November 20th, 2008

carole lombard 04
  • vp19

Carole gets physical..."Physical Culture," that is

If you were in the U.S. in the 1970s, you might recall a series of TV specials called "Battle Of The Network Stars." The premise was that a number of celebrities from television series -- usually the more photogenic ones -- would participate in an array of athletic competition...nothing overly strenuous, mind you, but something sufficiently challenging. Derisively labeled "trash sports," they drew enough of an audience to keep the concept going for several years until it finally fell from favor.

If the same concept had been around in the 1930s ("Battle Of The Studio Stars"?), Carole Lombard certainly would have been one of the favored competitors in the actress division. Arguably the film colony's best female tennis player (although Ginger Rogers and Katharine Hepburn might have disputed that honor), Lombard had been a fine athlete from childhood on.

Carole's athletic prowess was surely one of her best-known qualities, and it was celebrated on at least two occasions in a major national magazine...but it wasn't a movie publication. Rather, it was called Physical Culture, a magazine with a fascinating history -- and an equally fascinating publisher.

Physical Culture was founded in 1899 by a Missouri native named Bernarr Macfadden (1868-1955). He edited the magazine for 13 years, then gradually built a publishing empire with publications such as True Detective, True Story and True Romances. (One of his later publications was Sport magazine.) He even entered daily newspaper publishing in 1924 with a lurid tabloid named the New York Evening Graphic; its alumni included gossip columnists Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan, who eventually left for the Mirror and Daily News, respectively, before the Graphic's demise in 1932.

Macfadden's views were often offbeat, drawing the ire of the medical establishment; Time magazine once labeled him "Body Love Macfadden." But his magazines also frequently discussed then-controversial topics such as birth control and venereal disease.

Macfadden had many friends in the Hollywood community and recognized how celebrities could promote his physical culture concepts. So in October 1938, it came as no surprise that Physical Culture ran a two-page spread on Carole Lombard:

The following October, Lombard was profiled again for her active lifestyle:

Both of these magazines are now being auctioned at eBay.

The 1938 magazine, which the seller erroneously claims has Carole on the cover, can be found at Bidding begins at $3 and lasts through just after 10:30 p.m. (Eastern) on Monday.

The '39 magazine has a starting bid of $6.99, with bidding closing at just after 8 p.m. (Eastern) on Saturday. To bid, go to

Both are artifacts showing a different side of Lombard, one where she was once again ahead of her time.
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