February 9th, 2008

carole lombard 06
  • vp19

Covering the hometown girl

While Carole Lombard was always proud to proclaim herself a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and had plenty of memories of her childhood there, it's still a fact that she, her mother and her two older brothers left for California when she was all of six years old. In addition, her last visit to Fort Wayne took place in the summer of 1930, shortly after she had signed with Paramount but long before she became a star of significance. (Did she and her family make any visits in the years in between? It's possible, but not documented.)

So perhaps there were only a few Fort Wayne residents who directly remembered little Jane Alice Peters...but since her family was well known in city circles, they had every reason to bask in a hometown girl's success.

Or worry about her setbacks.

Here's a story from one of Fort Wayne's daily newspapers, the Journal-Gazette (it still has two dailies today, something fewer and fewer cities are able to claim), published on Dec. 15, 1937. It turns out Carole, described in the lead as "lissome sophisticate of smart screen comedy," may have been exposed to...chicken pox:

The potential culprit was one Terry De Lapp, head of Paramount's publicity department. Thinking he had only a cold, De Lapp talked to Lombard for four hours, unsuccessfully persuading her to travel to San Francisco for the premiere of her film, "True Confession" (which, as it turned out, would be her last at Paramount). He felt a bit warm, but the next day discovered he had a rash -- and remembered his children had just recovered from chicken pox.

"Miss Lombard was horrified when she heard she had been exposed for four hours to chicken pox," the United Press article read. "Then she became angry."

The prognosis was not good, according to Dr. Harry Martin, who was described as "Miss Lombard's personal physician." (He was also the husband of powerful Hollywood columnist Louella Parsons.) There was legitimate reason to fear; while Carole was an active person and a fine athlete, she was periodically laid low by assorted ailments.

Fortunately, things turned out well for her. As for Terry De Lapp...well, we'd have to examine Paramount's personnel files.

Slightly more than a month later, the Journal-Gazette had considerably better news regarding Lombard, as her other film of late 1937 had finally arrived in town, the Technicolor comedy "Nothing Sacred." It got good play (to complement an ad) in the entertainment section on Sunday, Jan. 23, 1938:

A few weeks earlier, on Jan. 1, 1938, the Selznick publicity people got the ball rolling in Fort Wayne by putting up a plaque -- whose message concludes with a plug for "Nothing Sacred" -- at Carole's birthplace home on Rockhill Street:

Lombard herself never saw the plaque at the house (if it was made in southern California, perhaps she was given a glimpse of it before it was sent east), but it's possible her mother did. While Carole and MGM publicist/chaperone Otto Winkler spent a day in Chicago in January 1942, her mother made a side trip to Fort Wayne to see friends, then later reunited with the two in Indianapolis.