Everybody has the right to be dunce-like, once-like
Not being too smart is, is no disgrace
What sets you apart is smilin' with egg on your face"
Those are lyrics from "Everybody Has The Right To Be Wrong," a song veteran songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen composed for a 1965 Broadway musical, "Skyscraper," which did relatively little business. If it's remembered at all these days, it's because Frank Sinatra -- unquestionably the greatest interpreter of Cahn-Van Heusen songs -- performed it on one of his albums, "My Kind Of Broadway."
In the summer of 1931, Ruth Biery could be forgiven if she had figurative egg on her face. That spring, the West Coast editor of Photoplay had written an article about the romance between Carole Lombard and William Powell, where Lombard was quoted as saying "marriage is dangerous" and, according to Biery, was not interested in marrying Powell -- even though she loved him.
That story was printed in the June 1931 issue. On the 28th of that month, not long after the July issue appeared on newsstands, Lombard and Powell actually did get married...from Photoplay's perspective, a rather embarrassing development.
But given matrimonial lemons, Biery -- probably encouraged by Photoplay higher-ups -- decided to make lemonade. As Carole and Bill were celebrating their honeymoon in Hawaii in July, Biery wrote an article, "Why Carole Changed Her Mind," and it appeared in the September issue. There are no direct quotes from either Powell or Lombard here, so she's obviously backtracking a bit, but it's nevertheless a fun read as she indirectly apologizes to her readers for leading them astray.
Why Carole Changed Her Mind
Love laughed as it threw Bill Powell’s set ideas right out the window – so did Bill
By Ruth Biery
It was a simple wedding. Not at all like the usual Hollywood matrimonial show.
Carole wore powder blue chiffon without veil or hat; Bill a light grey suit. They stood in the living-room, late in the afternoon, chatting with their two families, the only guests, until Carole slipped her hand into Bill’s and said simply, “All right. Let’s get married.”
When the minister had finished the few, ancient words, they locked arms and walked into the garden. No one heard what they said beneath the overhanging shrubbery but when they returned to the living-room their eyes looked damp. All they said was, “We are happy.”
Then the two families sat down to dinner. Late in the afternoon, Mrs. Peters, mother of Carole, had telephoned a few friends and asked them to drop in about ten-thirty. The Richard Barthelmess’s, Clive Brooks and Ernest Torrences joined the gay little group.
Ronald Colman was in Santa Barbara. He long-distanced his felicitations. He’s the last of the three famous bachelors, you know. Barthelmess and Powell have deserted.
And yet, just three months before this wedding day, June 28, Carole Lombard told me she would not marry Bill Powell. Photoplay has already printed her reasons. Why did she change her mind?
Here, we will have to turn to the intimates of the two, because Carole and Bill are honeymooning in Honolulu as this is written. And to our knowledge of both parties.
Carole reversed her decision for two reasons. One, she was too young (she is twenty-two) to realize that love can conquer intelligence; two, Bill Powell changed.
Those close to him state definitely they have never seen such a change in a man.
When Bill Powell first met Carole Lombard, last October, he was selfish. Oh, yes, you were, Bill. I understand that you yourself have admitted as much recently.
After all, how could Bill have been otherwise? He’d lived alone so long. Although his divorce is recent –- his separation came years ago. He was accustomed to getting up when he pleased, going where he pleased, sleeping when he pleased -– doing what he pleased.
The studio was his only master and certain people in the Paramount studio where he has been for almost four years, if pressed hard enough, will describe Bill Powell as a troublemaker. He wanted to dictate every detail of every picture. To find a leading lady for him was as difficult as understanding the Einstein theory. And he advised others to be dissatisfied –- even, we understand, Kay Francis.
In other words, he was even totally selfish in his work!
When he first asked Carole to marry him, he was equally selfish. She was to give up her career; she was to travel when he traveled; she was to live as he lived. Carole told me all this herself -– three months ago.
He discovered he was going to lose Carole. She even told him he couldn’t see here for three days. She told him she had struggled for six years -– a long, arduous, grinding struggle typical of all who seek success -– and she was not going to let that struggle go for naught.
