Carole Lombard (October 6, 1908 – January 16, 1942), born Jane Alice Peters in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was an Oscar-nominated American actress. She was particularly noted for her comedic roles in several classic films of the 1930s. She is listed as one of the American Film Institute's greatest stars of all time.
Lombard was the youngest of three children, having two older brothers. She spent her early childhood in a sprawling, two-story house at 704 Rockhill Street in Fort Wayne, near the St. Mary's River. Her father had been injured during his early life and was left with constant headaches which caused him to burst out in paroxysms of anger which disturbed the family. Her parents divorced and her mother took the three children to Los Angeles in 1914, where Lombard attended Virgil Jr. High School and then Fairfax High School. She was elected "May Queen" in 1924. She quit school to pursue acting full-time, but graduated from Fairfax in 1927.
Lombard was a second generation Bahá'í who formally declared in 1938.
Lombard made her film debut at the age of twelve after she was seen playing baseball in the street by director Allan Dwan; he cast her as a tomboy in A Perfect Crime (1921). In the 1920s, she worked in several low-budget productions credited as 'Jane Peters', and then later as 'Carol Lombard'. In 1925, she was signed as a contract player with Fox Film Corporation (which merged with Daryl Zanuck's Twentieth Century Productions in 1935). She also worked for Mack Sennett and Pathé Pictures. She became a well-known actress and made a smooth transition to sound films, starting with High Voltage (1929). In 1930, she began working for Paramount Pictures after having been dropped from both Twentieth Century and Pathé.
Lombard was originally given roles that would help to bolster the reputations of her leading men, often having to do whatever she could to support them throughout the picture. It was not until 1934 that her career began to take off in its own right. It was in 1934 that director Howard Hawks noticed that Lombard had something that perhaps had not been unleashed on film. He hired her for his next film, Twentieth Century, alongside living legend John Barrymore. Lombard was at first terrified to be working alongside such a genius and it was not until Hawks took her aside and threatened to fire her that she permitted her fiery personality to show on the screen. The film brought Lombard to a level of fame that she was entirely unaccustomed to. That same year she also starred in Bolero with George Raft and it was for this film that she turned down the role of Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night (1934). The following year she starred in Mitchell Leisen's Hands Across the Table which also helped to establish her reputation as a top comedy actress. 1936 also proved to be a big year for Lombard with her casting in the unforgettable screwball comedy My Man Godfrey alongside ex-husband William Powell and other film contemporaries such as Alice Brady, Gail Patrick, Eugene Pallette, and Mischa Auer. My Man Godfrey also earned Lombard an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Godfrey was followed by Nothing Sacred in 1937, casting her opposite Fredric March and putting Lombard under the direction of William A. Wellman. Produced by David O. Selznick, it was Lombard's only film in Technicolor. However, in 1938 Lombard suffered a flop in Fools for Scandal and she moved on to dramatic films for the next few years. In 1939, Lombard was keen on being cast as Scarlett O'Hara in the epic Gone With The Wind, but was not even tested for the part whereas her new husband, Clark Gable, was chosen to portray Rhett Butler. Instead, she took roles opposite James Stewart in Made for Each Other and Cary Grant in In Name Only. She also starred in the dramatic Vigil in the Night before returning to her roots in comedy for a teaming with classic horror director Alfred Hitchcock in Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Mr. & Mrs. Smith gave Lombard's career a much needed boost and she followed her success with what proved to be her last film and another of her most successful, To Be or Not to Be.
In October 1930, Lombard met William Powell and they worked together in the films Man of the World and Ladies' Man. Unlike many of Lombard's other suitors at the time, Powell was urbane and sophisticated and showed her a side of life she had not seen before. He also appreciated her blunt personality and bawdy sense of humor. They married on June 26, 1931. Lombard commented to fan magazines that she did not believe their sixteen-year age difference would present a problem, but friends felt they were ill-suited, as Lombard had an extroverted personality while Powell was more reserved. The pair also noticed that while they made excellent friends, their life together as spouses could not possibly work. They divorced in 1933, but remained friends and worked together without acrimony, notably in My Man Godfrey.
