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carole lombard 04

A French 'Maid of Athens'

Posted by vp19 on 2011.02.10 at 01:29
Current mood: artisticartistic


Perhaps some of you are salivating over the subject line, believing you are shortly going to see an image of Carole Lombard in a French maid outfit. (If you are indeed salivating, please don't do it over your keyboard.) Sorry to disappoint you, but that's not what today's entry is all about, as a check of the punctuation above would tell you. (As far as I know, Carole never visited Athens, Ohio; Athens, Ga.; Athens, W.Va. or any other Athens in the U.S. And she certainly never journeyed to Athens, Greece.)

But there is a Grecian tie-in to the entry. It's no secret that through her many photographic portraits, particularly those she made at Paramount. Lombard often presented an ethereal, larger-than-life beauty (witness above) that evoked a mythical Greek goddess. (Of course, with her blonde hair, fair skin and features, Carole hardly looked Greek, so perhaps it should better be said she evoked the image of how Americans and northern Europeans envisioned a Greek goddess.) In early 1932, with the Olympics soon to take place in Los Angeles, Lombard posed for a series of photos evoking the Greek/Olympian ideal:



As it so happened, a novel came out that summer called "Maid Of Athens" (also the title of a noted Lord Byron poem from 1810), and the publisher used the image of a Paramount actress on the dust jacket. Guess which one they chose?



"Maid Of Athens," by French Strother. Get the subject line now?

I thought I had that photo in my collection, but it wasn't listed under a Paramount p1202 number. However, my hunch proved correct, as I found it elsewhere:



The photo, taken from a magazine, was credited to Otto Dyar, but that's all I know about it. If it indeed has a p1202 number -- meaning it was issued as an official Paramount publicity portrait -- it's probably in the high 260s or 270s.

So, what about the book?



It was recently put up for auction at eBay, but nobody bid on it, although bidding began at $9.99. However, it has re-listed at http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=260735283647, with bidding ending at 10:37 p.m. (Eastern) next Wednesday. Here's how the seller describes the book:



Interesting to see the term "Duse" used here, referring to the famed stage actress Eleanora Duse; several years later, when Lombard gained renown for her comedic work, she would be described as "the Duse of daffy comedy." Beyond the description, I know nothing about the book aside from that the New York Times reviewed it that August and it apparently was never adapted into a film (perhaps Paramount, then in severe shape financially, secured movie rights in return for allowing Doubleday, the publisher, to use Lombard's picture). Did Carole get any extra money for her image being used? Probably not, but let's hope she at least received a copy of the book.

As it turns out, the author -- who probably had nothing to do with the dust jacket -- is of interest, because he was a well-known writer and journalist of the time; this was his only novel.



French Strother (shown above in 1929) was born in Missouri in 1883. In the early 1900s, he began writing for the monthly Doubleday magazine World's Work, covering a variety of topics. (You can read his report on the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco -- which includes a good account on how technology had changed society over the past decade -- at http://www.shaughey.com/images/PPIE/Worldworks_july1915.pdf.) His best known work is probably "Fighting Germany's Spies," a series of World's Work articles during 1918 that were later compiled into a book. (It was reissued several years ago, to the delight of World War I scholars.)

In 1924, he spent a week with President Coolidge in a story for the magazine. Five years later, he accepted a job with Coolidge's successor, Herbert Hoover, writing speeches and handling other White House tasks. He resigned in 1931, wrote "Maid Of Athens," then returned to Hoover's staff in 1932 to assist the re-election campaign (which, as any student of American history knows, didn't do very well). Strother attended Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration on March 4, 1933, caught pneumonia, and died nine days later.

It is sort of unusual to see Carole Lombard on the cover of a book she had no other connection to, but these things happen...and continued for several decades. In fact, I thought this had happened to one of Lombard's most passionate (and famous) fans during the 1950s...



...but, as it turned out, at least Julie Newmar was said to have provided "analytical notes," in addition to her cover pose, for the album "How To Make Love To A Blonde." (However, if you're a record collector and acquire the album, Newmar wants you to know this: "No, I didn’t write those insipid words that were said on the back jacket. At least the cover was decent.")

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