Friday, February 12, 2010

Favorite Actresses, #5: Carole Lombard



First Movie I Saw Her In: My Man Godfrey (1936)

Three Favorite Movies: Hands Across the Table (1936); Nothing Sacred (1937); To Be or Not to Be (1942)

Honorable Mention: The Princess Comes Across (1937)

Favorite Performance: Hands Across the Table (1936)

Why I Like Her:
Who's that gorgeous gal in the Hollywood Dreamland masthead? Before I ever saw a Carole Lombard movie I was floored by how beautiful she was in photographs. She remains the most photogenic movie star ever. But if good looks were all that mattered, Hedy Lamarr would be the World's Greatest Movie Star.

Nothing appeals to me more than a beautiful woman with a sense of humor; it can't be beat. Lombard was known for her bawdy and uninhibited wackiness. If she were in her prime today she would own Hollywood. Her personality would be ripe for interviews and priceless "sound bytes." In fact, many Carole Lombard stories are brilliant in their raunchy but absolutely priceless content (They can't be repeated here; sorry, we're a family blog).

But it's Lombard the actres that appeals to me most. Lombard, like many of her Golden Age peers, was able to do comedic as well as dramatic roles. There were also those seriocomic scenes within her films when Carole could straddle the line and dazzle using elements of both. There's a scene in My Man Godfrey where her character is "distraught" over Godfrey. It's great how she's able to feign the depths of gloom but make it hilarious at the same time. It was perfect behavior from her character who was wildly immature but was falling in love with William Powell's Godfrey. The scene is exactly the kind of emotional meoldramatics that an "angst-ridden" teenager might engage in---fun for the whole family! It's the best scene of faux-torment ever put on film. I'm convinced that that scene alone was responsible for her Academy Award nomination for Best Actress that year. Carole's greatest strength was her mastery of comedy, bringing along with it a pathos that such an undertaking requires

Despite Lombard's appeal, her fame and reputation is tied to her romance with Clark Gable and to her early, tragic death at age 33 in a plane crash in 1942. Despite a handful of memorable performances (and her reputation as Hollywood's "Profane Angel"--watch the My Man Godfrey outtakes for Carole's "potty mouth") perhaps her filmography lacked that definitive Lombard performance. My Man Godfrey is an ensemble piece, To Be or Not to Be is Jack Benny's film, and the lone movie she did with Gable---1932's No Man of Her Own--is the answer to a trivia question. For better or worse, Lombard is best remembered for what she was offscreen and that's a tragedy in itself. This list consists of several underdogs and forgotten actresses but none are as tied to the Golden Age as Carole is. The fact that she existed in the 1930s (like Jean Harlow) and perished at the beginning of World War II tied her to that age of America more than any other performer.

We'll never know what Carole's career would've been like during and after WWII but she appeared to be on the comeback trail with To Be or Not to Be (playing "Straight Man" to Jack Benny; she did it marvelously) but it requires major guesswork and grasping at straws to envision what "might've been", and that is the greatest tragedy, the not knowing. The fact that such a vibrant, spirited, and caring person died at such a young age is something I often think about when I watch a Lombard film.



9 comments:

  1. She's probably my favorite. I love watching her and she really seemed to have an outstanding personality

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  2. I fall more in love with Carole with each performance. My favorite so far is "Twentieth Century", but I watched "Hands Across the Table" two nights ago and she was fantastic!

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  3. She was great in Mr. and Mrs. Smith too. Truley a great one.

    RetroHound.com

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  4. She never struck me as especially beautiful, of course she was pretty, like all Golden Age actresses, however she didn't come across as feminine as stars like Susan Hayward, Ginger Rogers etc. True actors usually master both comedy and tragedy, and that's exactly what she was -- a true actress.

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  5. Yay! That picture deserves to be posted again and again as do the props for Carole.

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  6. Carole is one of my faves as well. This is cheesy, but I really feel like out of anyone in Old Hollywood, she is the one whose personality is closest to mine. If I could choose anyone dead or alive to play me in the story of my life, I'd chose la Lombard--with a dye job (because I'm brunette). She was a tomboy but sexy at the same time, and I love her films and her bawdy personality.

    Kendra
    http://blog.vivandlarry.com

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  7. You're right about her being so photogenic - she's always stunning in photos. I love that! I rather wish this wasn't a family blog... I'd love to hear those stories!! It's funny but whenever I think of "My Man Godfrey," the two scenes that immediately come to mind are the "Godfrey loves me! He threw me in the shower!" part and the melodramatic scene - one of my favorite parts: "What is food?" "Something you eat, silly!" Classic. "To Be Or Not To Be" is on my to-watch list. After reading your post I think I might move it up.

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  8. Sorry I missed this earlier -- I'd rank Carole Lombard a bit higher, of course (#1), but she's certainly in good company. I love her because to me, she's easily the most timeless of the classic actresses. If you took all the stars from 75 years ago and transported them to 2010, Lombard would likely have the least difficulty adjusting. She still speaks to people today, especially women, more so than Monroe or other classic stars.

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  9. I've seen her in blooper reels and you can see exactly why she was so beloved. The take I remember has her sweeping onto a vast Art Deco set, forgetting her line and letting out an extended scream as she continued swooping out of the scene to much laughter from the crew.

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