The above is the New York Times, or at least a fictionalized representation of it (and frankly not a very good one), from Carole Lombard's 1933 Columbia film "Brief Moment." We bring it up because one of the best pieces I've ever seen on Lombard was printed some 15 years ago in the Times, written by its fabled film critic, Vincent Canby (1924-2000).
In August 1992, the Film Society of Lincoln Center held a 10-day retrospective, "Nothing Sacred: Silver Screenings With Carole Lombard," to commemorate the 50th anniversary of her death. On Aug. 21, Canby devoted his "Critic's Notebook" column to the event in a piece entitled "Lombard's Madcap Recipe: Hauteur, Chic and Humor."
Canby, whose perceptive writings on film were quite influential -- Woody Allen has long cited Canby's review of his first film, "Take The Money And Run," for helping put him on the map as a moviemaker -- uses the column to examine Carole's career, her strengths and weaknesses, and what made her tick. He has many nice things to say about Lombard; most critics do. What makes this piece particularly welcome is that he makes you think about her in new ways. For example, here's what he has to say about Lombard as a dramatic actress:
"More to the point: though she is quite good in "Vigil in the Night," she is an actress who is least convincing when she is trying to scale herself down to the solemn proportions of missionary denial and sacrifice. ... Watching her play more or less straight drama is to see a great actress working at half speed. It throws her off her pace."
In another segment, he examines contemporary perceptions of Carole:
"Lombard never became a figure of camp, perhaps because she wasn't around long enough, though I doubt that's the reason. Rather, I suspect, it's because she obviously was too passionate and too committed as a woman of ordinary appetites. She never stands alone in her films, like Garbo, Dietrich and Crawford. She was never a queen bee."
Maybe that's why Madonna, who is reportedly an avid Lombard fan, didn't include a reference to Carole in her dance-club hit "Vogue."
If those two excerpts have whetted your appetite for the piece, you can find the whole thing at http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9E0CE7D81539F932A1575BC0A964958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all. (Oh, and take a look at the schedule of the retrospective: 17 features, plus three of her Mack Sennett shorts (with live piano accompaniment). We can only hope that during 2008, the centennial of Lombard's birth, some repertory companies provide a comparable schedule.
Before closing, how about this wonderful Canby story: As you no doubt are aware, many obituaries are written in advance, and when Bob Hope died in the summer of 2003, Canby's byline returned to the Times nearly three years after his death from cancer. That's because he had written the bulk of the Hope obit, which needed only minor revisions.