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Rated "H"



In 1932, Carole Lombard had yet to find herself as a film actress. And in some ways, the movie audience had yet to find her. That can be discerned from reading a biography of someone who was briefly Lombard's stablemate at Paramount -- "Hollywood Diva: A Biography Of Jeanette MacDonald," by Edward Baron Turk.



That summer of '32, RKO commissioned a survey on the moneymaking power of 133 actors and actresses, ranking them from "AA" (top) to "H" (bottom), perhaps to provide information on what stars the relatively young studio should pursue for loanouts. (This is not to be confused with the annual box-office rankings.) The RKO information became public in August, and only two stars -- Paramount's Maurice Chevalier and MGM's Greta Garbo -- received "AA" ratings.



Other stars' rankings: Irene Dunne and Barbara Stanwyck, "C"; Jeanette MacDonald, Tallulah Bankhead and Loretta Young, "D"...

...and Carole Lombard, among those receiving an "H."

The story about the ratings ran in Variety on Aug. 23, 1932, with the typical Variety-speak headline, "133 Film Names Have B.O." -- although in the case of Lombard and the others receiving "H" ratings, B.O. may have referred to what Lifebuoy soap was used to combat. (I unsuccessfully tried to track down the story, which presumably has the entire list; here's hoping the site "Hollywood Heyday," currently examining the late spring of '32, can find it, and run it, when it gets to August.)

One wonders what Lombard's reaction was to being on this early incarnation of "box-office poison." She may well have rationalized that it was better to be on the bottom of this list than not on it at all. And, in 1932, she was slowly starting to get better film vehicles, such as "Virtue" (on a loanout to Columbia) and "No Man Of Her Own" (which fell into her lap when Miriam Hopkins refused to be billed below Clark Gable; his top billing was a condition of his loanout from MGM). But neither had enough critical or box-office clout to significantly boost Carole's status in the industry; that wouldn't come until the spring of 1934.

Incidentally, Turk's book notes that Chevalier sought to have Lombard cast as the female lead in his 1932 film "One Hour With You" even though she was a non-singer, but producer-director Ernst Lubitsch insisted that Maurice reunite with MacDonald (who had briefly left Paramount for a disastrous stint at Fox), his co-star of 1929's "The Love Parade." This would have been the second time Lombard struck out in working with Lubitsch; she had unsuccessfully lobbied for one of the female leads in the 1931 Chevalier film "The Smiling Lieutenant." (Hopkins and Claudette Colbert won the parts.) Nearly a decade later, the third time would be the charm for Lombard and Lubitsch, and, as fate would have it, not a moment too soon.

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