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carole lombard 02

Friends, yes; lovers...

Posted by vp19 on 2010.10.19 at 01:32
Current mood: flirtyflirty

Marlene Dietrich and Carole Lombard helped define the allure of Paramount in the 1930s. Both were naturally beautiful women whose glamour rose to ethereal heights, largely through the work of both studio fashion maven Travis Banton and their own thorough knowledge of photography and lighting. Both had a fierce intelligence that enhanced their sex appeal and were friendly with each other.

But in 1934, the year before this photo was taken, one of them had a desire to make it much more, according to at least one Dietrich biographer.

Marlene was sexually voracious and, to use baseball parlance, swung from both sides of the plate. Her batting average from each side was pretty good; by early '34, her list of bed partners included Gary Cooper, Maurice Chevalier, Cary Grant, John Gilbert and the director who put her on the map, Josef von Sternberg. On the other side, her conquests were multiple as well, notably Mercedes de Acosta, the socialite who had also been a partner of Greta Garbo's. (To Dietrich's credit, her affairs weren't purely carnal, and most of her lovers remained on good terms with her after the bed-sharing ceased.)

Marlene had known Carole for several years; both had started at Paramount in 1930. (There apparently was a bit of early friction over Lombard copying Dietrich's look, but it didn't last long.) Now, according to Donald Spoto in his bio "Blue Angel," Marlene wanted to know Carole a little better...

...by this time [early 1934, after filming completed on "The Scarlet Empress"] Dietrich was becoming more and more blunt in pursuing actresses she found attractive; among them were Paramount's Carole Lombard and Frances Dee, whose unregenerate heterosexuality did not dissuade Dietrich from her usual stratagems of flower deliveries and romantic blandishments. Lombard, a beautiful, brash blonde, was unamused. "If you want something," she told Dietrich after finding one too many sweet notes and posies in her dressing room at Paramount, "you come on down when I'm there. I'm not going to chase you."

What made Marlene think Carole would take her up on the offer? Perhaps her hiring of William Haines to decorate her new Hollywood Boulevard home led Dietrich to believe Lombard had a gay streak of her own. But while it's possible Carole had once experimented with lesbianism, whether she did or didn't, she ultimately decided it wasn't for her. (And regardless, she had both straight and gay friends.)

However, while Dietrich may have struck out with Lombard (and Dee, who was married to Joel McCrea), she may have made a hit with another female Paramount star:

That's Claudette Colbert with Dietrich, taken at the June 1935 party Lombard threw at the Venice Pier. If Claudette was indeed a lesbian, as many believe, she was extremely discreet about it, much more so than Marlene. ("Blue Angel," released soon after Dietrich's death in 1992 but before Colbert's passing in 1996, has no references to her in its index.)

Regardless of what these Paramount legends did -- or did not do -- in bed, each was on good terms with the other two; unlike the atmosphere at MGM or Warners, personal rivalries were minimal. Here's another photo of Carole and Marlene at the Venice party, this time with Grant and Richard Barthelmess:

To leave, here's some Hollywood (actually Culver City) history for you -- a studio tour. And no, this is not the 1925 film about Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer that Turner Classic Movies frequently airs as filler between features. This one is considerably rarer, and was made several years earlier in 1920 and 1922, at a place a little further south on Washington Boulevard. It's the Thomas Ince studio (actually his second; the first eventually wound up as MGM). You get to see Ince a few years before his mysterious death following an outing on William Randolph Hearst's yacht. You'll also see some stars of the era as well.

Lombard would work at this studio in the late 1920s, when it was the home of Pathe, and made two films there in the late 1930s when it was Selznick International's lot. Just a note of warning -- this runs about 22 minutes, so give yourself sufficient time if you plan to watch it.


cinemafan2 at 2010-10-19 23:02 (UTC) (Link)

Marlene the metrosexual

According to Maria Riva, Marlene's daughter, Dietrich tried to involve her in a lesbian relationship with Edith Piaf when Maria was in her early twenties and had just been married. Riva flately refused. As I recall Dietrich then told her she slept with or wanted to sleep with her husband. As Katherine Hepburn said in "The Lion in Winter" ..."well, every family has its ups and its downs...."

Edited at 2010-10-20 03:43 am (UTC)
(Anonymous) at 2014-07-26 22:08 (UTC) (Link)

The photo on the slide

I have other copies of the photo on the slide with Marlene. That is Edith Piaf the singer, not Colbert pictured. However, Colbert was certainly lesbian.
vp19 at 2014-07-27 18:35 (UTC) (Link)

Re: The photo on the slide

I'll respectfully have to disagree -- here's a photo of Claudette and Carole at the party, and I think the hair is similar to that on the Dietrich pic: http://37.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ll9m9nnMPa1qbsbnoo1_500.png
vp19 at 2014-07-27 18:40 (UTC) (Link)

Re: The photo on the slide

Also, Piaf was born on Dec. 19, 1915 (precisely one week after Frank Sinatra, FWIW) and in the summer of 1935, when Edith was all of 19, she almost certainly never had visited the U.S. and Dietrich probably had never heard of her.
(Anonymous) at 2016-05-08 20:01 (UTC) (Link)

Claudette Colbert

What unexpected, horrible gossiping hide in Hollywood. Is it the same today?
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