April 30th, 2008

carole lombard 03
  • vp19

Photoplay, June 1931: "I think marriage is dangerous"

In yesterday's entry, there was a reference to a treasure trove at the Motion Picture & Television Reading Room at the Library of Congress' James Madison Building -- microfilmed copies of the leading film fan magazine, Photoplay, throughout the Golden Age of movies. It's a fascinating reflection of how the public viewed Hollywood, Hollywood viewed the public, and how at least one fan magazine danced in between the public's wants and the studios' needs.

This may be the first extended story on Carole Lombard published in Photoplay. It's from the June 1931 issue, about a year into her tenure at Paramount, and it focuses on her relationship with one of its top stars at the time, William Powell. While some of it you can take with the proverbial grain of salt, there manage to be some intriguing insights from Lombard, assuming these are genuine quotes -- and if they're somehow not, the author, Ruth Biery, does have Carole's personality down pat. (To Biery's credit, she correctly lists Lombard's age as 22, not buying into shaving off a year, as studio publicists were wont to do.) I think you'll enjoy reading this article, as I'm certain many film fans did in late May 1931 when this issue hit the stands. As it turned out, a month later Lombard and Powell did marry, forcing Biery to scramble for a followup. More on that tomorrow.


Hollywood’s Newest Romance

By Ruth Biery

It’s Hollywood’s newest romance, this matter of William Powell and Carole Lombard -– and seldom in the long and romantic history of the film colony has a love affair had the folks gaping and gabbling as this one has.

It’s been on for a year now, and it’s still fresh conversational material. If nothing happens to the young folks, the Hollywoodenheads invent something. When they don’t spat, lover-like, Hollywood fixes up a nice brawl for them and even prints it in the newspapers. The subject is that live!

And why not? Here was Bill Powell –- “hard to get” as any man in town, except, probably, that king of all secretive and eyebrow-raising cusses, Ronnie Colman.

I might add, of course, that neither of the lads is technically a bachelor. Colman has a wife vaguely ensconced somewhere in England –- the Powells were divorced eighteen months ago. She was Eileen Wilson, a non-professional.

After his divorce the girls took heart. Bill took them out, dined them, smiled on them a little loftily, but wore his well-known suit of chain armor over his heart. He squired Kay Francis about a bit, but there is no public record to the effect that the magnificent Kay stepped up his cardiac condition to any degree. And there were other pretty ladies, too. Bill gave them a little time, a lot of his courtly attention, plenty of his charming conversation. That was all. Not a sight of heart and hand.

Seemingly his participation in the tennis cabinet -– Ronnie Colman, Dick Barthelmess, Jack Gilbert and himself –- was of first importance.

Then came the blast that knocked Bill Powell’s heart far back in his thorax.

Carole Lombard, blonde and pretty, stepped from a New York train. She had been playing in “Fast And Loose” in Paramount’s New York studio, and now she was back on the Western lot. Stepping before the major executive in command, she saluted smartly and awaited orders.

She had had two big, heroic romances in her twenty-two years. They had been exciting and uplifting experiences. Both men were non-professionals, and she had loved both madly –- at different times, of course.

“I knew I shouldn’t marry the second -– the one I loved best,” she told me. “We were temperamentally unsuited. I knew if I told him goodbye I’d almost die. I did. But I got better –- I simply must laugh and clown through life.”

The point is that when Carole Lombard faced the Paramount officer, she was heart-whole, fancy-free and very gay.

“I want you to meet your new leading man. This is Bill Powell!”

Bingo -– just like that! And they were in love.

A worried publicity man fretted out loud. “Gee, I hope they get on. Powell doesn’t like many of his leading women.”

He needn’t have worried.

That night Bill Powell took Carole Lombard to dinner. It wasn’t just an ordinary dinner. It was one of those events roped off with red plush cords in the memories of a man’s life and a woman’s.

Over the hors d’oeuvres they started matching spirits. They talked for seven hours!

What do men and women talk about? Oh -– men and women.

“I think marriage is dangerous,” Carole told Bill. “It spoils beautiful friendships that might have lasted for years. The idea of two people trying to possess each other is wrong. And I don’t think the flare of love lasts. Your mind rather than your emotions must answer for the success of matrimony. It must be a friendship –- a calm companionship which can last through the years.”

These are some of the things Carole Lombard told Bill Powell during seven hours of intensive talk.

Seven hours of conversation -– and love not only survived but flourished.

