The 1920s, the decade in which she began in films, remain the great untapped area of Carole Lombard research. Of course, the biggest gap is that none of the movies she made before her 1926 automobile accident are known to have survived; if merely one of them resurfaced somewhere, it would be a major find.
Failing that, though, the online archiving of newspapers has become a boon for researchers, as we're able to discover all sorts of heretofore unknown tidbits about Lombard's life and early career. Two such articles follow.
First, let's visit Dubuque, the picturesque northeastern Iowa town just across the Mississippi River from Wisconsin and Illinois...but we're going back to Sept. 30, 1925 to do it. Turns out one of the local theaters is playing this new Fox film called "Marriage In Transit," and there's a brief about it in the city's paper, the Dubuque Telegraph-Herald:
It looks to be something from the Fox publicity department, and it puts yet another dent in the long-held story that when a teenage Jane Alice Peters took a pseudonym for her movie career, she was known as "Carol" Lombard until about 1930, when a misspelled name on a poster led her to adopt the extra "e." But she was referred to as "Carole" in a pair of Los Angeles Times stories earlier in 1925 (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/197042.html). Indeed, misspelling honors here go to someone in the galleys, who left out the first "e" in September (not to mention a few commas) directly above the story. (You can also see a few radio listings to the left of the story; in those days, people in Dubuque who owned one of those amazing devices could hear stations from everywhere in the continental U.S., including both coasts. Of course, back then radio was in its infancy, with only a handful of AM stations.)
Lombard's comments about "busy Palm Beach widows getting fiances so mislaid" might presage things Carole would say a decade or so later, assuming this is something she actually said and not concocted by a studio publicist. It's hard to gauge what kind of personality Lombard was like in her pre-accident days; she would later refer to her earliest film work as "terrible." Here, she also admits a hasty marriage wouldn't be something she'd do in real life, probably because at the time this made the Telegraph-Herald, Lombard was less than a week away from reaching the ripe old age of...17.
Now let's jump ahead a little more than 3 1/4 years -- specifically to Jan. 20, 1929 -- and some 2,000 miles westward, to Los Angeles. We pick up the Times that morning and see this story, without a byline, in the entertainment section:
This article is a mite confusing. It says Carol (this is from the relatively brief period when Lombard eschewed the "e" in her first name) is appearing in "Craig's Wife" at the Hillstreet in downtown Los Angeles; actually, the film she was in at the time was "Ned McCobb's Daughter," which also starred Irene Rich.
Actually, several other things are of interest here, not the least of which concerns itself with "Dynamite," the Cecil B. De Mille film for which she briefly had the female lead but wound up reduced to little more than an extra, wearing the number three in this publicity still (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/11206.html):
Years later, when Lombard made her first appearance on the "Lux Radio Theater" series De Mille hosted, they briefly mentioned that he had dismissed her from the original starring role. But, as it turns out, that wasn't Lombard's initial encounter with the director. Here's the story, taken from the second half of the article:
As Lombard is noted to have signed with Fox at age 15, this article apparently accepts the shibboleth that she was born in 1909, not the actual 1908. This would thus mean that she had tried to get work with De Mille in late 1922 or early '23, while still a student at Virgil Junior High School.
Some of her thoughts on "vamps" are worth noting. "Time was when a vamp was as apparent in her methods as a saxophone player," she quipped, but added that talking pictures provided such characters with more subtlety and texture -- a revamped vamp, as it were. "But now that we've learned to talk, we can all be different. We can say it with wisecracks or roses, and the Canadian Mounties have nothing on us when it comes to getting our man."
My thanks to William M. Drew, whose work on the initial years of motion picture history on the West Coast has proven invaluable (http://william-m-drew.webs.com/), for providing me with this article.
Incidentally, you may have noted we've once again changed the header photo. The one running this week was taken by Warners esteemed staff photographer Madison Lacy in early 1938.