Carole Lombard's seven years at Paramount Pictures had their ups and downs, but one of her most enduring legacies there was a dazzling array of still pictures. Many of them replicated a particular role she had in an upcoming film, but a good deal more had Lombard in situations or dressed in outfits that had nothing to do with a movie.
All Paramount actors and actresses did this; it went with the territory of stardom. For filing purposes, the studio gave a player identification number to each person, prefixed with the letter "P." Claudette Colbert's number was P-1090. Marlene Dietrich's was P-1167.
And Carole Lombard's number? P-1202.
Carole Sampeck of The Lombard Archive explains:
"These stills never seem to be connected with any particular film, from what I can tell -- they're all portraits, fashion shots, candids. Now some of the fashion shots did utilize film costumes, but the P-1202 designation header never was used on scene stills or anything with another player in the photo with Carole. P-1202 was the Player Identification Number assigned to her when she contracted with them, and she kept it during her entire time at that studio. Scene stills always had a different designation."
Following the code was a dash, followed by another number. Each publicity still was numbered sequentially. Here, courtesy of Sampeck, is Lombard's first such photo at Paramount -- P1202-1, taken not long after she signed with the studio in the spring of 1930:
Sampeck said she sees the picture "as being full of joy, hope, unlimited possibilities." And why not? Only a few years after an automobile accident had potentially dealt a knockout blow to her budding career, Carol Lombard (the "e" would permanently come later in 1930) had not only bounced back, but was now on the roster of a Hollywood powerhouse.
Here are two other very early stills -- P-1202-5, at left (which looks as if it came from the same session that produced #1), and P-1202-10:
Many more photos would follow. How many? That's up for debate. The highest number I have in my online collection of images is P-1202-1713, shown at left, while Sampeck's highest-numbered still, which we thank her for letting us show, is P-1202-1718:
Regarding #1718, Sampeck notes:
"One interesting thing about #1718 -- notice how prominent her cheek scar is? It was MOST unusual for that to get past the studio flaks. There are very few studio shots which haven't had the scar airbrushed out, so this photo is remarkable in that regard. Most of the prints of this image I've seen were produced later, and the scar has been edited out."
One wonders whether this may have been issued after Lombard's contract ended with Paramount, leading studio officials to decide not to bother brushing out the scar.
Are there any Paramount stills numbered past 1718? Sampeck isn't aware of any, but both she and I would love to find out. The numbers normally are in the lower right-hand corner of the photo, handwritten, usually in white.
One more word of warning for collectors: Over the years, many of the stills have been reprinted and cropped, sometimes taking out a digit from the identification. So watch out -- the photo you think is #132 may actually be #1327 (although the latter would lokely be from 1936 or so, not 1931 or '32 when Lombard looked considerably different).
Ladies and gentlemen, happy hunting for P-1202, which almost makes Carole seem like a secret agent. And on that note, how about this picture, P-1202-1621: