It's a few days before Christmas, 1940 -- Dec. 20, to be exact. And that morning, at a certain home in Encino, Calif., one wishes we could have seen the reaction of its two occupants to this Jimmie Fidler item kicking off his syndicated column, which ran locally in the Los Angeles Times:
For those of you not wishing to double-click, this particular item reads:
"The sort of rumors I hate to hear are coming out Lombard-Gable way, with an important decision due to be made soon by Carole..."
What kind of decision, hundreds of thousands of movie fans probably wondered? Carole Lombard and Clark Gable were arguably the number-one couple in town (apologies to Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, and a few other duos), and the phrase "rumors I hate to hear" likely led to all sorts of conjecture.
Was their marriage, now nearing 21 months, on the rocks? (Perhaps Lombard's decision, some thought, was to do what she had done with her marriage to William Powell more than seven years earlier -- end it.) Or was Carole, who paradoxically had occasional health problems despite her athleticism, feeling under the weather once more? Whatever, Fidler made it appear Lombard's mood more reflected the icy photo below than the cheerful one above:
Dec. 20 was a Friday, and it's entirely possible that if either Carole or Clark ventured outside the Encino ranch that day, someone may have asked them about what Fidler wrote; they probably responded with a "no comment" or something to that effect. (One doubts that close friends of the couple would have asked such a question in the first place.)
As we now know, less than a week after this appeared, on Dec. 26, Lombard and Gable boarded an eastbound train in Pasadena...
...changed trains in Chicago...
...and wound up in Washington. There they saw the usual tourist attractions of the nation's capital -- the Washington Monument, the Capitol, Mount Vernon in nearby Virginia -- but they also met President Franklin D. Roosevelt and watched him deliver one of his more notable "fireside chats" (specifically his "arsenal of democracy" speech). They would come back to D.C. in about a week after spending several days in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins Hospital:
Publicly, it was to examine Clark's injured shoulder, but many years later it was discovered the real purpose of the trip was to discover why the couple had been unable to conceive.
Did Fidler know this? I can't imagine the Gables would have disclosed such private information to anybody, much less a Hollywood columnist. On the other hand, this may have been a story Carole concocted to throw the public a curve before the trip east; by now, both she and Clark knew how the publicity game was played. If it was the latter case, the ruse worked.