Carole Lombard may have left us more than 76 years ago, but her work on screen and her life off it have led more than a few to suggest she has an ethereal, otherworldly status. In his 1970 book "The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years," film historian David Shipman writes,
"...there's a strong case to be made for the divinity of Carole Lombard. One is certain that, at Olympian banquets, she's right up there next to Zeus. If she's not [invited], she's probably throwing things." (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/221176.html)
Now a respected actor whose resume include winning a Golden Globe and an Emmy has commented on Carole in that vein. He's Michael Moriarty, whom you may remember from the early years of the classic crime procedural "Law And Order":
Moriarty recently penned some praise of Lombard after seeing one of her movies...not the "usual suspects" such as "My Man Godfrey" or "To Be Or Not To Be," but a drama co-starring another actor best known for his comic work.
We are, of course, referring to "In Name Only" (1939) with Cary Grant. Moriarty writes,
"She gives, in my not-so-humble opinion, an Oscar-winning performance, the stunning depth and profound simplicity of which has rarely been equaled."
In contrast, he says Grant's performance "is painfully short of Lombard's startling reality!", adding he believes the Motion Picture Academy failed to nominate her "because of the film's unimpressive success at the box office."
Well, as you may have heard, 1939 was a pretty darn good year for movies. (Lombard's other film in '39, "Made For Each Other," made the year's top ten list at The New York Times.) Let's look at that year's nominees for Best Actress:
Vivien Leigh, "Gone With The Wind" (winner)
Bette Davis, "Dark Victory"
Irene Dunne, "Love Affair"
Greta Garbo, "Ninotchka"
Greer Garson, "Goodbye, Mr. Chips"
Pretty good company to be in. I can't see Lombard beating out Leigh and the "GWTW" juggernaut (though it didn't help Carole's husband, Clark Gable), and getting a nomination with that competition? It would've been tough, and RKO, where "In Name Only" was made, didn't have the Oscar bloc clout of an MGM. That probably was the reason Lombard didn't get the best actress award for Universal's "My Man Godfrey" three years earlier; it instead went to Luise Rainer for MGM's "The Great Ziegfeld."
Moriarty writes winning the Oscar "would have helped give Carole Lombard, proven comedienne, a huge pedestal as an equally dramatic actress," adding, "Carole Lombard's 'Truth' is a most breathtaking high point in the history of American Realism! I found her close-ups so realistic that they could have appeared in a documentary!"
He decries that Lombard was 24th on the American Film Institute's greatest actresses list (she was actually ranked 23rd) and adds:
"What she accomplishes with her role for 'In Name Only' is an acting lesson of such strength and simplicity that I'm still overwhelmed at merely recalling it. Had the profound greatness of her dramatic skills been recognized, she would now be ranked at the top of Hollywood's greatest stars, both male and female!"
As it was, while she gave worthy, well-received performances in "Vigil In The Night" and "They Knew What They Wanted," the public preferred the comedic Carole, who'd been absent from the big screen since the failure of 1938's "Fools For Scandal."
However, Moriarty's hosannas to Lombard provide another perspective in what might have been. Yes, she may have continued in comedy for a while -- remember, she was planning to make "They All Kissed The Bride" at the time of her death, and one-time Cocoanut Grove dance rival Joan Crawford took her place -- but Carole may have returned to drama, perhaps to try her hand at this new genre called film noir. And good friend Alfred Hitchcock, who directed Lombard in his atypical romantic comedy "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," might have coaxed her to star in a project along his turf.
Moriarty calls watching Lombard's turn "In Name Only" an "eye-opening encounter with a new heroine in my life." He also noted Carole raised more than $2 million (over $33 million in today's money) at a war bond rally the day before she died, as well as her beloved reputation in the industry.
He titled this entry, written a week ago, "St. Carole Lombard" (http://www.enterstageright.com/archive/articles/0518/lombard.html), and added,
"Carole Lombard dies in a plane crash at the horrifying age of 33?!?!
"A sort of, if the perfectionists in my readership will forgive me, perfect, female Christ!
"No wonder Clark Gable, shortly after that, chose to serve in World War II!"
Hyperbole? Perhaps. But Moriarty concludes his piece with this:
"I know she might hate me for kvelling over her like this but I know no other way of living with my feelings for her but by sharing them."
Welcome to the club of Lombard lovers, Michael.