January 6th, 2008

carole lombard 07
  • vp19

On the 12th day of Christmas...

Today, January 6, marks Christmas for many Armenians, as well as the end of the "twelve days of Christmas." (That marked the length of time early Christians took to walk from Bethlehem, site of Jesus' birth, to the River Jordan where he was baptized.) It is said that the Christian religion initially celebrated the holiday on Jan. 6, but it was moved to Dec. 25 sometime during the fourth century A.D. to overshadow a pagan feast held at that time commemorating the birth of the sun (just after the winter solstice, the period of daylight begins to get longer).

Anyway, I just came across a picture that perhaps should have run during December, had I known of it then; it's certainly Christmas-related, but of a far more secular bent. But as they say, better late than never.

It's from the late 1920s, and features the star of our community playing a young version of old Saint Nick (although truth be told, here Carol Lombard, a year or two before the "e," doesn't look all that jolly). Perhaps you've seen a portion of this picture at eBay recently, but here's the complete version, featuring a second person not visible on the eBay version (more on her later):

So who's this elf kneeling next to Santa Carol, holding what looks to be a tiny chair (for a dollhouse, perhaps)? Her name is Jeanette Loff, and like Lombard at the time she was under contract to Pathe. In fact, she has the supporting role of Millie Chapman in Carol's 1929 Pathe swan song, "The Racketeer."

Born Janette Lov in Idaho nearly two years before Lombard, her father was a famed Danish violinist; she also had a talent for music, playing the organ at movie theaters in Portland, Oregon. She was given her new film name by Cecil B. De Mille and began getting roles in late '20s films. And here's another Christmas tie-in for Loff: she was the lone person to accompany Santa Claus (a non-Lombard version!) along Hollywood Boulevard in the inaugural Hollywood Christmas parade of 1928. (The event rapidly grew in popularity, inspiring the Gene Autry song "Here Comes Santa Claus," but was discontinued a few years ago.) Here's Loff with Santa:

Loff had some success in the early days of talkies, singing parts of three songs (including "It Happened In Monterrey") in the 1930 Paul Whiteman spectacular "King Of Jazz." If she's remembered at all today, it's likely for that film.

She was a reasonably attractive woman, as these pictures show:

Unfortunately for her, she never quite found her niche. She decided to leave the screen in 1930, failed to secure a role in a Buster Crabbe Tarzan serial in 1932, and made a brief comeback in 1934, appearing in six films. After that, she retired again.

Like Lombard, 1942 would be a tragic year for Jeanette Loff. She was found dead in Los Angeles on Aug. 4 of ammonia poisoning -- although police couldn't determine whether it was accidental, self-inflicted or done under duress. (She had a husband at the time of her death, film producer Bert Friedlob, although he apparently wasn't charged.) And, like Lombard, Loff is buried at Forest Lawn.

To be sure, that's sort of a downer to accompany a picture that's really rather silly, but such are the ways of fate.