Today, "To Be Or Not To Be" is recognized as among the finest dark comedies ever made and as one of director Ernst Lubitsch's greatest achievements. But when it was released, its business was a bit disappointing, for a variety of reasons.
Carole Lombard's passing before the film's release was certainly a major factor; losing one of Hollywood's most beloved stars cast a pall over the movie. But even had she been alive when "To Be Or Not To Be" came out, its often macabre, if comic, tone wouldn't have played well with an America that had been on the verge of entering World War II when the film was being made and was now fully immersed in the conflict.
Consequently, publicizing this production wasn't an easy task, not with the perfect storm of losing Lombard, dark humor and America at wartime. It was a challenge for United Artists, and you can get an idea of how it approached selling the film in a pressbook for the movie.
I have no idea whether UA had issued publicity for "To Be Or Not To Be" prior to Lombard's death; if any such items were in the studio's possession, they were likely destroyed. This pressbook was issued posthumously, as the publicity notes, "We announce the presentation of Carole Lombard's last picture." Beyond that, and the rather bland slogan "the picture everyone wants to see," there really wasn't much United Artists could do without appearing to exploit Lombard's passing.
The pressbook that contains these pages is up for auction at eBay. One bid, for $9.99, has been made as of this writing, and bidding concludes at 9:05 p.m. (Eastern) on Sunday. If you'd like to bid, or learn more about it, go to http://cgi.ebay.com/Orig-1942-Pressbook-Carole-Lombard-To-Be-or-Not-To-Be_W0QQitemZ320449656226QQcmdZViewItemQQptZLH_DefaultDomain_0?hash=item4a9c49b5a2.
It's a fascinating way to remember Lombard's final performance.