July 16th, 2007

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Happy 100th, Barbara Stanwyck!

This entry is designed to celebrate today’s centennial of the birth of Barbara Stanwyck, certainly one of Hollywood’s great actresses...but this is, after all, a Carole Lombard site. So the goal is to try to find points in their lives or careers where they intersected.

Trouble is, they aren’t obvious.

Yes, they both made a film called “No Man Of Her Own,” but they are entirely different movies. (To further confuse things, the Stanwyck “Man,” released in 1950, was directed by Mitchell Leisen, who also directed a few Lombard films, though Carole’s “Man” wasn’t among them – Wesley Ruggles directed that one.)

Stanwyck certainly respected Lombard, In 1936, she called Carole Hollywood's most interesting personality "because she is so alive, modern, frank and natural that she stands out like a beacon on a lightship in this odd place called Hollywood."

Lombard and Stanwyck were never simultaneously under contract to the same studio, so they were never in direct competition for a role. When radio began to adapt movies for shows such as “Lux Radio Theater” or “Screen Guild Theater” and actors sometimes filled in for other stars when they weren’t available, Carole never pinch-hit for Barbara...or vice-versa.

And have you ever seen them in a photo together? I haven’t, and several other experts on Carole and Barbara tell me they’ve never seen one, either – but it’s possible one may exist. More on that later.

You certainly could imagine them cast in a few of each other’s roles, particularly in comedies. Could Carole have pulled off playing the conniving seductress in “The Lady Eve,” for example? Probably. And in “The Mad Miss Manton,” Barbara ventures into “My Man Godfrey” territory as a dizzy socialite, although it’s really more of a screwball murder mystery.

But Stanwyck was arguably the most versatile of the classic Hollywood actresses, succeeding in a variety of genres, including several beyond the reach, or comfort, of Lombard and many other stars. For example, she was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1973. Not bad for a gal from Brooklyn.

Apparently, the only serious instance where their professional paths collided came when Preston Sturges, a longtime friend of Lombard’s, wrote a script that blended comedy and drama – with much of the action set in Carole’s home state of Indiana. Lombard read it and was interested, according to biographer Larry Swindell – but the property belonged to Paramount, to which Carole was no longer under contract. And with Myron Selznick serving as Carole’s agent, demanding a high price for her services, Paramount decided to offer it to Stanwyck instead.

The film? “Remember the Night,” co-starring Fred MacMurray and directed by Mitchell Leisen, both of whom had previously worked with Lombard. It succeeded with both critics and at the box office. (Above, a cover from the video release of the film.) In 1944, Stanwyck and MacMurray would team up for an entirely different movie – the film noir classic “Double Indemnity.”

A few years earlier, Stanwyck -- not under contract to Paramount at the time -- was initially announced to appear in a film whose source was the play "Burlesque," which Stanwyck had appeared in on Broadway in the late 1920s. But she withdrew, and a reported replacement, Irene Dunne, didn't pan out, either. The film eventually became a Lombard vehicle and was renamed "Swing High, Swing Low."

While Lombard and Stanwyck probably saw each other at premieres, Academy Awards ceremonies and the like, chances are their most prolonged contact came after each married MGM stars in 1939 – Clark Gable for Carole, Robert Taylor for Barbara. The couples occasionally socialized, and here’s a picture of three of them on the golf course – but where’s Carole? Perhaps she’s behind the camera, taking the photo (if she was there at all; we know she personally cared little for golf).

So perhaps somewhere there’s a photo of Lombard and Stanwyck, with either Gable or Taylor. We can only hope.

By the way, Gable and Stanwyck made a pair of pictures together – “Night Nurse” in 1931, in which Gable had a supporting role, and their only starring vehicle, “To Please A Lady” in 1950; the latter was reissued a few years later and retitled “Red Hot Wheels”; a poster for the re-release is above. It would have been interesting to see Clark and Barbara co-star when both were at their commercial peak, but unfortunately that was never to be.

Anyway, happy 100th, Missy. (And watch some of her films, to be shown on Turner Classic Movies all day -- with hopes that on Oct. 6, 2008, also a Monday, TCM will provide similar treatment for the centennial of Carole's birth.)
film; ninotchka!

Lombard and...Columbo?

We all know about Carole’s great love with Clark Gable, but oddly, we hear little about Carole and Russ Columbo. Russ loved her—perhaps too much, as Carole implied in her statement after his death—but it seems that Carole did not love Russ as much he loved her—at least in his eyes. Russ demanded love from her that she was apparently not able to give, according to him—not in the same intensity with which he loved her, anyway. That’s not to say that she didn’t love him—-she certainly did, but her feelings were tempered by motherly affection, pity, and a healthy balance of work and play. Russ kept tabs on all of her comings-and-goings, even going so far as to hire someone to track her car and report back to him about where she’d been; his suspicions reached a peak after Carole ditched him on his birthday to hang out with William Powell.

I’ve read that Carole once referred to Russ as “the great love of my life” off-the-record to a reporter, but I’m curious about how accurate that statement was, if it did indeed take place. Personally, I believe this statement stemmed from a mix of love, nostalgia, and pity, especially after reading about her motherly affection for him, not even counting her love for Gable, and her refusal to marry Russ every time he asked. (Contrary to popular relief, the two were not engaged at the time of his death.) But who knows? Anyway, under the cut are a few lenghty, pleading letters from Russ to Carole, and even one from Carole herself, attempting to calm him down! I also included part of Carole's statement to Movie Classic abour Russ' death.

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