A lot happened in 1932. Gandhi was arrested by the British in India; Hattie W. Caraway became the first woman elected to the United States Senate; Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was published; women's suffrage was granted in Brazil; James Chadwick discovered the neutron; Goofy made his first ever appearance in a Disney short; the Summer Olympic Games took place in Los Angeles; the first Mars bar was produced; Babe Ruth performed his famous called shot; the BBC World Service began broadcasting; and the iconic Radio City Music Hall opened in Manhattan. It was also in 1932 that Carole Lombard met Clark Gable for the first time, not knowing each would change the other's life forever.
|Carole Lombard ca. 1915|
Jane Alice Peters was born to a wealthy Indiana family on October 6, 1908. When she was seven years old, her parents separated and her mother took her and her two older brothers to live in Los Angeles. Jane grew up a «tomboy» and was passionately involved in sports in middle school. She took up baseball, football and swimming, eventually winning medals in track and field.
At the age of 12, Jane caught the attention of director Allan Dwan, who obtained her mother's permission to cast her as Monte Blue's sister in The Perfect Crime (1921). «She was a cute little tomboy,» he later recalled, «and I needed someone of her type for the picture.» Although the film was not widely distributed and paid only $50, the experience spurred Jane's mother to enroll her in drama school. In 1924, just as she turned 16 years old, she was screentested by Fox Film Corporation and subsequently hired to play Edmund Lowe's wife in Marriage in Transit (1925). The studio thought her birth name was too ordinary, so she decided to become «Carol Lombard».
Unlike many other actors, Carol made an easy transition to sound, signing a five-year contract with Paramount Pictures in 1930. In advertising for her first assignment at the new studio, the musical comedy Safety in Numbers (1930) with Buddy Rogers, Paramount accidentally added an «e» to her name. She ended up liking this spelling and «Carole Lombard» became her permanent screen name.
|Carole with William Powell in Man of the World|
The following year, Carole was cast as William Powell's love interest in Man of the World (1931) and Ladies' Man (1931). Despite their age difference, she was immediately attracted to his good looks and debonair screen persona. They soon began a romantic relationship and a few months later, they were married at her Beverly Hills home. However, their disparate personalities quickly clashed. At 22, Carole was a carefree party girl and famously foul-mouthed; at 38, Powell was intellectual, sophisticated and did not approve of his young wife's extensive cursing vocabulary.
At the same time that her marriage was crashing down, Carole was hired to replace Miriam Hopkins as the female lead in No Man of Her Own (1932). Directed by Wesley Ruggles, the film tells the story of a card sharp on the run who falls in love and eventually marries a frustrated small-town librarian. The male protagonist had originally been slated for George Raft, but Paramount ultimately decided to borrow Clark Gable from MGM for the role.
|Clark Gable aged 17|
William Clark Gable was born on February 1, 1901, in the small coal-mining town of Cadiz, Ohio. After his mother died from a brain tumor when he was just 10 months old, his father remarried and the family moved to nearby Hopedale. During his school years, Clark developed an interest in music, language and literature, and took part in athletics and baseball. He was one of the so-called «popular kids» and could often be seen at parties, church socials, or hanging out with his friends at the soda fountain.
At 16, Clark left school and went to work at a rubber factory in Akron. It was during this time that he became passionate about acting, after watching the play The Bird of Paradise at the local theatre. He was so dazzled that he started hanging around backstage, offering to run errands and sweep the floor. Eventually, the manager of the resident stock company got him a part in one of his productions. It was a one-line role, but Clark was thrilled.
In 1924, after a few years of touring the country in stock companies, Clark finally arrived in Hollywood. He soon found work as an extra in several silent films, including The Plastic Age (1925) and Ben-Hur (1926), in both of which Carole can also be seen. At the dawn of the sound age, Clark signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and was paired with some of the studio's biggest female stars, such as Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo and Jean Harlow.
|Left: Carole and Clark in No Man of Her Own|
Right: Carole gives Clark a ham
When No Man of Her Own began production in late 1932, neither Carole nor Clark showed more than a professional interest in each other. She was too involved with personal problems and he had just married his second wife, socialite Maria Langham. No sparks flew, but the two got along very well, even nicknaming each other «Ma» and «Pa». At the wrap party, Carole gave Clark a big ham with his picture on it, he kissed her goodbye and then they went their separate ways.
