Carole Lombard was born Alice Jane Peters on October 6, 1908, in Fort
Wayne, Indiana. The daughter of Elizabeth ‘Bessie’ Knight and Frederick C.
Peters, she was always different than the other girls. While others her age were
playing dress up, the future star preferred to rough it with her two older
brothers on the football field. Her love of performing seems to have been there
from the start. She relished the Friday night movies, and would regularly
perform key scenes for her parents on Saturday mornings. When Carole was eight
her parents divorced and her mother relocated with the kids to California. The
plan was to stay there for just six months
but, as Carole later recalled, "luckily the climate lived up to even more than
mother had hoped for and here we are, permanent fixtures."
Carole thrived in the Los Angeles
climate, blossoming into a beautiful, if petite, young lady. She became adept at
many sports including volleyball, tennis, swimming, board-jumping and running.
After being ‘discovered’ playing baseball in the street with the neighborhood
kids, she was signed to do a one-picture contract at age 12. The film was called
"A Perfect Crime" and the year was 1921. Carole loved the experience and
tried for other acting jobs. When nothing materialized she returned back to
‘normal’ life, attending school and playing sports.
By age15 the acting bug just
wouldn’t go away so Carole decided to quit school and join a theater troupe. She
performed in a few sub-standard plays but was fortunate enough to be spotted by
a 20th Century Fox talent scout. A screen test followed and she was quickly
signed to a one picture contract. The film was "Hearts and Spurs" and
Carole had the lead role. Slapstick comedies, westerns and budget melodramas
followed but none of her roles allowed Carole to showcase her obvious natural
talents. In 1926 the emerging star's stalled career threatened to come to a halt
when she was seriously injured in a car accident. The left side of her face was
permanently scarred. Fox now considered the actress damaged goods and terminated
her contract. She was able to scratch out a living that year, however, as bit
parts were always plentiful.
At this time the film industry was
making the change from silent to talking movies. Many careers were being cut
short by this transition, but Carole was undaunted by this new challenge. Her
first talking role was in "High Voltage" with Pathe Studios.
Carole made several films for
Pathe while under contract with them in the late '20's. In 1930 her star was on
the rise and she managed to double her salary from $150 to $300 per week by
signing with Paramount. It was a great career move. Paramount began grooming her
to become one of their top stars. In October, 1930 she was paired with
Powell to do "Man of the World". The pair hit it off off-camera and eight
months after they met they were married. Very quickly though, things went sour,
and after just over two years they were divorced.
The 1934 flick "Twentieth
Century" finally showed the world what a great actress Carole Lombard really
was. The 23 year old's mix of comedy and sensuality was unrivaled and the role
put her at the top of the Hollywood A-list. In 1936 Carole received her only
Academy Award nomination for the screwball comedy "My Man Godfrey". By
now she was one of the highest paid actresses in Hollywood, raking in $35, 000 a
In 1936 Carole's personal life was
thrust into the headlines when a four year acquaintance with a fellow actor by
the name of Clark Gable began to turn steamy. The tabloids were kept in a frenzy
until the mega-star duo tied the knot in the summer of 1939. The couple relished
their fame but also loved to get away from all in the outdoors. When schedules
permitted they would hunt and ride together over the Montana hills. They
each other ma and pa and appeared to have the ideal marriage. Meanwhile their
careers were reaching stellar proportions. As the 40's began, Gable basked in
the glory of the "Gone With the Wind" saga. Then, in 1942 Carole starred
in the landmark black comedy "To Be Or Not To Be" set in Nazi occupied
Poland. The film was a hit, but she never got to see it’s release.
In January, 1942, just a few weeks
after America's entry into WW2, Carole volunteered her time to go on a war bond
selling tour. Moments before boarding TWA Flight #3 from Indiana to California
she addressed her gathered fans: "Before I say good-bye to you all- come on-
join me in a big cheer- V for Victory!".
The plane refueled in Las Vegas
and then continued on it's way. 23 minutes into that last leg it crashed into a
mountainside thirty miles south of Vegas. Carole Lombard, her mother and the
other 21 people on board were all killed. It took two days to find the bodies,
and on January 18th, a distraught Gable brought Carole and her mother home. They
were buried in Forest Lawn Cemetary, Glendale, California. History remembers
Carole Lombard as a great actress but also as the first woman killed in the line
of duty in World War Two.
Chantel Theunissen is a freelance writer and
film student from New Zealand. Carole Lombard is her third submission to
Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.