vp19 (vp19) wrote in carole_and_co,

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Oh, baby (stars, that is)

I've been spending plenty of time in libraries lately (specifically, McKeldin Library at the University of Maryland in College Park, my undergraduate alma mater), and have come across several books of interest to the classic Hollywood fan. I'll examine one of them today, and get to another tomorrow.

Virtually all professional sports leagues announce an "all-rookie" team for the previous season; some are selected by media covering the sport, others by coaches or managers. Well, imagine a similar concept, but among actresses instead of athletes.

That, in essence, was what the Wampas Baby Stars was all about.

From 1922 to 1934 (in some years, no selections were made), a number of actresses were chosen by a group of film publicists called the Western Associated Motion Picture Advertisers. In this case, "baby" was not meant in an infantile or perjorative sense, but rather was an indication that they were starting out in the industry.

There was no strict definition or qualification of what actresses were eligible to be considered for a Wampas honor, unlike sports leagues. (As a baseball fan, this reminds me of something that happened in September of 1996, in a game I saw at the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia. The Phillies' young third baseman, Scott Rolen, was at bat, when a pitch from the Chicago Cubs' Steve Trachsel hit and injured him, sidelining him for the rest of the season -- one at-bat before he would have been considered a rookie that season. Rolen came back in 1997, was eligible for Rookie of the Year honors, and won it; I've quipped that if Rolen received any bonus from the Phils for winning it, Trachsel should have been given a quarter-share.)

A book has been written about the actresses who captured these honors. It's called "The Wampas Baby Stars: A Biographical Dictionary, 1922-1934," and is written by Roy Liebman, a librarian and film bibliographer.

Let's get your first question out of the way: Was Carole Lombard ever a Wampas Baby Star? The answer is no (although I've read one biographical account which claimed she was). She might have been named in 1925, but perhaps Fox (where she was under contract) didn't promote her. For what it's worth, none of the 13 selections achieved any kind of sustained stardom.

That certainly wasn't the case for 1926, a year in which an auto accident sidelined Lombard. Three of the 13 selected -- Mary Astor, Joan Crawford and Janet Gaynor -- would win Academy Awards, an honor that didn't yet exist in 1926:

Several other members of the class of '26 also had notable film careers, including Mary Brian, Joyce Compton, Dolores Del Rio and Fay Wray. (Top choices from other years include Colleen Moore and Bessie Love in 1922; Clara Bow in 1924; Jean Arthur and Loretta Young in 1929; Joan Blondell in 1931; and Ginger Rogers in 1932. At least two Wampas winners are still with us -- Anita Page from 1929 and Gloria Stuart from 1932.)

Lombard returned to films late in 1927 and as such wasn't really a viable candidate, and might have been considered in 1928 but was sort of stuck between work in Mack Sennett shorts and minor roles in Pathe features.

But while Carole was never a Wampas Baby Star, she worked alongside several who were. Dorothy Mackaill, a 1924 winner, had a supporting role in Lombard's only teaming with future husband Clark Gable, "No Man Of Her Own." Mackaill (1903-1990) was a noted presence in many pre-Code films, retiring in the mid-1930s and eventually settling in Honolulu (where she occasionally had roles on "Hawaii Five-O").

Sally Blane, a 1929 selection, worked with Lombard on a few Sennett shorts, while another Sally who won a Wampas later made a Paramount film with Carole. The surprise, however, is that it's Sally Rand, the famed fan dancer, who was a 1927 Wampas Baby Star. (Just how many people are aware of her early acting career?)

Rand appeared in a number of silents (including the 1927 "The King Of Kings"!), but didn't make that much of an impact and returned to her first love, dancing. The rest is history -- although most of it occurred in vaudeville and nightclubs rather than films such as "Bolero," where she recreated the "fan dance" that had caused a sensation at the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago.

Just an additional note: One of those Wampas stars from 1925 later appeared in a film with Carole. Her name was Anne Cornwall, probably best known as Buster Keaton's love interest in the 1927 film "College." The tiny (4-foot-11) Cornwall had a flat voice ill-suited for talkies, and generally played bit parts for the next 30 years...including a small role in Lombard's 1937 Paramount finale, "True Confession."

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