By the time they met each other again four years later, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were two of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He had won an Oscar for Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934) and she was one of Paramount's leading comediennes after her success in Twentieth Century (1934) and Hands Across the Table (1935). They were also in very different places in terms of their personal lives. She had divorced Powell in 1933 and he was separated from his wife.
On Saturday night, January 25, 1936, the Mayfair Club of Hollywood hosted its first social of the year, a formal dress ball at the Victor Hugo Restaurant in Beverly Hills. Producer David O. Selznick, the club's current president, had asked Carole to organize the ball and choose its theme. At the time, she was famous for throwing wacky parties for her friends, like one where everybody came to her house dressed as doctors or nurses and had dinner in a replica of a hospital operating room. But with 350 of Hollywood's elite invited and the proceeds going to the Motion Picture Relief Fund, she realized that something more dignified and elegant would be required.
|Carole with Cesar Romero at the White Mayfair Ball|
Carole decided it would be a White Mayfair Ball, where the women had to wear white gowns and the men white tie and tails. She was escorted by actor-friend Cesar Romero, while Clark, arriving as part of Marion Davies' group, brought along Edie Adams, a singer who frequently dubbed for some of the MGM stars. Other notable guests included Louis B. Mayer, Irving Berlin, Davies' lover William Randolph Hearst, as well as Irving Thalberg and his wife, MGM queen Norma Shearer, who caused a scandal by wearing a bright crimson gown.
The party had nonstop dancing, with music provided by Cab Calloway's swing orchestra and Eduard Durant's rumba band. After dancing with Edie Adams and Marion Davies, Clark decided Carole would be next. He found her just as «Cheek to Cheek» began playing. «I go for you, Ma,» Clark said, grinning. She looked at him, surprised by hearing him use the nickname he had given her four years earlier, and then quipped back, «I really go for you too, Pa.» And away they went onto the dance floor. Watching Clark and Carole dance together, Davies reportedly turned to columnist Louella Parsons and said, «Those two were made for each other. Wouldn't it be great if they fell in love?»
|Clark Gable and his customized Duesenberg|
At some point during the night, Clark offered to take Carole for a ride in his new Duesenberg convertible. She pleaded hostess obligations, but he persuaded her by promising to bring her back in ten minutes. He drove her on a quick tour of Beverly Hills to show off his custom-made car and then stopped in front of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. «Would you like to see my apartment?» he said. «Who do you think you are? Clark Gable?» she quipped. Angered by her sarcasm, he stepped on the accelerator and took her back to the ball.
They both returned to Victor Hugo's in a bad mood. Carole soon had to separate Clark from actor Lyle Talbot, with whom he was about to fight for having made a snide remark about their absence, then Clark had to dissuade Carole from punching Norma Shearer, with whom she was still furious over the crimson dress. They ended up dancing again in each other's arms and, by the end of the night, she invited him back to her house. Clark must have thought that the two of them would finally be alone together, but Carole simply wanted him to entertain her friends. Feeling angry and upset, he made an excuse and left immediately. He returned to his apartment at the Beverly Wilshire, drank half a bottle of scotch and went to bed.
|Clark and Carole play tennis|
in their evening clothes
The next morning, a hungover Clark woke up to find an open birdcage and a pair of white doves flying around his room. When he finally caught them an hour later, he found a note tied to one dove's leg that read, «How about it? Carole.» She had bribed a hotel clerk to release the doves in Clark's room while he was asleep; she had thought of it as a peace offering after their quarrel at the ball. Clark laughed and then phoned Carole to apologize for his behavior the previous night and thank her for the birds. He called her again the following day and ask her for a date, but she refused. After two more failed attempts, he lost interest and found companionship in Merle Oberon's arms.
Two weeks later, Clark decided to organize a gag party for screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart's wife, who was recovering from a nervous breakdown. The «gag» was that everyone was supposed to come dressed in their evening attire in the middle of the day.
He was at the door welcoming guests when an ambulance with sirens wailing suddenly stopped next to them. The attendants opened the doors and proceeded to wheel out a stretcher with Carole on it, apparently unconscious. As everyone gathered around it in shock and concern, she sat up, laughing. Clark was not amused and began shouting at her. She shouted back and then walked off. Eventually, he attempted to make up by suggesting that they play tennis in their evening clothes. They spent the rest of the afternoon running back and forth, tripping over each other and laughing helplessly. When they finally wore out, she threw her arms around him and kissed him.
|Clark and the Model T Ford full of hearts|
On February 14, Clark started working on San Francisco (1936) with Jeanette MacDonald and Spencer Tracy. When he arrived at the MGM lot that morning, he found a Valentine's Day present waiting for him outside the main gate. It was a decrepit Model T Ford painted white with red hearts all over it. There was a note attached to the steering wheel that said, «You're driving me crazy!» He had no trouble guessing who had written it. He immediately phoned Carole to thank her for the gift and asked her to dinner that night at the Café Trocadero. This time she accepted, and they spent the night dancing to the music of Phil Ohman's band.
A few days later, Carole started filming The Princess Comes Across (1936), her second of four collaborations with Fred MacMurray. She told Clark that she would be unavailable for the next six weeks — and she meant it. Their relationship cooled down a little bit during this time, but they were still in each other's minds.
|The couple at the Midget Auto Races in 1936|
In late April 1936, Clark began working on Cain and Mabel (1936) with Marion Davies. The day before shooting began, she invited her co-stars for a Sunday brunch at her beachfront house in Santa Monica. She decided to play matchmaker and urged Clark to bring Carole along, which he did. They had a wonderful time, and after the party Carole took him to the amusement pier at nearby Venice. She had once rented the entire place for one of her wacky parties, so the owners had shown their appreciation by giving her a lifetime pass. She took Clark for free rides on the rollercoaster, bumper cars and the ferris wheel. They held hands and, apparently, «necked like teenagers.»
That night marked the beginning of a serious affair, but one that developed slowly. Both Clark and Carole had been hurt before and both of them sensed that this relationship could be important, so they did not want to rush it. Clark had finally found his match. Unlike his two previous partners, who had been much older than him, Carole was only seven years younger — and she was also his peer. She had her own successful career, her own income and her own property. Despite her wackiness, she was a genuinely warm and down-to-earth human being, which was exactly what Clark had looked for his entire life.
For her part, Carole adored Clark and set out to be the sort of woman he would want. She even learned how to shoot so she could go along with him on hunting trips and be «one of the boys.» Having lost his mother when he was just a baby, Clark seemed to be searching for a woman who could be the perfect balance of mother and companion to him. Carole realized that and gradually made herself over into that image.
|Carole and Clark game hunting in South Dakota in 1941|
Over the next three years, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard became the most popular unmarried couple in Hollywood. They could often be seen dancing at the Trocadero or the Coconut Grove, or out at the races, horseshows, rodeos, fights, tennis matches, movie premieres and award ceremonies. Everywhere they went, flashbulbs followed.
Unlike William Powell, Clark did not mind Carole's notorious foul-mouth. John Lee Mahin, Clark's favorite screenwriter, recalled, «It was always fuck and shit, fuck and shit. Clark loved it. He'd laugh; never tried to stop her.»
Carole was definitely not a conventional woman, but Clark loved her all the more for it. He never tired of recounting «Carole stories.» Many years later, for instance, he would tell novelist A. E. Hotchner that, when Carole and he went duckhunting together for the first time, it was too foggy to see anything. Clark told her that they just had to wait until it cleared out, and then she suggested she could think of something better to do during that time. Apparently, they had sex twice in that duck blind, which, according to Clark himself, was not an easy thing to do.
|Carole and Clark at the premiere of|
Gone with the Wind in Atlanta in 1939
By early 1939, Clark's career had become more successful than ever. He had been cast as the iconic Rhett Butler in Victor Fleming's Gone with the Wind (1939), which would bring him his third Academy Award nomination. On the first day of shooting, Carole sent him stuffed doves to his dressing room. Ever since the Mayfair Ball, doves had become a symbol of their relationship and Clark saw them as being good luck.
For almost three years, there had been great discussion in Hollywood's society circles about whether Clark Gable and Carole Lombard would marry. They both wanted to, but Clark was still legally married to Maria «Ria» Langham, who refused to grant him a divorce.
