Carole Lombard, exotic, hoydenish and, in turn, very wise, won’t discuss that romance which is intriguing Hollywood and everyone who is interested in motion pictures.
She has nothing to say for publication about her friendship with Clark Gable—a friendship envied by millions of women the world over.
“Why,” she asks, “must all the Hollywood writers use a thousand subterfuges to interview me and then launch a barrage of questions about Clark and myself? Why can’t they let us alone?”
For more than a year—ever since that fateful Valentine’s party of 1936 which resulted in Carole giving Clark a battered white Ford with a big red heart on it—she has been hounded by writers. There has been a steady, clamoring procession through the white dressing room which she occupies at Paramount studio—and which she will continue to occupy for the next three years while she earns more than a million under the terms of her present contract. Each and everyone has asked:
“Why not let me have the story of your romance with Gable?”
This question has put Carole definitely “behind the eight ball.” It isn’t fair. The writers, the public, forget that Gable, although separated from his second wife, Rhea, is still married to her, and that he says to the prying, curious ones:
“I do not at this time contemplate a divorce from Mrs. Gable.”
Carole’s cue is to keep silent. She, as usual, is being a perfect gentlewoman by going so far as to refuse to discuss either romance or marriage, even in an abstract way. She tells those who beg, plead and cajole:
“Skip the marriage question. My entire attention, for the next three years, is going to be devoted to my job—making pictures—and nothing else.”
And, in that statement, is a partial answer, if not a final one, to the question as to how her romance with Gable will end.
Remember that Carole is a creature of impulse. She is spontaneous. She said that she wouldn’t marry William Powell and a few days later her mother, Mrs. E.C. Peters, on May 27, 1931, announced that the wedding would take place in very short order. It did. On June 26 of that same year.
Carole is not in favor of long engagements. She likes to have things done and over with. And that brings out one point which will be reckoned with later.
She called Powell “Junior.” She played a lot of tricks on him. She had a right merry time with him. Until July 7, 1933, when her mother announced that Carole already was in Reno establishing residence. Carole was again of single status legally on the nineteenth day of the next month.
Just like that.
Again, her intimates point out, she’s a creature of impulse.
It was during 1931, when she was still married to Powell, that she made No Man of Her Own for Paramount, with Clark Gable and Dorothy Mackaill. Clark and Carole were thrown together a plenty during the weeks it took to make that production. They were grand scouts. They ate at lunch counters in the commissary. When there was a lull in production they bought ice cream cones and ate them.
The picture was good, and people told Gable he was good.
Carole presented him with a great big ham, and his picture was pasted on it. But neither at this time, gave any indication of falling in love.
They parted, a leading man and a leading woman who, in the course of their work, had done a good job for the studio.
In Hollywood, where a dinner engagement is construed as marital engagement (and two dinner engagements are definite assurance that a secret marriage has taken place) there was never any talk of a lasting friendship. And you may rest assured that when Carole got her divorce there was no gossip about Gable. He just naturally didn’t enter into it.
Carole clowned with “Junior.”
But she didn’t clown when and after she met serious-minded Russ Columbo, who came to an untimely end when a bullet from a gun held in the hand of a friend ricocheted froma table.
She was very serious—and a very good influence for Russ.
Russ, to us who knew him, was a shy, at times inarticulate young man who had the soul of a poet and the inspiration of a musician. He lived quietly and with great dignity. His brother, his father, and mother, were the only people in his life at the time Carole met him.
She got him interested in swimming and tennis. She spent long hours with him and his parents. She brought her friends to see him. And they went everywhere together. She visited him on his sets at Universal where he was being groomed for stardom. They went to motion picture shows, which he enjoyed more than any other form of amusement.
She didn’t clown. Not with Russ.
