yourself and just act naturally. You have a personality, a natural personality, if you’ll only give it a chance. And, as in the movies, so in the office, the home, or anywhere else, that personality will outshine mere beauty every time, if you will only let it. If a girl is really true to herself, she will reflect her own personality — and in doing so — she will do the things that come naturally to her. And one of those things is to fight back if anyone imposes on her. The girl of today is not afraid to stand up for her rights, and to fight back. She is not afraid even to shock old-fashioned folk, if she must shock them to let them understand she is living her own life. And, in doing so, is broadening out. And also, if she is being truly herself, she will have a sense of humor, and an appreciation of others. She will have a temper, too, when a temper is in order. She will not become cantankerous or furious, but she will have temper enough to put a real cutting edge on her determination to be modern.”

“She will have an open mind, and will not fear to ask questions. An hour a day spent in doing intelligent reading and an hour, two, or three times a week, at athletics, will do wonders to brighten her both mentally and physically. She will give considerable thought to her clothes and her personal appearance, realizing that the qualities of cleanliness, good health, and brightness are the greatest assets a girl can have. She will develop her native sense of humor, both for her own good and for the good of those who associate with her. She will keep repeating to herself, a hundred times a day, ‘I must know what is going on, I must keep up with the times, I must be interesting.’ She will keep always alert and honestly try to understand all that is going on in her world. She will refuse to admit limitations, talking example from the thousand and one girls who have proved that any obstacle can be overcome. She will remember that the modern girl most not allow any weakness. Inferiority complexes exist. You see them everywhere. The girl of today regards them as the disease that they are, and treats them accordingly. She doesn’t pamper them. She rolls up her sleeves and fights them for her own salvation. I imagine inferiority complexes — shyness, timidity, and lack of self-confidence — have ruined as many girls’ chances in life as plain laziness. So the up-to-date girl recognizes phobias and laziness as the twin enemies of her future — enemies that she must learn to conquer if she is going to succeed.”

“Also, she has enough interests to overcome her conceit and ego. For, the more things we try, the more we discover there is room for improvement. But the more we try, fortunately, the more we depend upon ourselves, and the more we are willing to try again.”

“And what are some of the other things a modern girl will realize?” I asked her finally.

“She’ll realize that she has work to do,” grinned Carole, rising to her feet. “And she won’t spend any more time telling other girls what to do. Instead she’ll be doing something herself!”