November 29th, 2011

carole lombard 02
  • vp19

The two sides of Lombard and Barrymore...

...or, what a difference three years makes.

It's early 1934. John Barrymore is one of film's most notable actors, with a resume that dates not only back to silent days, but to the stage as well. Carole Lombard is viewed as an attractive, competent young actress, indistinguishable from others in the industry -- even at her home studio of Paramount.

Lombard is cast opposite Barrymore in the film "Twentieth Century," an adaptation of a popular Broadway play, and among the publicity photos Columbia Pictures releases are these two showing her with "the great profile":

"Twentieth Century" is released that spring, and while it does good, but not great business, it gets a favorable reception from critics, as do both Barrymore and Lombard -- in fact, the latter, who has learned much from both Barrymore and director Howard Hawks, gets her best reviews to date. Armed with increasing self-confidence, her star begins to wax; as years of debauchery and drinking finally take their toll, his star begins to wane.

Fast-forward to the fall of 1937. Lombard's now one of filmdom's top stars, with salary and clout to match, while Barrymore is no longer deemed of starring-role quality. But just as John helped Carole some 3 1/2 years earlier, she now returns the favor, successfully persuading Paramount to not only hire him for a supporting part in her new film, "True Confession," but give him third billing:

Above is an original photo Paramount issued, showing Barrymore as a goofy criminologist and Lombard as a compulsive liar who finds herself in jail. It was received by Hearst's Los Angeles Examiner on Nov. 2, 1937, a few weeks before the film's release.

All three of these photos are available from the same eBay seller. The "True Confession" picture can be bought for $40; go to to learn more. The pair of photos from "Twentieth Century," the first also with Walter Connolly, the second with Ralph Forbes, were issued by Columbia in 1979, ostensibly to accompany showings at repertory houses or on TV stations. The tandem is available for $15, and more information can be found at

There are elements of "A Star Is Born" or "What Price Hollywood" here, except for the ending. By mid-1942, both Lombard and Barrymore would be gone.
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