“Tripping to New York with Carole Lombard” (Silver Screen, April 1935)

The actual blow by blow description of a trip to New York by airway and anyway.

By: Elizabeth Wilson

I have seen Carole Lombard in practically all of life’s little phases, including a recent Mayfair Ball, where she arrived looking so devastatingly beautiful in one of her newest Travis Banton triumphs in evening gowns that six Metro blondes snubbed her cold, two Bennetts ogled, and ten directors’ wives wished they hadn’t come.

But it wasn’t until I saw her, quite by pre-meditation, eleven thousand feet up in the air, with little snow-tipped Sierras peeking in the windows (“You’re the Tops, You’re the Cornflakes”), that I decided that Mrs. Peters little daughter Jane was the Best One. When I made my decision the rest of the passengers in the Air Chief were a bit pale around the gills but Miss Lombard, the exotic, was tearing away at a leg of fried chicken in the Henry the Eighth manner, and a little wad of cold gravy was reposing on the lobe of her left ear.

At that moment I found myself admiring her tremendously. I always say there’s nothing like travel to bring out a person’s true character. In my globe-trotting experiences, mostly on the shuttle train between Times Square and Grand Central, I have seen many a metamorphosis (gentlemen, I give you a metamorphosis), many a caterpillar changed into a butterfly, and alas, many a butterfly changed into a worm. But Carole Lombard didn’t metamorphose. On the contrary, although things happened on that trip that could have easily provoked the patience of a saint, Carole never once grouched, never once changed from her usual gay, what-fun, to-the-devil-with-it, self. (Gentlemen, for an ideal traveling companion, I give you Carole Lombard.)

Personally, I’m scared to death of planes. I’m just an old land lubber, as Jack Donahue used to say, and when I hit an air pocket I never lubbed land more. But, one day, when Carole dashed into her dressing room on the Paramount lot, where I can always be found playing Hearts with Fieldsie during the important crises of the industry, and said excitedly, “Let’s fly to New York Monday — it takes only fourteen hours,” it seemed like a good idea, though I, the conservative type, had planned to leave by covered wagon.

But New York in fourteen hours! Believe you me, that’s something. You leave Glendale airport in a Douglas TWA plane at four o’clock of an afternoon and the next morning you’re in New York in plenty of time to change your clothes and keep a luncheon date with the boyfriend. Ella, that’s traveling. New York in fourteen hours! That’s saving four days on the train. My, my, I never thought I would live to make New York in fourteen hours. And, dear reader, so far I haven’t.

It’s all terribly exciting flying with a movie star. In the first place, it sort of gets nosed about that a movie star is taking the Air Chief and, suddenly, thousands of fans appear at the airport, and then there are the photographers, and the studio people, and friends who keep telling you about the last airliner that cracked in the Rockies, and orchids that look mighty pert at the airport but are pretty well shot by Kansas City.

Well, I was just about to burst with excitement when an attendant shouted, “All aboard,” and we clamored into the plane while everyone screamed, “Happy tailspins,” and “Wire me from New York in the morning.”

The big motors started whirring, up came the steps, down came the flag, and we were off. If there’s anything more exciting than that moment of take-off. I don’t know what it can be.

Fieldsie, Carole’s secretary and companion, had never been up in a plane before, but just to prove to us that she wasn’t a bit nervous about it she dragged out a crossword puzzle book and went to work on a couple of horizontals. Carole settled down with a raft of Western Union blanks and began to compose jolly little wires which started off, “Arrived in New York safely, etc., etc.,” and I spent an hour trying to decide if I should do anything about that funny little feeling in the bottom of my stomach. (I’m the bottom, you’re the tops.)

“It’s bumpy,” co-pilot Jones announced pleasantly (you’re telling me, I snarled with a double-dog-dare-you look at the grief box) while he strapped his passengers down to their seats with safety belts and passed around chewing gum. Carole disdained both the belt and the gum.” See what the boys in the back room will have,” she announced blithely rummaging around a swell box of fried chicken, fruit cake, olives, celery and champagne (a gift from the Brown Derby) and packing a tray with goodies for Pilot Burns in the cockpit. One whiff of the fruit cake and the Pasadena society matron in the seat in front of Carole turned green — and while Jonesy rushed for the oxygen, Carole administered her own pungent smelling salts, which she is never without, and which proceeded to lift Pasadena’s scalp right to the top of the plane. (You’re the Tops, You’re the Smelling Salts.”)

“We call her the little mother of the TWA,” I said in mock sweetness, and Carole gave me a glower that Karloff might envy. But it’s true. Last fall when Carole was hurrying back to Hollywood to run up a picture at Metro, there was a terrific storm over Indiana and one of the passengers, a Tarzan of a man, passed right out cold from fright. When he came to his head was in Lombard’s lap (maybe he thought he was in heaven) and he was sniffing the inevitable smelling salts while Carole assured him that of course the plane really wasn’t going to fall, a little matter that she wasn’t any too confident about herself just then. And what with a whimpering child and a nervous old lady, who deeply regretted trying out one of these new fangled contraptions, Carole was so busy playing Florence Nightingale that there was the Glendale airport and the photographers before she even had a chance to apply her lipstick — which is one of Carole’s cutest tricks and you must see her do it sometime. Without a mirror or anything she runs that lipstick over her lips, just once, she never misses, and voila there’s as perfect a kisser as Mr. Gary Cooper ever met up with in the cinema.

Well, hardly had I gotten the chicken off Carole’s ear and my chin, than I suddenly discovered that the earth, which we hadn’t seen for several hours but which I still remembered, was coming to meet us at a terrific rate. “Too bad, folks,” it was Jonesy again with his perpetual grin, “but you’ll have to get off in Albuquerque and take a train. There’s a storm ahead.”

Grounded in Albuquerque, among the tepees. New York in fourteen hours. Bah! If there had been a poor little innocent dog around to kick I would have kicked him. I expected Carole to go into a pet, and make a scene or something, but on the contrary she was quite gay as she dragged a king’s ransom in orchids out of the poor grounded Air Chief. “Isn’t it fun?” she beamed. “Aren’t these orchids ridiculous? Let’s go look for Indians with Navajo blankets, and tepees, and things. I haven’t had so much fun in years. Phooey to you –” and with that she tore in half a whole pad of telegrams which started off “Arrived in New York safely.”

Jonesy and Burnsy, our sterling pilots, didn’t seem to know what exactly to do with us now that they had grounded us, so, while they carried on long conversations, Carole proceeded to run off another batch of wires (that stock’s going up by leaps and bounds if Lombard continues to travel) which she handed to a bewildered young man who was so taken in by seeing a movie star that we were practically out of the airport before he discovered that li’l missy Carole had failed to address them. A Lombard habit — Fieldsie is the filler-inner.

A rough and ready male, home from the range, finally was persuaded to drive us over to the Santa Fe station, where Carole was reprimanded like a naughty school girl for smoking in the waiting room. More difficulties arose when it was discovered that the California Limited had no room for us and didn’t want us anyway. Here was a grand opportunity for Carole to get indignant and put on a I’m-a-movie-star-and-I-won’t-have-this act and do an entire scene from Twentieth Century for the benefit of the Albuquerque yokels, but, instead, she fairly rolled on a bench in that hot little station, simply convulsed with laughter when she thought of all that chi-chi we put on only four hours ago at the Glendale airport.

Well, there was nothing to do but wait for the Chief and see if they would have us, so the next few hours we spent in the Harvey lunchroom drinking coffee and eating hamburgers with onions, and you should have seen those silly looking orchids curled up in contempt when they smelled the onions. All I’d have to say was “Thousands of people to see us off — and here we’re only in New Mexico” and Carole would go into gales of laughter. The Chief, it seems, would condescend to take us to Kansas City where we could get the plane the next night, so we piled aboard, much to the annoyance of the most disgruntled pullman porter I have ever seen. The onions kept me awake. Carole climbed into the upper drawing room (didja ever see a star take an upper before?) and was soon lost to a troubled world.

The next morning, the hour that we were supposed to be arriving at the Newark airport amid camera flashes and excitement, found me facing Kansas, an entire day of Kansas (and gentlemen, right there, I was willing to give you the TWA) so in desperation I dashed from train and bought a mystery story with a gory murder in every chapter…Fieldsie found a couple of guys to play Hearts with…Lombard, I rejoice to say, gave a bit of tone to the party by reading Zweig’s “Kaleidoscope,” which Bob Riskin had given her before leaving Hollywood. She insisted upon reading a story to me, and I assure you the Lombard reads beautifully, but suddenly I realized that the story wasn’t getting any place, and that everything was getting vaguely familiar. I discovered that Carole was just too sleepy to turn the page, and had been reading over the same paragraph for the last quarter of an hour. We slept.

I was awakened from my slumbers by Carole and Fieldsie hastily slipping out of pajamas and into suits and throwing everything into bags and gathering up the orchids. “Kansas City,” said Fieldsie, “Jonesy and the plane.” But alas, when we trailed off the train in Kansas City station (oh, there’s nothing like air travel to acquaint you with various railroad stations in our country) there was no Jonesy and no plane, but there was a Bunker, with even more personality than Jonesy had, who showed us his molars and urged us to be sweet and get right back on the train because the nice TWA couldn’t meet us until Chicago the next morning. We’d only be two days late and we could still make our “entrance.”

So, back on the train we climbed, unpacked again, and to Zweig. In Chicago the next morning it was the same old story. However we did feel better about it when we read headlines that a plane was lost over the city, and for the first time we felt sort of tender towards alma mater TWA. It seems that the entire East was enveloped in a terrific fog and that no passenger plane had come into Chicago in three days. Furthermore seven big ocean liners were parked outside Sandy Hook waiting for the fog to rise so they could get into New York harbor. Why, even a Hudson River Day Line boat had been lost for a day. Now, when a Hudson River Day Line boat gets lost in the fog then it really is a fog. It was sensational, colossal. We took the first train out of Chicago which happened to be the Manhattan Limited and which completely threw our few friends, who still thought we might get to New York, completely off the track as they arose at daybreak to meet the Twentieth Century.

New York at last — in fourteen hours and three days. However, it’s so much fun traveling with Lombard that I’m willing to take another chance on Albuquerque tepees and the Kansas plains the next time I get enough money to go to New York. If ever.