July 13th, 2008

carole lombard 07
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Feeding something to the Hopper



The Los Angeles Times, the city's dominant daily which has had its ups and downs over the years, constructed this building near City Hall in the mid-1930s, and it still houses the newspaper today. Then as now, entertainment, specifically the film industry, was a major part of its coverage -- and perhaps its best-known figure in that field was one Hedda Hopper, the Times gossip columnist.

And 70 years ago this week, Carole Lombard figured prominently in her column:



Please note that the column didn't have a gray background -- it was only added recently for highlight purposes on the Times blog, "The Daily Mirror," which uses the paper's files and archive to glance back at L.A. history (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/thedailymirror/2008/07/july-12-1938.html) and is always worth checking out.

Lombard was spending a week working publicity at Selznick-International Studios (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/17287.html), so Hopper decided to trek on over to Culver City to see what was going on. Here's what she found out:

"Carole Lombard, our spontaneous comedienne, took over press department at Selznick studio and put on a swell show. Carole dressed in black tailored suit, wearing orchid, sat beside bowl of American beauties, and was in her usual form -- tops. Talked to Gov. Merriam, made lunch date with Mayor Shaw, handled nosey writer who wanted to read letters of protest on casting 'Gone With the Wind.' Tried to locate Mahatma Gandhi and King of Ethiopia for their opinions.

"Told about going into the dress business. You'll soon be able to buy Carole Lombard over the counter. If dresses come in her size, you'll have to diet on juices before you can squeeze into 'em. Fieldsie, her secretary, will run dress business. Another side line is a seventy-acre lemon grove.

"She's rounding up more Titanic survivors. Only forty located thus far. Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 'Thirty-nine Steps,' will direct picture of that name for Boss Selznick.

"Told me English market matched ours for American pictures.

Good Old Jack

"Her most frightening experience was being thrown from a horse, having horse roll on her, while riding with Buddy Rogers. Her nicest, interview John Barrymore gave about her when they played together in 'Twentieth Century.'

"Still lives in rented house, on front door of which hangs the brass knocker, which belonged to the late H.D. Lombard, whose name she took. His wife Etta gave it to her after Harry died.

"On leaving studio, discovered street had been renamed Scarlett Way. Sign had been there six months. No one noticed it."


Some intriguing tidbits there:

* Had never heard about the dress business before, but at the time there was a cottage industry of sorts of making dresses that resembled those that the stars wore on screen, and numerous department stores carried such apparel. And while I'm no expert on the history of women's wear, I don't know of any actress at the time who lent her name to a clothing line (well, maybe Shirley Temple did), and one wonders why it never came to fruition. It also made me think of this 1986 Max Factor ad:



Jaclyn Smith's name has graced apparel at Kmart since 1985, and the line has since been extended to home furnishings.

* Finding the Titanic survivors was a publicity by-product of David O. Selznick's planned "Titanic" film, which never came off, but I had not been aware that Alfred Hitchcock was slated to direct it.

* Had never heard about the horse story, and with Christopher Reeve still in our collective memory, one shudders to think what might have happened. (I met Reeve at a press conference in Princeton, N.J., in January 1997 -- about 1 1/2 years after his horrible accident -- and he displayed the warmth, dignity and courage that made him such a special and beloved person.)

* The brass knocker anecdote is interesting -- did she take it with her from house to house?

Hopper told us a lot of things, but what she didn't mention is that she and Lombard were no strangers to each other. In 1929, when Hopper was a 44-year-old actress in the twilight of her film career, she had a supporting role in the Lombard Pathe film "The Racketeer":



Hopper left full-time acting a few years later, but every now and then appeared on screen; according to the Internet Movie Database, she had a small, unbilled role as a dowager in "Nothing Sacred," and she portrayed herself in Billy Wilder's 1950 classic "Sunset Boulevard." She and Hearst gossip columnist Louella Parsons had an intense rivalry for many years, and Hollywood personalities had to tread lightly with both.

Hopper continued working into the 1960s, although her influence had waned drastically. She died on Feb. 1, 1966, not long after voicing the character "Hedda, the Mad Hatter" (Hopper was famous for her flamboyant headwear) in the animated TV special "Alice in Wonderland, or What's a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This?"

Oh, and one more thing: One wonders if Carole ever kept that lunch date with Mayor Frank L. Shaw. About two months after Hopper's column, Shaw was recalled from office due to extensive municipal corruption -- the first mayor in the U.S. to receive such a fate:



To some extent, Shaw -- who had been re-elected in 1937 -- may have sown the seeds of his own demise. In late February and early March of 1938, massive floods overflowed the Los Angeles, San Gabriel and Santa Ana rivers; more than 110 people died. Appearing on nationwide radio, Shaw said "the sun is shining in southern California and all is well," a rather callous comment that didn't endear him to the public -- especially the many who lost homes or loved ones -- and sparked the recall effort.
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