This is one of my very favorite portraits of Carole Lombard, as it blends her beauty, joie de vivre and sex appeal all into one. It's an RKO image, taken on her Encino ranch in 1939 or 1940.
And I first became aware of its existence thanks to Larry Swindell.
It was on the rear dust jacket of Swindell's 1975 biography "Screwball: The Life of Carole Lombard," arguably the first Lombard bio and certainly for many years the most influential. His writing helped capture her iconic spirit and personality; reading it in early 1986, I fell in love with her. And I know I was far from the only reader who did.
Swindell, who also wrote several other classic Hollywood biographies, died June 22 in Moraga, Calif., from a heart condition at 91. The photo shows Swindell with a portrait of his younger self at the Rheem Theater in Moraga, a single-screen venue (he's part of its Classic Film Hall of Fame).
Born in north Texas in 1929, his family moved to southern California in 1940. The following Dec. 7, he was at a football game at Gilmore Stadium, where Carole and husband Clark Gable were that day, and recalled seeing them when word got out the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. Lombard would die 40 days later, returning from a war bond rally.
"Screwball" was a fine bio, as a reviewer gave it five stars at https://goodreads.com:
"Whereas most Hollywood biographers give you only a photograph of the star in question, Larry Swindell's 'Screwball: The Life of Carole Lombard' is more of a gallery painting, its rich and soft hues leaving you with a true impression of the subject that lingers."
Keep in mind that in the '70s, Swindell didn't have the resources available to future generations -- no Internet, no computerized newspaper archives, etc. So while "Screwball" stated Lombard didn't adopt the first name "Carole" until 1930, later research has found she had used it as early as 1925, only dropping the "e" during her time at Pathe.
On the other hand, Swindell not only saw Carole in the flesh, but talked to many people who knew her -- an option unavailable to later generations of Lombard biographers. The stories they gave Swindell helped him create a vivid portrait of the star, making her generous persona all the more admirable.
While "Screwball" became a favorite at libraries, it fell out of print for many years. But in January 2017, it was reprinted with a new cover, but apparently no new copy:
Many other fine Lombard bios have been written since 1975, including titles by Facebook friends Michelle Morgan and Robert Matzen, as well as Olympia Kiriakou's recent "Becoming Carole Lombard." I hope to write a book on her in the near future. But Swindell got it all started.
Swindell's other volumes about classic Hollywood include biographies of Spencer Tracy, Gary Cooper, Charles Boyer and John Garfield. They too have been reprinted.
I never met Swindell, and the blame is mine, since I think I would have liked him. Not only was he a fan of the Golden Age, but he was a baseball aficionado -- my kind of guy. He taught film studies at several universities, created the book review section at the Philadelphia Inquirer and was literary editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for nearly two decades.
The good news is that we may have more Swindell to read. In his final years, with a memory still sharp, he was writing a huge book on the history of American cinema, and had just finished a segment on the year 1942. Additionally, he wrote an autobiography with the tantalizing title "Naked On the Freeway," which his daughter (one of five children from two marriages) is currently editing.
Thank you, Larry.
For more on Swindell, see http://www.lamorindaweekly.com/archive/issue1410/Larry-Swindell-now-with-the-stars-he-loved-so-well.html and https://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/fort-worth/article243723212.html.