In 1934, following her divorce from Powell, Lombard moved into a house on Hollywood Boulevard designed by friend William Haines. She lived with a friend from the days of Mack Sennett, Madalynne Fields, who became Lombard's personal secretary and whom Lombard called "Fieldsie." While living in her Hollywood Boulevard home, Lombard became known as one of Hollywood's greatest hostesses. She gave a party for friends in which she redecorated her home as a hospital operating room and had everyone come dressed as nurses and doctors while the food was delivered on a makeshift operating table and the guests ate with operating utensils; bedpans were reportedly used as dishes. It was also during this time that Lombard began to relish her life of being a party girl once more, carrying on relationships with actors Gary Cooper and George Raft as well as the screenwriter Robert Riskin who proposed to Lombard in 1935. She turned down the offer, unable to marry a man who did not want to have children. However, one man stood out to Lombard in particular. While on a date with Riskin, Lombard spotted the crooner Russ Columbo and they began a heavy affair, which reportedly led to Columbo proposing marriage. Unfortunately, Columbo died when he was visiting a friend who collected antique pistols. While he was admiring a pistol, it went off and the bullet ricocheted and landed in Columbo's skull. To reporters, Lombard said Columbo was the love of her life. Following the death of Columbo, Lombard hosted one last party, which was supposed to be her final party as one of Hollywood's most extravagant hostesses. She rented an amusement park for a day and invited almost every person she had ever come in contact with. Following the amusement park party, Lombard's gatherings were far more intimate and generally less extravagant.
Lombard's most famous relationship came in 1936 when she became involved with actor Clark Gable. They had worked together previously in 1932's No Man of Her Own, but at the time Lombard was still happily married to Powell and Gable already had more women than he was willing to deal with. They were indifferent to each other on the set and did not keep in touch. It was not until 1936, when Gable came to the Mayfair Ball that Lombard had planned, that their romance began to take off. It was said that Gable and Lombard danced all night before disappearing. The disappearance, however, did not go further than driving around the block a few times, Lombard infuriating Gable, and not speaking to each other for the remainder of the evening. The following morning, Lombard sent Gable peace doves and their relationship took off in earnest. They still had to be quiet about their romance as Gable was still married to Ria Langham and a divorce would cost him a fortune. It was not until a scandalous article called Hollywood's Unmarried Husbands and Wives was printed in a fan magazine cited the Gable/Lombard romance in public that censorship chief and head of the Hayes Code Will Hayes went to Louis B. Mayer and demand he do something about contract stars Gable and Robert Taylor, who had also been mentioned in the article due to his relationship with Barbara Stanwyck. They were given a choice: to either marry the women or end their relationships. Both took the former route. This reason also proved a major factor in Gable accepting the role of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, as Selznick wanted Gable so much for the part that he was willing to pay almost any price. Gable accepted the salary, but it still was not enough to keep him from losing the majority of his fortune. He divorced Langham on March 7, 1939 and proposed to Lombard in a telephone booth at the Brown Derby. During a break in production on Gone With the Wind, Gable and Lombard were married on March 29. They bought a ranch previously owned by director Raoul Walsh in Encino, California and lived a happy, unpretentious life. Although they attempted to have a child and Lombard stated that she was perfectly willing to give up her career to raise a family, their efforts were ultimately unsuccessful. Nevertheless, they called each other "Ma" and "Pa" and raised chickens and horses. To all who knew Gable, she was the love of his life.
Off-screen, Lombard was much loved for her unpretentious personality and well known for her earthy sense of humor and blue language. Friends of Lombard's included Marion Davies, William Haines, Jean Harlow, Fred MacMurray, Cary Grant, Jack Benny, William Powell and Lucille Ball.
Lombard was also a registered Democrat.
Shortly after her death at the age of 33, Gable (who was inconsolable and devastated by her loss) joined the United States Army Air Forces, serving as a gunner on a bomber on combat missions over Europe. The Liberty ship SS Lombard was named for her and Gable attended its launch on January 15 1944.
Lombard's final film, To Be or Not to Be, directed by Ernst Lubitsch and co-starring Jack Benny, a satire about Nazism and World War II, was in post-production at the time of her death. The film's producers decided to cut the part of the film in which her character asks "What can happen in a plane?" as they felt it was in poor taste, given the circumstances of Lombard's death. A similar editing instance happened when the 1940 Warner Brothers cartoon A Wild Hare was reissued. Lombard's name was originally mentioned in a game of "Guess Who" between Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, but all reissue prints have the name dubbed over with Barbara Stanwyck's.
At the time of her death, Lombard had been scheduled to star in the film They All Kissed The Bride; when production started, her role was given to Joan Crawford. Aware that she had received the role only because of Lombard's death, Crawford donated all of her pay for this film to the Red Cross.
Lombard is interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. The name on her crypt marker is "Carole Lombard Gable". Although Gable remarried, he was interred next to her when he died in 1960. He always felt responsible for her death. Her mother, Elizabeth Peters, who also perished in the plane crash that killed her daughter, was interred on the other side of her.
In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Lombard 23rd on its list of the 50 greatest American female screen legends. She received one Academy Award for Best Actress nomination, for My Man Godfrey. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6930 Hollywood Blvd.
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."