vp19 (vp19) wrote in carole_and_co,

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'Becoming Carole Lombard': My review

There have been several Carole Lombard biographies before, but there's never been one quite like this. That's because "Becoming Carole Lombard: Stardom, Comedy, and Legacy" by Olympia Kiriakou is arguably the first volume about her that lifts Lombard into the realm of serious film study. (It's also why the 248-page book -- filled with hundreds of footnotes -- sells in the $100 range, better suited for academic libraries than for a casual read.)

Kiriakou notes previous Lombard books view her as "screwball comedy queen" and "wife of Clark Gable." All well and good, but Carole's career included many genres, and placing her in a Gable context limit our appreciation of her life on screen and off. As she writes,

"To focus solely on Lombard's contributions to screwball comedy or her romantic relationships ignores the consequential advancements she made as a protofeminist, actor, and businesswoman, and the extent to which she made it possible for other female stars in the studio era and beyond to 'cultivate and maintain their own independent stardom in American cinema.'"

To that end, the author divides Lombard's life into several segments, than examines each in depth:

While Kiriakou doesn't deeply delve into all of Carole's films, she chooses several examples, many getting their most complete cinematic coverage. She notes more than half a decade elapsed between her last Mack Sennett slapstick outing ("Matchmaking Mamma") and her first screwball outing ("Twentieth Century"), believing historians' linking the two genres tends to come off as simplistic.

Lombard hadn't quite found herself in the early 1930s -- unfortunately, Kiriakou doesn't acknowledge the difference between how home studio Paramount treated her compared to Columbia, which tended to give her better product (such as "Virtue," above) -- and it explains why as of early 1934 Carole was seen as a mid-tier star at best.

One angle the book thoroughly examines is one I've noted for quite some time (and I'm far from the only one): Carole Lombard as a feminist in the 1930s, when feminism frankly wasn't cool. Several fan magazines, largely geared to female audiences, ran "interviews" (actual or otherwise) where Lombard, a backer of Franklin D. Roosevelt, aligned herself with progressive issues of the day:

Like an early Wonder Woman, Carole used her superpowers of smarts to achieve success in "man's world" (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/111181.html, which ran 12 years ago today). Lombard was indeed ahead of her time.

I have several minor disagreements with Kiriakou regarding this book, which we'll get to in time, but this longtime Lombard researcher would say that about nearly any work. For "Becoming Carole Lombard," its pluses far outweigh its minuses, and if you're a serious student of Carole's work, and life -- so serious that you'd spend $100 for this -- it's a title worth owning.

And as noted before, I'm cited as a source, for better or for worse:


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