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Carole Lombard, invisible woman



That's a poster for "The Invisible Woman," a 1941 comedy and one of the films John Barrymoare made during his sad final few years. Carole Lombard never played an invisible woman, but part of her career sadly is invisible, and it's the topic of this entry.

Today begins the weeklong film preservation blogathon from Self-Styled Siren (http://selfstyledsiren.blogspot.com), and my contribution, not surprisingly, deals with Carole Lombard films that either have likely been lost to history or had a distinct possibility of suffering such a fate.



We know that Carole Lombard's career began with a small role under her actual name, Jane Peters, in the 1921 film "A Perfect Crime" (above), starring Monte Blue and directed by Allen Dwan. She wouldn't return to the screen until 1925, by which time she had a new name, Carol Lombard; she appeared in about a half-dozen movies, sometimes as a female lead, sometimes as decoration in run-of-the-mill westerns.

But at the start of 1926, she was in an automobile accident that caused some facial injury and derailed her career as an actress. She wouldn't return to films until 1927 as part of Mack Sennett's swimsuit troupe, doing two-reel comedies.

We know about the early, pre-accident Lombard from publicity stills, a few newspaper and magazine reviews and a handful of other clippings. We can surmise what kind of actress she was, but barring a miracle of some sort, we will never know. That's because all of the movies Lombard appeared in before the accident are now presumed lost. (There have been rumors she had extra or bit parts in a few surviving films from that era, but her presence in them has never been confirmed.)

As things stand now, the first instances we can find Carol in a motion picture are in the 1927 Sennett two-reelers and a small, unbilled part in the '27 Mary Pickford comedy "My Best Girl" ((below), something unknown to most film buffs until a few years ago.



Most "lost" movies are from the silent era, but two of Lombard's sound films now exist only in 16mm prints. One of them was feared lost for decades -- her 1931 Paramount drama "I Take This Woman" with Gary Cooper. As it turned out, a 16mm print belonged to the author who wrote "Lost Ecstasy," the novel on which the screenplay was based. It was found in her Maine home, restored, and was premiered in the summer of 2001 at New York's Film Forum. It has since been shown at a few other places, notably Cooper's hometown of Helena, Mont., but to date it has not yet been issued on DVD or shown on a channel such as Turner Classic Movies. Many of the most avid Lombard fans have never seen it.

The other sound film existing only in 16mm was, curiously, Paramount's biggest moneymaker of 1937, "Swing High, Swing Low." The original was loaned to Twentieth Century-Fox in 1948 when it remade the property as "When My Baby Smiled At Me," but it never came back to Paramount and no one knows what happened to it. The director of "Swing High, Swing Low," Mitchell Leisen, owned a copy, and that's where just about all video copies of the film derive from (it's in public domain).

What happened to those films, and to the pre-accident silents, is in itself a good reason to support film preservation. We know much of Carole's cinematic story, but alas, not all of it.

But you can help aid our film heritage by going to this site, the National Film Preservation Foundation, and contributing: https://npo.networkforgood.org/Donate/Donate.aspx?npoSubscriptionId=1001883&code=Blogathon
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