Carole Lombard is the latest Sennett Girl to indulge in drama
By: Erle Hampton
It is the axiom of science that if you travel long enough in one direction on this earth you will ultimately arrive at the point from which you started. But science has nothing to do with the application of this theory to a career in Hollywood. Carol Lombard did that. As a matter of fact, Carol could not have made the trip faster around the circle of what is coyly referred to as Cinemaland if she had had a bicycle.
In a little more than two years, with six months out for accidents, Carol had swept through an itinerary of ingenue leads, Mack Sennett custard, screen vixens, sophisticated characters and back to leads. According to the log of the trip, however, the little blonde beauty veered a trifle from her course because instead of becoming an ingenue lead again she became a much more interesting one, a leading lady with a past. And this seems as good a point as any to start from the beginnign!
Fort Wayne, Indiana, was the town Mr. and Mrs. Lombard decided upon to add one cute little Hoosier to its population. That was about nineteen years ago and for seven years a lively tow-headed youngster played dolls with the girls and prisoner’s base with the boys.
The street that Carol was born on evidently was pre-destined to be significant in motion picture history, because a few years before that important event a two-fisted little roustabout saw the light of day and was christened Charles Gebhardt. That youngster became Buck Jones, cowboy star.
Carol was brought to Los Angeles when she was seven. California grammar schools and the Los Angeles High School supplied the necessary intelligence and then cam e the dramatic urge. A course in a dramatic school conducted by Miriam Nelks was the result. Small parts followed in productions at “The Potboilers,” a little theater organization.
About this time Carol met Cecil B. De Mille, the godfather of so many of the present screen greats. C.B. was impressed.
“How old are you?” the producer asked.
“Fourteen,” replied Carol.
“Go home and grow up. Then come back and see me,” said C.B.
“Yes, Mr. De Mille,” said Carol, unconscious of the fact that her answer was to go down in history as one of the by-words of the greatest motion picture industry.
So Carole went back to her dramatic knitting under the guiding eye of Miriam Nelks. More parts in stage productions. More complete training. better recognition. Then another opportunity at the gates of screen fame. This time it was at the William Fox Studios through, it is said, a sister of William Fox who was interested in the Little Theater movement in Los Angeles and had been impressed with Carol’s dramatic aptitude
This time the age question did not interfere. Carol was seventeen years old. A small part with Edmund Lowe followed the preliminary mugging process, politely known as a test, and Carol’s work in her first picture won her a long-term contract.
Them, just to show once more that it’s a small world, who do you think she was cast opposite next? Yep, Buck Jones – the young fellow who was born on the same street with her back in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Carol became a girl of great open spaces and added the art of plain and fancy riding to her dramatic accomplishments.
Everything was going as it should. Carol’s whirl around the cinema circle had begun. She was among friends. Stardom looked to be but a matter of time and learning the intricacies of a complex art. That would be easy, for Carol never had been accused of being a dumb-dora. Then Old Man Unexpected stepped into the picture in the form of an automobile accident and a perfectly good motion picture career so auspiciously begun was given a set-back. Injuries kept our heroine off the screen for six months and nulified her Fox contract.
Six months is a long time in Hollywood. An actress can be made or can pass completely out of the picture in that time. In the particular case of Carol, she had virtually passed out of the picture. But those who knew Carol knew that this condition was a mere detail. The word “quit” to her was merely a four-letter word meaning apple-sauce and could be found under the “Qs” in the dictionary if anyone was so foolish as to want it.
Back on her pretty feet, Carol summoned her very effective sense of humor and looked over the field. The first opportunity came from Mack Sennett. Now, Carol never was very fond of pie. The vitamins or proteins or whatever-it-is that stars should not take too much of, annoyed her. But after all, getting a custard pie in the face and pitting a custard pie in the face were two different things. Carol took the job and signed a contract for a year.
“And if you don’t believe I’ve suffered for my art,” comments Carol anent the year that ensued, “then you’ve never worked in a Sennett comedy.”
The first scene that Carol completed for Sennett required her to get a punch in the nose with a subsequent close-up of her rather pretty proboscis rouged to a nicety. Then she was required to have hollow wire strung through her hair leading to the edges of her eyes for the purpose of squirting “tears” many feet so that her public might go int convulsions.
Fortunately, when Carol made her debut in slapstick comedy the famed custard pie was considered passé. Unfortunately, however, a substitute even more gooey had been found in the form of flour paste; so that at various and frequent times thereafter our erstwhile ingenue was subjected to close-ups in which a husky property man just out of the picture line tossed gobs of soft, running, sticky batter into her eyes and ears and nose and mouth. Two-reel comedies were a revelation to our heroine, but, having started the thing, she decided characteristically to finish it.
At the end of the year Sennett production went into a coma and Carol went back to the Fox Studio, scene of her her earliest efforts before the camera. It as in an ultra-sophisticated crook role in “Me, Gangster” and the third step of her trip around the dramatic circle.
Exigencies of reducing a film to practical length for general release often necessitates the removal of an entire characterization from the story and this was the fate of Carol when “Me, Gangster” was released. But the surgical process had not been completed when a Pathé official saw the Raoul Walsh production previewed and another step of the circular cinema trail was the result. There was a role of a two-timing country gal that needed filling in “Power,” with William Boyd. Carol got it. She also got a long-term contract on the strength of her performance with Boyd, and the prediction of Edmund Goulding, who was searching for new talent for Pathé, that she was one of the greatest starring possibilities in pictures.
“Ned McCobb’s Daughter” came next. A snippy, pampered, selfish girl was the role that fell to Carol. “Show Folks” and another unsympathetic role followed, but it was pleasant inasmuch as Eddie Quillan played the male lead and there was much reminiscing to be done anent the custard pie situation at Sennett’s where they had battled pastry together a few months previously.
Finally, Carol went back to see Mr. De Mille, just as he had told her to. The visit, however, came at the behest of C.B., who borrowed her from Pathé to play one of the two leads in “Dynamite.” Six weeks of preparation followed; then eight. Pathé became anxious. The officials began to wonder when they were going to get their little girl back on the home lot. Robert Armstrong was waiting to start work in “Big News.” Conferences followed. Carol came home by mutual consent, back to a leading role, with sympathy and everything. C.B. sent her flower with a note saying that he was sorry to lose her.
Carol had made the circle. She had kept going in the same direction for more than two years. Now Hollywood is waiting to see if Edmund Goulding is right: whether Carol Lombard, unlimited in determination and ambition, is indeed one of the greatest starring prospects in pictures.