August 8th, 2009

carole lombard 06
  • vp19

"...and in flew Enza."

One of the things we do at "Carole & Co." is not just review Carole Lombard's career as an actress and a star, but her life and the environment she lived in. We're doing that in today's entry -- one that sort of resonates to conditions we may soon be facing.

Despite Carole's athleticism, she was remarkably susceptible to ailments throughout her life. This goes back as far as her childhood as Jane Alice Peters; had she not suffered a sustained cold at age 6, Bess Peters and her three children might well have remained in San Francisco when they moved there from Fort Wayne in the fall of 1914. Jane's life would have been very different, and though she still may have tried to become an actress, she wouldn't have had the factory-town connections Los Angeles provided.

Let's turn the clock ahead four years, to October 1918, when Jane had just turned 10 and her only connection to the movies was attending them. At the time, Los Angeles and much of wartime America was facing an epidemic of what was called "Spanish influenza" -- though there was nothing to confirm that it was spawned in Spain.

Los Angeles, a rapidly growing city, feared being hard hit (at a time when it was building many ships to aid the Allied cause in the World War, which would end in about a month), and so city officials took action. Group meetings were barred; places where masses could gather, such as theaters and libraries, were closed. Department stores could remain open, but sales promotions were discouraged. Paciric Electric and Los Angeles Railway streetcars were vacuumed daily to prevent the spread of the disease. Even church services were shut down, and many of the city's larger Protestant churches presented their sermons in newspapers.

About the only places where people congregated were pharmacies, in order to purchase medicines and other preventative items. For more on the epidemic in southern California in 1918, go to

Larry Swindell makes no mention of the flu strain's effects on Jane in his Lombard biography, "Screwball." At the time, Jane and her family were living on South Catalina Street (a few blocks west of the current Wilshire/Vermont Metrorail station), and she and her brothers received a brief school holiday due to the outbreak. (We do know Carole would be laid low by the flu a few times during the 1930s.)

Despite the lighthearted look shown above (and the jokey phrase "and in flew Enza"), the flu would be no laughing matter. It would last about a year and a half, killing millions worldwide. With a re-emergence of the H1N1 flu a definite possibility, it's good to learn from the past about living safely.
  • Current Mood
    listless listless