Childhood & Early Years
Carole Lombard was born as Jane Alice Peters on October 6, 1908 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Both her parents, Frederick Christian Peters and Elizabeth Jayne "Bessie" (Knight) Peters, came from wealthy family. Born third of her parents’ three children she had two elder brothers; Frederick Charles and John Stuart Peters.
The relationship between her parents became strained and as a result Elizabeth Peters moved to Los Angeles in October 1914, taking her three children with her. However, her parents did not official divorce and her father continued to provide financial support, which made their life quite comfortable.
At Los Angeles, Jane Alice was admitted first to Virgil Junior High School and then to Fairfax High School. She was an avid sportsperson and very tomboyish. She regularly took part in athletics, tennis, volleyball, baseball and won many trophies. She also liked watching movies and swimming.
When she was twelve years old film director, Allan Dwan, spotted her playing baseball on the street with some neighborhood children. He immediately knew she was the one, he was looking for. Encouraged by her mother, little Jane took up the role, playing the sister of Monte Blue in ‘A Perfect Crime’ (1921).
Although the part was short and the movie was a failure, it did not really matter. She now started taking acting and dancing lessons. She also toured with a theatre tour and began auditioning for movie roles. Initially, she managed to obtain insignificant roles in a number of low budget films.
Her break came in 1924 when an executive from Fox Pictures saw her at Charleston dance competition at the famed Coconut Grove nightclub. Very soon, she signed a contract with Fox Pictures using the screen name ‘Carol Lombard’. Much later in 1930, she added the extra ‘e’ to her first name for good luck.
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In 1924, Carole abandoned her education to start a career as a ‘bit player’ in low-budget Westerns and adventure films at $75 per week. Her first role as a Fox player was ‘Gold Heels’ (1924), after which she had un-credited appearance in two more films.
Although she enjoyed other aspects of shooting such as socializing on sets, costume fittings and photo shoots she was rather disappointed with the roles she got. Finally in March 1925, she got her first big chance in ‘Marriage in Transit’; a Fox production directed by Grace Lutz, and received good reviews.
Afterwards, she appeared in two more films, ‘Hearts and Spurs’ and ‘Durand of the Bad Lands’, both of which were released in 1925. Unfortunately in the same year, she was involved in a car accident, which left a scar on her face. As a result, Fox cancelled their contract with her.
Realizing that scar had the potential to ruin her career as an actress, she had a plastic surgery done on her face. It made the scar less noticeable; whatever was still visible, she learned to hide with makeup. However, after the incidence, she remained unemployed for a year.
In 1927, Carole was offered a contract by Mack Sennett., the Canadian born director-actor, known for his slapstick comedies. Subsequently, from September 1927 to March 1929 she appeared in fifteen short films, directed by Sennett.
Meanwhile Pathe Exchange, Sennett’s distributor, on recognizing her talent, began to cast her in more serious role. Her supporting roles in films like ‘Show Folks’ and ’Ned McCobb's Daughter’, released in 1928, were highly appreciated by reviewers.
Also in 1928, Carole returned briefly to the Fox to enact the role of Blonde Rosie in ‘Me, Gangster’. In this film she experienced her first success, which in turn eased the pressure on her to succeed.
Meanwhile, a quiet revolution had taken place in the field of cinema; the silent era had given way to talkies. With it, many film stars, who could not adapt to the change, began to lose their job. Contrarily, Carole, with her husky and seductive voice began to get popular.
‘High Voltage’, released in 1929, was her first feature-length talkie film. Her two subsequent films, ‘Big News’ and ‘The Racketeers’, also released in 1929, were critical and commercial success. According to the reviewers, the films provided her the opportunity “to prove that she has the stuff to go over.”
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In 1930, she returned to the Fox to act in the ‘The Arizona Kid’. It was a hit film and she got the third billing. Paramount Pictures moved in quickly to recruit her with a $350-per-week contract. By 1936, the remuneration was gradually increased to $3,500-per-week.
