The other day, I was in a post office to mail some bills, needed stamps, and discovered that commemoratives were now available for the new 41-cent first-class stamps. No longer were you restricted to the generic stamps printed to serve immediately after a rate increase.
And lo and behold, one of the commemoratives was that of the great James Stewart, this year's representative in the Postal Service's "Legends Of Hollywood" series. As any movie buff would, I bought a sheet of 20 and used a few as postage for my payments. (Actually breaking up the sheet might shock some of you, but I'm not a collector.)
It makes sense that Stewart is this year's honoree. It's the 10th anniversary of his passing -- the minimum time required for any non-president to have his or her image on a stamp -- and Stewart is arguably the quintessential American actor. Dramas, comedies, westerns...whatever the genre, Stewart could handle it well. He worked with just about all the great directors of his era, from Lubitsch to Hitchcock to Capra, and over the years, he starred with nearly every leading lady available (including the subject of this community, both in the film "Made For Each Other" and on several radio programs).
Anyway, this begs the question: When will Carole Lombard get recognition in the "Legends Of Hollywood" series?
Here's the list of those honored since the series began:
1995: Marilyn Monroe, 32c
1996: James Dean, 32c
1997: Humphrey Bogart, 32c
1998: Alfred Hitchcock, 32c
1999: James Cagney, 33c
2000: Edward G. Robinson, 33c
2001: Lucille Ball, 34c
2002: Cary Grant, 37c
2003: Audrey Hepburn, 37c
2004: John Wayne, 37c
2005: Henry Fonda, 37c
2006: Judy Garland, 39c
2007: James Stewart, 41c
An interesting batch. One made only a handful of films, but was certainly a generational icon. Another was a director, not an actor, who shrewdly marketed himself into a brand name (yet his output justified his renown). Only four women have been honored, and one is more identified as a television than film icon (although TV is now as much associated with "Hollywood" as movies are).
Lombard would face some stiff competition on the female side, although Katharine Hepburn won't be eligible for a stamp until 2013. Actresses yet to be honored on a stamp in the series include Bette Davis, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, Rita Hayworth, Claudette Colbert, Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Pickford, Joan Crawford and Ginger Rogers.
Neither of Carole's husbands, William Powell or Clark Gable, has appeared on a "Legends" stamp. Neither has Gary Cooper or Fred MacMurray. And if Hitchcock can be honored, why not John Ford, Howard Hawks or Frank Capra?
In other words, this is as tough a casting call as Carole ever experienced during her lifetime, especially since some of her "rivals" may be far better remembered.
On the other hand, Lombard does have some things in her favor. She is arguably the actress most identified with screwball comedy, a genre that has retained its appeal lo these many years (even if more recent practitioners in Hollywood can't quite seem to get it right). She was both popular and beloved in the entertainment community for her warmth and generosity, especially to those who were low on the Hollywood totem pole. And above all, her death in a plane crash returning from a war bond rally adds poignancy and patriotism to her appeal.
It would be wonderful if the centennial of Lombard's birth was honored next year by including her in the "Legends Of Hollywood" series. It would be almost as nice if they get to it some other year...as long as they get to it.
It's possible the closest Carole has come to getting on a U.S. stamp occurred in May 1998, as part of the Postal Service's "Celebrate the Century" series. Look at this collectible sheet featuring the 1920s -- not at the stamps, but the girls at the bottom. They look like Mack Sennett bathing beauties; could one of them be Lombard?