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70 years ago today...Carole and Clark in the capital

Imagine if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie paid a visit to Washington, D.C., not only seeing the many sights of the nation's capital but having an audience with the president of the United States. People magazine, Us Weekly and other celebrity magazines would have a field day; the public would be swamped with photos, and the White House would pull out all the stops to publicize the meeting.

But 70 years ago today, much the same thing happened, and it received comparatively little attention.



That's right -- on Dec. 29, 1940, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard arrived in Washington. They saw most of the things everyday tourists did -- the Capitol, the Washington Monument, Mount Vernon -- and some off-limits to said tourists, such as being in an audience of 20 in the White House when President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave one of his "fireside chats" that night, specifically his famed "arsenal of democracy" speech where the U.S. pledged its support of Britain (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/73489.html). The two actors reportedly had a half-hour conversation with FDR after the speech.

However, try as I might, I have yet to come across a photo of the Gables with Roosevelt; in fact, I've never found any photos of Clark and Carole's D.C. sojourn online. (One of the Washington papers -- I'm not sure whether it was the Post or the Star -- did photograph Gable and Lombard while they were being interviewed in their hotel room. However, it's never ventured outside of the microfilm copy of that day's paper.) The photo above was taken in Los Angeles; you can make out the "SAN VINCENTE BLVD." in the background.

So while we don't have any photos of the couple in D.C., we can tell you that while in town, they stayed at one of its most famous hotels, the Shoreham.



Now known as the Omni Shoreham, the hotel -- close to Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo -- opened for business on Oct. 30, 1930. The ambitious plan that night was to have red-hot radio and recording star Rudy Vallee arrive by airplane.



Unfortunately, inclement weather delayed Vallee's arrival for several hours, and while he and his Connecticut Yankees did perform, it was for all of 15 minutes. (Also on the bill was Lina Basquette, a noted Ziegfeld Follies performer who had acted with Lombard in the 1928 Pathe film "Show Folks.")

Many inaugural balls were held at the Shoreham, beginning with one for Roosevelt in 1933. The hotel's Blue Room has hosted many top-flight entertainers, including Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin and Judy Garland. (In 1965, Liza Minnelli made her first public appearance at the Blue Room.) But unquestionably, the performer most identified with the Blue Room is none of these.



Mark Russell, whose satiric political specials were PBS favorites for many years, called the Shoreham his home for two decades, using his gentle -- but pointed -- wit to poke fun at the American scene.

More than a few members of Congress have resided at the Shoreham. It was also where the Beatles lodged in February 1964, when they gave their initial U.S. concert at the Washington Coliseum.

I've spent some time discussing this hotel because on Friday, one of our favorite acts will be performing there. Jazz vocalist Barbara Rosene, who does wonders with the Great American Songbook in general, and '20s and '30s compositions in particular, will ring in the new year with her talented musicians, the New Yorkers. The event -- "A Hot Jazz New Year's Eve Live With Rob Bamberger" -- is a sellout, but you'll still able to enjoy much of it because part of the show will be carried over WAMU-FM (http://wamu.org/listen/) from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. (Eastern). Rosene, previously profiled here (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/262741.html), is a Lombard fan (her favorite film is "Hands Across The Table"), and she was delighted to learn that Carole and Clark stayed at the Shoreham 70 years ago.

Here's Rosene performing "It Had To Be You" at New York's Iridium Jazz Club; you can find more about her, and purchase her CDs, at http://www.barbararosene.com/.



Oh, and as it turns out, we do have one Washington-related photograph of Clark and Carole, though it was taken just across the Potomac River in Virginia. It's on Jan. 6, 1941, as the couple prepares to head home to California. They had spent another day sightseeing in D.C. after several days at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore (ostensibly to check on Gable's nagging shoulder injury, but actually to discover why the couple couldn't conceive). Lombard, who said she planned to return to the capital, never got the chance.

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