At the Blue Diamond Mine, workers saw a flare and heard an explosion about 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas. Handsome movie idol Clark Gable chartered a plane to reach the scene where his gorgeous wife fell from the sky with her mother, publicity agent, 12 army pilots, three other passengers and the crew. He found them two days later.
Jane Alice Peters was born Oct. 6, 1908, in Fort Wayne, Ind. Every other Friday night the family went to the movies at the Colonial Theatre to see the newest chapter of Hollywood's first serial The Adventures of Kathlyn ( 1913 ) , and the following morning little Jane Alice would perform what she had seen on screen. At six years old, her parents separated, and she moved with her mother and two older brothers Frederick and Stuart to Los Angeles. In grade school, Jane played Queen of the May in a pageant. Elizabeth Peters, inspired by her daughter's performance, enrolled her in the Marian Nolks Dramatic School. In Junior High, Jane persued sports, excelling in tennis, swimming, and volleyball, and won trophies for broad-jumping and running.
One day in 1920, 12-year-old tomboy Jane was playing baseball after dinner as usual, when spotted by director Alan Dwan, who was looking for a vivacious girl to play a teenager in A Perfect Crime ( 1921 ) . She won the role. Upon finishing Virgil Junior High School, Jane began exhibition dancing at the famous Coconut Grove Lounge in the Ambassador Hotel. In 1925, an executive from Fox Pictures who admired her offered her a screen test. She won a role in Marriage In Transit ( 1925 ) . Other minor parts followed, amd everyone felt that Jane, now christened Carol Lombard by the studio, was on her way to stardom. On the advice of a numerologist, Carol was told to add an "E" to her name to bring immediate success. Very soon after the name change, she signed a profitable contract.
Then one day, after filming a Buck Jones western, Hearts and Spurs ( 1926 ) , Carole was riding with Harry Cooper, the son of a Los Angeles banker, in his Bugatti when they were involved in a horrible car accident. The crash cut and tore her face so badly with a splinter of glass that doctors said her beauty would never be restored. But 18-year-old Carole called in a well-known Hollywood plastic surgeon, and later, the only remnants of the accident were two slightly visible white lines on her cheek, easily covered by makeup. However, when she returned to the offices of Fox after many months, Lombard found her contract had been cancelled.
Starting from scratch again, Carole found work in Mack Sennett Bathing Beauty comedies. It was there that she developed her excellent comedic skills and timing. Lombard's looks attracted a director for Pathe Studios, who signed her to another contract and gave her a starring role in Show Folks ( 1928 ) . Once more it seemed she was on her way to stardom, but due to lackluster roles, her contract was permitted to lapse. She became a freelance player, appearing in several more average films. Yet her radiance and presence gave her a following with the public. Paramount Studios gave her a fromal contract and eventually another starring role in The Gay Bride ( 1934 ) . Her part in Twentieth Century ( 1934 ) with John Barrymore made her a Hollywood star, establishing her as a great , natural comedienne. Lombard was not only loved by the public, but also by everyone she worked with.
In 1931, Carole married actor William Powell, with whom she co-starred in two films, Man of The World ( 1930 ) , and Ladies Man ( 1931 ) . The incompatible union lasted 28 months, but they always remained close. Carole stated to the press: "I must like the man or I wouldn't have married him in the first place. Now that we're divorced we're still the best of friends."
Carole co-starred with Clark Gable in No Man of Her Own ( 1932 ) . In 1939, she wed the dashing, popular star. After the start of World War II, Gable was named chairman of the Hollywood Victory Committee, and arranged for his wife to go on a bond selling tour, which would climax in her native Indiana. On Jan. 16, 1942, after a visit to Indianapolis, which was near her home town, and where her fame helped sell $2,107,513. in bonds, she boarded a plane for her flight back to California. Thirty minutes after a refueling stop in Las Vegas, the plane exploded and crashed into deep snow on the Table Rock Mountains in rugged country near the desert's edge. All 22 aboard were killed. Carole was 33 years old. At the time of her death, she was the highest paid female star in Hollywood.
Lombard's best movies include Bolero ( 1934 ) with George Raft, Hands Across The Table ( 1935 ) with Fred MacMurray, My Man Godfrey ( 1936 ) with William Powell, Nothing Sacred ( 1937 ) with Fredric March, Made For Each Other ( 1939 ) with Jimmy Stewart, They Knew What They Wanted ( 1940 ) with Charles Laughton, Mr. and Mrs. Smith ( 1941 ) with Robert Montgomery, and To Be Or Not To Be ( 1942 ) with Jack Benny and Robert Stack, released a month after her death.
Bing Crosby said of Carole Lombard: "She had a delicious sense of humour, she was one of the screen's great comediennes and, in addition, she was very beautiful. The electricians, carpenters and prop men all loved her because she was so regular: so devoid of temperament and showboating ... . The fact that she could make us think of her as being a good guy rather than a sexy mamma is one of those unbelievable manifestations impossible to explain."
President Roosevelt sent a telegram to Clark Gable which read: "Mrs. Roosevelt and I are deeply distressed. Carole was our friend, our guest in happier days. She brought great joy to all who knew her and to millions who knew her only as a great artist. She gave unselfishly of time and talent to serve her government in peace and in war. She loved her country. She is and always will be a star, one we shall never forget, nor cease to be grateful to."
Souces: Paramount Pretties by James Robert Parish; Too Young To Die by Patricia Fox-Sheinwold; The Hollywood Reporter—Star Profiles Edited by Marc Wanamaker; Encyclopedia of Film Stars by Douglas Jarvis; The Movie Stars Story Edited by Robin Karney; The New York Times Directory of The Film; The Films of Carole Lombard by Frederick W. Ott.
Steve Starr is the author of Picture Perfect-Deco Photo Frames 1926-1946, published by Rizzoli International. A designer and an artist, he is the owner of Steve Starr Studios, specializing in original Art Deco photo frames, furnishings and jewelry, and celebrating its 35th anniversary in 2002. Visit the glamorous studio at 2779 N. Lincoln Avenue in Chicago where adorning the walls is Steve Starr's personal collection of more than 950 gorgeous frames filled with photos of Hollywood's most elegant stars.
Photo of Steve Starr, July 25, 2002 by Albert Aguilar. You may email Steve at SSSChicago@ameritech.net