May 25th, 2011

carole lombard 03
  • vp19

Connie, not Carol(e), nearly made a 'Racket(eer)'

It's no secret that Carole Lombard's final film at Pathe, back when her first name didn't have an "e," was "The Racketeer" with Robert Armstrong (Kit Guard is between them in this still from the movie). But what you may not know was that Lombard's last was initially announced as someone else's first, someone whose path would intersect with Carole's on several occasions...

...Constance Bennett. "The Racketeer" apparently was to have been her first movie after signing with Pathe, and her first talkie of any sort. (Bennett had brief stardom in silents in 1925, but married, moved to Paris for a few years and left the business.)

This is among a number of Lombard-related tidbits found in the files of Film Daily, specifically the May 23, 1929 issue (82 years ago Monday), through the Media History Digital Library ( Here's the item in its entirety (

Constance Bennett's First Picture "The Racketeer"

"Constance Bennett's first talking picture for Pathe will be 'The Racketeer,' from an original by Paul Gangelin. Readjustments of the studio's production schedule made it advisable to put this story into production before the play which at first it had been planned to give her.

"In 'The Racketeer' Miss Bennett will play opposite Robert Armstrong. As Armstrong has completed rehearsals for a dramatic talking picture of newspaper life from the unproduced play, 'For Two Cents,' production on 'The Racketeer' will be held up until the completion of that picture, which is in production this week under the direction of Gregory LaCava. With Armstrong in the cast are Carol Lombard as feminine lead, Wade Boteler, Sam Hardy, Tom Kennedy, Lewis Payne, Warner Richmond, Bob Dydley, Gertrude Sutton, George Hayes and Fred Behrle."

It's apparent that "For Two Cents" was soon renamed "Big News," a more descriptive fit for a newspaper yarn. But the reference "before the play which at first it had been planned to give (Bennett)"...what could that mean? A search for Constance Bennett items in Film Daily showed it was "This Thing Called Love," which turned out to be Connie's second film at the studio; the first was "Rich People." (Both films were released in December 1929, and both are believed lost.)

Bennett had signed with Pathe in early April 1929. At first, the studio planned to make her pictures in New York, where she and sisters Barbara and Joan had grown up as the daughters of Broadway acting legend Richard Bennett, but by May, Pathe decided to send Connie to the coast.

By June 30, the feminine lead in "The Racketeer" was shifted to Lombard. Did Constance have second thoughts about the project? Was it a scheduling conflict that caused the change? Or did Bennett, whom Pathe projected as a potential major star, get first crack at prime properties? (We do know that Bennett was more than likely the catalyst for getting Lombard and fellow blonde Diane Ellis dismissed from Pathe's roster in late '29.) Whatever, it was Carole who ended up portraying Rhoda Philbrooke in this programmer, and its lackluster nature is shown on her face:

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