The Life, Loves, and Times of a Hollywood Modern, told in the New Manner! Something Excitingly Different, this Very Human Story of Carole Lombard, Courageous Beauty who Fought and Laughed her Way to Fame.
By: Elizabeth Wilson
The day I dread most in Hollywood is the day that Carole Lombard will say, “Darling, I am so glad to see you!” when she finds me sitting in her very white William Haines bedroom peering out from under the inevitable vase of white gladiolas like a close-up in a Mamoulian picture. It will mean that I am slipping. When Miss Lombard goes polite and conventional with her friends it means curtains. She doesn’t compromise with her friendships any more than she does with her life. Once you have been dropped by Lombard you’re quite definitely dropped.
For two years now, Carole and I have been carrying on a mild and humorous — well, anyways, we thing it’s funny — version of the Lowe-McLaglen and Cagney-O’Briend friendly enemies tiffs. Whenever she finds me spilling very good Scotch and very bad wit over the patio of her home on Hollywood Boulevard she begins to shriek, “Oh, Oh, the Pest is here again! And she’ll probably stay for dinner. Jessie, see that we have spinach tonight. Miss Wilson doesn’t like spinach. Fieldsie, call Paramount publicity right now and tell them I won’t have my house cluttered up with fan writers.” And then I get very insulting about Glamour Queens and pretend that I am leaving in a mad huff and stay for hours in a delightful exhilaration. Carole is certainly exhilarating. She’s a shot in the arm, she’s a cold shower, she’s a double martini, she’s a whiff of smelling salts, she’s a Dashiell Hammett story, she’s the Best.
In the friendly enemy business Carole is now one up on me. There was last weekend. Carole told me over the phone that she had a sore throat, her body ached, and she knew it was the flu and she probably wouldn’t live — so being an old softie and a little upset over losing Carole I sent a huge, and I may add costly, bouquet of white gladiolas and purple hibiscus. Imagine my annoyance when I read in Louella Parsons’ column Monday morning that Carole had won something in a tennis tournament Saturday afternoon and celebrated that night at the Clover Club. Dying, my eye! I immediately phoned Miss Lombard and told her that she had gotten flowers out of me by giving false evidence. Well, an hour later while I was in the midst of impressing someone at my office what should arrive but a messenger boy with a bunch of dejected and evil-smelling flowers done up in a newspaper with a card which read, “Take your old flowers — Carole Lombard.” Was I mortified!
So-o-o-o, it was with fiendish glee that I read a letter from Delight Evans the following day requesting a life story on Lombard. Um, um — what I could do to that baby! So I called up very formally and told her that I would have to interview her about her life. “Oh, no, oh, no!” shrieked Carole, “I don’t want any more stories written by you. You’re a terrible writer. Why, I nearly lost every fan I ever had after your last story on me. But I like Delight. I suppose I’ll have to see you on account of her. You might as well come for lunch, you’ll come anyway. What do you want?”
So I gave a list of all the little delicacies that I would like, topped by a soupçon or perhaps it was a magnum of champagne. Well, I arrived for my tasty luncheon and was ushered out on the patio, which is done in blue and white like a bit of the old Riviera comme çi comme ça and come what may, and there was Carole in a pre-shrunk bathing suit drenching herself in sun tan oil — and sitting in the shade. (That’s Carole for you). Participating vociferously in a wrestling match at her feet were her two dogs, Pushface, a small Peke with a grouch on life, and Mr. Brown, a dachshund with kind eyes. Mr. Brown is a child of divorce. When he was a tiny puppy several years ago, William Powell gave him as a present to his beautiful wife, Carole Lombard. Both Bill and Carole fell insanely in love with the cute little pup who very tactfully divided his affections between the two. Came misunderstandings, came divorce, came Reno, but neither Bill nor Carole would give up the puppy. So it was arranged that Mr. Brown should spend six months of the year with Miss Lombard and six with Mr. Powell. Miss Lombard, like all mothers, manages to fenagle a few extra months out of Mr. Powell.
Well, Carole took one look at me and called to Ellen, her maid, to bring lunch. And of course, just as you suspected, it wasn’t all the little dainties that I had ordered, but a box-lunch, the kind you get on location trips, with a hard-boiled egg, and a lot of ham sandwiches and pickles; and the magnum of champagne turned out to be a bottle of Grade A. “Uncle Bob,” said Carole, “thought this plenty good for you.” And, secretly, I thought so too.
All the young men in Carole’s life, (except the head boy friend), are called “Uncle.” It’s rather confusing when you first meet her to hear her speak of Uncle Bob and Uncle Walter and Uncle Mecca and you get the general idea that the Peters are quite a prolific family. Uncle Bob is the handsome and popular manager of the Brown Derbies, and one of Carole’s best friends.
Fieldsie, Carole’s secretary and companion, and the gayest gal I’ve ever known, joined us long enough to spill strawberry tart — (how quaint of Uncle Bob to put strawberry tarts in those box lunches) down the front of her new robe, then gave us a look that intimated that we were two of the dullest people she had ever encountered and hurried away to clean out closets as the lesser of two evils. Carole suddenly spied an old plant in the corner of the yard, (I used to call it an elephant plant when I was a child down in Georgia, but heaven only knows what sissy name they have thought up for it out here), with large dried up leaves. “I think a little oil would help that,” remarked Carole, and proceeded to oil it profusely with Elizabeth Arden’s expensive sun-tan concoction. Now how can you help loving such a divinely mad person! Mother Nature’s little helper then began to read me “3000 Lunatics I have Known,” and the life story reached a new low in interviews.
Inasmuch as Carole always reverses things, when the crème of New York society, William Rhinelander Stewart, my dear, visits Hollywood she throws a party, not at her charming house, not at any exclusive clubs, but at knock-down and drag-out Fun House in Venice, the amusement park of the hoi polloi. So I decided that it would be in keeping with her disposition to reverse her life story. Instead of being born in this issue, as she really should be, we’ll take her as she is today, (something that not even a croupier has been able to do lately), and work backward, if you can bear it.
Carole today is sitting in an enviable spot in Hollywood. She is not wealthy, but she is independent. Her money is invested in good sound stocks and bonds and not in jewels and fur coats. She doesn’t own a big rambling estate with thousands upon thousands sunk into it, and she doesn’t want to own a big rambling estate. She doesn’t want to be a chatelaine or a woman of property. She could be either at a moment’s notice. She thinks it sheer folly to sink so much money into a Hollywood Versailles when something simple is far more chic and comfortable. Twenty years from now Miss Lombard will still be quite happy and carefree while her confrères who went into real estate in a big way will be wondering where the next mortgage is coming from.
Carole is accepted as Hollywood’s best hostess and best-dressed star. Believe it or not, “Hollywood’s best-dressed star” probably spends much less on her clothes in a year than you do, and certainly much, much less than the other stars in Hollywood. She does not go on a buying spree when she goes to New York and fill her closets up with dozens of this and dozens of that and dozens of things she’d never wear in a million years. She buys carefully and well. She has a decided flair for chic and she knows what and when to buy. Her wardrobe consists mostly of very smart sports pajamas, a few tailored suits, and several very lovely evening gowns. No jewelry salesman has ever been able to make a sucker out of Carole. Nor has any automobile salesman. That glamorous movie star has only one car, a very inexpensive coupé, which she drives herself, and the day I had the interview luncheon with her she didn’t even have that car. It seems that the night before, her cook was having a birthday party and her maid, Ellen, wanted to go to the party, so Carole said, “Take my car, Ellen,” and Ellen did and proceed to run it right smack into a fire hydrant. It has been a long time since I have seen a movie star with nothing better than a cracked-up Ford.
Well, what the heck does she do with her money, you ask? Surely she doesn’t put it all in stocks and bonds? Heavens, no, a thousand times no. Remember that Carole is essentially quite mad. Where she got this sane Victorian viewpoint on money and business affairs we don’t know — we’re having a Senate investigation. But just to prove that she really is goofy she has this terrific gift phobia. She adores giving presents. I honestly have never seen any one get such a grand kick out of giving presents as Carole does. And there’s plenty of that “personal touch” so lacking in Hollywood, for each and everything is monogrammed just so, and there can be no mistaking but that it was bought especially for you. Her Christmas list looks like the Los Angeles telephone directory. No one is too small at the studio to be overlooked. Believe it or not, Carole Lombard spends more than three times as much on presents every year as she does on herself! Her family and friends have lectured her about this outrageous extravagance, but Carole insists that it’s her greatest pleasure, and that’s that.
As you’ve probably read in the gossip columns, Carole and Bob Riskin are going places together these days and nights. Bob is a very talented writer in Mr. Harry “Columbia” Cohn’s little workshop and screen-authored that all-round prize winner, It Happened One Night. Bob is very good for Li’l Missy Carole. He has much dignity and reserve and keeps her from going off at loose ends — well, occasionally. Carole first met Bob Riskin at Columbia when she made her first picture there about three years ago. Bob wrote the dialogue and the picture was called Virtue. But Bob had something else on his mind in those days, and so had Carole, so they really didn’t have a date together until one night less than a year ago they found themselves sitting side by side at the Zeppo Marxes. After dinner Bob took Carole to the fights, and then he brought her home and they sat and talked for five hours straight.
One of Carole’s best friends is Walter Lang — yes, “Uncle Walter,” the popular young director from Memphis. Quite innocently, well, at least with the innocence of a healthy cobra, I once took a swell anecdote about Walter, the smart crack and everything, and give it to Carole in a story I was doing on her. When Walter read it he pretended to be furious, and he cut it out and sent it to Carole with, “What would you do without me?” written across it. He never misses a chance to kid me about it. Whenever he sees me he always says, “Get your pencil ready. I am about to say something awfully cute for you to give Lombard.” Well, I’m no fool. I now have him saying things for Colbert and Harlow too! Well, folks, I give you the Carole Lombard of today. Divinely insane, and yet quite sane. Happy, ambitious, generous and alive. In fact the most vital person in our mad, mad town.
(Next month: the Lombard of yesterday — and the day before.)