By today's meritocratic standards, Carole Lombard didn't have much of an education. She had no college degree; heck, she dropped out of Fairfax High School in Los Angeles during her junior year (not uncommon during the 1920s). But she nevertheless was a smart, well-read woman with a clear sense of self.
She's shown typing in July 1938, during her week-long stint handling publicity for Selznick-International, then wrote about her exploits in the Hollywood Reporter (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/17287.html). Carole also penned several articles for movie magazines -- either actually self-written or with help from a ghostwriter -- during the 1930s.
Yesterday's entry dealt with Lombard appearances in the British film weekly Picturegoer, and I discovered to my dismay that the following story, from the May 1, 1937 issue, was not yet available online, making it difficult to read:
Fortunately, a reader with the LiveJournal name "lamb83" came to my rescue. He or she has the issue, had transcribed the piece, and now I can share it with you. Worthy is the lamb, indeed!
So here goes... enjoy. I'll then provide my comments.
HOW TO SELL YOUR PERSONALITY by Carole Lombard
Change is absolutely essential, whether to the actress or to the average woman, declares the star, who shows you through her own experience how to make the most of yourself.
After several years in motion pictures, I’m more convinced than ever that each successful player has certain definite features to sell, just as each motor-car, for instance, has certain features which make certain prospective buyers purchase it.
Furthermore, I have noticed in other players and myself the fact that there is constant change. You might, without stretching a point, refer to me as “Lombard for 1937."
The changes, both physical and in personality, are very subtle. From day to day and from picture to picture they are scarcely noticed. But they are going on.
A glance of still pictures made of me ten years ago when I was with Mack Sennett show an amazing alteration to the Lombard of today.
The changes are absolutely essential. Each year, Hollywood must sell to the public a new Lombard, a new Colbert, and new MacMurrays, Taylors and Stanwycks.
If a star or player doesn’t change, he or she is licked!
You can bet that if it is “the same old Lombard” in 1937, Lombard isn’t going to be very much in demand in 1938. Every player knows this and every player chooses to be different.
That is why all players attempt to have a say in the selection of their stories. If the roles have a quality of sameness, the player get into a rut -- and is soon “all washed up.”
There have been plenty of changes in the motion picture field in recent months. Irene Dunne, for instance, has shown her mastery of light and flippant comedy in “Theodora Goes Wild.”
Jean Harlow and Joan Crawford have had the same tendency. Claudette Colbert has selected a wide range of roles, being a modern sophisticate in “I Met Him In Paris” and a 17th-century girl in “Maid of Salem,” not to mention her role in “Cleopatra.”
Among the men, Gary Cooper has been a western hero in “The Plainsman,” an American adventurer in “The General Died at Dawn” and a sea hero in the forthcoming “Souls at Sea.” George Raft in this latter picture will emerge as an entirely new man, his sleek hair gone, his clothing changed.
Bill Powell has changed. Gable is doing a totally different role in “Parnell.” Robert Taylor has been distinctly different in “Camille” with Garbo. Fredric March is freelancing, shrewdly picking a variety of roles.
All these men and these women -- I have mentioned only a few -- very definitely understand the need of change.
Another thing which the player must change is clothing. The men escape this problem but the women who stand out year after year are those who command feminine attention by the establishment of fashions.
I consider Travis Banton, the Paramount stylist, my best friend, for he has conceived a number of costumes which have kept me in the minds and before the eyes of the women of the world. Style must be changed, reputations maintained, on and off the screen.
Hair and makeup are constantly changing. The players are the ones who take the lead on this. Men have a slight influence on men’s clothing, on hair styles, but since Valentino, who was responsible for an epidemic of greased hair and bell-bottomed trousers, they have been of any great importance in style. The women are definitely leaders.
Let Colbert appear with bangs, and the world’s women come out with bangs. Let Kay Francis change her makeup, giving one feature prominence, and the beauty parlors will be swamped with requests for the same effect.
For instance, this year Wally Westmore, the makeup expert, decrees that blue pigment in makeup adds millions of years collectively to the ages of women and introduces terra cotta and other brownish hues.
Crawford appears on the screen with the new brown, the women notice a subtle change, and rush out to buy brown makeup.
The average player goes through remarkable physical changes. During my career I’ve lost about 13 pounds. My height of five feet, five-and-a-half inches hasn’t changed, but I’ve lost inches around my hips, and have actually increased the width of my shoulders two-and-a-half inches, mainly through playing tennis. My waistline is smaller.
Makeup has changed my “selling points.” For years I was worried about the fact that I had high, prominent cheekbones and tried, through the use of makeup, to eliminate them.
Wally Westmore told me that those high cheekbones were a good trademark and I should give them a play -- build them up rather than suppress them.
When I first came to my present studio several years ago, I knew very little about the care of my hair.
Loretta Francel, who has spent seven years with it, has given it a natural golden color, has made it light and fluffy.