Then came that fatal holiday, when Russ stayed in town—and she went to the mountains. The word of his injury, then his death, was flashed to her. She raced to Hollywood. She found a terribly upset, distraught family. (Mrs. Columbo, quite ill to this day, doesn’t know that her favorite son, Russ, is dead. She thinks he’s still in Europe, making pictures.)
It was Carole who devised this tragic fiction—for Mrs. Columbo suffers from heart disease and Russ meant everything in the world to her. Carole was afraid the shock would kill her, for the elderly woman had just left the hospital herself.
Carole took charge of the funeral arrangements.
She arranged that flowers were to be delivered to Mrs. Columbo at intervals—supposedly from Russ—for many months.
And now we go to Christmas of 1934. There was a gay party in progress in Carole’s dressing room. Carole’s gifts—always lavish—were being handed out by herself. Madalynne Field, Carole’s attractive and famous secretary, had a present for Carole, whom she regards with a very fine and sincere affection. It was a small gold locket. Carole opened that locket—and saw a picture of Russ Columbo. Tears started streaming down her cheeks. She turned, and without a word, went out into the dusky studio streets, walked by herself until she felt she had herself under control again.
She came back to her party.
But she wasn’t clowning. It was a very subdued Carole.
And now we return to Gable, the man who worked in a picture with her and made only a very slight impression. No one in Hollywood expected to see a friendship between these two—Gable and Lombard. Just a week before St. Valentine’s Day of 1936, that very wealthy Jock Whitney gave a “gag” party in the afternoon. Carole arrived in an ambulance and was carried on a stretcher into her house. That was her “gag.”
Gable was present.
He and Carole had a very swell time that afternoon. And, a week later, he got the white Ford with a big red heart on it, and Hollywood started to buzz. It has been buzzing ever since. All about the big Lombard-Gable romance.
They’ve had a lot of fun.
There was that time they were out driving in the San Fernando Valley and got mixed up in a parade in Van Nuys. Yes, they rode right along in the parade, and had a grand and glorious time. There are those horseback rides in that same San Fernando Valley, where Carole has a ranch run by Japanese.
This last Christmas was a pretty gay time. Carole was working Swing High, Swing Low, with a very good friend directing—Mitchell Leisen, who has helped her considerably in her career. Leisen and Gable are very good friends. One night, when all three were out together, Leisen said:
“There’s one thing I’ve always wanted—a horse.”
The next day there arrived on the set a hobby horse, gift from Clark and Carole to “Mitch,” as the clever director is known in Hollywood.
Just another gag—
Two weeks before Carole married William Powell, she told her closest friends:
“I think he’s marvelous, but I don’t think I should marry him.”
Powell was free. She was free. She acted on impulse and married him.
She cannot become impulsive and marry Clark Gable. She has, in addition to legal restriction, imposed upon herself the ruling:
“I am going to think only of my career for the next three years.”
Those who know Carole say that in these things lie the answer to that question everyone is asking. Her attitude toward Powell was a carefree one, a friendly sort of thing, punctuated by a great deal of fun. And it was soon washed up. In just two years. Quickly, smoothly. (When they were co-starred in My Man Godfrey they were good friends, worked well together, but were very businesslike at all times.)
Her attitude toward Gable contains many of the same elements, intimates aver. Love’s a lot of fun, life’s a lot of fun, and let’s be gay.
“Their friendship is too light to endure,” the wise ones in Hollywood sat today. “It’s going to be die before they ever contemplate marriage.”
Yes, Clark and Carole have their fun. Carole is wild about “Rhythm Girl,” the mare Gable gave her. She and Clark go on picnics with Gail Patrick and Bob Cobb, with other friends. But it’s all very casual, very discreet, and very dignified.
Carole is clowning.
Can she clown for three years more?
Hollywood emphatically says she can’t. The prediction, coming from the inside circles, is that there’ll be a lasting and sincere friendship which will never culminate with “I do.”
There are really too many factors involved.
One of them is a very, very tender memory of the time when Carole wasn’t clowning—and the other is a little gold locket.