Fort Wayne knew Carole Lombard as Little Jane Alice Peters, school girl
By: Robert Baral
“I liked her best in Ladies’ Man,” one lady remarked at a Wednesday afternoon bridge at the Fort Wayne Country Club.
“Well, yes…but remember Safety in Numbers,” another player joined in.
“Don’t you think there is a strong resemblance between her and Phillips Holmes?”
“Oh, I don’t know, sometimes I mistake Josephine Dunn or Leila Hyams for her.”
And so, far into the night!
Carole Lombard is always a popular topic for discussion at the country club, Little Theatre Guild and other groups in this second of Indiana cities. Her youth and beauty together with her bright future generally come in for a share of the evening’s conversation.
The Paramount actress returned to Fort Wayne, Indiana, her home town, last summer for the first time in fifteen years.
She visited her birthplace at 704 Rockhill Street, an attractive residence situated along the St. Mary’s River, proceeded to pause on the top step of the entry and survey the scene, just as she did years ago when bidding her neighbor friends goodbye.
At that time all her juvenile interests were confined to games on the river banks, weekly excursions to Robinson Park, an amusement center of no means attraction for that day, and summers at Leland, Michigan or Sylvan Lake at Rome City, Indiana.
Looking out over the street which is now shaded by taller tress, the blonde actress could certainly feel as if she had accomplished something.
What has happened during the space of time since she was a wide eyed youngster softly cooing her name, Jane Alice — for her middle name was always spoken broadly — to the noon-day pedestrians past her house, up till today when she is thinking of departing for Europe?
What has gone on in Fort Wayne since she played “cop and robber” with her two brothers, Fritz and Tootie, up her calm resume of the current Indiana scene?
Much has been penned of the numerous Ziegfeld graduates and daughters of the true South who leave the white pillars of the plantation for the crystal light of Hollywood.
And within the past two years, much has been written of Carole Lombard…some saying she was a San Francisco debutante out on a lark, and others claiming she crashed through a window-pane to attract the studio moguls.
Carole Lombard was born October 6, 1908 to Mr. and Mrs. Fred Peters, the third of a family of three children, and duly christened Jane Alice Peters. Her family and relatives are still socially prominent in the city and state, and with the additional career of the budding actress, she has gone a notch higher on the family tree.
Her great-grandfather, Judge James Cheney, was a financier of wide contact, being an associate of the late Jay Gould, with Eastern banking interests. Her grandmother Knight’s estate on Spy Run Avenue still stands within a grove of tall elms with a back garden sloping down to the river, this time the St. Joseph.
Here the family often gathered and visits always meant cookies from the food boxes of Rheba, the cook. The family electric car, which was among the first in the town then, carried the little ones back and forth from Sweeney Park to the countryside, for the children’s activities were generally foremost in the house.
A large playroom in the Peters’ home always attracted the boys and girls. Each holiday was a time for some sort of unusual celebration and, with Christmas, the entire house was given over to Frederic, Stuart, and Jane Alice.
Then George Winburn, the colored footman who was with the Knight family for over thirty years, would drive up in a regal vehicle and deposit large bags of molasses popcorn or an extra doll for the little blonde lady. George is now nearing eighty years and is living on a pension graciously presented by his former mistress.
The movies were few and far between then, with attractions playing along the main stem at the Colonial, Gayety, Star, and Lyric. And of all the first films to stimulate the imagination was The Adventures of Kathlyn, starring Kathlyn Williams, of course.
Every two weeks on Friday night this Selig picture would flicker two reels of love in the jungle under the sinister eyes of King Umballa.
Back on Rockhill Street on Saturday mornings would see the entire action re-enacted with exaggerated treks through the desert country and braver heroism on the part of the juvenile Santschi hero.
As for Carole or Jane Alice, she was always slated for the animal roles or some insignificant obstacle in which she would be pushed over by her brothers or other players. This was always a favorite game and, two summers ago when I saw the Peters family for the first time since their move west, it proved a lot of fun talking this over while Robert Armstrong and Bill Boyd waited outside on the Pathé lot for Carole.
“Jane was always sticking up for her brothers,” one of her former nurse maids said.
“Remember, especially when some youngsters would kid her by calling for ‘Fried Peas’ or ‘Stewed Peas,’ meaning Fritz and Stuart, and then the racket would start.”
“She had a little temper and this was developed by her continual contact with the neighborhood boys, who were more numerous than girls then.”
“Football, baseball, and racing were generally watched by Jane and before the games were over she always figured in the sports some way or other.”
School days were just beginning for Carole at the time she left here. She was enrolled in kindergarten at Washington school and was about ready for the first grade when the family left for California.
This trip was arranged first as a pleasure event, but after three months on the West Coast, Mrs. Peters decided to transfer the household West. And, by the way, some of the fine old pieces of early American furniture which were in the Rockhill Street house can not be found in the residence on Rexford Drive in Beverly Hills.
Carole has many relatives here. Her father is retired and remains in the city most of the time. He generally attends the private previews of his daughter’s pictures when they come to the Paramount Theatre. And then her numerous aunts and uncles on both sides of the family keep in touch with the actress by following the chatter columns.
First inkling of a career was heard in Fort Wayne when a youthful picture appeared in the rotogravure section of a newspaper announcing Carole Lombard, the former Jane Peters, in Marriage in Transit with Edmund Lowe. This showed at the Colonial Theater about six years ago, which at that time had gone into second-run pictures.
Little did the neighborhood crowd think, when watching Kathlyn Williams run from leopards and tigers, that little Jane Alice would actually appear on the same screen in the future.
No excitement following the first news. Then came some press stories about two years later from the Mack Sennett studio and soon comedy shorts with Carole in the cast were inserted in the regular programs at downtown houses. Chicago dailies were the first to use Carole’s pictures.
And then came small parts in Pathé pictures which drew some of her old playmates to the theater. After graduating into the leading lady class opposite the Pathé huskies, her local following began to grow.
Mrs. Peters preceded her daughter east last summer, the occasion being the setting of her mother’s estate. Of course this threw a cloak over a gay round of parties which would have been given, but Carole’s arrival called for just one brilliant tea and everyone was there to meet the actress.
Carole was only here for three days, being en route East for a picture, so she motored through the city several times and saw all the new residential districts and buildings. With the closing of the Knight estate, Carole came into some money which made her independent. But the fun in Hollywood was just starting and since last summer, when she signed with Paramount, she made her greatest strides in the film world.
Her position in the movies, according to Fort Wayne, is practically attained chalantly along with Kay Francis, Charles Rogers, Skeets Gallagher, Norman Foster, and William Powell without the trite “another home-town girl makes good.”
The Little Theatre Guild, which has taken a hold in the city, is also planning a production of Up Pops the Devil, since Carole appears in the film version, and will present it at the same time when the picture runs downtown.
Friends here say that Carole inherits her love for the theater from her mother who, while never a professional, was always active in local productions.
Since changing her name, Carole has always spelt her first name with that extra ‘e,’ which was chosen by a numerologist. Even her local visit was timed according to figures by her mother.
One wonders if anyone has ever noticed that the names of Carole Lombard and William Powell have the same number of letters.
Anyway, Carole Lombard is now Mrs. William Powell — and, as this issue of New Movie goes to press, the two are honeymooning at Hawaii.