Meanwhile in 1930, she appeared in two Paramount movies; ‘Safety in Numbers’ and ‘Fast and Loose’. While crediting the latter, the company mistakenly added an ‘e’ to her first name and so Carol Lombard became Carole Lombard for the first time. Carole liked it and kept it that way.
Next in 1931, Carole appeared in five films. Among them, she co-starred with her future husband William Powell in, 'Man of the World' and 'Ladies' Man’. ‘Up Pops the Devil’ and ‘I Take this Woman’ were two other important works of this year, in which she was able to highlight her potential.
In 1932, also she appeared in five films. Although the first two were not successful at the box office her third film, ‘Virtue’, was well received. It was followed by two other successful films, ‘No More Orchids’ and ‘No Man of Her Own’.
‘No Man of Her Own’ was both a critical and commercial success and many critics agreed that her depiction of Ann Holt was her best performance up to that point. The upcoming Hollywood star, Clark Gable, whom she later married, was her costar in the film.
In 1933 too, Lombard appeared in five films. However, it was 1934, which marked a high point in Carole Lombard’s career. In this year, she appeared in six films, starting the year with ‘Bolero’, a pre-code musical drama, which fared well at the box office.
Lombard’s next film, ‘We’re Not Dressing’, in which she starred against Bing Crosby, was also another box office hit. However, it was her third film in 1934, ‘Twentieth Century’, which turned her into a major star.
1935 began with a box office flop, ‘Rumba’; but she made it up with her next film ‘Hand Across the Table’. It has been billed as Lombard’s best film.
Her first film in 1936 was ‘Love Before Breakfast’. Next she did ‘The Princess Comes Across’, which earned great critical acclaim; but it was her third film of the year, ‘My Man Godfrey’, which was a runaway hit and earned her Academy Award nomination.
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By 1937, Lombardo had become the most popular actress in the Hollywood and also the highest paid star, earning a salary of $450,000. The year began with ‘Swing High, Swing Low’ and then she went on to do 'Nothing Sacred' and 'True Confession', each of which fared well and earned great acclaim.
Until now, she was bound by contract with the Paramount; but from 1938 onwards, she began to work independently. In this year, she made only one film, ‘Fools for Scandal’.
Next in 1939, she did two films; ‘Made for Each Other’ and ‘In Name Only’. She especially liked the story of ‘In Name Only’ and personally negotiated for the role, receiving a remuneration of $150,000 for it.
Subsequently, she made ‘Vigil in the Night’ and ‘They Knew What They Wanted’ in 1940. She had hoped to get an Oscar for the former. Although her performance was highly praised, the somber theme of the film turned away the audience. Consequently, she was not considered for the award.
Accepting the fact that she was best suited for comedies; she returned to this genre after three years. However, time ran out fast and before she died in air crash, she was able to make only two more movies; ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith’ in 1941 and ‘To Be or Not to Be’ in 1942.
Personal Life & Legacy
On June 6, 1931, twenty-two year old Carole Lombard married William Powell, then thirty-eight. Other than this age difference, they were poles apart in their temperament. Consequently, their marriage broke down and they divorced in August 1933. However, they remained friends till his death.
Very soon after the divorce, she developed a relationship with Clark Gable. As Gable’s wife refused to give divorce they could not marry. The divorce was ultimately finalized in March 7, 1939 and they got married on March 29, 1939. None of her marriages produced any children.
In 1942, Carole went to Indiana to sell War Bonds. Her mother, Bessie Peters, and her Press Assistant, Otto Winker, accompanied her in this trip. There she sold bonds worth two million dollars. While coming back on January 16, 1942, the plane crashed into "Double Up Peak" of Potosi Mountain, near Las Vegas. All the passengers including Carole Lombard died on the spot.
Although Lombard had not received any award in 1999 the American Film Institute ranked her 23rd on its list of the 25 greatest American female screen legends of classic Hollywood cinema.
In addition, she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6930 Hollywood Blvd. Her childhood home in Fort Wayne has been designated a historic landmark and bridge nearby is called Carole Lombard Memorial Bridge.