Remember this –- Carole Lombard did not, and does not, want marriage. Not even to Bill Powell, not only one of the catches of Hollywood, but the man she loves.

She wants to be what the world calls a pal -– a witty, intelligent companion. At least that’s what she says.

And Bill? There’s no doubt in his mind –- or in the minds of the friends to whom he talks.

“She’s marvelous! She’s the one girl for me. I want to marry her. I’m going to marry her.”

That’s what William Powell, the unapproachable bachelor, says.

And Carole loves Bill -– make no mistake about that. Even though she doesn’t see why marriage should spoil their friendship. They phone each other three times a day. They dine together each evening. He gives Carole magnificent gifts. It was a Cadillac for Christmas. From Agua Caliente come huge bottles of costly perfume. For a valentine he gave her a cigarette case of jade, diamond-studded -– on Easter a cigarette case and match-box to match. Since they met, a year ago, they have not been three days apart. Love?

But the lovers did have one quarrel.

It was Carole’s fault. She told Bill –- “I want to be alone for two days –- not to see you.” She didn’t –- and Hollywood seethed.

It’s an uneventful romance, this love story of Bill Powell and Carole Lombard. They are more like a happy married couple than any married couple in Hollywood. They understand each other –- they placidly enjoy each other’s company, and don’t try to conceal it.

But they do love each other, in the fullest and most beautiful sense of the word. Carole says Bill is a darling, and means it –- she calls him “Junior,” and she says he is the most wonderful man she has ever known. And Bill -– oh, he calls his sweetheart what men have called their beloveds since time began.

But in the heart of all love there is a canker of sadness.

There is one in the romance of William Powell and Carole Lombard.

Powell is thirty-eight –- his sweetheart is only twenty-two. How often this tragic problem has been faced by lovers! For to them age -– mere years –- is no respecter of persons!

For instance, when Carole is thirty-two, a grand age for a woman, Bill will be forty-eight. Not old, but well on the way to middle life, when “the heyday of the blood is tame.”

Carole Lombard, being no fool and no creature of impulse, knows this. How could she help but be aware of it?

“Life becomes really interesting when you have passed thirty. Young girls are really silly –- they have no background for happiness. At thirty, one has understanding –- a background to make life interesting.

“Bill wants to travel -– he wants an interesting, friendly person to travel with. I’m not ready to travel. I have to concentrate on my career. When I can’t go -– and he wants to go certain places -– he can’t seem to understand –- now. And if we were married—-”

Carole’s voice trails off. It’s a sad little story –- no less sad because it’s old. Love which should have come to him when he was younger –- love which should have burst upon her heart when she was older -– more settled, more satisfied.

Both are strong characters. One may conquer at any moment. Who can foretell the outcome?

In the meantime –- William Powell and Carole Lombard love each other. And, like all love stories, the issue is on the lap of the gods. Only -– let us wish them well, and much happiness.

So what have we learned from that, other than that Ruth Biery really likes to use dashes?

* We discovered that Lombard admitted to two previous romances of note, both to "non-professionals." By that, was she referring to non-actors or people outside the movie business? We are certain that Lombard was in brief relationships with filmmaker-aviator Howard Hughes (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/11206.html) and down-on-his-luck publishing mogul Horace Liveright (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/50074.html). Whether or not she had them in mind, or possibly others we don't know about, can only be speculated.

* Lombard's comments on marriage -- and let's assume she was paraphrasing what she might have said to Powell that night -- are probably an outgrowth of the feminist traits she learned from her mother.

* Did Powell play tennis? There's a reference here to his "tennis cabinet," and if he played the game, that probably increased his appeal in Lombard's eyes.

* The story is accompanied by a picture of Bill and Carole dancing. The caption reads, "Wouldn't you like to know what Bill Powell and Carole Lombard are saying to each other, as they glide around the floor at Hollywood's Mayfair party? Oblivious of the crowd, there are just two people dancing -- Bill and Carole!"

So while Powell and Lombard didn't meet at the Mayfair, nor kicked off their relationship there (unlike Carole and her second husband), it still played some sort of role in their march to matrimony.

Biery was Photoplay's West Coast editor for a number of years and was an influential Hollywood writer. A few years before this article, she landed a coup by getting an interview with the normally press-shy Greta Garbo. She and Louella Parsons were among the founding members of the Hollywood Women's Press Club, which in 1940 instituted the "Golden Apple" and "Sour Apple" awards to those stars most and least cooperative with the press.
  • Current Mood
    surprised surprised