She couldn’t live as he lived; she must live as her work demanded; she couldn’t travel when he wanted to travel except on rare occasions when the studio gave her a vacation.
She couldn’t go to their favorite dining-corner at the Ambassador on nights when she had lines to learn. And she must think of herself. She must not let anyone -– not even one whom she adored -– do her thinking for her.
And since the mountain would not come to Mahomet; Mahomet went to the mountain. Bill went to Carole.
When she had to study lines, he studied them with her. When she wanted to stay home for an evening with her mother and her two brothers, he stayed home with her. When she didn’t want to see him, he stayed away from her. He urged her career. “I want you to be the biggest star in the business. I will help you to be the biggest.”
Until finally he said to someone whom he loved and respected (I have promised not to use the name but it was someone close to both Bill and Carole), “I -– something is happening to me. It is as though I were breaking down inside. I see life differently. I am different. I love Carole. I can think only of Carole.”
Bill Powell had forgotten himself. Love had worked its magic.
And Carole? Carole was spoiled, too. A little. She was an independent little lady and yet, paradoxically, most dependent. She and her mother had slept in the same room, for example, for years. In the six years she had been in pictures, Carole had been away only three days from her mother. Then she had preceded her mother on a location trip; but mother had joined her later. She was the only sister of two brothers who had worshipped and spoiled her as is the way of grown brothers.
And Carole had struggled. One picture with Edmund Lowe at Fox without any experience whatever. When the film was completed, she discovered her back was to the camera in most shots. She had not known about scene stealing and that Eddie was one of the best in the business.
One year in the hospital immediately after that beginning. She did not know whether she would be able to walk again. A year when ambition assumed abnormal proportions. “If ever I get out of here, I’ll make good! I’ll not let any more men steal scenes from me!”
Pathe! They announced her as a real potentiality. Then Constance Bennett arrived on the lot. People said they looked alike. Constance was a star. She couldn’t have another of the same type on the lot. We can’t blame Connie –- but we can sympathize with Carole. She gritted her teeth, accepted her removal -– waited. Paramount signed her.
Her first genuine opportunity. Her head above the professional waters for the first time. And just when she was really learning accurate strokes for her swimming -– Bill Powell stepped in and asked her to stop swimming altogether. No wonder her backbone tightened.
She learned that Bill knew everything there was to know about movies; much that there was to know about books -– about life. They went to see one of her previews together. She came out crying. He said, “Dear, you didn’t want to do that picture; you hated your director –- you hated everything about it. That hatred shows in your work. You didn’t mold yourself to circumstances and you suffered on the screen because of it. Now, when you don’t like conditions you must learn to make the best of them. You mustn’t let your inside affect your outside so the camera can catch it.”
Carole learned that one who loves can help -– especially if the advice of love is guided by long years of experience!
And there was one more thing which influenced these two. Carole and her mother had long studied numerology. Now, Bill studied it, too. And he learned that the vibrations for himself and his first wife were all wrong. Like trying to mix oil and water! Why, according to numbers, his first wife should never have been married.
But Carole –- their vibrations were perfect. It was meant that they should work together. So they took out their marriage license on the day auspicious for both; they were married on the correct day and sailed on the best one in the calendar. The day which means “repeat,” indicating they will go away together again and again.
I believe they will. But I believe in love. It is not the first time it has changed decisions and -– people.
A few thoughts on this piece:
* Biery either didn't know the extent of Lombard's injuries from the traffic accident or decided to lay it on a bit thick for dramatic effect. Being able to walk wasn't a problem for Carole; being able to act -- with the effects on her face from the crash being blown up to gargantuan scale in close-ups -- was.
* It's fascinating to see this anecdote about Carole's first starring film, "Marriage In Transit," which was made in 1925 (when she was all of 16) and for now apparently survives only in a handful of stills. (As far as I know, none of her films made before the accident still exist, though I'd love to be proven wrong.)
* Perhaps the numerology between Bill and Carole was better suited to friendship than love, as we'd find out some two years later.