In "The Princess Comes Across," released 75 years ago this spring, Carole Lombard plays Olga, a Swedish princess who really isn't one; she's actually a showgirl named Wanda Nash who hails from Brooklyn. And it just so happens that this Sunday, the borough hosts a pair of films Wanda might have seen a few years before her royal charade.
Lombard's "Fast And Loose" (1930) and "No More Orchids" (1932) are being shown in a double bill at 2:30 p.m. (not sure which one goes first) as part of a series on "pre-screwball comedy" at Spectacle, which describes itself as "a collective of film collectors, filmmakers, editors, musicians, performers and misfits." (Sounds like fun!) The series has been running on weekends throughout the month, and "No Man Of Her Own" has already been shown (sorry), but these two movies have a somewhat lower profile and are worth a look if you've never seen them.
"No More Orchids" really isn't a comedy, as the ending (which we won't give away) makes clear, but there are numerous comedic situations and clever lines, especially in the early part of the picture -- and plenty of help from a fine supporting cast, including Lombard's first work with superlative character actor Walter Connolly. As the site notes, "Ignore the largely nonsensical plot and enjoy the ribald ripostes, and, especially, Lombard looking gorgeous as she wriggles around with great vivacity in sexy lingerie." This film was another example of Columbia showing it handled Carole more skillfully than did her home studio of Paramount.
"Fast And Loose," the only movie Lombard ever made in New York (filmed one borough over in Astoria, Queens), gives her a largely supporting role (with Broadway emigre Miriam Hopkins getting the lead in her film debut), but Carole does get to work with another first-rate character actor (Frank Morgan), and the dialogue was written by none other than Preston Sturges, who Spectacle says "reconditions the frothy, Roaring Twenties era stage hit ['The Best People'] into a witty, sophisticated romp."
Tickets for this twin bill are $5, and it will be followed by another double feature (separate admission) at 4:50 -- Lombard's husband in 1932, William Powell, teaming up with Kay Francis for the saucy "Jewel Robbery" (watch Bill disarm his foes by giving them cigarettes laced with that "wacky tobacky," marijuana)...
...and the 1933 Ruth Chatterton business saga, "Female."
I don't believe Wanda Nash's specific Brooklyn neighborhood was noted in "The Princess Comes Across," but Spectacle is at 124 South 3rd Street, some blocks north of the Williamsburg Bridge. It's a few blocks' walk from the Bedford Avenue station on the L train or the Marcy Avenue station on the J, M or Z trains. For more precise directions or information on the theater, visit http://spectacletheater.com/
Now let's direct our attention 3,000 miles away to southern California, which 53 years ago wrested one of Brooklyn's many civic treasures. However, we're looking a few miles north of Dodger Stadium -- specifically Glendale and its famed Forest Lawn cemetery, final resting spot for Lombard and second husband Clark Gable. Yesterday, they welcomed an afterlife neighbor, as Elizabeth Taylor was laid to rest at the Great Mausoleum.
Taylor, who everyone expected would be buried alongside her parents at Westwood Memorial Park, threw everyone a curve by going to Forest Lawn instead. Perhaps it was done because Forest Lawn's tighter security would prevent those loathsome anti-gay picketers from contaminating the ceremony, Maybe Taylor wanted to be near good friend Michael Jackson (although apparently, her vault isn't that close to Jackson's). Whatever, as the Los Angeles Times noted:
"She will be buried in the expansive cemetery's Great Mausoleum, the same building where her good friend, Michael Jackson is buried, the final resting place for stars from film's golden age, such as Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable."
And somewhere, Lombard is chortling that she finally got billed above Gable.
(Check http://www.seeing-stars.com/buried2/ForestLawnGlendale5.shtml for more details on Taylor's precise burial site as they become available -- especially since it could affect the logistics of those wishing to visit Carole's vault.)
I've never heard Lombard mentioned as an influence on Elizabeth, who certainly never met her. (While Taylor and Gable were MGM stablemates for several years and surely knew each other, they never made a film together. The young Elizabeth did make a pair of movies with Powell.) But I believe had Lombard lived, she would have liked Taylor, who developed a lively, somewhat bawdy sense of humor. (It's unfortunate Liz didn't make more comedies, as she certainly could have excelled in the genre.)
In retrospect, there's a lot to like about Taylor beyond her amazing beauty -- her acting talent, her tireless work for charities and such. But for someone who at her peak was arguably the world's best-known movie star since Mary Pickford in her prime, Elizabeth had a good sense of herself...something one might not expect from a person who at times was more a celebrity than an actress. For example, Taylor bore three children and adopted another, but remarkably managed to keep them largely out of the public eye and along the straight and narrow. (Heck, I bet many casual fans even forgot she was a mother until seeing her obituary.) In these days, where actresses tend to use children as virtual props for publicity, that's close to a miracle.
I recommend this fine tribute to Taylor from cultural observer Camille Paglia: http://www.salon.com/entertainment/movies/feature/2011/03/23/camille_paglia_on_elizabeth_taylor/index.html. And I'll leave you with this, my favorite picture of her, proof that Elizabeth was indeed one cool cat: