January 20th, 2011

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Marion Davies sees a new frontier



Incredible picture, isn't it? It's part of a group scene from a party in February 1936, and it shows Carole Lombard with good friend Marion Davies and Douglas Fairbanks...senior at top, junior below him. Now that's a dynasty -- and speaking of such, today marks a major anniversary for another American dynasty; it was 50 years ago today that John F. Kennedy took the oath of office as president of the United States.



So what do the two events have in common? Marion Davies, that's what. She's somewhere on the stand, fairly close to the new president, though to be honest I can't specifically pinpoint her. (She is reportedly behind the Kennedy family.) She was there as a guest of JFK's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, a longtime friend from his days as a filmland mogul. Marion had also contributed money, and time, to John's campaign, letting him and his entourage stay at her Beverly Hills home while the Democratic convention was being held in Los Angeles in July 1960.

(Imagine if something similar happened in today's environment of highly-charged talk radio and cable TV -- a presidential candidate getting help from, and then paying tribute to, a woman who had been a longtime mistress. We would never hear the end of it, regardless of which party or ideology was involved.)

Davies was relatively apolitical compared to some other Hollywood notables who aided the Kennedy campaign. (Myrna Loy, a longtime Democratic activist, made appearances on behalf of JFK, and it is said her visit to Syracuse, N.Y., my hometown at the time, helped put that city in the Kennedy camp.) But as said, Marion felt obliged to help a family friend.

Davies also used her considerable wealth in other ways; in October 1960, a children's medical wing at UCLA was opened and named for her after she donated $1.5 million. With extensive real estate holdings and a good business sense, Davies was worth about $20 million in 1960.

Marion could still be charming, but she was now in her sixties and it had been close to a decade after William Randolph Hearst, the man she dearly loved but could never marry, had died at age 88. Alcoholism had taken its toll on her. This is one of the last photos ever taken of Davies, in 1959 with her husband, Horace Brown:



The Kennedy inauguration was essentially a public last hurrah for Davies. She was suffering from cancer of the jaw that would result in some disfigurement, and not long after returning from the east, she broke her leg. She was hospitalized much of the summer of 1961, took a turn for the worse and died in Los Angeles on Sept. 22.

To commemorate this historic anniversary, here is Kennedy's complete inaugural address, just as Davies witnessed it close to the new president. It remains stirring oratory, and if all you've ever heard from it is the phrase "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," I think you will more fully comprehend this speech, and how Kennedy inspired millions. Embedding of the address -- from the JFK library -- has been disabled by request, but you can see and hear it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEC1C4p0k3E.
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January 21, 1942 - a sad farewell ...



On this day 69 years ago Carole Lombard Gable and her mother Elizabeth K. Peters were laid to rest in the Great Mausoleum of Forest Lawn, in Glendale, California much as she had requested. The entombment was preceded by a brief invitation only funeral service in Forest Lawn's Church of the Recessional.

        
               One of the invitations to the funeral service.


                          
                         The Church of the Recessional in Forest Lawn, Glendale.

            
                         
Recently I read the archive of the Los Angeles Times for a description of this event.  There were 46 invited guests who attended the funeral service that was held shortly after both Carole's and her mother's remains were returned from Las Vegas by train with Clark Gable accompanying them.

The invitees included amongst others: Clark Gable's father; Carole's two brothers, Frederich and Stewart;  Madalynne Fields Lang, Carole longtime friend and former secretary, (her husband, Walter Lange served as a pall bearer); Dixie Pantages Karlson, Carole's lifetime friend and her husband, director Phil Karlson; William Powell, Lombard's first husband and his wife, "Mousie"; Spencer Tracy and his wife Louise Treadwell Tracy; Jean Garceau, Carole's last and then Gable's secretary and actress Myna Loy.  Lewis B. Mayer, Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling represented MGM. 

Clark Gable entered the chapel quitely through a private family entrance.  He sat with his father and an MGM official, unseen by the other attendees in a family alcove, "inconsolable and unapproachable".    

                   

                                         The private family entrance to the Church of the Recessional.


Among Carole's pall bearers were Walter Lang, the film director and husband of Madalynne Fields, and Zeppo Marx, the comedian/actor, agent and longtime friend of Carole.  Both Walter Lang and Zeppo Marx along with Stewart Peters, Carole's brother, had served as pall bearers seven and a half years earlier at the funeral of Russ Columbo.  Carole's casket was also covered with a pall of white gardenias, with orchids added.  


                                  

                         
Zeppo Marx, Walter Lang and Stewart Peters serving as pall bearers for Russ Columbo.  Russ' coffin is covered by a pall of gardenias, a gift from Carole.  The pall bearers also wear them.


After the brief service in the Church of the Recessional which consisted of two readings of psalms and a work of poetry, Carole and her mother's remains were tranported the short distance to the Sanctuary of Trust in the Great Mausoleum where they were entombed side by side. (A carefully folded white dress had been placed inside Carole's coffin before it was sealed.) 
    

               
                                       The main entrance to the Great Mausoleum.

               


                                    


Almost nineteen years later, Clark Gable was buried alongside of Carole and her mother.  And twenty three years after that Kathleen (Kay) Gable, Clark's fifth wife and widow, was buried discretely in the same alcove, one row beneath and three positions to the left of her late husband.
       


                                             
 Elizabeth Peters and her daughter, Carole, in Chicago, one week earlier on January 14, 1942.