September 14th, 2008

carole lombard 07
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A "Spawn"-ing that never occurred

Given the close ties between Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, many deem it unfortunate that the only film they appeared in together was "No Man Of Her Own," made at a time when no personal sparks flared. But from Lombard's perspective, her failure to make a second film with Gable wasn't from lack of trying.

Carole liked the property that became "Woman Of The Year," only to find that Katharine Hepburn had already acquired the rights. (How would Gable and Lombard have handled a Tracy and Hepburn script? It's a fascinating topic to ponder.) And a few years earlier, when the Gable-Lombard romance was just beginning, Carole may have eyed another film as a potential Gable teaming.

Or did she?

All of this conjecture is courtesy of this photo, which ran in the September 1936 issue of Photoplay:



The caption reads:

"Parties are not the same in Hollywood these days due to the illness of Carole Lombard, unique for her gaiety, charm and wit. Forbidden to go to Alaska for 'Spawn Of The North,' Carole is being good taking a rest cure and gaining weight like mad now."

"Spawn Of The North" was directed by Henry Hathaway (he had directed Carole in "Now And Forever"). It was a romance where a woman is fought over by two rivals in the salmon fishing industry.

And in 1936, Carole believed that if she could arrange to make a film with Clark, she'd prove her value to him. According to Lombard biographer Larry Swindell,

"She plotted unsuccessfully to make a picture with Clark, at her studio or his. ... 'Spawn Of The North' was an Alaskan adventure that seemed ideal for Clark and was able to stir his interest. She got herself assigned to the project, then proposed Gable to the studio. The plan backfired because Paramount considered a Gable-Lombard teaming simply too expensive, although otherwise attractive. With Gable no longer a factor, Carole lost interest in the picture and played sick to get released from her commitment."

One account says that Paramount envisioned Lombard working with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. (Keep in mind that in 1936, Grant hadn't quite crossed the bridge to full-fledged stardom, something that came the following year with "The Awful Truth" and "Topper.")

"Spawn Of The North" -- filmed not only in Alaska, but in Hollywood's two favorite all-purpose rustic backdrops, Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake -- underwent numerous production delays, but it was made...and several cast members had ties to Lombard. Old friend and lover George Raft gained one of the male leads, supposedly with Carole's recommendation (he played the antagonist of Henry Fonda), while Dorothy Lamour, a Lombard pal from "Swing High, Swing Low," got the part Carole was initially envisioned to play. (Another friend, John Barrymore, had a key supporting role). "Spawn" was released in the late summer of 1938, gained good reviews and did reasonable business.

What's fascinating in retrospect is wondering why Lombard wanted to make this film with Gable. The word "spawn" brings up images of what happened with Clark the last time he had gone north with a leading lady...for William Wellman's adaptation of the Jack London classic "Call Of The Wild." His co-star was Loretta Young, and she kept warm with Gable on those northern nights. The result was a baby girl born on Nov. 6, 1935; Young discreetly "adopted" the child, named Judy Lewis, and it wasn't until shortly before her death in 2000 that Young admitted the truth.



Lewis, shown above, has written an autobiography, "Uncommon Knowledge," about her life as the child of two legends -- neither of whom could publicly admit the truth.

Since film industry gossip gets around, Carole almost certainly heard stories about Young's "condition"...moreover, it was pretty easy to figure out who got her that way. Was Lombard interested in following suit as a way to cement her relationship with Gable? Not likely, even if Carole had been able to have the child under the utmost discretion and then later "adopt" it. No, Lombard just wanted to get in good with Gable, and having a child (at that time, anyway) had nothing to do with it.

Incidentally, the magazine that the Lombard picture appeared in is now up for auction at eBay, featuring an attractive James Montgomery Flagg drawing of Hepburn on the cover. It's at http://cgi.ebay.com/KATHARINE-HEPBURN-GINGER-ROGERS-CAROLE-LOMBARD-NELSON-E_W0QQitemZ150294434927QQcmdZViewItem?hash=item150294434927&_trkparms=39%3A1%7C66%3A2%7C65%3A1%7C240%3A1318&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14. Bidding starts at $9.99 (no bids as of yet), and lasts through just after 6:15 p.m. (Eastern) on Saturday.
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