This thing called "Twitter" -- instant messaging of less than 140 characters, transmitted to anyone who wants to see it -- has become all the rage of late. And while it has many legitimate uses (for example, airports now send Twitter messages with updated alerts), very often it's simply communicating for communicating's sake. (Leonard Pitts, the perceptive columnist of the Miami Herald, recently wrote a splendid piece on the whole phenomenon.)
One wonders how Golden Age stars would have used Twitter had it been around in the 1930s. That thought came up when I came across this column, written by Harrison Carroll in the Los Angeles Evening Herald-Express of May 14, 1936 and subsequently uncovered by G.D. Hamann at his fine "Old Hollywood" site. Carole Lombard doesn't "Twitter" here, but at least the word comes up:
"Never again will Carole Lombard use dark glasses as a disguise.
"The blonde star is being much twitted in Hollywood today, following the amusing finish of what was intended to be an incognito shopping tour at a downtown furniture store.
"Wearing a slouch hat, dark glasses and a polo coat, the Paramount actress lingered over her purchase yesterday, secure in the feeling her identity would remain ingest.
"Suddenly, a woman shopper gave her a startled look, and cried:
"Everybody in hearing distance turned to stare. Somebody made a rush for the star and in a moment, people were swimming about her.
"Cornered, Carole whipped off her glasses and cried, 'See, I'm not Garbo, I'm just Jane Peters.'
"With which, she elbowed her way out of the crowd, making a clear getaway without being recognized."
A cute story, if true. We can have our doubts, if only because later that month, Paramount was to release "The Princess Comes Across," where Lombard portrayed an ersatz Garbo imposter (and even does a comedic Swedish accent). It's entirely possible someone in Paramount publicity -- or even Lombard herself, engaging in early preparation for the tall tales that would characterize her later persona of Helen Bartlett in "True Confession" -- called Carroll to tell him the yarn. (One part of it was accurate, however; legally, she was still Jane Peters, and wouldn't change her official name to Carole Lombard for nearly another year.)
Over the years, there are two other stories I've heard about Carole Lombard being "recognized." One supposedly occurred while she was visiting New York, walking along Fifth Avenue with a publicist who was amazed no one noticed her. Lombard reportedly stopped, stared into a window reflection to change her hairstyle, and suddenly everyone knew who she was.
I believe the other story originated with Adela Rogers St. Johns in one of her books. Carole was in rural California, walking along a road in casual wear, when she hitched a ride. The man who picked her up said she looked like Lombard, to which she replied, "Don't you ever compare me to that hussy!" Amusing in its self-deprecation, if true...but if it actually happened, Carole also may well have been trying to protect herself from kidnap, assault or some other potential problem.