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carole lombard 04

She was nobody's Baby

Posted by vp19 on 2011.03.17 at 02:31
Current mood: frustratedfrustrated

It's Nov. 22, 1929, and already the buzz is going around Hollywood over who's going to be named award-winners. No, not the Academy Awards, but a figurative prize for young actresses -- the WAMPAS Baby Stars. Every year since 1922, a baker's dozen (13) starlets received the honor, presented by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers (WAMPAS).

That day, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Evening Independent ran a column from syndicated Hollywood writer Dan Thomas on the upcoming selection. Thomas chose six likely contenders, and guess who one of his six was?

Of course it was Carole Lombard (if it wasn't, would we be doing this entry?) She was deemed a starlet whose voice would lead her to prominence, a new element in the WAMPAS star search. Here's what Thomas said of Lombard (whose first name was listed with an "e," yet another crack in the myth that it lacked that letter until "Fast And Loose" was released nearly a year later):

"Carole Lombard, who started in pictures on the Mack Sennett lot several years ago, is now under contract to Pathe. During the past year she has appeared in seven productions at that studio and is touted by executives as one of the most promising prospects in some time."

Now, it's entirely possible that at the time this hit print, Lombard and stablemate Diane Ellis had already been informed by Pathe officials that their services were no longer needed at the studio, although no one at Pathe would admit the reason for their dismissal was because newly-signed Constance Bennett wanted no blonde competition on the roster.

The other five Thomas cited were Marion Byron, Kathryn Crawford, Mary Doran, Dixie Lee and Lillian Roth.

So who among the six got the WAMPAS honors? None of them did...but then again, neither did anyone else. WAMPAS declined to make selections for 1930 for at least two reasons -- the recent stock market crash and the industry upheaval over the transition to sound.

Lombard would become by far the biggest star of the six Thomas selected, as none of the other five achieved more than minimal Hollywood success. Crawford worked with Carole in Lombard's Paramount debut, "Safety In Numbers," but made only six films thereafter; Byron, Buster Keaton's leading lady in "Steamboat Bill, Jr.", soon descended into bit parts; Doran hung on slightly longer; and Lee and Roth achieved brief stardom before being derailed by alcoholism. (Lee married singer Bing Crosby, whose fame soon eclipsed hers.)

As for the WAMPAS awards, they were revived in 1931 and '32, suspended in '33, and given out one more time in 1934 before being ditched for good.

To close, an appropriate song -- "I'm Nobody's Baby," which has been done by a number of artists, including Marion Harris, Mildred Bailey and Judy Garland. Here's Ruth Etting's version from 1927:

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