July 26th, 2008

carole lombard 06
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A dear diary

A diary is normally considered the most private of places, one you keep items and notes in the strictest confidence. If it somehow comes into public view, it can cause all sorts of problems (as Mary Astor no doubt would have told you).

Did Carole Lombard keep a diary at any time in her too-brief adult life? If so, I've never heard of it...although if such a thing existed, it would be gold in the hands of any potential biographer.

However, we know of one actress who did keep a "diary" -- although she essentially used it as an autograph book. It's now up for auction through Profiles in History, and many thanks to the "Carole & Co." reader who let me know about this. The diary belonged to one Ruth Roland, an actress Lombard almost certainly grew up watching.

You can accurately say most film actresses of the teens have been forgotten, and that applies for Ruth Roland, born in San Francisco in 1892. She began her movie career in 1910, and by 1912 was a major star (she made 47 two-reelers that year, and 60 in 1913!). She made her mark in serials, just as Pearl White did (Kathlyn Williams, an actress often grouped in that category, made only one serial) and was especially adept at westerns and comedies. Like her contemporary Mary Pickford, she was also a smart businesswoman, creating her own production company and making a fortune in real estate.

Roland's star faded in the 1920s, as she decided to return to the stage and made fewer movies. She made a talkie in 1930, but appeared in only one more film before dying of cancer at age 45 in September 1937. She is buried at Forest Lawn.

In 1932, Roland decided to get autographs from many of her friends and associates in the film industry, and they're all in a diary:

If the dates on the diary are accurate, Carole Lombard signed this on Aug. 1, 1932 (as did her husband of the time, William Powell). "Wishing you always the greatest of happiness," Lombard wrote...and just imagine how she must have felt at the time of signing. Had little Jane Alice Peters somehow met Ruth Roland in 1915, she certainly would have asked for her autograph; now, many years later, this star was asking for hers.

"Admiral" Buster Keaton signed on Oct. 3 (at least one Keaton fan club calls themselves "the Damfinos")...

...and Jean Harlow, who Roland would outlive by three months, signed on Dec. 20. "A lovely human," Jean wrote.

Among the other greats who signed were Oliver Hardy, Jeanette MacDonald, William Demarest, Gilbert Roland, Paul Muni, Joe E. Brown, Bessie Love, Fay Wray, Amelia Earhart, George Raft, Eddie Cantor, Al Jolson, Ricardo Cortez, Bing Crosby, Ralph Bellamy, Tom Mix, Neil Hamilton, Dick Powell and Kate Smith. Many of them added personal inscriptions.

A fascinating artifact...and an expensive one, too. Bidding starts at $3,000 (one bid has already been placed) and continues through next Friday morning. To view it, go to http://cgi.liveauctions.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&category=52933&item=260257431944
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