November 24th, 2011

carole lombard 04
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Carole and Bill go operatic (Gloria, too)

For all the talk about Carole Lombard's relationships with Clark Gable and Russ Columbo, hers with William Powell may be more fascinating than either. They were married for slightly more than two years (though privately, relations were often rocky), decided to divorce...then, not long after their split, they were seen in public together, confounding the screenland press, who wondered if they had decided to remarry.

Well, that never happened, but they remained good friends; in fact, what may be Lombard's greatest role, as Irene Bullock in "My Man Godfrey," came about only because Powell, who had already been cast, insisted she get the part. Carole then did Bill a favor after physical problems sidelined him; she was among a group of friends who helped ease him back to health, including a 1938 "Lux Radio Theater" adaptation of "Godfrey":

All this leads us to our subject photo, taken Oct. 13, 1933 -- less than two months after the Powell-Lombard divorce was finalized:

Okay, there's Powell, Lombard and Gloria Swanson, but who completes this quartet? It's Michael Farmer, Swanson's husband at the time.

Where are they? The snipe on the back of the photo answers the question:

They are at the Shrine Auditorium near the University of Southern California campus; it's the opening of the Los Angeles Grand Opera season, with Lawrence Tibbett starring in "The Emperor Jones." (That sort of threw me for a loop, since I always associate it with Paul Robeson, who starred in the film adaptation, which had premiered some two weeks before this picture was taken. However, Tibbett, in blackface, had initiated the role, an operatic adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's play, at New York's Metropolitan Opera in January, and this was its Los Angeles premiere.) According to the snipe, many entertainment notables attended. (Hey, since we've seen Bill and Carole enjoying a day at the races, why not a night at the opera? Perhaps somewhere, they dined on duck soup as well.)

This is an Acme News Press Wire photo, measuring 7" x 9". Bids on this start at a mere $9.99 (no bids have been made as of this writing), with bids closing at 10:07 p.m. (Eastern) next Wednesday. If you would like to bid on this rarity, or just find out more, go to

Just another fascinating artifact of the relationship between Carole and Bill. And a developer in Costa Mesa, Calif., must be a fan of theirs, because look at this intersection:

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