I note this because, as a classic-era film fan, there's always a fear that today's movie actors don't know very much -- if anything -- about stars of the past, and what they contributed to the art of screen acting. And thankfully one star of today, who has more than once been compared favorably to Carole Lombard, apparently seems to get it.
We're referring to Cameron Diaz, whose comedy with Ashton Kutcher, "What Happens In Vegas," opened this past weekend, earning about $20 million at the box office despite mixed reviews.
Like Lombard, Diaz is blonde and leggy, with an appealing smile and a winning comedic style. And at least three times, comparisons to Carole have come up:
* From Martin Scorsese, who directed her in "Gangs Of New York": "There's this look in her face, a lightness and also a toughness, but with humor."
* From a less renowned director, Roger Kumble, who worked with her on "The Sweetest Thing," calling her a blend of Lombard and another talented comic actress, Goldie Hawn. He referred to Diaz as "someone who is beautiful and is also incredibly gifted with comic timing."
* In 2000, New York Times critic Dave Kehr wrote, "Ms. Diaz is a great American type, a game, outdoorsy girl in the tradition of Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur, Jane Russell and Angie Dickinson. That all of these actresses were discovered or revealed by the director Howard Hawks is no coincidence; Ms. Diaz would have fit marvelously well into the tradition of the Hawksian woman, with her sense of fun, camaraderie and forthright sexuality."
Kehr then wrote he could see Diaz in the Dickinson role in a remake of "Rio Bravo"; from our perspective, how about her in a remake of another Hawks classic, "Twentieth Century"?
(Despite Diaz's comedic gifts, she might not be well-suited for a Lombard biopic. At 5'9", she's probably much too tall to portray her, and it's difficult to envision her in 1930s costumes -- although she was cast in a period role in "Gangs Of New York.")
Kehr began his piece of Diaz by noting that in 1998, the New York Film Critics Circle surprised many by selecting Diaz, a former model, as best actress of the year for her work in the lowbrow comedy "There's Something About Mary" -- especially since conventional wisdom had it that Dame Judi Dench would win for her role in the art house favorite "Mrs. Brown."
When the group held its banquet, Diaz accepted her award and jokingly told them, "Next time, I promise to act."
A few years later, Diaz (shown with Selma Blair and Christina Applegate in a publicity still from "The Sweetest Thing") was asked about being compared to Lombard. She said, "[It's] a great compliment. I was like 'Okay, God, can I take that compliment, please?' I grew up with so many comedies; I love to laugh."
Diaz was born in San Diego in 1972 but grew up in Long Beach, and in the 1980s UHF TV stations were still showing vintage comedies starring Lombard and other stars of the '30s, so it's entirely possible that as a youth, she indeed watched Carole work her magic on screen.
I've often said that the stars of today are every bit as talented as those from the Golden Age, but the films they're in, and the scripts they're given, sadly aren't -- a disadvantage of the post-studio system era. One would love to see what Diaz could do with a truly sophisticated comedy.