Carole Lombard (born Jane Alice Peters; October 6, 1908 – January 16, 1942) was an American actress, particularly noted for her energetic, often off-beat roles in screwball comedies.
She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in My Man Godfrey (1936). After marrying Clark Gable, "The King of Hollywood", Lombard and Gable became the supercouple of Hollywood. After making To Be or Not to Be (1942) with her favorite director Ernst Lubitsch, Lombard's career was cut short when she died at the age of 33 aboard TWA Flight 3, which crashed while returning from a war bond tour. Today, she is remembered as one of the definitive actresses of the screwball comedy genre and American comedy, and as an icon of American cinema.
In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Lombard 23rd on its list of the greatest female stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema.
Lombard was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on October 6, 1908. Christened with the name Jane Alice Peters, she was the third child and only daughter of Frederic Christian Peters (1875–1935) and Elizabeth Jayne Peters (1876–1942). Lombard's parents both descended from wealthy families and her early years were lived in comfort. The marriage between her parents was strained, however, and in October 1914, her mother took the children and moved to Los Angeles.
Although the couple did not divorce, the separation was permanent. Her father's continued financial support allowed the family to live without worry.
The young Lombard was passionately involved in sports and enjoyed watching movies. At Virgil Junior High School, she participated in tennis, volleyball, and swimming, and won trophies for her achievements in athletics. At the age of 12, this hobby unexpectedly landed Lombard her first screen role. With the encouragement of her mother, Lombard happily took a small role in the melodrama A Perfect Crime (1921).
In October 1924, 16-year-old Lombard was signed to a contract with the Fox Film Corporation. The teenager abandoned her schooling to embark on this new career. From this point, she became "Carol Lombard", the new name taken from a family friend.
The majority of Lombard's appearances with Fox were bit parts in low-budget Westerns and adventure films. But Lombard embraced the flapper lifestyle and became a regular at the Coconut Grove nightclub, where she won several Charleston dance competitions.
In March 1925, Fox gave Lombard a leading role in the drama Marriage in Transit. Her performance was well received, but the studio heads were unconvinced that Lombard was leading lady material, and her one-year contract was not renewed. Lombard signed a contract with Mack Sennett afterwards.
On 9 September 1927, Lombard suffered an accident while out on a date with a young man Harry Cooper whose car crashed into another car; the windshield shattered and shards of glass cut "Lombard’s face from her nose and across her left cheek to her eye." Lombard underwent reconstructive surgery, and faced a long recovery period. For the remainder of her career, Lombard learned to hide the mark with make-up and careful lighting.
In October 1927 Lombard and her mother, Bess, sued Harry Cooper for $35,000 in damages, citing in the lawsuit that "where she formerly was able to earn a salary of $300 monthly as a Sennett girl, she is now unable to obtain employment of any kind." The lawsuit was settled out of court, and Lombard received $3000.
Although Lombard initially had reservations about performing in slapstick comedies, the actress joined his company as one of the "Sennett Bathing Beauties". She appeared in 18 short films (all as Lillian Smith in the Smith Family series) between September 1927 and March 1929, and greatly enjoyed her time at the studio. It gave Lombard her first experiences in comedy and provided valuable training for her future work in the genre.
Paramount Pictures recruited Lombard and signed her to a $350-per-week contract. For the film Fast and Loose (1930) Paramount mistakenly credited the actress as "Carole Lombard". She decided she liked this spelling and it became her permanent screen name.
Lombard appeared in five films released during 1931, two of them, Man of the World and Ladies Man, both featured William Powell, Paramount's top male star.
Lombard had been a fan of the actor before they met, attracted to his good looks and debonair screen persona, and they were soon in a relationship. Despite their disparate personalities, Lombard married Powell on 6 June 1931, at her Beverly Hills home.
Lombards' marriage to Powell increased her fame. But the marriage was not a success. In August 1933, Lombard and Powell divorced after 26 months of marriage, although they remained very good friends until the end of Lombard's life.
The year 1934 marked a high point in Lombard's career. She began with Wesley Ruggles's musical drama Bolero, where George Raft and she showcased their dancing skills in an extravagantly staged performance to Maurice Ravel's "Boléro". Bolero was favorably received, while her next film, the musical comedy We're Not Dressing with Bing Crosby, was a box-office hit.
Lombard was then recruited by the director Howard Hawks, a second cousin, to star in his screwball comedy film Twentieth Century which proved a watershed in her career and made her a major star.
