April 13th, 2008

carole lombard 07
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The Lombard "Look," part 2

That's the Look Building on Manhattan's Madison Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets, built in 1949-50, at the time the magazine was reaching its peak of influence and circulation. (Another major tenant was Esquire magazine, which tried in vain to get the building's name changed.) The sleek, 23-story building is still renowned architecturally as a prime example of the International style.

Before the second half of our two-part series on Carole Lombard in Look magazine, some words about its demise (the above is a Look cover from March 1938). The growth of television, especially during the 1960s, caused rough sledding for many magazines as their advertising revenues eroded -- at the same time that postal rates were rising for publications. The original Saturday Evening Post bit the dust in early 1969, and while Look held on gamely, its demise came in the fall of 1971. Little more than a year after that, Life, which had some advantages over its rivals as part of a large magazine empire, similarly gave up the ghost. While all three have been revived from time to time, including Look in 1979, none have been sustained successes.

In the fall of 1938, not long after Lombard had been the cover subject of Life (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/56838.html), the editors of Look asked her to choose her 10 most interesting men. Carole agreed -- but automatically disqualified anyone in Hollywood, including current beau Clark Gable.

"I have purposely gone far from Hollywood to select those men I consider the 10 most interesting," she said. "Had I permitted myself to consider a selection from Hollywood, I probably would have ended by choosing all my friends. I have intentionally slighted everyone in Hollywood, though some of the most interesting persons I have ever known live here."

So whom did Lombard select? It's a fairly eclectic mix; Look labeled it as "four statesmen, four writers, a businessman and a former king." And while none of them were primarily identified with Hollywood at the time, several of them had past ties to Carole's career (one of which she admitted in print). A few of the names wouldn't be recognized today, though they were movers and shakers to the 1938 audience.

Here's the list:

* Franklin D. Roosevelt: "One of the world's most magnetic personalities, with rare power to influence others. He could have risen to the top either on the stage or on the screen as actor or director, as his sense of the dramatic is instinctive."
Lombard would make similar comments about the president in late 1940, after she and Gable watched him deliver a "fireside chat" from the Oval Office (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/73489.html).

* Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy: "I knew him when he headed Pathe studios. He was a diplomat then, but relied on his warm personality. You should have heard him yell when Madame Sylvia went to work on his figure -- or am I telling?"
To clarify that story for those unfamiliar with the anecdote: When Kennedy took over Pathe, he asked Lombard to lose some of the weight she'd gained for Mack Sennett, and she replied, "You could lose a few pounds yourself." He agreed to use the same masseuse Lombard used...but she told her to give the mogul a much more vigorous workout.

* Manuel Quezon: "In a way, the president of the Philippines is the George Washington of the Far East. He is handling the big task of educating a nation to self-government. Quezon is destined to become one of the Orient's most important men."
Quezon indeed helped the Philippines bolster a more independent government, and the metro Manila area and former capital known as Quezon City is named in his honor. Quezon fled to the U.S. when the Japanese invaded after Pearl Harbor; ailing from tuberculosis, he died in Saranac Lake, N.Y. in 1944, a few weeks before his 66th birthday.

* Chiang Kai-Shek: "The man who woke up the sleeping dragon of China. Through his personal efforts, he has molded the vast country from a traditional battleground into a united people. He is to be congratulated, too, for his intelligent wife."
Chiang took command of a disparate group of Chinese as they fought off Japan's invasion, but after World War II ended, the Nationalists' alliance with the Communists dissipated and Chiang fled to Taiwan, setting up a separate government on that island. He died in 1975; Madame Chiang, who attended both Wesleyan College in Macon, Ga., and Wellesley College in Massachusetts, died in Manhattan in 2003 at age 106.

* H.G. Wells: "Not only an outstanding writer, but one of the world's most interesting speakers. He has turned the reading public's attention toward the future as has no other modern writer. He might be called the apostle of the future."
An intriguing comment from arguably the most timeless of Golden Age actresses.

* Gene Fowler: "Any list of interesting men must have at least one newspaperman or former newspaperman. Fowler, as a personality, is even better than his books. It's a treat to read a Fowler book, but a bigger treat to talk to Gene himself."
A renowned writer not that well remembered today, Fowler also wrote a number of screenplays, including "What Price Hollywood?" He was an uncredited writer on "Twentieth Century," probably due to his friendship with John Barrymore. His son, Gene Fowler Jr., was a noted editor for both films and television.

* Noel Coward: "This English playwright makes me think of George Bernard Shaw set to music. The words he writes will be the folk songs of tomorrow. Like George Bernard Shaw, he has a razor-sharp wit and is amused by the rest of mankind."
Lombard didn't note she had a chance to act opposite Coward, in a film version of "The Scoundrel," but turned it down -- probably because it was based on the life of publisher Horace Liveright, whom she'd had a romantic dalliance with (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/50074.html).

* Juan Trippe: "As president of Pan-American Airlines, he heads an international firm which circles the globe. His world is a world of romance, but more than that, he holds a great power for both peace and preparedness."
Trippe, who wasn't of Hispanic descent despite his name, was a pioneer of commercial aviation, helping create the concept of "tourist class" and being aggressive in buying jets in the late fifties. He also was the driving force behind the 747, built by Boeing in the late sixties. Trippe, who made the cover of Time magazine in 1933, died in 1981.

* Duke of Windsor: "When histories of this century are written, this man will have an important chapter. Instead of recording the facts of affairs of state, this chapter will be a study in human emotions. His life history is interesting and dramatic."
One senses that the story of a king giving up his throne for the woman he loved -- especially an American -- appealed to Lombard the prospective producer...and she certainly wasn't the only one.

* George Bernard Shaw: "He is the Peck's Bad Boy in my list. He's undependable, irascible, caustic and cute. But there's nobody with a greater power to deflate, with a phrase, those humans or things that need deflating. That he is one of the greatest authors of the age is no more important than the fact that he has kept his spirit young and bright. One would not be surprised to see Shaw, beard and all, playing marbles."
Shaw, 82 at the time this piece appeared, would live until November 1950. Born in Ireland, he was a playwright, critic and political activist; in 1926, he refused a Nobel Prize for literature, saying, "I can forgive Alfred Nobel for inventing dynamite, but only a fiend in human form could have invented the Nobel Prize." Shaw visited Hearst Castle during the 1930s, taking a liking to Marion Davies. I'm not certain whether Lombard was at San Simeon at the same time.
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