During their long separation, Ria had always been confident that Clark would eventually go back to her. So much so, that she became quite upset when both the press and the public embraced her husband's relationship with Carole instead of condemning it as adulterous. They wondered when Ria would finally get a divorce and let Clark marry the love of his life. At first, she spitefully insisted on getting the divorce in California, which called for a waiting period of one year before Clark could marry again. However, after a few months and some scornful comments from the press about her standing in the way of «true love,» she travelled to Las Vegas and was granted a quick divorce on March 8, 1939. Clark was free at long last.
|Clark and Carole during the press conference|
on the day after their wedding
On the afternoon of March 28, Clark was informed by the assistant director on Gone with the Wind that he would not be needed on set the following day. In the spur of the moment, he decided to take this opportunity to do what he had been wanting to do for months. He called Carole and told her to be ready to leave for Kingman, Arizona that night.
The following day, at half past three in the afternoon, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were married by Reverend Kenneth M. Engle at the Saint John's Methodist Episcopal Church. They had wanted to marry in peace, without the usual press circus that surrounded celebrity weddings. However, Clark's press agent, Otto Winkler, had accompanied them to Kingman, supposedly to solve any difficulties the couple might encounter while there. Immedialy after the ceremony, he called MGM's head of publicity, Howard Strickling, who then proceeded to plan a press conference for the next morning at Carole's home in Bel Air.
Happy with their quiet elopement, the newlyweds had a peaceful drive back to Los Angeles — only to be welcomed back by a horde of photographers, reporters and cameramen who were gathered on Carole's front lawn. The press showered them with questions about the ceremony, the ring (which Clark had been carrying in his pocket for two months), the honeymoon and their plans for the future. They said they would not have a honeymoon, at least not just yet, as he had to go back to filming Gone with the Wind and she was about to start working on In Name Only (1939) with Cary Grant at RKO. As for the future, Carole hinted at the possibility that she might retire from the film industry in a few years to build the family she and her husband had both always wanted.
|Clark and Carole with chickens at their|
ranch in Encino in 1940
As a married couple, Clark and Carole were as happy as ever. They purchased a 20-acre ranch in the quiet town of Encino in the San Fernando Valley, where they settled a few months after their wedding. Besides the nine-room main house with creamy white wood interiors, the property featured stables, a workshop, a barn, kennels, chicken houses, a pigsty, a vineyard, an alfafa field and citrus groves. The house had belonged to their good friend and director Raoul Walsh and apparently, Clark had been trying to buy it from him for years.
The playfulness also remained a constant. Carole continued sending her husband gag gifts to celebrate his success. During the filming of Idiot's Delight (1939), wherein Clark had to perform a song-and-dance routine to «Puttin' on the Ritz,» Carole got him a spangled tutu with his initials on the front, a pair of ballet shoes and even a bunch of pansies.
However, she also showed some jealously over the fact that Clark's co-star in Idiot's Delight was Norma Shearer, whom she had never forgiven for wearing that red dress to the White Mayfair Ball. After the death of her husband, MGM production chief Irving Thalberg, Shearer became known around Hollywood as the «Merry Widow» and Carole did not like the fact that she was with Clark for more of the day than she was.
Despite wanting to keep an eye on her Clark, Carole did not cope well with having too much time on her hands. Thereby, she agreed to star alongside James Stewart in David O. Selznick's Made For Each Other (1939), which proved to be a great critical success for her. After years of being one of the best comediennes in the industry, she had decided to return to dramatic roles in hopes of getting the Academy Award she was so eager to win. She had been nominated for her performance in My Man Godfrey (1936), which made her one of the highest-paid actresses in Hollywood, but had lost to Luise Rainer for The Great Ziegfeld (1936).
|Clark and Carole at the first meeting for|
the Hollywood Victory Committee
In December 1941, the United States entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Many movie stars, including James Stewart, Tyrone Power, Henry Fonda and Douglas Fairbanks Jr., were willing to sacrifice their careers to serve their country. Those who, for some reason or the other, were unable to join the armed forces, turned their energies to supporting the war effort. For instance, Bette Davis and John Garfield founded the Hollywood Canteen; Myrna Loy joined the Red Cross; and a large contigent of stars signed up with the USO to perform for American troops, both at home and overseas.
