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carole lombard 03

A 'Supernatural' assignment: Writing on deadline

Posted by vp19 on 2018.07.11 at 09:25
Current mood: creativecreative

"Supernatural" is an odd creature in the Carole Lombard cinematic canon. It's her lone starring vehicle in what we now would call "genre" filmmaking -- in this case, horror, something rarely explored in 1933 by Hollywood majors such as her home studio of Paramount.

And it was made at a time when Lombard's star status had yet to be clearly defined; while she first gained renown for appearing in the last batch of Mack Sennett's silent two-reelers, Carole had no real talkie persona nearly half a decade later, aside from her beauty and ability as a clotheshorse.

Producer Edward Halperin and his director brother Victor had an unexpected independent hit in 1932 with "White Zombie," and Paramount hired them to repeat such honors. Lombard, perceived as an all-purpose star by the studio, drew the short straw and was cast as the lead.

The finished product is no classic, but adequate, as was Lombard's performance as a socialite whose body is possessed by the soul of a murderess. But it was an assignment she despised from the get-go (and probably would've told the dog near the sign to go lift its leg). As such -- particularly considering a personality as vivid as Carole's -- stories grew up about it that became legend. And I took one of those stories as fodder for an instant writing assignment.

I'm part of a group in a screenwriting class at The Hatchery Press, a working space for writers in the Larchmont section of Los Angeles, a block or two west of Paramount Pictures. Our class last night dealt with history, that is, convincingly creating a world of the past in a screenplay.

We read snippets of several scripts, such as how 1973 was introduced in last year's "The Battle Of The Sexes" (the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs exhibition tennis match) or showing a noirish 1952 Los Angeles in the upcoming CBS adaptation of "L.A. Confidential." We then were given an assignment of our own. A bowl contained pieces of paper, each listing a year. We were to pull a piece and over the next half-hour write a scene depicting that particular year.

I entered this with a problem: My laptop could not get online in the room, thus curtailing my ability to instantly research. And the year I wound up with -- something in the late 1400s, but not 1492 -- filled me with instant dread. However, the moderator, understanding my plight, allowed me to take another piece of paper...1933. (Somewhere, Carole was looking out for me!) So I decided then and there to do a take on a famed Lombard anecdote during the shooting of "Supernatural." Under time constraints, here's what I came up with:

My reading of the scene drew applause from the seven others there (to be fair, everyone received applause for their creations under such pressure), though I'm guessing at least half of them had never heard of Lombard and nearly all were unfamiliar with the movie.

The next question: Did this story actually happen?

Well, there was a massive earthquake in southern California on March 10, 1933, and Lombard was filming "Supernatural" when it struck at 5:54 p.m. -- but apparently, she was on a fitting stand in the wardrobe room (at least according to Time magazine). It's entirely possible Carole sought out Halperin some minutes afterward to let him have it.

The anecdote is from Sidney Salkow, a dialogue director on the film, who told it to Danny Peary in his book "Close-Ups" (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/6116.html, https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/581991.html).

But as the saying goes, "Print the legend," and this ranks among the most colorful legends of Lombard's life.

Had I been given more time to prepare this, I probably would have added some more backstory. Franklin D. Roosevelt had been inaugurated six days earlier and had instituted a bank holiday to enable financial institutions to settle themselves in those pre-FDIC days. That left many people -- including those in the film community -- without ready access to cash (https://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/578625.html).

Carole's personal life also was in flux. Her marriage to William Powell was tottering, as the couple (married since June 1931), came to realize that while they liked each other a lot, they were a poor fit as husband and wife...especially since Powell was 16 years Lombard's senior. They would divorce that August but remain on good terms.

All of this would have added some depth to the story -- but I believe under the circumstances, I did a decent job. A good exercise for a screenwriter.

And while Lombard hated working on "Supernatural," she managed some fun under the grotesque circumstances. The image at the top of this entry was created through some bizarre make-up, and Carole took her altered self to frighten some friends:


(Anonymous) at 2018-10-19 11:18 (UTC) (Link)

Can you tell me about the movie poster pictured?

I’ve never seen this poster - only the super rare harshly lit painted portrait of Lombard one sheet. Is the poster you pictured an original studio issued one sheet? Any info you can provide will be much appreciated!
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