That's Carole Lombard, just about ready to leave teenhood, dancing up a storm on screen in the Mack Sennett two-reeler "The Campus Vamp" from September 1928. But years before that, Lombard was among the youthful set cavorting at the famed Cocoanut Grove of the legendary Hotel Ambassador on Wilshire Boulevard.
That is no secret; biographers have frequently cited that part of her life. However, now we have documented proof of it -- along with a snippet of information from a time when next to nothing is known about her...1926, when she was recovering from an automobile accident that scarred her face and caused Fox to drop her from its roster.
William M. Drew has done yeoman work of late on my behalf, going above and beyond the call of duty for Lombard research. I had asked him to get some items from the Los Angeles Times of the mid-1920s that I was unable to access; not only did he come through, but he also came up with some things I was unaware of.
The other day, we ran a column from the Times 1927 called "Society of Cinemaland." The year before -- Sept. 19, 1926 to be precise -- this is what the column looked like:
It sort of blends a society column with an early version of Hollywood gossip; note the lead item concerns Clara Bow's surprise engagement to director Victor Fleming (it's no spoiler to say it never went any further). Ironically, the bottom of the first column lists a party given by actress Hedda Hopper, who years later would gain more fame as a Times Hollywood columnist than she ever did for acting.
But that's the article as a whole. Here's the segment we're interested in:
We learn that the previous Thursday (Sept. 16), the Cocoanut Grove had the finals of its dancing contest, and one of the competitors was none other than...Jane Peters. (Perhaps her family's society ties led the Times society writer to refer to her by that name rather than her professional moniker of Carole Lombard.) By the fall of 1926, Lombard had likely recovered from the accident -- and what better therapy than dancing?
Looking at some of the names provides an idea of the "crowd" the teen Lombard hung out with. Lloyd Pantages was the only name here that was also on the 1927 "Society of Cinemaland" Jane Peters segment, so he may have been Carole's date. Stars (or future stars) shown here include Billie Dove (who like Lombard would have a romantic attachment to Howard Hughes, albeit a far longer and more serious one), Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (who later would marry).
Drew, who knew Dove in her last years and interviewed her extensively for his book, "At the Center of the Frame: Leading Ladies of the Twenties and Thirties," provided a comment on his research regarding the accident:
"I did check for items in the LA Times regarding the accident with Harry Cooper but could find nothing. Since I do not have Larry Swindell's bio of Carole, I'm assuming from your posts that he did not include an exact date for the accident. The fact that it was not reported in the Times, however, does not mean that it might not have appeared in one of the other LA papers, such as the Los Angeles Examiner. But as these have not been digitized and placed online, I have no means of searching them for this. I would guess that any accident report that reached the local press would have used her real name of Jane Peters rather than her stage name of Carol (or Carole) Lombard, limiting the possibility that it might have been more widely reported. ...
"My guess is that Carole's accident occurred around early 1926 or possibly even late 1925. By the end of summer or the onset of the fall of 1926, she had made her remarkable recovery and was now able to rejoin Hollywood society, a reappearance that, within a few months, made it possible to work in films again. This participation in a dance contest may have been a kind of coming-out party for her."
Drew notes that a contemporary of Carole's was also involved in an auto accident, and here's how the Times covered Thelma Todd's collision in November 1927:
As for Carole's accident, if anyone around Los Angeles has the time to go to the history department of the main library downtown and check, it would be greatly appreciated. Among the other dailies in Los Angeles in late 1925 and early '26 were:
* Hollywood Daily Citizen
* Los Angeles Daily News (not to be confused with the current San Fernando Valley-based newspaper of the same name)
* Los Angeles Evening Herald
* Los Angeles Examiner
* Los Angeles Record
Perhaps someday we can finally establish the particulars of when and where this pivotal event in Lombard's life happened.