Here’s a keen close-up of Carole as she feels and thinks and acts today.
By: Laura Benham
Carole Lombard is that rarest of mortals, a completely happy woman. She is perfectly satisfied with her lot and without regret for any moment of her life!
“If I had my life to live over again I would not change one second of it nor alter a single thing I have done!” she told me with an eloquent flutter of hands and eyes. Poised and posed, she is a far better actress than I had ever realized. She manages to combine forthright frankness and brash theatricalism with such artfulness that one is almost convinced of her artlessness.
Even her apartment high in the Waldorf Towers was an appropriate setting for her blonde beauty (of somewhat greater weight than it appears on the screen). The living-room was spacious, with deep-piled carpets lulling footfalls, silken drapes drawn against the chill dampness of a September rain, tall clusters of gladiolii and bowls in which gardenias floated diffused an atmosphere of lush opulence.
Into this scene strolled Miss Lombard, clad only in a robe of white fur that swirled about feet encased in matching slippers. In dramatic contrast to the picture she presented, her manner was almost brusquely natural.
“I’m so disappointed over having to return to Hollywood next week,” she began in greeting. “When I came to New York I expected to remain for at least a month’s vacation. I was so upset ver Russ’s death that I wanted a complete change of scene,” she volunteered, much to my surprise.
For being her arrival a foresighted Paramount publicity man had cautioned me that Miss Lombard was so broken up over her bereavement that under no circumstances should I bring up the subject of Mr. Columbo’s tragic demise. So I had checked my interest at the door and was on my best behavior. Therefore, my surprise when Miss Lombard staunchly bared her wounds, of her own volition.
“We had been going together for eight months, you know,” she went on. “And the very weekend he was killed he had planned to join his mother and me at my mountain cabin.”
“I had been working so hard that I needed a few days’ rest, so invited his mother, who was not well, to go away with me. Just before we left, Russ called and said he would join us in a couple of days. That night he went to see Lansing Brown and that awful thing happened!” Miss Lombard shuddered, but raised her head proudly. “But now, it is all a thing of the past, like a dreadful nightmare. I have recovered from any emotional feeling about it and can face the future happily again. It was Fate, that’s all.”
“But how did your eight months’ romance fit into the picture that you and William Powell have painted of Hollywood’s most successfully divorced couple?” I could not resist asking.
“Why, Bill doesn’t care whom I go with — we are the best of friends and always will be. I expect some day to marry again and still remain friends with Bill. And if we should not see each other for years at a time, we would still feel close to each other and would always understand each other.”
“I don’t care whom he goes with; in fact, he tells me all about the girls he takes out and asks me what I think of them. And the funny part of that is that while I don’t resent them, they all resent me! When I meet them any place they lose their composure and giggle and talk nervously.”
“But don’t you think any other woman who likes Bill Powell has a right to be jealous of you? This very bond that you admit exists between you may prevent his ever caring deeply for someone else — yet you don’t want to be married to him yourself. Isn’t that a little like a ‘dog in the manger’?” I asked.
She shook her head. “No. I really wouldn’t mind if Bill married again — though I don’t think he should. For he is not meant for marriage. He has lived alone for so long that he doesn’t need a woman around him always — that is why we are divorced today, and are so happy about it.”
“Bill can run his own home perfectly — he knows how to plan his own meals, to order the right wines; he calls the florist every week and orders flowers for the rooms — those are the things that make a home and for which the wife is usually responsible.”
“I am glad of the experience of having been married to Bill and would not change it for the world. I am glad of everything that has ever happened to me — for it is though the past that I have attained my present happiness.”
“Today, I have everything! Work that I like, loyal friends, money enough to assure my independence always, and the whole world before me!” she sighed exultantly.
“I want to remain in pictures for a few years more — I am just approaching the peak of my success now. I want to enjoy the short period allotted any of us at the top, then I want to retire and watch youngsters have their chance. I love to see youth succeed –I’ve been through so much struggle myself and I know the pleasure of ‘arriving.’ I want to see others have the same joy.”
Then, this, is the remarkable philosophy of the little girl from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who came to Hollywood as plain Jane Peters and remained to be come the beauteous Carole Lombard, one of screen’s most potent stars.
It was when Jane was quite small that the Peters family moved to the cinema capital and she received her early schooling in the shadows of the studios, later attending Hollywood High School from which she frequently “played hookey” in order to call upon casting directors with pleas that she be given a chance in pictures. At last her “break” came — when she was fifteen, as Carole Lombard she was given her first part, a lead opposite Edmund Lowe in a film made at the old Fox Studio.
Other roles followed and she remained on that lot for a year, then going to Mack Sennett for several years’ training in comedy — which training, by the way, she considers invaluable. However, an automobile accident in which she was badly injured ended her association with the Sennett Studios, for she was unable to work for nearly a year.
When she returned to the screen, it was to the Pathé Company — and with an “e” added to her first name, for luck. Her time with Pathé she considers a huge tea party, as work came second to pleasure on that lot, and players spent more time in playing practical jokes on each other than in learning their lines.
Hollywood still roars over the recollection of Miss Lombard’s most famous prank, of which John Loder was the victim. When that Englishman arrived on the Coast, he achieved distinction because of the frequency with which he sprayed his throat with a well-known antiseptic. His co-workers were amused.
Then, Miss Lombard had a brilliant idea — she persuaded a “prop” man with a mixture of onion juice and vinegar. Imagine Mr. Loder’s embarrassment!
But all good times must end eventually, and about three years ago Miss Lombard migrated from the happy-go-lucky Pathé lot to that of Paramount, hard work, and success.
“My career is the most important thing in the world to me,” she explained in throaty tones. “When I started in pictures I made up my mind to reach the top and that I would let nothing deter me — nothing! I have kept my promise to myself!”
Something in her words and manner was reminiscent of another girl I had known. I groped about for a moment, then realized that Miss Lombard was in looks and attitude, in the way she talked and gestured, the exact prototype of Lilyan Tashman.
“Many persons have noted the resemblance,” she admitted. “Even Lil herself and I used to talk about it. She was a great person — and now that she is gone, it is amazing to see how many of her characterizations have transferred to Ed. It is as if she lives again in him!” Miss Lombard’s eyes seemed to grow a deeper blue until they matched the enormous star sapphire, gift of Mr. Powell when Carole was his wife, which adorned her right hand. I have never seen such a stone — literally it was the size of a half-dollar in circumference, and an inch high! It was her only ornament, and added to the quality of her natural artificiality.
She was really lovely-looking, with her pale fair hair brushed from her brow, her skin smooth and devoid of make-up, her lips a vivid scarlet — lovely and young — very young to have conducted her life and career with such financial and emotional success.
“I inherited my business sense, that’s all,” she admitted. “My grandmother used to manage an estate back in Indiana (no, I’ll never go back there), and my mother has always been financially independent. It’s always been easy for me to discuss salary and contracts and such things.”
“As to achieving happiness, I simply believe in taking every experience, pleasant or not, as part of the training an actress must undergo in order to attain sympathy and understanding — and greatness.”
“I never let anything bother me for long — I don’t take anything or myself seriously. I think that’s the first rule for being happy, and the second one is try always to be a good sport and give the other fellow a break!”