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Lombard on the radio, part 2



By March of 1939, Carole had left “The Circle” and was eagerly awaiting Clark Gable’s divorce from Rhea Langham to be finalized so that she could marry her beau of several years. That finally occurred before the month was out, but in the meantime, she kept herself busy on March 12 by reuniting on air with an actor she had recently worked with onscreen, James Stewart; their “Made For Each Other” had hit theaters the previous month. Stewart was riding a hot streak, and his 1939 would arguably be one of the most productive calendar years any actor would ever have (right up there with William Powell’s 1936 –- a year in which he, like the ‘39 Stewart, also worked with Carole).

The venue was a new one for Carole, a show that among Hollywood-related productions would rate as Gimbels to “Lux Radio Theater’s” Macy’s. It was called the “Screen Guild Theater,” aired on CBS, and was originally sponsored by Gulf. The angle here was that proceeds, including the guest stars’ salaries, went to the Motion Picture Home, the industry’s very own charity. The series, which had begun in January 1939, also differed from “Lux” in two ways: it was a half-hour show, not an hour, and it regularly rotated between what it called “variety revues” and dramatic productions -– many of them original stories rather than film adaptations. MGM player and future California senator George Murphy was master of ceremonies.

Lombard’s appearance, on the 10th show of the series, was in the latter department, a story called “Tailored By Toni.” Carole plays the title character, Toni, a New York fashion designer (of men’s clothes) who befriends and falls in love with Stewart’s character, a struggling playwright; after they marry, they find some rough going, but eventually reunite. Playing a character people hadn’t seen on the screen in any form could have been a slight challenge for Lombard, but she’s utterly believable. Stewart, a frequent radio guest who many years later would have his own transcribed radio western, “The Six-Shooter,” is equally at home, showing the chemistry he had with Carole in “Made For Each Other” was no fluke. The cast also includes Spring Byington and Edward Everett Horton.

The next surviving Lombard broadcast was back at “Lux” on Dec. 11, 1939, an adaptation of “In Name Only,” which had been released in August. It wasn’t often that all three lead cast members of a film were available for the “Lux” version, but here Carole was indeed joined by co-stars Cary Grant and Kay Francis. (Incidentally, “In Name Only” was initially designed by RKO as a vehicle for Grant and Katharine Hepburn, but after the dismal returns on “Bringing Up Baby” in 1938, the studio deemed Lombard safer box office material.) One of the Lux commercials, featuring fictional spokeswoman “Libby Collins,” was set at the Brown Derby, already known in movie legend as where Gable reportedly proposed to Lombard.



A little more than two months later (Feb. 19, 1940), Carole was back at “Lux” to reprise her role in “Made For Each Other” –- but her co-star wasn’t James Stewart. Instead, Lux reunited her with a former Paramount co-star, Fred MacMurray. The supporting cast includes Rosemary DeCamp, who was already a radio veteran but wouldn’t debut in movies until the following year, and Verna Felton, best known for her voice work on Disney films. (Incidentally, Stewart finally got to “Made For Each Other” on “Lux,” but not until Dec. 17, 1945, nearly four years after Lombard’s death. His co-star was Marsha Hunt.)

It was back to the “Screen Guild Theater” the following month, March 17, 1940, for a half-hour version of one of the most frequently adapted comic stories for radio, the marital farce “The Awful Truth.” Ralph Bellamy returns in his “sap” role from the film, but instead of Irene Dunne and Cary Grant joining him, it’s Carole Lombard and...Robert Young. That’s right, the future Jim Anderson and Marcus Welby -– but long before those roles, or television for that matter, Young had a steady movie career, including his share of comedies (his film debut was a bit part in Carole's 1928 Mack Sennett two-reeler "The Campus Vamp"). Young acquits himself nicely here, although abridging “The Awful Truth” and its loads of laughs to just under a half-hour seems rather...awful.

One of James Stewart’s best friends in the industry was Henry Fonda, and one of Stewart’s most notable roles was opposite Margaret Sullavan (Fonda’s former wife) in “The Shop Around The Corner.” Here, Stewart gets to play a Fonda role, with Lombard in Sullavan’s shoes, in Lux’s adaptation of “The Moon’s Our Home,” which aired on Feb. 10, 1941. Stewart’s a famed travel writer, actually an aristocrat, who hates Hollywood, while Lombard’s a famous film actress, who’s actually an heiress, gone incognito; they meet and fall in love. Dorothy Parker reportedly wrote some of the film’s dialogue, and that sweet, yet acerbic, spirit is transferred to this adaptation as well.

When it came to adaptations, Lombard didn’t confine herself to “Lux” and “Screen Guild.” She made four appearances on another CBS series, the “Silver Theater,” sponsored by the International Silver Company; it largely confined itself to half-hour original productions. The first involving Carole came in November 1939 and was called, appropriately enough, “Incredible Lady” -– but no recording of it is known to exist, which goes for two of her other appearances. The one that has survived would be her last on the program, airing March 9, 1941, called "Murder Unlimited," her belated entry into the “girl reporter” field popularized by “Superman’s” Lois Lane and other characters. (The year before, Rosalind Russell had a hit film in that vein, playing Hildy Johnson in the classic “His Girl Friday” – a part other actresses, Lombard among them, had turned down.) In this comedy, Carole’s character uncovers the truth behind a murder ring –- and then has to find a way to escape their clutches. This production proves that by now, she was fully comfortable with radio acting.

On April 13, it was back to movie adaptations at “Screen Guild,” this a scaled-down version of her final Paramount film, “True Confession,” with that movie’s co-star, Fred MacMurray, reprising his role.



One of the joys of Hollywood-oriented radio from this era is hearing combinations of stars that, for one reason or another, never teamed up on the big screen. A perfect example comes in what would be Lombard’s final network radio appearance -– “Lux Radio Theater” of June 9, 1941, at the Vine Street Playhouse (above) to which the show had moved in 1940. It’s an adaptation of Carole’s latest movie, the marital comedy “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” -– but this time, her co-star isn’t Robert Montgomery, but another “Bob”...Bob Hope, to be precise. Bill Goodwin, best known as the announcer on the George Burns and Gracie Allen show, plays the third lead. While the adaptation stays true to the spirit of the movie, the script’s been altered slightly to serve as a Hope vehicle (almost certainly with the help of his writers). Nonetheless, there is genuine comedic chemistry between Hope and Lombard, and one can only guess whether they would someday have made a film together had fate not intervened. “My Favorite Screwball,” anyone?

At least two other examples of Lombard on the radio have survived as well. In 1939, Selznick Productions, the studio behind “Made For Each Other,” made a 14-minute air trailer to promote the film; Carole appears, as does James Stewart and supporting players Charles Coburn and Lucile Watson. In 1941, a transcription, “United Press Is On the Air,” features reporter Fred Othman, the wire service’s Hollywood correspondent, interviewing Gable and Lombard.
Tags: lux radio theater, radio, screen guild theater, silver theater
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