De Mille has a glass bathtub and Carole Lombard has hopes.
By: Cedric Belfrage
“Bye-bye, Uncle Mack. Bye-bye, Daphne, ye fool. Bye-bye, me trusty teddy-bears.”
Imagine, if you can, the touching scene. Carole Lombard, blonde extraordinary, is leaving the ancient laff parlors of Mack, surnamed Truck — I mean, Sennett. Together with the other funsters, gagsters and bathing0-suit fillers who have so long contributed to the renowned Sennett brand of light entertainment, Carole is going out into the great big world to seek fame and fortune in pastures new.
And it’s farewell to the old teddies and bathing suits that Carole so comfortably filled; farewell toDaphne Pollard, with whom she had such pranks on this lot, the oldest and most atmospheric studio lot in Hollywood; farewell to the lot itself, which is to be torn down; farewell to Edwin Bower Hesser, who took so many bushels of photographs of Carole clothed in cockle-shell and her virtue; and farewell to the fair art of comedy, typified by Uncle Mack, the gray-haired dean of custard-piedom. Yumpin’ yimini, wotta partin’!
Carole, whom one likes to think of at this moment as swallowing with gigantic self-control a big lump in her fair white throat, points the nose of her touring car westward toward Hollywood, pushes her elegantly stream-lined foot down on the gas, and fades from view.
Whereupon, Old Mother Fate took charge of Carole Lombard, pulling her out of the teddy-bear into the tear, out of the bathing-suit class into the artistic regions of the cinema where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth in the fair names of art and drama.
In a year, which is to say now, Carole looms up as one of the most formidable rivals to filmdom’s greatest females. She still has good legs, but what of it? The Lombard chassis continues in the best of shape, but why bring that up? Carole, it seems to have developed, can emote. Without the benefit of negligees, she can make audiences wilt on their divans.
In other words, what I mean: when it comes to a Cecil DeMille opera in which there is a glass bathtub, and Carole is cast as chief menace, but is not required by the script to take a bath —
What I mean: the girl can express things with her face. There wouldn’t seem to be much doubt about it.
“Yes,” Carole told me, “I’m the principal menace in C.B.’s next picture Dynamite. I looked over the plans for the set — which, by the way, are going to be super-modernistic — and discovered the glass bathtub, which is good news for all the connoisseurs of DeMille plumbing. In his recent films they have been disappointed, really, and I still have hopes of being photographed in it. It’s going to be God’s greatest gift to plumbing.”
“Meanwhile, as we wait for production on Dynamite to start, I’m getting accustomed to C.B. I’ll say we get along just fine now, but at first I was awed by him. I used to go in his office to talk over some things and he’d say: ‘Run along now, little girl, I’m busy.’ It took a little time to get acclimated. But I’ve succeeded in getting the other side of C.B.’s majestic front, and I’m beginning to realize what a pleasant guy he really is. He’s going to be great to work for.”
Thus and thus spake Carole Lombard, blond most extraordinary and most ravishing, as she teetered on the brink of her first big part in the big society drama of that so-big Cecil B. De Mille.
Of course, the odd part of it all is that Carole achieved the honor of working for that so-big Cecil via the studio which was Cecil’s own; she won a contract there just after it became known as the Pathé instead of the De Mille studio — just after its former lord and master had moved his secretaries, his assagais, his guns and his crown of thorns on its red cushion over to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Yet from a distance the Heap Big Chief of the movies heard about Carole, and he lost no time in adding her to his collection. Now he has secretaries, assagais, guns, a crown of thorns and Carole Lombard.
Carole really felt miserable about her dramatic debut at Pathé, in the production known as Show Folks. One of the most notably miscast pictures of the year, it did little better by Carole than by the others who were in it; and after she had seen it in the projection-room Carole went off and had a good cry. The next thing she knew was that somebody was offering her a gold-mounted pen and brandishing before her eyes a long-term contract marked “strictly drama.” Which, as she felt at the time and explained afterward, all goes to show you.
And in Ned McCobb’s Daughter she started up the ladder towards Pathé stardom. It was after this that Edmund Goulding arrived on the lot as Lord High Discoverer of New, Young, Interesting and Willing Talent. Carole, who was only young and interested without being new, somehow got grouped under the head of Discoveries.
When she talks about life as she is lived at the Pathé joint, Carole beams enthusiastically. “Gee!” she said to me — or some such exclamation — “I shall sure be sorry to have to leave here for C.B.’s picture to work on the MGM lot. This is the studio where I just keep right on having hysterics the whole time — something approaching the way it was at Sennett’s. Everyone’s so darned pleasant. Do we get a lot of laughs? Well, I should say so. Today I just went on Von Stroheim’s set and got myself introduced as if I were just a poor little girl trying to get along. Von didn’t even know me from Eve and he offered to give me a few days’ work as an East African tart — that is, if I looked the part well enough in one of the costumes they had. It was a riot.”
“Of course, there won’t ever be another Sennett’s for laughs. Daphne Pollard and I were just in hysterics the whole time. We used to pull the worst gags on Matty Kemp and some of the boys over there. You should have seen that lot when the boys ran riot with water hoses — the mess we made off the set was often much worse than the ones we did for the benefit of the cameras.
“We had a great bunch over there, too. The so-called bathing girls, who did pretty much everything except bathe, were made up of all sorts. Some of ’em were as innocent as lambs and they went all the way down the scale to the super-sophisticates. Daphne Pollard, who was a real bathing girl because in every picture she made sure they turned the hose on her, was the best sport of the whole gang. I remember when she and I got our final notices that the studio was going to close down. Well, that was the only time we were ever out of hysterics on that lot.”
As for her new and classier sphere of activity, Carole takes it very calmly. She’s the type that will have her gay times in spite of the sobering effects of acting in the fully dressed, custard-pie proof drama; and she is evidently getting them. At times worldly wise and sophisticated, at times the perfect co-ed in appearance — her personality registers differently every time she is photographed — Carole is a nice compromise between the two when you know her in the flesh. She is good movie material because she reacts easily to the mood of the moment, whatever it may happen to be. Not the vapid, half-human showgirl type, nor the drawing-room hothouse bloom, nor the excessive and never-resting life-of-the-party — but a little of each. She’s unusual enough in Hollywood to attract attention from all sides and keep it.
Her personal viewpoint on graceful transition from the teddy-bear drama to that of the tear-ducts, is that she has fewer pratt-falls to take than she is used to have, but she still gets lots of laughs.
Which provides the refreshing reassurance that there is at least one girl who’s gone into “the dramatics” without losing her sense of humor. And causes one to wonder why Mack Sennett doesn’t shop nearer home for comedy material. There are lots of laughs in the production of dramatic movies — any way you look at it.