The 1938 Carole Lombard was a study in transition; trouble was, many of her fans were uncertain what she was transitioning to. The happy-go-lucky Lombard presented to her public had largely disappeared. If Carole were a cardplayer, it might be said she was playing things close to the vest.
So Modern Screen, a noted fan magazine of the day, tried scrutinizing this new version of Lombard in its August 1938 issue:
Before you read the article, what do you think was the primary reason Carole was a bit withdrawn as of mid-1938?
Yep. Clark Gable.
Author Katharine Hartley invites the reader to put themselves in Carole's shoes -- which Hartley noted were size 4 1/2 A -- and consider her situation. She was romantically involved with the industry's most popular actor, one on the verge of taking his most iconic role. Millions of women wished they were her solely for that reason, not because of Lombard's own considerable skill and success in Hollywood.
Sure, she'd been linked (and in one instance married to) other celebrities, but being with Gable was all these things amplified...especially since he currently was married, albeit in name only (to borrow a title of a Lombard film set for the following year).
Hartley noted Carole almost never talked about Gable, though it didn't stop them from doing things together. Moreover, she understood Ria Gable's circumstances, and didn't want to do anything to flaunt her good fortune at his current wife's expense. After all, one false move on this tightrope, and Lombard's reputation as one of Hollywood's best-liked stars could take a tumble.
But she was making an effort to woo Clark on his own turf through activities such as skeet shooting (and with Carole's natural athleticism, she became pretty good at it). Consequently, the social hostess Lombard of 1935 essentially disappeared, though moving from her famed Hollywood Boulevard house to give herself and Clark more privacy had a hand in it, too.
I'm not certain whether Hartley took this into account, but by mid-1938 it was apparent to many in the industry that the screwball craze Carole rode the wave on with "Twentieth Century," "My Man Godfrey" and "Nothing Sacred" had run its course, perhaps thanks in part to mediocre movies such as her own "Fools For Scandal." (Indeed, Lombard wouldn't return to comedy until early 1941.) Was her career at a crossroads?
Some things to ponder in the August '38 Modern Screen, which features swimsuit-clad Bette Davis on the cover: