March 14th, 2008

carole lombard 05
  • vp19

A "Perfect" start to a career

Eighty-seven years ago this month, people saw Carole Lombard on screen for the first time...only they didn't know her as Carole Lombard. Heck, she only knew herself as Jane Alice Peters, a 12-year-old Los Angeles girl just a few years removed from her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Lombard persona was still a few years away.

Outside of the Peters family, it wasn't that big an event, either; she had a small role in a five-reeler called "A Perfect Crime," which was shown for the first time on March 5, 1921.

For Jane, it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Director Allen Dwan, whose career dated back to the early days of filmmaking, was looking for a young girl to portray the tomboyish sister of star Monte Blue. And Dwan found Jane -- who had been receiving boxing lessons from neighbor Benny Leonard, the lightweight boxing champion -- "a cute-looking tomboy...knocking hell out of the other kids."

Dwan asked Jane if she'd like to act in a movie. Since she'd been a film fan since the heyday of the cliffhangers several years before, avidly following the exploits of Pearl White and Kathlyn Williams, she quickly said yes.

Jane spent three days acting and, as Dwan later recalled, "she ate it up."

The above picture is frequently printed in Lombard biographies, but here's a less common photo from the film. (I am almost certain that the portrait of Jane in front of the desk was an inset, not part of the movie.)

Those two pictures, plus another still that can be found in the book "The Films Of Carole Lombard," are likely all that remain as evidence of the film; like so many silents, "A Perfect Crime" is feared lost. In fact, it's highly doubtful that any of the five movies Lombard made prior to her 1926 car accident survive. (I'd love to be proven wrong, however.)

After three days working with Dwan, she returned to her everyday life as a pre-teen girl. But Jane Alice had received a chance to visit the wonderland of moviemaking, and a few years later, she'd decide to return for good.
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