How do you make people who have either never heard of Carole Lombard, or know only that she was married to Clark Gable and died young, fans of hers? If you live in the U.S., Turner Classic Movies tonight is a good place to start. At 8 p.m. (Eastern), it's showing "My Man Godfrey," one of the best screwball comedies ever made (if not the best), and it won Lombard an Academy Award best actress nomination for her portrayal of the dizzy heiress Irene Bullock.
Oscar nominations abounded for "Godfrey." Carole's ex-husband, William Powell -- who lobbied for her to get the role -- was nominated for best actor as the film's title character. Alice Brady. as Irene's daffy mother, and Mischa Auer, as mom's weird "protege," were nominated in the new categories of best supporting actress and actor. (The night's theme is "Oscar firsts," and among the other films tonight are 1963's "Lilies Of The Field," in which Sidney Poitier became the first black man to win an best actor Oscar, and 1961's "Two Women," where Sophia Loren was the first non-American to win best actress for a foreign-language film.)
Gregory La Cava, who brought a semi-improvisational style to "Godfrey," was nominated for best director, and Morrie Ryskind, whose past credits included the Marx Brothers' "A Night At The Opera," was nominated for best screenplay. All four acting nominees plus La Cava are shown below, taking a break on the set.
None of the six won.
Nevertheless, "Godfrey" may be better remembered than most of the other films that won Academy Awards that year. From its stylish art deco opening credits...
...to a wonderful supporting cast that includes Gail Patrick (foreground) as Irene's antagonistic older sister Cornelia (in real life, Patrick was slightly younger than Lombard) and Eugene Pallette as the exasperated paterfamilias of this menagerie of screwballs...
...to a social message running as an undercurrent, but never usurping the comedy, "My Man Godfrey" is a gem of a film. Unfortunately, since it fell into public domain, that gem often resembles fool's gold or zirconium. TCM will probably find a good print to run tonight, but keep your fingers crossed just in case. (For those who would like to make "Godfrey" a permanent part of their home, Criterion issued a fine DVD print of the film that includes all sorts of delightful extras -- including the 1938 "Lux Radio Theater" adaptation where Lombard, Powell and Patrick reprise their film roles.)
So tell your friends, gather them around the TV set tonight, and have them soak in the timeless magic created by Lombard and her cohorts. More likely than not, they'll be asking for more.