Clark wanted to enlist as well, but MGM chief Louis B. Mayer pleaded with him to stay. Instead, he appointed him as chairman of the Hollywood Victory Committee, an organization founded to provide a means for performers that were not in military service to contribute to the war effort through bond rallies, hospital tours and shows at training camps.
One of Clark's first decisions as head of the Victory Committee, which began operations just three days after Pearl Harbor, was to enlist Carole's help to sell war bonds. A request had come in from Indiana for a star to launch the state's participation in the national campaign to raise money for the war effort, so Clark naturally thought of his Hoosier-born wife. Being a patriotic citizen, she was thrilled by the prospect of helping her country in its time of need and instantly agreed to make the trip. Although her final destination was Indianapolis, she would travel from Los Angeles by train, making short stopovers at Salt Lake City and Chicago en route and at Kansas City and Albuquerque on the return trip.
|Carole and Clark after the Greek War Relief|
Benefit gala in January 1941
This was not only a difficult time for the nation, but also a difficult time for Carole personally. She had decided to slow down her filming schedule to become pregnant, but parenthood seemed to elude the Gables. After Carole suffered two miscarriages, the couple decided to cross the country to see a fertility specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The MGM publicity department told the press that she was having a «minor operation» and that Clark was receiving treatment for a shoulder injury he had sustained years before.
Details about Carole's diagnosis and surgical procedure were never revealed, although chainsmoking and ingestion of excessive amounts of caffeine might have had something to do with her inability to carry her pregnancies to term. The lack of positive news caused Carole and Clark a great deal of stress and inevitably put a strain on their marriage.
The day prior to Carole's departure to Indianapolis, the couple quarreled over Clark's upcoming work reunion with Lana Turner in Somewhere I'll Find You (1942). The young starlet already had a reputation of being «as easy to conquer as the Maginot Line» and Carole worried that her husband would give in to Turner's charms. Clark was so furious by Carole's unfounded jealously that he walked out and spent the night elsewhere.
|Carole at Cadle Tabernacle in Indianapolis|
Before leaving the house, Carole handed her secretary a series of notes she had written for Clark, which were to be given to him at a rate of one a day. In her typical wacky fashion, she also left him a naked blonde dummy in their bed with a tag tied around its neck that said, «So you won't be lonely.» When Clark returned home the next day and found it, he laughed. To even the score, he phoned a friend in the MGM prop department and asked him to prepare a male dummy, with a huge erect phallus, to surprise Carole upon her return.
On January 12, 1942, Carole arrived at Los Angeles' Union Station and boarded a train to Indianapolis. She was accompanied by Otto Winkler and her mother, Bessie Peters. Due to their quarrel, Clark was not there to wave his wife goodbye, which left Carole visibly upset. When she arrived in Salt Lake City, she immediately phoned Clark and they patched things up. She called him again from Chicago and, according to her secretary, they sounded like lovebirds.
The rally in Indianapolis on Janury 15 was a triumph. Carole incited so much passion from the crowds that she ended up raising over $2 million for the war effort. They were supposed to take a train back to Los Angeles the following day, but Carole decided that she wanted to go home to Clark immediately — by plane. Winkler agreed to cancel the remainder of the tour and succeeded in getting them on a TWA flight that left Indianapolis at four in the morning. It had originated from New York and had seven fuel stops scheduled, so it would only arrive at its final destination at Burbank Airport in Los Angeles late that evening. Carole did not care.
|A group of rescuers search the scene 36 hours|
after Carole's plane crash
The last refueling stop was to take place in Boulder City, Nevada, but at the last minute the flight was rerouted to Las Vegas. The plane landed at 6:36 p.m. to take on fuel and was to depart on the final leg to Los Angeles half an hour later. At around 7:20 p.m., the aircraft flew directly into a near vertical cliff on Mount Potosi. The gasoline tank exploded violently with the crash, killing all on board instantly.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Clark was impaciently waiting the return of his wife. Before leaving Indianapolis, Winkler had informed him of Carole's change of plans. At about 8:00 p.m., Howard Strickling received a call from the Burbank Airport telling him that Carole's plane had gone down in Las Vegas. He then phoned MGM executive Eddie Mannix, who phoned Clark. His call reportedly came just after Clark had told his household staff, «It'll sure be nice having Ma back. Life without her ain't hardly worth living.» Mannix kept Clark in the dark about what he already knew, that Carole was dead, but «Pa