It is brushed back off my temples in a long bob now. When I first started working in pictures, my hair was pulled down over my cheeks, and half my face was hidden most of the time.
Changes in personality must occur. The inside story of the changing Lombard may be good for a laugh. I got a reputation, such as it was, for sophisticated roles. The truth of the matter was that I wasn’t sophisticated -- I just didn’t know how to act. I was afraid somebody would find it out. This went on for years.
It was a long time before I figured out what to do with my hands, for instance. The audience had the impression that I was filled with repressed emotion, that beneath my calm and cool exterior I had a breaking, bleeding heart.
I was just suffering with the thought that my option might not be taken up next time. Then along came “Hands Across the Table,” “The Princess Comes Across” and “My Man Godfrey,” the last-named being a climax in something or other.
I started, after a great many years, to unlimber. Critics called it change. Actually, I was just mentally unlimbering. I was learning, for the first time, to be myself on the screen. I’ve grown tired of listening to the statement that I have gone from “sophistication” to “hoydenlike” parts.
I’ve been told to do a story on “from now on it’s funny.” Actually, I don’t know whether I’m going to be funny for the rest of my life. I rather doubt it.
There’s a changed Lombard again in “Swing High, Swing Low.” Yes, I’m ga-ga and slightly cracked, but, at the same time, I run what is laughingly known as the gamut of emotions.
I “give” with tears, sobs, plenty of emotion, while still retaining some of my clownish features. This is what I mean when I say that constant change in necessary.
Under my new contract, which calls for three pictures a year, I have full authority in picking the stories. I’ve wanted this for a long time, for it means that I will be able to direct myself away from deadly sameness in roles.
One simply can’t stay still. There must be variety, must be improvement, for there is too much competition in motion pictures to allow for “coasting.”
A star very seldom survives a run of more than three bad pictures. I managed to do this, but only because I was young and resilient. I bounced back.
There is one thing in the Hollywood scheme that depresses me. A feminine player no sooner learns to act than she’s through. No woman can play romantic parts in motion pictures successfully after reaching the age of 35.
And one doesn’t really learn to act until one reaches that age. This is the result of change, of course -- one change too many. A lot of us would like to stop the clock at 30, but the retirement period is inevitable.
My experience in Hollywood has indicated to me that success is the result of being natural. The ones who achieve success overnight and can’t take it without swelling above the neck find themselves going out very rapidly.
I can’t explain this, but dislikable characteristics in a player show up on the screen, no matter how carefully roles are selected.
Again, we have change, and the result of it. Often the swelling goes down and success follows. Often there is no change, and the player writes himself or herself out of the Hollywood picture.
I like motion pictures. I’d never want to do anything else. I like the people, the work, the play, everything about them. I’ve no longings, real or press-agent created, to become a writer, businesswoman, physician or sculptor. And my whole time is used in keeping up with the Hollywood parade.
* Carole's acceptance of change as part of not only the motion picture industry but life itself is proof of her insight into human nature. And she compares herself to a car model. (What would a 1937 automotive equivalent of Lombard be? How about this sleek Chrysler Airflow?)
* Barely a month after this came out, Jean Harlow (whom the article refers to) would be dead.
* Perhaps George Raft emerged from "Souls at Sea" as an entirely new man. Unfortunately for him, he retained the same tendency to turn down roles that might have redefined his career.
* So Rudolph Valentino wore bell-bottoms some four decades before "hippie chicks"!
* Keep in mind that the effects of "blue" and "brownish" pigment in makeup Lombard refers to describes how they appear on black-and-white films (the "silver screen"), and the skin for such makeup? Caucasian, of course.
* By now Lombard had largely stopped listing her birth year as 1909 rather than 1908, but her stated height of 5-foot-5 1/2? Perhaps in shoes. Carole's stature long has been the subject of debate; she's been listed at everything from 5-foot-1 to 5-foot-6. (Many believe it actually was 5-foot-2.) Then again, who among us doesn't fib about how tall we are, one way or the other?
* Want to widen your shoulders? According to Carole, play tennis.
* The paragraph about Lombard'a early rep as a "sophisticate," admitting that in retrospect she "just didn't know how to act," is insightful, as is the explanation of her maturation as an actress in the sentence, "I was learning, for the first time, to be myself on the screen."
* Carole's contract, giving her "full authority in picking the stories," is a reminder to those of us nostalgic for the studio system that it had drawbacks as well as advantages. Nearly all prominent actors today, in both film and television, can pick and choose their roles.
* Her comment, "No woman can play romantic parts in motion pictures successfully after reaching the age of 35," shows that then, as now, a double standard applied in Hollywood. Of course, Carole sadly never reached that age.
* On the other hand, her closing comments -- "I like motion pictures. I'd never want to do anything else. I like the people, the work, the play, everything about them" -- is yet another indication that, had Lombard lived past Jan. 16, 1942, she'd have found a way to remain in the entertainment industry in some capacity.
I'm glad I found this article in full...and wish Lombard had been able to write more of them.