February 28th, 2008

carole lombard 04
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One "census" she may have stretched the truth

It's become an integral part of any Carole Lombard biographical account: The actress, born Jane Alice Peters, was known as Carol Lombard until 1930, when a display poster for a new film of hers, "The Best People," listed her as "Carole" Lombard, and she decided to keep it that way. (If you've never heard of "The Best People," it's because Paramount subsequently changed the title to "Fast And Loose.")

However, the more research one does on this topic, the more one concludes this story is merely so much Hollywood hyperbole.

In yesterday's entry, we noted how an ad for a 1928 Mack Sennett film listed her name as "Carolle" Lombard. Here are several more instances that show she may have occasionally have used an "e" (but no additional "l") as part of her first name before "Fast And Loose."

Under federal law, results of a census are released 72 years later, so in 2002, data from the 1930 census became available to the public. Here's a page from a Los Angeles neighborhood where the actress, her mother and her brothers lived:

First of all, we discover that on April 1, 1930 -- the "snapshot" date of the census -- the family resided at 138 North Wilton Place, near Beverly Boulevard. (The area remains a residential neighborhood today, though having never been there, I have no idea whether the house now at that address was the same one used in 1930.) But look at the family names in a close-up:

That's "Carole" Peters (since the handwriting throughout the census sheet appears identical, we presume this was written by the census taker). Keep in mind that she didn't legally change her name to Carole Lombard until 1937. And according to the sheet, the data was gathered on April 9; Lombard didn't leave for New York, where "Fast And Loose" was filmed, until June, and the film was released in November.

Here's Lombard with an unidentified friend in 1930. We don't know whether this was taken in the neighborhood where she lived:

What else can we learn about Carole from the census data? Well, she was 21, not currently enrolled in school, could read and write, and was employed as a motion picture actress (though at the time this was taken, Lombard may not yet have signed a seven-year contract with Paramount). She had been born in Indiana, as were both her parents (though her mother's parents were both born in Ohio).

And courtesy of Carole Sampeck and The Lombard Archive, here's another bit of Lombard memorabilia that casts doubt on the "name" story. Check out this picture, almost certainly taken during the late 1920s:

The autograph is difficult to read, so here it is, enlarged:

It reads, "To Johnnie - Wishing you all the Success and luck in the world - Love, Carole Lombard or Jane." (We have no idea who "Johnnie" was, but the reference to "Jane" indicates that she had likely known this person for several years.) It now seems increasingly apparent that she may have toyed with adding an "e" to "Carol" for several years, even if the Paramount poster change was indeed accidental. (More recent findings indicate she used the name "Carole" as far back as her days as a teenage starlet at Fox in 1925, as well as during her time working for Mack Sennett; the only workplace where the "e" was never used was at Pathe studios.)

All in all, more fascinating tales of Carole Lombard...Carol Lombard...Jane Alice Peters...whomever.
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