It's 1940, and Carole Lombard and Clark Gable are shown at Burbank Airport (now Bob Hope Burbank Airport). But imagine a vastly different 1940...one where Gable is a washed-up actor turned private investigator. What?
That's the premise of a novel written a few years ago, part of the "alternate history" genre, called "Wake Up And Dream":
It's the sixth novel written by Ian R. MacLeod, who won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2009 for a previous work, "Song Of Time."
I haven't yet read the book, so I have no idea whether Lombard figures in this alternate universe or even if they know each other, much less are married. But if there is an alternate Carole here, she possibly fell victim to a technological change that doomed alt.Clark -- something called "feelies," which according to MacLeod records emotional responses and then broadcasts them to manipulate people’s emotions. In other words, this isn't what we think of as CGI but rather sort of an extension of talking pictures. Some actors made the transition; for some reason, Gable didn't (a la John Gilbert with sound), hence his switch in careers.
"Wake Up And Dream" also examines America in 1940, at a time when isolationism ran rampant and a (fictional) anti-Semitic organization was gaining steam. That apparently adds a more complex touch to this tale, one I'm looking forward to reading soon. A thoughtful review of the book can be found at http://paperknife.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/wake-up-and-dream-ian-r-mcleod/.
Which brings me to my next point: Imagine alternate universes for Carole Lombard -- and no, I'm not referring to the most popular version, where the 1942 plane crash never happens. There are roads not taken for all of us, moments where fate could have taken us in an entirely different direction. Throughout Lombard's life, the slightest of changes might have resulted in someone far different than we know of...possibly someone we today wouldn't know of at all. There are plenty of possibilities for anyone wishing to write about an alternate Carole. What if...
* ...director Allan Dwan had never found 12-year-old Jane Peters playing in the street, leading to her first film role in 1921's "A Perfect Crime"?
* ...the auto accident that injured the face of the teenage Carole had never happened? (We've previously conjectured that without it, Lombard might never have developed her knowledge of lighting and other facets of film work, not have developed as an actress, and never achieved any significant star status.)
* ...on the other hand, what if that accident had caused major facial problems that even cosmetic surgery couldn't heal? Would Lombard, her career as an actor definitely over, have loved the film industry enough that she would have sought work in another facet of Hollywood?
* ...Lombard, recuperating from her accident, had wound up with Hal Roach, not Mack Sennett? How would her comedic training have been changed?
* ...Pathe Pictures had retained Lombard in 1929 rather than letting her go, supposedly at the behest of its newly-signed Constance Bennett? Would her career have progressed at that relatively small studio?
We could go on and on with alternate versions of Carole, potential fodder for any novelist who enjoys speculative fiction. Just something to think about over this last pre-Christmas weekend.