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carole lombard 06

Seeing Carole's character, through "Shadows"

Posted by vp19 on 2007.08.30 at 01:38
Current mood: pleasedpleased
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As a historical personage of note, Carole Lombard has been used as a character in fiction on several occasions. Garson Kanin, who directed her in "They Knew What They Wanted," then later fondly recalled working with her in his nonfiction book "Hollywood," used Lombard -- among numerous other film greats -- in his novel "Moviola."

Lombard appears a character in another novel with seven letters, "Shadows," issued in 1975.

Its author, Edwin Corley, wrote more than a dozen novels on a variety of topics, occasionally using pseudonyms (one of them being "Patrick Buchanan"!) before his death in November 1981, weeks after his 50th birthday. They included "The Jesus Factor," which deals with a U.S. conspiracy to show atom bombs were dropped on Japan in 1945 when it actually didn't happen; "Air Force One," about a hijacking of the president's plane (but having no relation to the later Harrison Ford movie); and "Acapulco Gold," in which tobacco companies try to corner the marijuana market prior to any legalization of the substance.

"Shadows" is set in 1940 and '41; its principal fictional character, Mitchell Gardner, is a 40-year-old screenwriter who's had some success but wants a chance to direct. He comes up with a story he sells to William Randolph Hearst as a comeback vehicle for his paramour, Marion Davies. What happens thereafter is sort of "Citizen Kane" viewed through Alice's looking glass.

The plot of "Shadows" has its appeal, although occasionally the celebrity characters' long expository speeches verge on clumsiness. Lombard and husband Clark Gable are among Mitch's friends in the industry, and he occasionally stays at their Encino ranch as he tries to bring his project to fruition.

Corley has a nice feel for Lombard's personality, and though it doesn't always ring true, he has more hits than misses. A high point in the story, although it's peripheral to the plot, has Lombard and some of her friends (including Ben Hecht, Harpo Marx, Spencer Tracy and Mitch) play a practical joke on David O. Selznick, who dives nude into his swimming pool early each morning, by adding a huge amount of colorless Knox gelatin to the water.

But Corley's Carole also has her serious side. When Mitch asks her if she's really happy, she replies, "Yes...Paw and I make jokes about each other in public, but he's my man. Do you know what he paid Ria to get rid of her? Every dime he had in the world. He gave the preacher in Kingman, Arizona, a hundred dollars and then, in the hotel room, he asked me if I had any cash. I said I had fifty dollars or so, and he grinned and said we'd need it. I asked why, and he told me that he had just given his last hundred to the little man who married us." She concludes by saying, "That silly bastard...he paid half a million for me."

Later, Mitch, Carole and Clark are discussing world matters in the spring of 1940, with the fictional Gable showing perhaps a bit more interest in world affairs than his real-life counterpart. He tells his wife, "Carole, I promise to volunteer the moment war is declared, if and when."

Her answer: "You're lying. But I don't blame you. I don't think it's fair, the way men have to go off and be wounded or killed, while the women are at home rolling bandages."

"I'll roll bandages...and you can go in my place."

"Maybe I will at that," Lombard replies, a foreshadowing of what tragically happened less than two years later.

For the most part, Corley has done his homework, although there is one major blunder. The story begins with a birthday party for Mitch on Feb. 29, 1940, ostensibly to celebrate Mitch's "tenth" birthday. There's just one problem -- Mitch couldn't have been born on Feb. 29, 1900, because the date never occurred. To keep the calendar accurate, when the year ends in "00," leap years only occur in years whose first two digits are divisible by four. (So while there was a Feb. 29, 2000, there will be no Feb. 29, 2100...though it's unlikely any of us will live to experience its absence.) Beyond that gaffe, it's a fun read.

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