By: Mark Dowling
Professors and psychologists choose the “frivolous” forties and the “terrible” teens, but the glamorous blonde movie star, Carole Lombard, suggests another age fraught with danger to women in regard to their love and marriage, life and careers. “The teens have their problems,” she admitted, “but a girl is still so young that her mistakes are’t fatal then.”
She paused, snuffing out a cigarette in a white milk-glass ash tray.
“When the hey-nonny-nonny period of her teens is over, a woman feels rather sure of herself. She’s had a little success with men. She thinks her own ‘line’ and her personality pretty fetching. She is apt to sit back and relax — and she’s living through a time when every act and decision determines the sort of person she’ll be all the rest of her life!
“That’s just one reason why I believe the early and middle twenties are dangerous to women — the temptation to become stagnant instead of continuing to grow!”
Certainly there was nothing stagnant about Carole as she talked, vibrantly restless the day before starting work on her latest picture, Hands Across the Table. Colorful excitement filled her exotic dressing room. The movies at their most glamorous! Travis Banton, world-famed designer, stopped in to ask her advice about a gown. “Better use heavy material, or it will need pressing after each shot,” she suggested wisely. A studio florist called for orders. “Little ferns on the shelves,” Carole told him. “The usual white lilies on the table.” Fieldsie, the star’s friend and secretary, rattled off appointments over the telephone.
No wonder Carole feels that she has passed through the dangerous age — in her experience if not in years!
“It isn’t just Hollywood which matured me so quickly,” she explained. “It’s having worked for my living ever since I was fifteen. Ever since then I’ve been thrown with intelligent and cultured men, writers and directors and artists.”
“This kept me from stagnating. And I believe that all women should have some work or interest outside themselves during their early twenties. I learned that you have to develop into a real personality during those years, or else become just another pretty girl who has faded. You have to grow up — or else grow old!
“Too many women have just one ambition in their twenties. They want marriage. Then they settle down and become housewives and let their own characters go. Marriage is important, naturally, but it shouldn’t submerge any woman’s personality. It should not wholly consume her life.”
“I tried to keep the canvas broad. To forget the temporary problems of love and a career, and see the panorama of my whole life stretching out before me.”
She stirred restlessly on the studio couch, slim and lovely in her tailored brown pajamas. The gold of her hair blends with her creamy brown arms, tanned from a series of hilarious tennis matches with her friend, Bing Crosby.
“Right now,” she told me, “I’m looking forward to my thirties — with delight instead of with loathing. I believe thirty the most wonderful age for a woman. All the best stage stars — all the famous women of history — have been at their best in their thirties. Then a woman has become mellow and dignified. In her clothes, her manner, and even the way she walks, she has gained a certain importance. Her years of worry and self-doubt should be over — if she has gained experience, grown, during the dangerous twenties!
“Lots of women may question this, but I definitely regard the teens and twenties as a darned dull time, even if it is fashionable to look back regretfully on the days when you were sweet sixteen! I look back regretfully — because I’m ashamed of some of the fool things I did!”
“I went through the jazz-mad age with a vengeance, and spent almost every night dancing at the Cocoanut Grove. Dancing was all I thought of, and to be a superb dancer was the tops, in my estimation. I’d have a laugh at the idea of becoming a mere dramatic actress!”
She smiles reflectively. “It took me years to live down my reputation of being ‘the Charleston Kid’,” she said thoughtfully. “That’s what I mean when I say the early twenties are dangerous. You think you know what you want. You think you’ve had some experience with life. Really, you’re fooling yourself. You can’t know until you’ve lived and acquired wisdom!”
“How many divorces come about,” she demanded suddenly, “just because the girls rush into marriage during their early twenties? I don’t know the statistics, but there are plenty. Girls haven’t had time to develop their personalities. They don’t even know the kind of men they really want!”
“My ideas of men,” she admitted,” have changed every few years. I like a different sort of man now than I did when I was eighteen or twenty. Every girl is bound to change as she grows and develops. Now I’m more appreciative of sweetness and thoughtfulness in a man. I know that good looks and surface charm isn’t everything. I have acquired a balance that comes only with experience.”
“I’m not blaming my own divorce,” she added quickly, “on my age, even thought I was twenty-two when I married Bill Powell and twenty-four when we separated. I didn’t rush into it, but gave it eight months of serious consideration. That we failed was simply the result of two completely incompatible natures. It might have happened to me at sixteen — or at forty!”
“But I think, perhaps, that I have been too independent — another failing of the twenties. Girls of that age are so eager to take on responsibilities. They rush into business and into marriage so earnestly — so intensely! Perhaps that’s one reason why so many marriages of the twenties smash.”
“I had a lot of knocks, naturally. They were good for me. I was thrown out of one studio,” she admitted humorously, “and I made plenty of bad pictures. But it’s better to have your grief and hardships at that age, when you can learn by them, than to have too much early success!”
“Failure, divorce, and hardships needn’t be fatal if you learn by them. I believe any sort of experience can be valuable to a woman if she realizes that she still has to grown and develop — to gain an entity in her own being!”
We thought Carole’s amazing career, from her first “discovery” at fifteen amid a blazing whirlwind of publicity, through her days as a Mack Sennett bathing beauty, until now when she is one of the most brilliant dramatic actresses of the screen. Her smashed romance with William Powell. Her friendship with Russ Columbo, tragically broken by death.
At any point in her career she might have stopped — jelled into the personality of a hey-hey dancing girl. Remained always a mere beautiful clothes-horse. We mentioned several former stars who had done just that. She asked me not to print their names.
Instead Carole has gone on — developed into a woman of poise and charm who can be very gay or thoughtfully serious, who can appreciate the broadest joke or the most subtle flash of wit, who is attracted by men of brilliant intellect — men like Robert Riskin, the playwright, who often takes her out.
“The dangerous early twenties were a time of preparation,” she told me. “I’m glad I have crammed all sorts of experiences into them. I’m still learning — still trying to grow and develop. I’m just beginning to live!”