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Mmm, mmm, Claudette...

carole lombard claudette colbert june 1935 venice party 00a

That's Carole Lombard and Paramount stablemate Claudette Colbert having some fun at Lombard's famed Venice Pier party in June 1935. I'm not certain about the degree of their friendship (some Colbert devotees, of which there are many, might know the answer), but Carole likely was on better terms with her throughout the '30s than she was with, say, Marlene Dietrich.

Thursday marks the anniversary of Claudette's birth, and TCM is celebrating with a septet of her films during the day.

claudette colbert 028a

Born Emilie Claudette Chauchoin in 1903, daughter of a French banker who emigrated to the U.S. when she was three, Colbert was a beautiful blend of Gallic charm and American sophistication, equally adept at comedy or drama. She was a favorite of several elite directors such as Ernst Lubitsch ("The Smiling Lieutenant," "Bluebeard's Eighth Wife"), Cecil B. De Mille ("The Sign Of The Cross," "Four Frightened People") and Frank Capra, for whom she turned in an Oscar-winning performance in 1934's "It Happened One Night":

claudette colbert 010a

Thursday's lineup of Colbert product is a weird blend of "greatest hits" and the offbeat; two of these films aired on TCM within the past half-month. Nevertheless, if you're unfamiliar with Claudette, it's a nice way to get acquainted with "the fretting Frog." Here's the schedule (all times Eastern):

* 6:15 a.m. -- "The Secret Heart" (1946). I've never seen this drama, but know it came at a time when Colbert, in her forties, was losing box-office ground to a generation of younger stars (one of whom, June Allyson, plays her stepdaughter). Walter Pidgeon and Lionel Barrymore are also in the cast.

claudette colbert it happened one night 01a

* 8 a.m. -- "It Happened One Night" (1934). Every classic movie fan should see this pivotal screwball comedy that came out of nowhere to sweep the Oscars. Just about everything works in this film, from leads Clark Gable and Colbert to Walter Connolly as Claudette's wealthy father. There are plenty of memorable scenes, from "the walls of Jericho" to the hitchhiking scene (and yes, that is Colbert's leg) to the bus riders singing "The Man On The Flying Trapeze."

* 10 a.m. -- "Parrish" (1961). A dramatic Troy Donahue vehicle where Claudette (in what would be her final theatrical film) plays his mother. Karl Malden is also in the cast.

claudette colbert cleopatra 00a

* 12:30 p.m. -- "Cleopatra" (1934). No offense to Elizabeth Taylor or her legions of fans, but many maintain Claudette's Cleo is the definitive classic movie portrayal of the famed Egyptian queen. It's certainly more entertaining than the overblown '63 Taylor version, and for that you can largely thank De Mille's storytelling genius. You may have seen this on TCM Aug. 30, when it was part of Warren William's Summer Under the Stars salute (he plays Julius Caesar).

claudette colbert without reservations john wayne 00a

* 2:30 p.m. -- "Without Reservations" (1946). What would you get if you cast Claudette opposite...John Wayne? This comedy, where author Colbert falls for war hero Wayne -- and she tries to persuade him to play the hero in a screen adaptation of her novel. Lacks the energy associated with pre-war screwball, but a passable film just the same.

* 4:30 p.m. -- "It's A Wonderful World" (1939). So far today, we've seen Colbert play a runaway heiress and an author. Let's blend the two and cast her as a runaway poetess(!). Then, let's team her up with innocent fugitive James Stewart in a romp directed by W.S. Van Dyke, written by Ben Hecht and featuring Guy Kibbee in a supporting role. Sounds like fun, and it is.

claudette colbert the palm beach story 00a

* 6 p.m. -- "The Palm Beach Story" (1942). What is glamorous Claudette doing in that outfit? And why is she with Rudy Vallee? Find out in this raucous Preston Sturges gem that also stars Joel McCrea and Mary Astor. You'll also meet the Weinie King, the Ale & Quail Club, and all sorts of delightfully goofy characters. (Of course, there's a good chance you already met them earlier this month when TCM saluted Sturges in prime time.)

Yes, Claudette's work is worth checking out, as Lombard and Paramount designer Travis Banton would agree...

carole lombard photoplay oct 1937ab claudette colbert travis banton

And don't forget that at 8 p.m. (Eastern), TCM shows part two of its month-long tribute to comedy pioneer Mack Sennett.
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