It's late in 1933, and Carole Lombard has just begun work with George Raft on a film called "Bolero," Paramount's entry into the revived market for films featuring dancing. (And "Bolero" is strictly a dance film, not a musical, since there are no songs.)
Raft had a reputation as a fine ballroom dancer, and while Lombard didn't have the Broadway experience of say, Ginger Rogers (who starred in "Gold Diggers Of 1933," then teamed with fellow Great White Way emigre Fred Astaire in "Flying Down To Rio"), Carole had held her own on the dance floor in mid-twenties dance contests at the Cocoanut Grove against Joan Crawford, who'd strutted her stuff in "Our Dancing Daughters" and several other films.
Lombard viewed "Bolero" as a step up in her tenure at Paramount -- so much so, in fact, that she turned down a loanout to Columbia, a studio that for the most part had handled her talent better than Paramount did, in order to work on "Bolero." The project she'd rejected was a little film, tentatively co-starring Robert Montgomery, called "Night Bus." (Myrna Loy would also spurn it.)
For its part, Paramount was feeling pretty confident about "Bolero," and let the public know it by producing this publicity still:
It's officially photo p1202-622, and here's what the studio wrote on the "snipe" attached to the back:
"A study in white -- Golden-haired Carole Lombard, Paramount star, has been assigned by Paramount to star opposite George Raft in "Bolero."
(And "opposite" was sort of an exaggeration. Raft received dominant billing in "Bolero," with Carole a distant second.)
"Bolero" premiered in late February 1934 and indeed became a box-office success. Lombard and Raft not only had a hit, but they hit it off, engaging in a brief, yet torrid affair. (Carole would later tell her strictest confidants that bedroom-wise, Raft was the best lover she ever had.)
The picture above that Paramount used to begin its "Bolero" push is now being auctioned at eBay. It's an original, not a reproduction, in sepia tone (I've converted it to grayscale for purposes of clarity); the seller states there's a stain at the top, though it must be on the background and not on Carole since I don't see it. Nobody's bid on it as of this writing (the minimum bid is $9.99), and bidding will close at 10:15 p.m. (Eastern) on Monday. To place a bid or further investigate, visit http://cgi.ebay.com/1930s-Carole-Lombard-Bolero-VINTAGE-Movie-PHOTO-u19_W0QQitemZ380178691704QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item58846a7678.
Oh, and that little film called "Night Bus," the one Lombard and Loy turned down? Well, it got bigger. Frank Capra, Columbia's premier director, took the chores, Lombard's Paramount stablemate Claudette Colbert accepted the female lead, MGM sent Clark Gable over on loan (Louis B. Mayer reportedly viewed it as a sort of punishment), who replaced Montgomery, and "Night Bus" was renamed "It Happened One Night." Still, nobody viewed it as a potential blockbuster...except the public. Word of mouth turned "It Happened One Night" into a monster hit, one that defined the new genre of "screwball" comedy and would unexpectedly sweep the Academy Awards.
Shed no tears for Carole, though. A few months later, she indeed went over to Columbia and made a film that wasn't quite as big a hit as "It Happened One Night," but nonetheless established her as a genuine comedic star. We are, of course, referring to...