November 17th, 2011

carole lombard 04
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Carole, meet Jean...but when?

Even though that elusive photo of them together remains one of the holy grails of memorabilia collecting, there can be no doubt that Carole Lombard and Jean Harlow were good friends. There are certainly a number of reasons they should have been simpatico -- both hailed from upper middle-class midwestern stock, both spent a bit of time in silent comedies (Lombard for more than a year at Mack Sennett, Harlow briefly for Hal Roach) and both were bright, funny and beloved by peers and underlings alike. (And I haven't even brought up the presence of both William Powell and Clark Gable in their lives as lovers, spouses or good friends.)

One question remains: When did Harlow and Lombard meet?

Until now, I had always assumed it was in 1931, at the time casting was being held for the film that ultimately was titled "The Greeks Had A Word For Them" ( Both were at one time announced to play two of the three gold-digger roles in the saucy comedy, although Jean's contractual ties to Howard Hughes scuttled her casting and Carole dropped out because of illness. But it may have never reached the stage where Lombard and Harlow would have participated in joint script readings and such.

Perhaps Carole and Jean might have crossed paths at MGM in 1934, when Lombard was making her lone film there, "The Gay Bride," but that's not a sure thing, either. It's entirely possible that the closest they came to meeting on the Culver City lot was sitting at opposite corners of the huge studio commissary.

The catalyst for all this conjecture comes from the November 1935 issue of Photoplay, featuring Carole on the cover:

See the headline, "Hollywood Scrambled Love"? That's a three-page story inside, about how the film colony is so insular that it's difficult to avoid coming across exes,

There are even two photos of Lombard, one with ex William Powell, the other with her then-current flame, screenwriter Robert Riskin:

But what's particularly interesting regarding Jean and Carole is found on the third page:

Dorothy Manners writes,

But when Carole walked into the Clover Club one evening with Robert Riskin and proceeded to eat her dinner and mind her own business, not a gossip-column in town failed to report that she had merely nodded to her ex-husband and failed entirely to speak to Jean Harlow! Nobody particularly cared that the so-called "coolness" between the girls was nothing short of a plain lack of introduction! They'd never met. Any place else...they might never have met. But you know Hollywood. Before the columnists were through with them, Jean and Carole were feuding.

And it wasn't until Carole, too, too annoyed by the heckling, called up Jean, introduced herself over the phone and invited her (and Bill, of course) to her next party that the columnist fun stopped!


I've never run across any account of a Lombard-Harlow "feud," falsified or otherwise. If G.D. Hamann's blog were still around, I could probably check to see if something of that nature was printed (if anyone owns one of his Harlow or Lombard books, let me know if it came up). But if what Manners wrote is true, Carole and Jean didn't meet, much less become pals, before sometime in 1935 -- which would likely mean their friendship lasted about two years at most. When Harlow died in June 1937, Lombard and Gable both attended her funeral:

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