He’s Val Lewton (1904-1951), a Russian emigre (born Vladimir Leventon in what is now known as Ukraine) who's best known today for producing a few wonderfully atmospheric horror films at RKO in the forties, including “Cat People” and “I Walked With A Zombie.” But in the early 1930s, he was a struggling writer, briefly working as a publicist at MGM, and he came up with a novel, “No Bed Of Her Own” that was well received and a good seller (it was even serialized in a London newspaper).
Set in 1931, when the bottom fell out of the U.S. economy and a recession became the Depression, its protagonist is Rose Mahoney, an attractive blonde New York stenographer who loses her job, then her residence, in the downturn. Things get worse for Rose, and she has to resort to some compromises to keep herself going – but she never loses her self-confidence, or standards.
Paramount bought the rights to “No Bed Of Her Own,” but found to its dismay that it couldn’t film the book. Why not? Well, not only did it include sex before marriage and prostitution, both of which could be hinted at between the lines, it also featured
* interracial relationships (which would have made the film verboten in the segregated U.S. South)
* lesbianism and
* references to pornography
The book was so racy an account for the time that when Hitler took power in Germany in 1933, copies of it were burned by the Nazis.
When Paramount couldn’t film the script, it briefly kept the title for a completely different story involving a New York City gambler on the lam who falls in love and marries a small-town upstate librarian. It was this story in which Miriam Hopkins was to star in with Gable before walking out over billing and being replaced by Lombard. Here's a two-page spread, early in the process from Paramount, in a 1932 movie trade magazine:
Lewton’s book eventually fell out of print. The good news is that last year, it was reissued by Kingly Books and can be obrained through amazon.com and other outlets. The reprint includes jacket recommendations by Martin Scorcese, a foreword by Lewton's son and an afterword by film writer Damien Love.
But the tale of “No Bed Of Her Own” and classic-era Hollywood doesn’t end with the book. Paramount so liked the title, even though it couldn’t issue a film by that name, that it was used in promotion a year later for a completely unrelated movie – one Lombard was considered for. Entitled “Girl Without A Room,” it was to star the faltering Charles Farrell, late of Fox, in the male lead, but Carole looked at the script and saw it was undistinguished. In fact, it was a project many at the studio were trying to avoid; supporting player Charlie Ruggles advised his brother Wesley not to direct the film. (Wesley -- who directed "No Man Of Her Own" as well as two later Lombard Paramount films, "Bolero" and "True Confession" -- took his advice, and Ralph Murphy directed.)
Lombard, who liked Farrell and didn't want to hurt his feelings, finessed her way out of the “Room” by clandestinely going to Columbia, where she had developed a good working relationship with mogul Harry Cohn – something few star actresses could claim – to ask him if any projects were available. One was, “Brief Moment,” but to make things even more discreet, Lombard told Cohn to first ask Paramount for Miriam Hopkins, knowing she wouldn’t be available. Carole’s foresight was correct, and Cohn was able to get Lombard on loanout as his “second choice.”
So who ended up with the lead in “Girl Without A Room”? A second-tier player named Marguerite Churchill (1910-2000), who made about 20 films between 1930 and 1936; if she’s remembered today, it’s as John Wayne’s co-star in his first major film, “The Big Trail” (1930).
"Girl Without A Room," rarely revived today, is a comedy dealing with an American art student in Paris (Farrell) who wins an art contest, only to lose the prize when he informs the jury his abstract painting has been hung upside down. Mischa Auer, who would later work with Lombard in “My Man Godfrey,” has a supporting role, and an unbilled xylophonist in a nightclub scene is none other than Lionel Hampton! (At this time, Hampton hadn’t quite reached jazz stardom, though his reputation was growing. In 1930, Hampton was a drummer for the orchestra Louis Armstrong fronted during an engagement in Los Angeles. It was Armstrong who put Hampton on vibes for his 1930 recording of “Memories Of You,” a move that would change jazz history.)