November 11th, 2008

carole lombard 02
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Revel in a short look at Paramount, Mack

This entry really isn't about Carole Lombard, but it does spotlight where she worked for more than seven years -- Paramount Pictures, whose famous gates are shown above, and gives us a glimpse of several people she either worked with or knew. I've visited the lot a few times -- once for a studio tour, another time for a "Frasier" filming -- and it's always a thrill to set foot where Carole and other cinema legends spent so much time.

I wish I had a map of the lot during the 1930s; I would assume one exists somewhere. However, here's the next best thing -- a map of the Paramount facilities from 1992:

Most of the soundstages were there in Lombard's time (though most, if not all, have been altered to allow for the technical nature of television production), as are many of the buildings.

I've come across a short film that purportedly gives a "behind-the-scenes" look at the studio, specifically its musical side. It's called "Hollywood Rhythm," and was issued in November 1934 to promote Paramount's new film, "College Rhythm."

It's also an introduction to Paramount's top songwriting team of Mack Gordon and Harry Revel. Gordon is the unquestioned star of the short; he's about the last person in the world you'd imagine having charisma, and yet he does. In his blog "Movies 'Til Dawn," Raymond De Felitta describes him as "fat, cigar-smoking, homely, wearing spats and utterly charming."

The absence of a Broadway pedigree may be why Gordon, who later collaborated with another Harry (Warren) isn't remembered quite as well as a few of his contemporaries. But make no mistake about it...he was a helluva songwriter. His compositions include "You'll Never Know" (for which he won an Academy Award), "At Last," "There's A Lull In My Life" and many others. And, as you'll hear here, he was a capable singer (he'd worked in vaudeville before concentrating on composing). He may have somewhat resembled Eugene Pallette, he of the "foghorn" voice, but thankfully he didn't sound like him.

Below is a picture taken at the Trocadero in 1938, featuring seven top songwriters of the era. In the top row, from left, are Al Dubin, Mack Gordon, Leo Robin, Harry Revel and Harry Warren. Below them are Lorenz Hart and Hoagy Carmichael.

The short additionally features a brief look at director Norman Taurog (who earlier in 1934 had directed the Lombard-Bing Crosby film "We're Not Dressing"), and Jack Oakie, who worked in several films with Carole. You'll also get to see the talents of Lyda Roberti, a Polish-born beauty who starred in several shows on Broadway (including "Roberta"), made a few films at Paramount (including the 1932 farce "Million-Dollar Legs"), and became Patsy Kelly's partner in comedic shorts following the death of Thelma Todd. However, Roberti had heart problems and died in March 1938; she was only 32.

As it turns out, there is a Lombard tie to this. Here's what Hollywood columnist Jimmy Fidler reported in May 1938: "I was talking on a Boulevard corner with Carole Lombard when Patsy Kelly drove by and Lombard said, 'I wouldn't be in her shoes for a million bucks. She used to co-star in comedies with Thelma Todd and Lyda Roberti, and they are both dead now.' And then in almost a whisper, she voiced one of the oldest superstitions of the theatre: 'Death always strikes three times.' I've been shuddering ever since."

Here, Roberti sings "College Rhythm" and "Take A Number From One To Ten" (the film alleges she came up with the song's title in conversation; take that with a grain of salt) with plenty of pep that more than compensates for her rather pronounced accent. It's unfortunate she's now nearly forgotten. Below is a scene from "College Rhythm":

So check out "Hollywood Rhythm." It's a pleasant way to spend 9 1/2 minutes.

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