November 1st, 2019

carole lombard 05
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A mother and daughter's special ties

We've often discussed the bond between Carole Lombard (born Jane Alice Peters) and her mother, Elizabeth "Bess" Peters. Mother not only infused her daughter with a confidence that paid off in the rough-and-tumble world of entertainment, but a feminist, I-can-do-anything sensibility that enabled Lombard to inspire generations of women through life in the public eye.

It's also good to acknowledge others' perspective on this subject, which is what I'm doing today.

Classic film historian Lara Gabrielle Fowler has run the site for many years, and is progressing on a biography of Marion Davies that promises much new information on the popular (and often misunderstood) actress of the 1920s and '30s. The other day, she wrote an entry on Carole's relationship with her mother (, and it makes for thoughtful reading,

Carole rarely talked about her family's private life, but while Elizabeth and Frederic Peters Sr. were one of Fort Wayne's leading families, an elevator accident he suffered prior to their marriage had long-term ramifications. He developed severe headaches from his leg injury, and apparently became violent and abused his wife. As Lombard told an interviewer in 1934, "I haven't had an easy time. I had a horrible childhood because my parents were dreadfully unhappy in their marriage. It left scars on my mind and on my heart." While the Peters had a dream home on the exterior, in one of Fort Wayne's choicest neighborhoods, inside life often was a nightmare.

While they never divorced, it was agreed that Bess should take their three children on an extended vacation, and so they left for Los Angeles in October 1915. Their planned stay was six months, but they discovered they enjoyed southern California as Fred's health continued to deteriorate. Here's Jane Alice oceanside with her brothers, probably taken soon after their arrival (perhaps by their mother):

The LA Jane followed much the same route she had in Fort Wayne. Fowler wrote, "Jane thrived in California, her tomboyish energy and skill in sports earning her the respect of the neighborhood boys. Her tree-climbing and fence-scaling ruined her clothes, but Bess never discouraged her from it. In a Screenland profile, Bess' parenting style was described as '100 years ahead of her time.' She cheered her daughter on in anything she tried, and encouraged her to find her own path, wherever that might lead her."

From her final years in Fort Wayne, Jane had been mesmerized by movies and wanted to become an actress, just like the ladies she saw on the screen. Bess -- who had acted in her younger days -- supported her but also gave her space; she was no stage mother by any means. Close, they saw or phoned each other nearly every day. Bess stood by Carole when she married William Powell in June 1931...

...welcoming her back from Nevada following Carole's divorce from Powell in August 1933...

...and getting a second son-in-law in Clark Gable in March 1939:

Fate would have tragic plans for this special bond between mother and daughter. As Adela Rogers St. Johns wrote soon after both died in January 1942, "Someone said to me this morning that it seemed so awful that her mother should have been killed, too. I can't feel that, knowing them. It would have been so awful for the one that was left."

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