'Hollywood,' February 1935: Lombard learns life's lessonsPosted by vp19 on 2013.08.27 at 13:48
Current mood: thoughtful
Many outsiders might have been tempted to doubt Carole Lombard's resiliency as 1934 transitioned to 1935. While professionally, her star was rising thanks to her triumph in the previous spring's "Twentieth Century," her personal life was in a volatile state after the sudden accidental passing over the Labor Day weekend of her beau, Russ Columbo. Whether or not they would have eventually married -- some who knew her at the time say yes, other contemporaries say no -- his death definitely affected her deeply.
But Carole came through what was a very difficult time in her life, and for the February 1935 issue of Hollywood magazine, with Ruby Keeler on its cover...
...Lombard wrote (or had written through a ghost) about the things she'd learned through her 26-plus (or 25-plus, if you preferred to believe studio publicists) years on this planet. Titled "What Life Has Taught Me" (and sub-titled "Confessions of a near-fatalist"), it's a remarkable view of Carole the philosopher, and well worth the read:
Some thoughts on the piece, which showed Carole to be that rare person who could be a fatalist without being cynical:
* Just who might have been that rich "young man" with whom she fell in love with "about five or six years ago" (considering this was probably written late in 1934, that would mean in 1928 or '29)? Might it have been Howard Hughes, who may have been the first man she was physically intimate with (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/1
Not long ago this young man called me up and said he wanted to talk to me. It had been several years since I had seen him. He asked me, in a sort of blind desperation, what he should do with his life.
"You must give me some sort of philosophy to carry me through," he said.
I told him that I still believed one must make up his mind to what he wanted and go after it.
"But be sure that what you want is worthwhile," I said.
From what we know about Hughes, "blind desperation" was not a term normally applied to him, nor was he the type to seek philosophic information from women...or men, for that matter.
* Early in her career, Lombard gained a reputation in the industry as someone with a great deal of "story sense," which made her an ideal sounding board for writers. This article indicates her time at Pathe, when everyone was learning their way through this brave new world of talking pictures, may have been the catalyst...and might have been one of the things that led Orson Welles to praise her innate knowledge of making films nearly half a century later.
* The W. Somerset Maugham piece Lombard is referring to is his 1933 re-telling of a Sumerian tale called "Appointment In Samarra." Here it is in its entirety:
The speaker is Death
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, "Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me."
The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, "Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?"
"That was not a threatening gesture," I said, "it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra."
(The year after Maugham's story was issued, John O'Hara used it as the title of his first novel about life in a small Pennsylvania town; I have no idea whether Lombard had read it at the time this piece was written, or even if she ever read it at all.)
Hollywood regularly asked stars to answer questions from readers. Here's what Lombard answered in that issue:
Lombard also figures in an anecdote of that issue's review of filmland life, written by star Dolores Del Rio. It takes place at the Clover Club on Sunset Boulevard, a venue where Alice Faye performed in February of '35...
...and which was regularly shut down for illegal gambling, closing for good in 1938. Carole's partner at the club that night is someone who also was affected by Columbo's death:
The issue has a nice piece on Lombard's first husband, William Powell, and that the "new" persona he was developing really wasn't new at all -- he was finally being himself:
I love that final paragraph: "Bill Powell has hit his real stride. ... Watch and see what he does now that he is permitted to be himself." What he did was arguably have the best calendar year any actor ever had in 1936, with the likes of "My Man Godfrey," "Libeled Lady," "After The Thin Man," "The Great Ziegfeld" and "The Ex-Mrs. Bradford."
There are also some semi-caustic comments on the industry from Nancy Carroll, arguably queen of the lot at Paramount when Lombard arrived in the spring of 1930. But soon she fell out of favor, despite some occasional good later films such as Ernst Lubitsch's "Broken Lullaby" (aka "The Man I Killed"), "Hot Saturday" (a film Lombard had turned down) and "Child Of Manhattan." So she wrote this piece for the February 1935 issue called "Nancy Tattles On Hollywood," noting, "There is a pixie quality to its self-administered illusions that you can't take offense at, yet which are superbly ridiculous":
Nancy's latest film, "Jealousy," is mentioned in a photo caption; she would make only five more movies for the rest of the '30s, of which the best known is the 1938 Fredric March-Virginia Bruce comedy "There Goes My Heart," where Carroll had a supporting role. That also would be her final film; she appeared sporadically on TV from 1949 to 1963 before her death from a heart attack in 1965.
This magazine, in fair to good condition (there is some moderate water staining) and full of all sorts of stories, photos and ads from classic Hollywood at its apex, is available via eBay. You can buy it straight up for $24.75 or make an offer. If you're interested, go to http://www.ebay.com/itm/HOLLYWOOD-MAGAZ
The late-August "hat trilogy" of the Lombard LiveJournal header concludes with p1202-178, as the chapeau decorates a contemplative Carole while her fingers block any view of the remnants of the scar on her left cheek.