January 28th, 2019

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So, who was Diane Ellis?

This entry is about Carole Lombard (right) and Diane Ellis (shown in Cine-Mundial's December 1929 issue), school friends in Los Angeles who beat the odds and gained success in their hometown movie industry.

Both were at Pathe in 1929 (they're shown above in the talkie "High Voltage"), dismissed from the studio under still-mysterious circumstances, and separately resurfaced at Paramount the following year. Moreover, both went to New York in 1930 for supporting roles in well-reviewed comedies.

But if you believe fate dealt Carole a tough hand, consider her pal, to whom illness struck in the midst of joy and never reached her 21st birthday. Their combined lifespans totaled less than 54 1/2 years.

You probably know plenty about Lombard. This is the story of Diane Ellis.

Here's Ellis in the May 1929 Photoplay; the "stenographer" reference is to her secretarial work for the Film Research Bureau. Some 14 months younger than Lombard, both attended Virgil Junior High School, then at 3rd and Virgil (in the '30s, the campus was shifted to Vermont Avenue, where it's now Virgil Middle School). Both took part in drama productions -- in fact, Diane had the lead in a school play, relegating Carole (then Jane Alice Peters) to a supporting role.

Like Lombard, she was the feminine lead in a Buck Jones western ("Chain Lightning," 1927), but her big break came in a supporting role in the 1928 Colleen Moore vehicle "Happiness Ahead," initially titled "Heart To Heart":

She also donned a Santa suit for a holiday publicity picture...

...and was to participate in a two-strip Technicolor quasi-newsreel called "Fashion News," though I have no idea whether she ever appeared in one:

Diane and Carole each separately worked on a Pathe silent with William Boyd -- Lombard in "Power," Ellis in "The Leatherneck." This led to a pastel portrait in Cine-Mundial in 1929;

The Virgil pair's lone joint film appearance in "High Voltage" was principally filmed in a snowy area of Nevada. This was no big deal for Lombard, who'd experienced several snow-filled winters in Fort Wayne, but for Ellis, an LA native, it was her first brush with the white stuff (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/923099.html).

Between "High Voltage" and her next film, Ellis' career underwent substantial changes. In the fall of '29, both she and Carole were released from Pathe (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/730845.html). There's long been conjecture the newly-signed Constance Bennett demanded no other blonde ingenues remain on the lot, but it's never been proven.

Ellis tried her hand on Broadway, appearing in the "Nine-Fifteen Revue." She found cinematic work at Paramount, which cast her in support of Nancy Carroll, Frank Morgan and Fredric March in the sophisticated comedy "Laughter":

Things were looking up for Ellis, who may have crossed paths with Carole in New York that summer when Lombard filmed "Fast And Loose." That's because that October, wedding bells rang for Diane, in Paris, to a Park Avenue scion:

The couple went on a round-the-world honeymoon, only adding to the fairytale. But it shockingly ended five days before she was to turn 21:

Lombard was devastated over the loss of her friend, among many premature deaths of acquaintances that for a time led her to believe she was a jinx.

Had Ellis survived, what heights might have she achieved, either in films or on stage? Her career was too brief to accurately answer, and we don't know if she had Carole's drive. But she likely could have had a solid career as a second lead or character actor.

It's an ill-fated tale of two childhood friends, for whom their future looked bright when this ran in the September 1929 Screenland:

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