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carole lombard 05

Another 'what might have been'

Posted by vp19 on 2011.01.07 at 15:30
Current mood: contemplativecontemplative

When I ran items relating to Carole Lombard in January 1932 that I found at Google News earlier this week, I inadvertently left one out, perhaps because it's a brief with no accompanying illustration. It concerns something that ultimately never happened, but is fascinating to ponder, and is from the Spokane Daily Chronicle of Jan. 30, 1932:

That MGM was interested in Lombard at this stage of her career itself carries intrigue -- this presumably happened after the "Taxi!" fiasco, where Carole declined a loanout to Warners, only to have Loretta Young take the female lead opposite James Cagney -- but look at the property Metro was considering for Lombard: "Red-Headed Woman," which, as we all know, turned out to be the breakthrough for another flashy blonde whose hair took a crimson hue for the film...

...Carole's eventual friend, Jean Harlow. (At this juncture, they may have been acquaintances, but likely little more.)

What might "Red-Headed Woman" have done for Lombard? Would this have tapped her inherent comedic skills some two years before "Twentieth Century"? It's doubtful it would have led to her moving to MGM, inasmuch as she was under a long-term contract with Paramount, but it might have set her apart from the large pack of Paramount starlets and put her on more equal footing with the likes of Claudette Colbert and Miriam Hopkins.

Could Carole have pulled off playing the gold-digging Lil the way Harlow did? Hard to say. While Lombard had already gained internal notice in the film colony for her ability to recognize good scripts, it hadn't yet translated into good performances. Then again, the programmers Paramount gave her weren't written by the likes of Anita Loos, so perhaps that would have elicited something heretofore unseen.

Now the question: Why didn't Lombard get the part? Hard to tell from this piece of industry gossip, probably from some syndicate or wire service (if the Chronicle somehow had its own Hollywood writer, his or her byline would have been attached). Jan. 30 was about the time Harlow -- up till now cast for her looks rather than acting ability -- proved her talent with a nice supporting turn in the gangster film "The Beast Of The City." That was made at MGM, as executive (and eventual Harlow husband) Paul Bern persuaded the studio to sign her to a contract. Once that was done, it likely sealed the deal.

There was another name in that Paramount-to-MGM item: Phillips Holmes, who the report said was going to appear in "The Wet Parade":

Holmes, born to an acting family in 1907, spent several years attending elite U.S. and European institutions, including a year at Princeton (where he was a member of the university's Triangle Club theater group). He was coming off a solid year in 1931, including roles in "The Criminal Code," "An American Tragedy" (an adaptation of Theodore Drieser's novel, playing a role reprised by Montgomery Clift in "A Place In The Sun" two decades later) and Ernst Lubitsch's World War I drama, "The Man I Killed" (aka "Broken Lullaby").

Holmes never worked with Lombard, though he had been slated to be her leading man in "The Beachcombers," the film that was briefly shelved because of Carole's illness and then finally made as "Sinners In The Sun." By that time, Holmes had signed with MGM, not making much of an impact there, and his career began to diminish. By the late 1930s, he was focusing on stage work, including "The Petrified Forest" and "The Philadelphia Story."

There is another, more tragic link between Lombard and Holmes. He would join the Royal Canadian Air Force in late 1941 (his mother was of Canadian descent). Holmes attended the Air Ground School in Winnipeg and graduated; on Aug. 12, 1942 -- nearly seven months after Lombard's death -- he and several of his classmates were being transferred to Ottawa when their plane collided with another over Ontario, killing all aboard.

(The 1931 film version of "An American Tragedy," directed by Josef von Sternberg, led to a crucial court case on adaptation rights. For this story, written by Richard Schickel, go to http://www.dgaquarterly.org/BACKISSUES/Summer2010/FeaturesJosefvonSternberg.aspx.)


(Anonymous) at 2011-01-10 19:14 (UTC) (Link)

Carole's illness and Phillips Holmes

I notice that you mentioned that Lombard and Holmes didn't work together in early '32 because of Carole's "illness." Have you written about the nature of that illness in the past? I tried to find something by searching Carole & Co. and didn't see anything. On my Hollywood Heyday blog I posted news items for April 27 & April 28 that mentioned she was recovering from a "nervous breakdown" but which also vaguely implied that it may have just been temperament to get out of a film she didn't want to make. I was curious to know what the real story is.

(Anonymous) at 2011-01-10 20:54 (UTC) (Link)

Red Headed Woman

Interesting to note, too, that the same week as the "Red Headed Woman" announcement, it was also announced to the press that Carole would be in "The Glass Key" with Chester Morris and Regis Toomey.

