Well, in this universe, perhaps Carole Lombard plays a feminine lead in an adaptation of a Dashiell Hammett story. Carole in the Mary Astor role in 1941 version of "The Maltese Falcon"? No. Lombard replacing Myrna Loy as Nora Charles, thus enabling her to be "remarried" to William Powell in "The Thin Man" (and presumably its cinematic sequels)? No.
This alternate Lombard role would be based on another Hammett book, one slightly lesser known than the two mentioned above but a respected work in its own right. It's "The Glass Key," and in early 1932, Carole was actually announced in the film, which would have been made at Paramount:
"Carole Lombard will play the chief feminine role in the film version of Dashiell Hammett’s best selling mystery novel, 'The Glass Key.' She will appear with Chester Morris and Regis Toomey."
Needless to say, it didn't happen. If it had, Lombard's Paramount career might have not have stalled as it did during 1932 and '33.
Paramount decided to postpone a film version of "The Glass Key," and didn't make it until 1935, perhaps due to the box-office success of "The Thin Man" the year before. George Raft had the male lead, and while he'd worked with Lombard a few other times, her career now was going in a different direction and Paramount officials -- most notably Ernst Lubitsch, who was briefly head of production (the only notable director to ever hold such a position) -- envisioned bigger and better things for Carole.
So the female lead was portrayed by an actress who, like Lombard, was born in a midwestern state beginning with "I" in late 1908. However, her state was Iowa (she was born in Des Moines in late December), and her career never quite ascended to Carole's heights. Her name: Claire Dodd.
A tall (5-foot-8), attractive former Follies girl, Dodd began in Hollywood in the early thirties -- in fact, she has an uncredited part in the 1931 Lombard film "Up Pops The Devil." She had a steady career at several studios and was considered a nice person, easy to work with, but rather aloof. She played Della Street in a Perry Mason film with Warren William, one that ended with Della marrying Perry (much to creator Erle Stanley Gardner's dismay).
Dodd retired from films in 1942, the same year "The Glass Key" was remade in what's now a better-known version, with Alan Ladd in Raft's role, playing opposite the equally diminutive Veronica Lake. Dodd had several children and died in November 1973, shortly before she would have turned 65.
I learned about the Lombard role that never happened at "Hollywood Heyday," a blog I've raved about before. This particular story can be found at http://hollywoodheyday.blogspot.com/2008/11/february-21-1932.html