Lombard's success continued as she was recruited by Universal Studios to star in the screwball comedy My Man Godfrey (1936). William Powell, who was playing the eponymous Godfrey, insisted on her being cast as the female lead Irene, a zany heiress who employs a "forgotten man" as the family butler. My Man Godfrey was released to great acclaim and was a box office hit. It received six nominations at the 9th Academy Awards, including Lombard for Best Actress. Biographers cite it as her finest performance,
By 1937, Lombard was one of Hollywood's most popular actresses, and also the highest-paid star in Hollywood following the deal which Myron Selznick negotiated with Paramount that brought her $450,000, more than five times the salary of the U.S. President.
True Confession was the last film Lombard made on her Paramount contract, and she remained an independent performer for the rest of her career.
In 1932, Lombard was cast as the wife of a con artist in No Man of Her Own. Her co-star for the picture was Clark Gable, who was rapidly becoming one of Hollywood's top stars. The film was a critical and commercial success.
It was the only picture that Gable and Lombard made together. There was no romantic interest at this time, however.
Four years after their teaming on No Man of Her Own, the pair had reunited at a Hollywood party and began a romance early in 1936. Gable was separated from his wife, Rhea Langham, but she did not want to grant him a divorce. As his relationship with Lombard became serious, Langham eventually agreed to a settlement worth half a million dollars. The divorce was finalized in March 1939, and Gable and Lombard eloped to Kingman, Arizona on 29 March.
The couple, both lovers of the outdoors, bought a 20-acre ranch in Encino, California, where they kept barnyard animals and enjoyed hunting trips. Almost immediately, Lombard wanted to start a family, but her attempts failed; after two miscarriages and numerous trips to fertility specialists, she was unable to have children. In early 1938, Lombard officially joined the Baháʼí Faith, of which her mother had been a member since 1922.
While continuing with a slower work-rate, Lombard decided to move away from comedies and return to dramatic roles as she was eager to win an Academy Award. But after a few failed attempt, she returned to comedy.
Through her agent, Lombard heard of Ernst Lubitsch's upcoming film: To Be or Not to Be (1942), a dark comedy that satirized the Nazi takeover of Poland.
The actress had long wanted to work with Lubitsch, her favorite comedy director, Lombard accepted the role of actress Maria Tura, despite it being a smaller part than she was used to. Filming took place in the fall of 1941, and was reportedly one of the happiest experiences of Lombard's career. That was Carole Lombard's last film.
When the U.S. entered World War II at the end of 1941, Lombard traveled to her home state of Indiana for a war bond rally with her mother, Bess Peters, and Clark Gable's press agent, Otto Winkler. Lombard raised more than $2 million in defense bonds in a single evening. Her party had initially been scheduled to return to Los Angeles by train, but Lombard was eager to reach home more quickly and wanted to travel by air. Her mother and Winkler were afraid of flying and insisted that the group follow their original travel plans. Lombard suggested that they flip a coin; they agreed, and Lombard won the toss.
In the early morning hours of January 16, 1942, Lombard, her mother and Winkler boarded a Transcontinental and Western Air Douglas DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport) aircraft to return to California.
After refueling in Las Vegas, the airplane crashed near the 8,300-foot (2,530 m) level of Potosi Mountain shortly after taking off. All 22 aboard, including Lombard, her mother, and 15 U.S. Army soldiers, were killed instantly. Lombard was 33 years old.
Lombard's funeral was on January 21 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. She was interred beside her mother under the name of Carole Lombard Gable.
Lombard's final film, To Be or Not to Be was in post-production at the time of her death. The film's producers decided to cut part of the film in which Lombard's character asks, "What can happen on a plane?" out of respect for the circumstances surrounding her death.
At the time of her death, Lombard had been scheduled to star in the film They All Kissed the Bride; she was replaced by Joan Crawford who donated all of her salary for the film to the Red Cross, which had helped extensively in the recovery of bodies from the air crash. Shortly after Lombard's death, Gable, who was devastated by his loss, joined the United States Army Air Forces.
Gable settled his claim against the airline for $10. He did not want to repeat his grief in court.
Despite remarrying twice following her death, Gable was interred beside Carole Lombard when he died in 1960.
Lombard's Fort Wayne childhood home has been designated a historic landmark. The city named the nearby bridge over the St. Mary's River the Carole Lombard Memorial Bridge.
In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Lombard 23rd on its list of the 25 greatest American female screen legends of classic Hollywood cinema, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6930 Hollywood Blvd.