Today marks a somewhat important anniversary in the life of Carole Lombard...or, to be more accurate about it, Jane Alice Peters. Why? Because it was on this day 85 years ago -- May 1, 1924 -- that she was chosen Queen of the May at Fairfax High School, which had just opened that year.
It was an honor for the 15-year-old sophomore, but the competition in this ersatz beauty contest was winnowed somewhat in that it was a custom that the queen should always be blonde. (The photo above was taken slightly later, as I unfortunately do not have any photos or articles about the event. My information comes from Larry Swindell's biography, "Screwball.")
A nice honor, you say, but what's so important about it? This: when the school held a May Day carnival in which Jane "presided" over her court, one of those attending was a man named Alfred Reeves. who just so happened to be general manager of Charles Chaplin's film production unit. He talked with Jane, with her mother Bess (who was attending the carnival) and set up an appointment with Chaplin the following day, and reportedly filmed a screen test for Chaplin's next feature, "The Gold Rush" (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/125415.html).
While she didn't get the part, enough buzz was created in the film community that by fall, just after her 16th birthday, she had signed a contract with Fox. By that time, she had taken Carol as her first name for films, and Fox would help christen her last name of Lombard.
We haven't discussed her time at Fairfax High (shown above in the mid-1920s) very much, perhaps because she dropped out early in her junior year to pursue work in pictures (once she turned 16, she could not be classified as a truant). But she competed in sports, notably track (sprints, broad jump, javelin) and tennis, and also participated in school theatre. Ironically, she did not win a lead role in the school play (that went to Sally Eilers, who also would have some success in films), but won the character part of a white-haired grandmother. According to Swindell, she gained the part "by spicing her audition with all of her Grandmother Knight's physical and vocal quirks."
And believe it or not, that auditorium where Jane Peters played the grandmother is still standing...and looks to be secure for years to come.
The auditorium and adjoining rotunda are all that's left of the original Fairfax High building; the rest was razed in the late 1960s for inability to meet earthquake-proof standards, and a newer facility was built on the site.
According to the Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-fairfax14-2009apr14,0,6282212.story), the L.A. Unified School District may team up with the city of West Hollywood to renovate the 1,400-seat auditorium at the corner of Fairfax and Melrose avenues -- near the fabled Silent Movie Theater -- into a performing arts center. West Hollywood would fund the renovations, and in return several performing arts groups would use the auditorium on a nonprofit basis. A nice way to keep a historic venue alive.