February 1st, 2019

carole lombard 05
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From a former date's daughter, an 'incomparable' tribute

It's "Carole & Co." tradition in recent years to open each entry with an image of Carole Lombard, and she's here in this one, albeit atop a bookcase. The man is someone she once dated, famed screenwriter Robert Riskin. What makes this pic remarkable is that it was taken at his home studio, Columbia, in 1936 -- most likely after she'd replaced him as her beau with Clark Gable. It's probably indicative of his high regard for her.

Now the daughter of Riskin and the respected actress he actually married has written a book about both her famed parents, one we've noted several times of late:

But Victoria Riskin also has a blog, where a recent entry paid tribute to Carole...and it was headlined "The Incomparable Carole Lombard" (https://www.victoriariskin.com/index.php/2019/02/01/the-incomparable-carole-lombard/?fbclid=IwAR0mtZPxDwgdkHLJ9GhdLL3EZsTSFySORu1WUNXY8UNo10qazgfF-LO3EZA):

I'm trying to imagine what it would be like writing about someone one of your parents might have married, but for some reason didn't; if they had, you likely wouldn't exist today (the Marty McFly effect). But thankfully Victoria doesn't dwell on such possibilities, but rather opens the entry citing Barbara Stanwyck's thoughts on Lombard, made while both stars were still alive: “…so alive, modern, frank, and natural that she stands out like a beacon on a lightship in this odd place called Hollywood.”

Victoria admits she wasn't aware of her father's relationship with Carole until beginning research for her book.

"She had just lost her great love and fiancé, popular singer Russ Columbo, in a shooting accident, and was overwhelmed with grief. I believe they started as friends, with my father’s humor and warmth providing an emotional sanctuary for Carole -– a safety net –- and his intelligence and wide-ranging interests stimulated an innately bright and curious woman. She gave him in turn spirit, life and romance, and soon they were spending all their time together."

They first crossed paths in 1932, when Paramount loaned out Lombard to Columbia to star in "Virtue," which Riskin adapted from a story. (This was Carole's first loan-out from Paramount; in late 1931, she declined to go to Warners for the James Cagney vehicle "Taxi!" and was chagrined when Loretta Young became Cagney's leading lady and the film became a hit. Ironically, the male lead in "Virtue" also was a cab driver, played by Cagney's longtime friend Pat O'Brien.)

After withstanding the advances of smart but coarse Columbia mogul Harry Cohn and winning his respect in the process, he agreed to several Lombard demands:

"Awed by her spunk, he gave her the part and everything she asked for. Mostly she wanted assurance that the writer would be on the set every day to polish her dialogue. He agreed. Enter Robert Riskin. No romance yet, but they were seen out on the town together as friends."

(Lombard was still married to William Powell, but while their friendship remained solid, the romance was fraying. They would divorce the following August.)

Their serious dating began in late 1934, and he squired Carole around town for much of 1935.

" From the end of 1934 through 1935 they went everywhere together –- the toniest nightclubs and restaurants, the racetrack, the best parties –- happy in each other’s company and happy, too, to stay home quietly just with each other. He shared his love of books with her and she soaked them up -– Faulkner, Thoreau, Shakespeare."

(Carole was an avid reader, and books helped her recuperate from the 1926 auto accident that sidelined her career for about a year.)

By late 1935, many in the industry expected Lombard and Riskin to tie the knot (earlier in the decade, he romanced Warners star Glenda Farrell). But that would not be the case.

"Why it ended is still not clear, but one element was that she wanted to get married and, for whatever reason, he didn’t."

They remained on good terms, and Victoria writes her father was pleased when she married Gable (born 118 years ago today), and he also mourned her death in 1942. (By this time, Robert Riskin had fallen for Fay Wray, but they wouldn't marry until 1944.)

I'd love to find out Wray's relationship with Carole. They probably were no more than acquaintances, but I'm certain they respected each other. Oh, and just a reminder that next month, a blogathon will pay tribute to both Robert and Fay, and I'm proud to be a participant:

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