Love is today's dominant theme, what it being Valentine's Day...just as it was more than seven decades ago when giants walked the earth, especially around the Hollywood area of Los Angeles.
Many of these giants -- who, truth be told, weren't actually larger than life but merely seemed that way -- didn't walk most of the time, but drove around in automobiles. We're going to investigate the role cars played in Carole Lombard's most famous love affair, thanks once again to the painstaking research of G.D. Hamann (http://gdhamann.blogspot.com/).
On Feb. 15, 1936, here's what readers found in Harrison Carroll's column in the afternoon Los Angeles Herald-Express:
"The boulevard is buzzing iwth the story of Clark Gable's valentine. Returning from a party on the night of the 13th, the star sought to drive into his usual stall in the garage of a Beverly Hills hotel. 'I'm afraid it is already occupied, sir,' said the watchman. Thereupon, Gable got out and, to his amazement, was a dilapidated Ford painted white with decorations of large red hearts. Around the body was tied a huge red ribbon.
"Gable grabbed the card. It read, 'To my Valentine, from -- Carole Lombard.' "
Clark and Carole had hit it off at the Mayfair Ball a few weeks earlier, but this apparently was among the first public reports that something was going on between them.
As legend has it, Gable gave Lombard a taste of her own medicine a few days later by driving to her Hollywood Boulevard home in the jalopy to pick her up for their first date at the Trocadero. One can picture the reactions they got as they sputtered along (imagine the Maxwell driven by Jack Benny's character).
Word got around, and on March 11, Herald-Express stablemate Jimmy Starr provided an update. Gable had done a lot with the vehicle over the ensuing few weeks:
"Just saw Clark Gable's Valentine Ford and what a transformation! When Carole Lombard gave it to him it was a pile of junk. To get the last laugh on her he sent it to a garage to be rebuilt and yesterday he drove the rejuvenated flivver out to the studio to show it to his fellow MGMers.
"It has a new coat of white paint, chromium cowl sides, extra-size wheels, all sorts of fancy gadgets and a motor stepped so much that the old 1928 model now fairly flies."
What ultimately happened to the vehicle? Well, in April 1937, Gable told Carroll he had sold the refurbished Ford to a young worker at the Culver City MGM lot...though he had him sign an agreement not to divulge where he got it. (The hearts presumably no longer adorned the car.) Gable added he had turned down an offer of $1,000 for the car because the prospective buyer sought to use it for advertising purposes.
However, about a year later, Carroll reported that the Ford now belonged to race driver Harlan Fengler, who rebuilt the motor, stripped the chassis and planned to use it for a speed trial at Muroc Dry Lake (a dirt track located at Edwards Air Force Base in California).
While the "jalopy with hearts" story is well known in the Gable-Lombard saga, I've never come across any photos of the vehicle (guess Gable was pretty adamant about avoiding exploitation). However, that apparently wasn't the only car Carole gave Clark as a Valentine's present. The other came in 1940, a little while after "Gone With The Wind" was released nationally. Here it is:
This isn't a Ford...nor is it a DeSoto, for which Lombard appeared in a magazine advertisement at around that time. Rather, it's a 1940 Packard 180 Victoria, when Packard had a reputation for building outstanding luxury cars. (The company later merged with Studebaker, and the nameplate would survive until 1958.)
This model was popular among celebrities; drummer Gene Krupa reportedly also bought one. Lombard paid nearly $4,600 for the gift, which was a lot of money for a car in 1940. Here are some more photos of the vehicle:
No matter what kind of gift you plan to give your sweetie, have a wonderful, loving Valentine's Day!