At one of the IMDb message boards the other day, someone brought up this topic:
"I watched another Carole Lombard movie the other day ('True Confession' -- a delight -- convoluted and fun and strange with John Barrymore and Fred MacMurray and Una Merkel) and it occurred to me that unlike other real Hollywood beauties of the time -- there was never any attempt to show off Lombard as a sexy knockout -- with just the one exception of her last movie, 'To Be or Not To Be.' "
The subject's heading: "Why didn't they ever play to Carole Lombard's beauty or sex appeal?"
In some ways, you can argue that they did; Lombard was a gorgeous woman, and certainly got plenty of chances to show it. But you can see the person's point -- when sex symbols come to mind, Jean Harlow is frequently brought up, as is Marilyn Monroe. Carole is rarely wrapped in that cloth.
I have my own theory on this: Lombard was in some ways sort of a late bloomer to stardom, not really becoming a definable type until "Twentieth Century" in 1934. In contrast, from her first significant film ("Hell's Angels") onward, Jean Harlow was viewed as a sex symbol. (To some extent, the same thing happened to Jane Russell as the result of another Howard Hughes movie, "The Outlaw," but Russell's toughness and humor later enabled her to break out of the box.) Monroe's rise was less meteoric than Harlow's, but early starring vehicles such as "Niagara" made her sex appeal evident.
Another reason why Lombard isn't viewed as a sex symbol is Lombard herself. She obviously liked glamour, and her thorough study of cinematograhphy and lighting showed she was intent on using her beauty to the utmost, but Carole also had an iconoclastic sense; she enjoyed playing the game, but never took it completely seriously. Compare her to, say, Joan Crawford, for whom stardom was serious work. (It also explains why film crews respected Joan, but loved Carole.)
I'd like to get your thoughts on the subject. Is Carole Lombard a sex symbol to you? Do you think she is viewed as such by those interested in classic Hollywood, and why? This has the potential to be a fascinating discussion.