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carole lombard 02

Measuring Hollywood's b.o. (No, not that kind.)

Posted by vp19 on 2014.08.12 at 22:11
Current mood: contemplativecontemplative
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It's summer 1932, and Carole Lombard is making movies, attending the Olympics at the Memorial Coliseum (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/437978.html)...and learning that where box-office heft was concerned, she currently was a lightweight.

The Aug. 23, 1932 issue of Variety magazine had film industry news on page 3, and here's what it looked like:

carole lombard variety 082332a

And no, those 133 film stars weren't in need of Lifebuoy soap. (Which reminds me of a story about the Philadelphia Phillies of the early 1930s, then the dregs of the National League. There was a huge sign on the right-field wall of the Phillies' decrepit ballpark, Baker Bowl, reading "The Phillies Use Lifebuoy." Someone once wrote underneath the sign, "And they still stink!") No, this "b.o." refers to box-office -- and a veteran theater operator named Harold B. Franklin graded 133 notable actors based upon their financial impact. Actors were rated from "AA" (top) to "H" (bottom).

As of mid-1932, only two stars earned a "AA" grade from Franklin -- MGM's Greta Garbo...

greta garbo 01

...and Paramount's Maurice Chevalier:

maurice chevalier 00

For this story, Variety grouped stars by studios. Here's the entire story, isolated from the rest of the page:

carole lombard variety 082332b

Let's look at Paramount, Lombard's studio at the time:

carole lombard variety 082332c
carole lombard variety 082332d

Yep, Carole is rated "H," sharing the cellar with Charlie Ruggles and moppet Mitzi Green.

To be fair, at the time Lombard probably deserved to be at the bottom of the Paramount totem pole. She'd been with the studio roughly two years, and the films she'd made had largely been undistinguished. Carole still was learning her craft, and Paramount still was learning how to use her. Compare her status to its other leading ladies: Marlene Dietrich, "A"; Miriam Hopkins, "CC"; Jeanette MacDonald, Lilyan Tashman, Tallulah Bankhead and Sylvia Sidney, all "D"; Nancy Carroll and Claudette Colbert,"E"; and June Collyer, "F." That's one loaded roster of feminine talent.

If it was any solace to Lombard, she wasn't the only one saddled with the burden of being an "H." Others in the club included Dorothy Jordan, Leila Hyams and Madge Evans (MGM); Claudia Dell and Evelyn Knapp (Warners); Lowell Sherman (RKO); Minna Gombel (Fox) and Charles Bickford and Boris Karloff (Universal). And Lombard's husband, William Powell, held down a "B" grade at Warners.

But things change. More than a few of the stars with fairly high rankings quickly fell by the wayside (e.g., Anita Page, William Haines), while others who were heretofore anonymous became box-office titans (Mae West, Katharine Hepburn). And had these ratings been done a few years later, Lombard's grades would have been substantially higher. Just something to think about.

These past few days have been tough; we're not even halfway through the week and two movie A-listers no longer are with us. Yesterday, it was Robin Williams; today, Lauren Bacall left this mortal coil barely more than a month before she would have turned 90. She'll always be known for her films with, and marriage to, Humphrey Bogart -- but Bacall proved on many occasions that she was a fine actress and genuine star in her own right. Her sultry looks were perfect for film noir of the '40s, although Lauren continued working, including a memorable two-part "Rockford Files" with James Garner, who passed on last month, and remained a class act to the end. Hope she and Bogey are sharing some drinks with Clark Gable and Carole somewhere in Hollywood heaven. Here's looking at you, kid, indeed.

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(Anonymous) at 2014-08-15 00:46 (UTC) (Link)


Thanks for the nice tribute to Lauren Bacall.
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