Saturday, March 10, 2012

The brief life of Carole Lombard

The Gone Too Soon Blogathon is an event celebrating the lives and careers of movie stars who died before their time, hosted by the blog Comet Over Hollywood. For a full list of participating blogs, visit the host site.

I don't think I've ever been really scared of dying in a plane crash. Not even post-9-11. The last time I flew was in 2007, when I went to San Diego. I remember being seated in the back, and that bothered me more than anything else. I remember feeling a little trepidation at the moment of takeoff, which I imagine is natural, but once we were comfortably in the air, it was all good. When I flew to Charlotte, we had already taken off and were well above the airport, when the captain announced that he had to re-land the plane due to a problem with the air pressure within the plane. That pissed me off, but again, I didn't necessarily feel like I was in imminent danger. These days, people are more concerned about terrorism on aircraft than crashes - and not without reason, I suppose - but when it comes to crashes, the evidence seems to suggest that flying is safer than ever.

The plane crash that killed Golden Age actress Carole Lombard was a result of pure chance - the flip of a coin. She was eager to fly home after attending a war bond rally in her home state of Indiana, but the press agent to her second husband, Clark Gable, as well as her mother, insisted she take the train instead. Like singer Ritchie Valens did before his deadly flight 17 years later, they let fate settle the decision. Lombard's plane crashed into a mountain just outside of Las Vegas on January 16, 1942, killing all 22 people aboard, including fifteen army servicemen. Lombard was only 33. Her death prompted Gable to join the Army Air Corps, and he reached the rank of major, flying a B-17 as an observer-gunner. In 1944 a ship was named after her.

Lombard is remembered as one of the great comedic actresses of the 30s. Admittedly, I haven't seen many of her movies, but I've seen the big ones: Twentieth Century, My Man Godfrey, and her last film, To Be or Not To Be, and she's quite enjoyable in all of them. Her career dates back to the silent era, and she worked with directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh and William Wellman, and actors such as Cary Grant, John Barrymore, Frederic March, and Jack Benny. Her only Oscar nomination was for Godfrey.

Lombard's first husband was actor William Powell, whom she met in 1930, married less than a year later, and divorced two years after that, though on friendly terms. They appeared in three films together, including Godfrey, which came after their divorce. She met Gable while still married to Powell - they did a film together as well - and pursued a relationship with him after her divorce, even though Gable himself was married at the time. Gable, as it turned out, accepted the part of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind only when MGM head Louis B. Mayer offered him enough money to get a divorce from his wife so he could marry Lombard. They stayed together until her death.

If you want to know more about Lombard, this is one of the better fan sites.


  1. She's terrific in Twentieth Century. That's the only Lombard movie I've seen but I really like it. Her and Barrymore are excellent on screen. Too bad her career was short lived.

  2. I saw 'Century' when I was working in video retail and I remember digging it a lot.

  3. A nice tribute to Carole Lombard, and thank you for the plug for "Carole & Co." -- it's a labor of love I've done for close to five years now (our anniversary falls on June 13).

    Other Lombard films I recommend are "Hands Across The Table," her first of four with Fred MacMurray and arguably her best at Paramount; "Nothing Sacred," her lone feature in three-strip Technicolor (a restored version was released in December) and a caustic comedy from Ben Hecht; "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (1941, unrelated to the Pitt-Jolie film of the same name), a marital comedy along the lines of "The Awful Truth" and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; and "Virtue," the first film she made at Columbia and perhaps her best pre-Code effort (at least before "Twentieth Century").

    Finally, I want to note that plans are underway for a Lombard exhibit at The Hollywood Museum later this year; you can learn more at If you have a Lombard-related item suitable for the exhibit, or know someone who does, email

  4. I was kinda surprised Lombard was still available by the time I decided to take part in this!

    Glad you like it. Coming from an expert, that means a lot!

  5. Thanks for visiting my Montgomery Clift post.

    This is a great post, and I have to tell you, I am one of those folks who is terrified to fly. Funny, when I was in my teens I wanted to be a stewardess (or flight attendant as the more politically correct term). By the time I finished high school and went to college, that dream had died. If it hadn't, though, perhaps I wouldn't be afraid of flying.

    Anyhow, this is a great post. Carole was such a beauty, and it is tragic that she died so young.

    I am much more a drama gal than a comedy one, so my fave of her films is "In Name Only", with Cary Grant. I also really enjoy another drama, "Vigil in the Night."

    Thanks for a great post.

  6. My understanding, from what I read about her prior to writing this, is that her dramas weren't as well-received as her comedies. One day I'll have to watch one of them and see for myself. I tend to gravitate more towards dramas too.

  7. Oh, I loooove Carole Lombard. As funny as she was beautiful. That's rare, as so many comediennes downplay their looks and make funny faces. I adore her jumping on the bed, dripping wet, reciting, "Godfrey loves me! Godfrey loves me!" in My Man Godfrey. She was charming as the young wife of James Stewart in Made for Each Other, but in the main, I'll remember her comedies. For my Gone to Soon post:

  8. Been trying to come up with a contemporary parallel to her. Cameron Diaz? Kristen Wiig? Dunno. Lombard thrived during a time when funny women were all over the place. Not like now.

    Good point about comediennes downplaying their looks. There are few funny women who people also think of as genuinely sexy.

  9. Carole Lombard, is one of my favorite actress. I agree.. she was an amazing comedienne. Who else could be elegant with a pie in their face?

  10. Awwww,
    You've done a great job here! No Gone Too Soon Blogathon would be complete without our lovable blonde. She was a firecracker and she had many years of iconic roles left to do.

    The only positive is that she died doing something she was very passionate about. She loved giving back and she worked so hard to sell war bonds and get others involved.

    I've never been scared to fly, even when zipping about in my uncles small Cessna all over southern California. But I have had a couple of terrifying trips via Mediflight helicopters.

    A lovely tribute Rich!

  11. Your uncle has a Cessna? Wow. Cool.


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