(Anonymous) at 2011-01-11 15:16 (UTC) (Link)

Casting Red Headed Woman

Hope you don't mind the multiple posts, but I thought you might be interested in this chronology on the casting of Red Headed Woman. (As you know, this period is my particular specialty!) It looks like the casting of the film was used as a publicity driver to build interest. One wonders how many of the names mentioned in the press were being seriously considered:

November 2, 1931
“Jean Harlow may have the feminine lead in “Red Headed Woman” which M-G-M will do.”

December 8, 1931
Ginger Rogers of the flaming locks being talked of to star in “The Red Headed Woman.” [from Luella O. Parsons]

January 20, 1932
“Barbara Stanwyck, Keith bound in “Forbidden,” may play “Red-Headed Woman” for Metro.

January 30, 1932
MGM is reported trying to borrow Carole Lombard and Phillips Holmes from Paramount. Carole is wanted for “Red Headed Woman” and Holmes for the cast of “Wet Parade.”

February 5, 1932
“Joan Crawford will star in Dora Macy’s “Promiscuous” and, if Gene Dennis’ psychic powers are working these days, will also be seen in “Red Headed Woman.”

February 9, 1932
Ginger Rogers selected as the ideal type for “The Red Headed Woman” by Grace La Rue. [from Luella O. Parsons]

February 10, 1932
If Irving Thalberg wants my honest opinion about “The Red Headed Woman,” and he said he did, I can tell him that Clara Bow, up to now, leads in the number of votes. He asked me to invite the fans, in my column, to come to his aid with suggestions for the lead and Clara is the favorite. [from Luella O. Parsons]

February 15, 1932
Marilyn Miller will not play the lead in “The Red Headed Woman” for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, but her tests did one thing for her. It gave some of the executives on the M-G-M lot the bright idea that “The Merry Widow” ought to be produced this coming year with Marilyn Miller as the dancer. [from Luella O. Parsons]

February 22, 1932
“… and it looks as though Margaret Perry, daughter of Antoinette Perry, once David Warfield’s leading lady, will be “The Red Headed Woman” for M-G-M.

February 29, 1932
“Red Headed Woman,” the Katherine Brush novel, threatens to turn into a platinum blonde in the movies. The latest of several to be considered as a leading woman is Jean Harlow.
(Anonymous) at 2011-01-11 15:17 (UTC) (Link)

Red Headed Woman casting, part 2

March 6, 1932
Clara Bow has not determined her course of action as far as pictures are concerned. She will not, however, play “The Red Headed Woman” for M-G-M. Hollywood believes that she will eventually elect to make a series of personal appearances.

March 10, 1932
Jean Harlow is now a candidate for the lead in “The Red Headed Woman,” M-G-M’s casting headache.

March 15, 1932
Pretty Mrs. Raoul Walsh being suggested for the role of “The Red Headed Woman.” [from Luella O. Parsons]

March 21, 1932
It’s all up to Katherine Brush now. She has already turned thumbs down upon Joan Crawford, and, if Hollywood gossip can be credited, dozens of others in the film colony because, to her, they just don’t personify “The Red Headed Woman.”
But when titian-haired Nayan Pearce, appearing at Keith’s this week, reaches Hollywood, Miss Brush will interview her, then, if Nayan’s hopes are realized, the contract in the R-K-O office between Miss Pearce and the circuit will be automatically cancelled and one more little girl will have made a sizeable start up the film ladder.

March 30, 1932
The bewildering answer to the fans’ demand that Clara Bow play “The Red Headed Woman” is that Miss Bow has never even been on the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot. “The Red Headed Woman” is apparently not as much in Miss Bow’s thoughts as it is in the minds of the public. I have never known so many letters to demand that one person play a part. I don’t see how M-G-M , in view of this, can have the platinum blonde, Jean Harlow, make the picture. If they cannot get Clara, at least the heroine should have red hair. [from Luella O. Parsons]

April 5, 1932
…Many leading and lesser lights have tested for the part, and rumor has had every actress in Hollywood, save probably Marie Dressler and Mitzi Green, under consideration. Joan Crawford and Clara Bow have been prominently mentioned, although at the moment, Margaret Perry, newly from the stage, seems to have the call. Miss Perry, incidentally, is one of the least enthusiastic about playing it.

April 23, 1932
Virginia Bruce, obscure young actress in a film stock company is now scheduled to get one of the year’s best breaks for an unknown. Broadway information has it that this newcomer will have the leading role in “Red Headed Woman.”

April 25, 1932
I guess it’s decided that Jean Harlow removes her platinum tresses and don’s a red wig for “The Red-Headed Woman.” [from Luella O. Parsons]

May 1, 1932
Miss [Colleen] Moore, who retired from the screen at the expiration of her $12,500 per week First National contract three years ago, is cold to a reported offer by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to substitute her for Jean Harlow in “The Red Headed Woman,” and this despite the fact Chester Morris will be the male lead.

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