May 23rd, 2008

carole lombard 05
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Photoplay, May 1939: I knew her when...

If you've been reading this site for some time, you're probably aware that one of my favorite actresses of recent times is Goldie Hawn, who to me has many of Carole Lombard's qualities: beauty, sex appeal, likability, intelligence, acting talent and a solid business sense.

I mention this because in the 1970s, before I learned to drive, I regularly rode buses to get between my home in Rockville, Md., and the University of Maryland campus in College Park, where I was an undergraduate. I had to change buses to get there, and one of the routes I periodically took snaked its way through Takoma Park, Md., Hawn's hometown, only blocks from the home where she grew up. (Goldie still drops by the place every now and then, and a few years ago she made headlines by slipping into the house while the current owner was out.)

Anyway, I'm sure people who lived in that neighborhood during the 1950s and early 1960s probably have plenty of stories to tell about the little girl who made it big.

So it was in the spring of 1939, when Carole Lombard was big (and on the verge of marrying Hollywood's Mr. Big), someone from her old West End neighborhood in Fort Wayne, Ind. -- a place whose Victorian homes and tree-lined streets were the midwestern equivalent of Hawn's Takoma Park -- shared some stories about the young Jane Alice Peters. She may have left Fort Wayne soon after her sixth birthday, but she certainly made an impression on at least one neighbor. This piece isn't very long, but it's incredibly evocative nearly 70 years later.


Blonde Beauty Grows Up

By Robert Baral

I was her next-door neighbor and I know -- she's just reverting to type!

For Jane Alice Peters (Fort Wayne, her birthplace, still calls her by that rippling, simply chosen name) was always a tomboy. Of the type who would pass up a French doll for a cheap football purchased downtown at the sporting goods store. She didn't care a whoop for paper cutouts, making Valentines or the usual pastimes of juveniles living in the West End neighborhood. She liked to tear out of her house (and she really tore down the steps) away from the maid's watching eye and proceed to the center parkway across the street, and root for her brother's winning baseball team.

And today ... she's being herself again for the first time in years. No starched front for her. Blast the command of Hollywood tradition, that a top-bracket star be holier than thou. Especially when out hot-spotting over the week end. She'll laugh at the top of her voice, if she wants to!

Before going to California years ago, Carole lived with her family on Rockhill Street. (A plaque now marks this residence ... thanks to Russell Birdwell last year.) Her two brothers, Frederic and Stuart, dominated the household more or less, because they were older. Girls were scarce around Rockhill Street, so it was natural for the golden-haired to be enlisted for a cop and robber spree. She was happier running than walking!

Twice a month, "The Adventures of Kathlyn" were shown at the old Colonial Theater (corner Calhoun and Washington Boulevard). This was on Friday nights, and the next morning would have Carole (or rather Jane Alice, at this period) playing anything from Kathlyn Williams' duenne to King Umbelle's No. 1 slavey. Kindergarten classes in between at the Washington School (just six blocks away) ... with hardly a thought of California.

The trip, first planned as just a regular vacation jaunt, turned into an extended stay. Two years, three, then ... (during the War) a few public appearances passing out programs at Red Cross social functions midst Beverly Hills' palm trees.

First thoughts of a new name cropped up then in this new, exciting atmosphere. A numerologist did the final trick and Jane Alice Peters passed out of the picture.

The next years, during the grooming grind, Carole went through the standard process of building up that new moniker. Drilling the final "e" into her public and doing many strange stunts to attract attention as a high-powered sex exponent. Suddenly, the screwball era fell into her lap ... and Carole just as suddenly found this release, as the ripe moment actually to be herself. And after all these years, too.

She'll trade you those slacks for that new Banton concoction. Really, she's always been a corking good sport!

For the record, Kathlyn Williams was a major star in movies throughout the teens. She made only one movie serial, but it was the first. (However, Jane would not have seen "The Adventures Of Kathlyn" in Fort Wayne, since it was made in 1916.) Later on, Williams portrayed the mother of Anita Page's character in "Our Dancing Daughters."

It should also be noted that Baral wrote a similar piece on Lombard's Fort Wayne roots in the September 1931 issue of New Movie magazine.

Fort Wayne still remembers Carole fondly, as this sign not far from the house shows:

Last I checked, Takoma Park hadn't yet named anything in honor of Goldie Hawn.
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