In 1929 and '30, many U.S. companies tried to retain overseas audiences by making alternate-language versions of their films. It was a natural for French native Maurice Chevalier; frequent co-star Jeanette MacDonald also spoke French fluently, even though she was American. Conversely, Laurel and Hardy spoke Spanish and other languages phonetically.
Anyway, here's Carole, holding a sign in German:
But what's the sign's message?
According to Carole Sampeck of The Lombard Archive, "The latter part of the message says basically 'Happy New Year' so I would expect that the first part says something about 'Merry Christmas' -- how appropriate! Perhaps she's supposed to be holding gifts?"
A check of a German to English computer translator couldn't figure out the first part; the passage was translated into "Frohliche wine eighth and Gluefliches new year." Huh?
So, we decided to go in the other direction, and find out what "Merry Christmas and happy New Year" was translated into German. It's "Frohe Weihnachten und glückliches neues Jahr."
There's the problem -- two words were misspelled, rendering the passage gibberish. Imagine a sign from a German studio sent to America reading, "Merry Chrismas and Hapy New Year." (One guesses "frohliche" was some sort of more informal greeting.)
Picture the reaction of editors at German (and German-American) newspapers when they received this photo...first, laughter over the ineptness of those nitwits from Hollywood; second, sending the photo on a quick trip to the wastebasket. (This photo recently sold at eBay for just over $70, misspelling or no.)
Somebody at Paramount didn't do their homework when creating the sign. (We presume Lombard was not to blame; while it's no secret she was never a good speller, that skill was apparently limited to one language.) And it apparently didn't hurt Carole's popularity in Germany -- it continued until the Nazi regime, which assumed power in 1933, banned American films at about the end of the decade.
Did Carole do similar holiday duties with cards in other languages? That would be something worth investigating.
Anyway, this kicks off a few Christmas-related entries up to the holiday itself. Several more are to come.