For someone who starred in all of one film for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Carole Lombard (shown in a portrait for said film) had quite a bit to do with the magic factory in Culver City. But before we explore that part of the topic, let's examine that one film as part of this weekend's MGM Blogathon from Silver Scenes (http://silverscenesblog.blogspot.com/):
The film was called "The Gay Bride," and one wonders what a movie made today bearing that title might entail. (A story of human rights? A comedy about undercover lesbianism?) Whatever, the title didn't have the same meaning in 1934 that it would have today; in fact, the project originally didn't bear that title at all.
The film, adapted from a Charles Francis Coe short story in the Saturday Evening Post, initially was to be called "Repeal," after the end of Prohibition in late 1933:
But as 1934 rolled on into its second half and the end of the pre-Code era, such a title lost a lot of its fizz, and so MGM instead focused on the lead character -- a woman who marries mobster after mobster, collecting their insurance after each is rubbed out. The copy for a herald describes it as "Mary, Mary...mercenary! Her coat of arms was a chisel and a wedding ring."
By 1934, Lombard (who earlier in her career had been loath to loanouts, going so far as to reject a project at Warners that became the James Cagney-Loretta Young hit "Taxi!") enjoyed temporarily leaving her home base of Paramount -- especially since Columbia not only gave her better material, but knew how to use her better than Paramount did. If Columbia, which but a few years earlier was barely a step up from Poverty Row, had such power, imagine what MGM could do? And might it even lead to mighty Metro buying her contract from struggling Paramount?
There were just two things Carole didn't notice as she began the project with director Jack Conway and leading man Chester Morris (who'd held similar honors in the 1932 Paramount vehicle "Sinners In The Sun"). First, MGM really wasn't welcoming Lombard as a potential new star in its stable; Jean Harlow gave it sufficient blonde star power, and despite her success in "Twentieth Century" earlier in the year, Carole still wasn't primarily identified with comedy, much less the sophisticated kind.
Second, MGM was slumming a bit with "The Gay Bride," the sort of tough comedy Warners could have done in its sleep in pre-Code days. (It's easy to imagine Joan Blondell or Glenda Farrell in the Lombard role, probably in a grittier milieu.) Yes, Metro's high production values were on display, but that was true for all its features.
So as production continued, Lombard (shown with Zasu Pitts) likely came to learn, if she hadn't already, that she was working on a programmer and little more. In addition to Pitts, the reliable Nat Pendleton provided comedic support, but at times Carole probably felt as uncomfortable as her character was in this still:
Nevertheless, the New York Times review of Dec. 19, 1934 was for the most part approving (http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9A01E4D61E3CE23ABC4152DFB467838F629EDE). Despite that, "The Gay Bride" did middling business, and one doubts MGM brass gave it much of a push since its lead wasn't one of its stars. (However, according to Film Daily in early 1935, Loew's State in New Orleans handed out "Chiseler's Club Cards" to patrons in honor of Carole's gold-digging character.)
Lombard later would call "The Gay Bride" her worst film, although time has been kinder to its reputation; for the most part, it's easier to watch than her 1938 Warners misfire, "Fools For Scandal."
Carole never made another movie for Metro...yet she hardly was a stranger on the studio lot. The reason was obvious -- her attachment to Clark Gable, the top leading man at MGM, if not the industry. Whether it be keeping him company on the set during an uncharacteristically cool June night...
...sharing a laugh at a post-premiere party...
...or attending the studio picnic given by Louis B. Mayer...
...Lombard, with Gable, was a frequent visitor to MGM. (It also helped that first husband William Powell, a friend of Clark's, was an MGM star as well.)
So why didn't Metro sign Carole -- who'd shown her box-office prowess in the second half of the '30s -- to a contract? One guesses Mayer was reluctant to add the girlfriend (and subsequent wife) of MGM's biggest star to its roster...especially in the midst of making "Gone With The Wind" (a David O. Selznick production distributed by Metro). As a team, Gable and Lombard might have too much clout for his liking.
But it didn't keep Carole from dropping by the lot...
And when Lombard met her ultimate fate in January 1942, MGM saluted her with a memorial ad in the trade press.