February 15th, 2011

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'Godfrey' faces Oscar, goes 0-for-6

How do you make people who have either never heard of Carole Lombard, or know only that she was married to Clark Gable and died young, fans of hers? If you live in the U.S., Turner Classic Movies tonight is a good place to start. At 8 p.m. (Eastern), it's showing "My Man Godfrey," one of the best screwball comedies ever made (if not the best), and it won Lombard an Academy Award best actress nomination for her portrayal of the dizzy heiress Irene Bullock.

Oscar nominations abounded for "Godfrey." Carole's ex-husband, William Powell -- who lobbied for her to get the role -- was nominated for best actor as the film's title character. Alice Brady. as Irene's daffy mother, and Mischa Auer, as mom's weird "protege," were nominated in the new categories of best supporting actress and actor. (The night's theme is "Oscar firsts," and among the other films tonight are 1963's "Lilies Of The Field," in which Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win an best actor Oscar, and 1961's "Two Women," where Sophia Loren was the first non-American to win best actress for a foreign-language film.)

Gregory La Cava, who brought a semi-improvisational style to "Godfrey," was nominated for best director, and Morrie Ryskind, whose past credits included the Marx Brothers' "A Night At The Opera," was nominated for best screenplay. All four acting nominees plus La Cava are shown below, taking a break on the set.

None of the six won.

Nevertheless, "Godfrey" may be better remembered than most of the other films that won Academy Awards that year. From its stylish art deco opening credits...

...to a wonderful supporting cast that includes Gail Patrick (foreground) as Irene's antagonistic older sister Cornelia (in real life, Patrick was slightly younger than Lombard) and Eugene Pallette as the exasperated paterfamilias of this menagerie of screwballs...

...to a social message running as an undercurrent, but never usurping the comedy, "My Man Godfrey" is a gem of a film. Unfortunately, since it fell into public domain, that gem often resembles fool's gold or zirconium. TCM will probably find a good print to run tonight, but keep your fingers crossed just in case. (For those who would like to make "Godfrey" a permanent part of their home, Criterion issued a fine DVD print of the film that includes all sorts of delightful extras -- including the 1938 "Lux Radio Theater" adaptation where Lombard, Powell and Patrick reprise their film roles.)

So tell your friends, gather them around the TV set tonight, and have them soak in the timeless magic created by Lombard and her cohorts. More likely than not, they'll be asking for more.

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Photos (a la Quebec) and patterns

Here are some Carole Lombard goodies you can acquire through eBay if you hurry.

First, take a look at this stunning pic, a lobby card for the rarely seen 1931 Paramount film "I Take This Woman" (and to whomever has the rights to this rediscovered movie -- please find a way to get this issued on DVD or at least shown on Turner Classic Movies!):

Looking stylish in her equestrian outfit, Carole's character, Kay Dowling, tells her aunt Bessie (Helen Ware), "He's bad for wild horses and -- wild women...", the "he," of course, being Gary Cooper. (And we presume in this context "bad" means desirous; if it's the other definition, call the police and the humane society.)

This photo is from the collection of Gerald T. Robert, who owned the Capitol Theater in Trois Rivieres, Quebec. It became a movie house in 1929, and Robert retained all the lobby cards until his death. There's a slight, unobtrusive stamp of his in the lower right-hand corner; in the upper right-hand corner, there's a seal of approval from the Quebec Censorship Board.

The collection also features a photo from the film Lombard made just before this one, "Up Pops The Devil":

The Robert stamp is visible in the upper left corner, as Lombard's Anne Merrick puts her foot down and tells Joyce Compton's Luella May Carroll to stay away from her husband (Norman Foster). "Get out! I'm making the money, this is my place," Anne says; she's a dancer playing the breadwinner while her husband is writing a novel.

No one has made a bid yet on the "Up Pops The Devil" photo, for which bids begin at 99 cents. Two bids have been made as of this writing on the "I Take This Woman" photo, topping out at $5. To bid or learn more on the "Devil" photo, go to http://cgi.ebay.com/Carole-LOMBARD-Up-Pop-Devil-movie-still-photo-1931-/300524271482?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_2&hash=item45f8a4777a; for the "Woman" photo, visit http://cgi.ebay.com/Carole-LOMBARD-take-Woman-movie-still-1931-/300524271508?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_2&hash=item45f8a47794. But you don't have much time for either, as both auctions expire at 7:39 p.m. (Eastern) tonight.

In the past, we've run several entries on Hollywood Patterns, the Connecticut company that sold patterns of outfits which either were worn by stars or inspired by them. Another pattern with Lombard's image on the package is now available:

This is pattern 1017, a one-piece frock with detachable peplum, and it's actually part of a two-pattern package being sold on eBay; the other one, #1177, features Claire Dodd. The seller says of Lombard, "loved her," but Dodd? "I don't know who that is either." Okay, to answer:

Dodd, shown above in 1932, was an Iowa native born nearly three months after Lombard, who had a small uncredited part in "Up Pops The Devil." She later moved to Warners, where she was never quite a star but played supporting roles in a number of films, including "The Match King," "Footlight Parade" and "Hard To Handle." You can also see her in the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers-Irene Dunne musical "Roberta."

As of this writing, four bids have been made on the patterns, with the high bid at $13.26; bidding is slated to end at 1:59 p.m. (Eastern) on Wednesday. To check it out, go to http://cgi.ebay.com/2-Vintage-30s-Hollywood-Patterns-Carole-Lombard-Dress-/140510650401?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item20b7166021.
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