July 10th, 2007

carole lombard
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The well-dressed Lombard

Every now and then I check out eBay for Lombard-related material; there are normally about 150 or so items on auction, most of them stills of Carole (usually reproductions), or her films on DVD or video. But every now and then something unique comes along, and this is one of those items -- a skirt-suit Lombard wore and donated to a makeup man she worked with. Check it out:


The seller is offering it for $1,495 -- probably a reasonable price for such memorabilia, if out of reach for most of us collecting mortals. There's a good chance this outfit was a creation of the legendary Irene, who designed most of Carole's clothes from 1935 on.

The makeup man was Gordon Rau, who collected many items from stars he worked with and then sold them not long before his death in 1975; this item includes a letter he wrote in 1974 confirming its authenticity.

Some photos of the item from the eBay site:

That picture of Carole with Gable could possibly be of this outfit, but the seller can't guarantee it.

Yes, Lombard was one of filmdom's best-dressed actresses -- but how high did she rank? For an answer, let's turn to excerpts from the Jan. 6, 1935 Los Angeles Examiner written by the famed Hearst Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons. (This is taken from G.D. Hamann's splendid blog, "Old Movie Section," at http://gdhamann.blogspot.com/ -- Hamann has written more than 170 books on actors and actresses from the Golden Age, and is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in this era.)

Parsons noted that while Lilyan Tashman was alive, she was uniformly regarded as Hollywood's best-dressed actress...but who now claimed her crown?

The contest has narrowed down to Marlene Dietrich, Carole Lombard, Norma Shearer and Kay Francis. A few scattered votes for Gloria Swanson, Claudette Colbert and Joan Crawford, but Marlene is the choice of the majority of these men whose business it is to give the players individual style.

Kay Francis and Carole Lombard, however, are very close seconds. In fact, they are practically neck and neck with Marlene.

She then asked noted designers for their comments. First, Adrian at MGM:

The much-publicized MGM’s Adrian found it difficult to decide between Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. However, he gives Miss Shearer a shade the best of it.

“Miss Shearer is the perfect example of the sophisticated young matron. Her clothes are always extremely well chosen and she is consistently well dressed. She always looks the way every other woman would like to look.

“Joan Crawford has more exciting style,” says Adrian. “She is more daring in her taste and she typifies the ideal modern American girl.”

The next comments come from Travis Banton at Paramount:

Travis Banton, another Hollywood dress creator who is known all over the world for the beautiful costumes he designs for the Paramount stars, says that in his opinion Marlene Dietrich is the most representative motion picture actress when it comes to style. “She is innately chic,” says Mr. Banton, “and even in the crazy clothes she sometimes affects such as mannish trousers, she looks stunning.”

“Carole Lombard is a very close second.” In fact, Travis had difficulty in deciding whether the honor belongs to Marlene or Carole. “If I were to say who is to be the actual successor to Miss Tashman I should say Miss Lombard, because she is so enthusiastic over her clothes and makes a business of looking well groomed."

Note that Adrian and Banton each restricted their comments to actresses at their home studios. The next person Parsons asked for comments had no dog of his own in the hunt...and guess whom he chose number one?

Bernard Newman of RKO is the only stylist to travel off his own lot to find the best-dressed woman in Hollywood. He hands first honors to Carole Lombard. “I choose Miss Lombard,” he says, “because she is so overwhelmingly represents the ideal girl type. She wears her clothes with abandon and dash.” He places Norma Shearer second because she has poise and a beauty that represents the ideal of an American lady.

Of the other designers Parsons interviewed, Omar Kiam of Twentieth Century (pre-merger with Fox) and Samuel Goldwyn chose Kay Francis first and Miriam Hopkins second, “because both of them always look well groomed and are always dressed in good taste.” Stylist Victor Stiebel chose Dietrich first, followed by Lombard and Shearer.

No matter where Carole was ranked, it's pretty heady company to be in.
carole lombard 04
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R.I.P., Charles Lane

There aren't too many actors left who could say they worked with Carole Lombard, and we just lost one of them. Charles Lane, one of the great comedic character actors, passed away Monday night at age 102.

Lane, who had more than 300 acting credits, appeared with Lombard in "Twentieth Century." His parts were rarely big, but they were almost always memorable. He appeared in nine Frank Capra films and made numerous television appearances with Lucille Ball; he normally portrayed a hotel clerk, banker or some other stuffy authority type. No one did "crotchety" better.

When Lane celebrated his 100th birthday a few years back, his many friends in the industry held a party for him:

Not long after that, Lane spoke at a Santa Monica showing of the film "The Music Man," noting it was the first time his name had ever appeared on a theater marquee:

Thank you, Mr. Lane.