August 13th, 2020

carole lombard 04
  • vp19

"To Be" a tasteful publicity campaign

Publicizing a Carole Lombard film traditionally was a delightful challenge for theater owners, and in late 1941, they looked forward to her second comedic comeback movie, "To Be Or Not To Be," directed by no less than Ernst Lubitsch. After Dec. 7 and the attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust the U.S. into World War II, things became a bit more uneasy.

But for film fans, the war hit home on Jan. 16, 1942, days before "To Be" was to have its first preview with an expected March release...

Lombard's shocking passing forced the film's publicity campaign to make a sharp tactical turn, as these introductory paragraphs from its pressbook reveal:

It just so happens that the Internet Archive has posted the entire "To Be Or Not To Be" pressbook at

(Just for clarification's sake, the black border isn't a symbol of mourning from the pressbook, merely the result of my cropping the pages. OK?)

We'll show several pages from the book and highlight a few Lombard-related excerpts, giving you an idea of the delicate approach United Artists recommended to theater owners. (Double-click to read at full scale.)

Now parts of the pressbook pertaining to Carole. First, a reminder to those handling theater publicity campaigns ("exploitation") that Lombard's cinematic finale deserved delicate treatment:

A suggestion for a five-day publicity campaign recognizing several of Carole's other beloved roles:

And finally, Lubitsch's reflections on Lombard:

Ernst had known Carole for more than a decade, and had helped boost her status at Paramount when he briefly served as its head of production (the only time a director of note held such a position at a major studio). She'd wanted to work with him for years, and through this classic of dark comedy finally got the chance.

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