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Carole Lombard (1908-1942)


  1. Georgia Hale, The Gold Rush, 1925.     Discovered as Jane Peters by Allan Dwan in a neighbour's yard for A Perfect Crime, 1921, she next tested for Chaplin.He chose Lita Grey (his second wife) and then re-shot it with Hale. Peters' next test led to a Fox contract and a new name.She really arrived in Twentieth Century,1934,first screwball comedy of her cousin... director Howard Hawks. (Just as Norma Shearer was once his sister-in-law andGroucho Marx a future brother-in-law).
  2. Kay Johnson, Dynamite,1929.    After she made 18 films in 1928, director Cecil B DeMille unceremoniously dumped Carole in mid-shoot of his first talkie; so, obviously, she is still seen in some shots, according to her friend and CB’s assistant director Mitchell Leisen.  He had made  screen tests of  Sally Blane, Dorothy Burgess, Carmelia Geraghty, Leila Hyams, Merna Kennedy - and heartily recommended Lombard. To no avail.  CB played safe with theatre actors: Charles Bickford opposite Johnson’s debut. Bickford called the script a mess of corn with terrible dialogue. True enough - it flopped.  Leisen directe Lombard
  3. Jean Harlow,Hell's Angels, 1930.     Tycoon Howard Hughes urgently tested possibilities - Carole, included - to replace Greta Nissen, whose thick Norwegian accent jangled the new-fangled sound. Then he ran into Harlow’s breasts... Hughes' star, Ben Lyon, who found Harlow among the dress extras on another stage, just as in 1946 Lyon found Norma Jean Baker and re-named her: Marilyn Monroe. Hughes was not impressed with Harlow. "How is she in the bomb department?" He found out by becoming her lover and emphasising her bombs in the film… and Jane Russell’s in The Outlaw, 1943.
  4. Joan Blondell, Blonde Crazy (UK; Larceny Lane), 1930.     When Paramount refused to  loan Lombatrd to Warner Bros, Marian Marsh was announced  as con man James Cagney’s  partner in crime. But, Blondell made the Roy Del Ruth film - the third of her six movies with Cagney - more than any other actress at Warner Bros.
  5. Maureen O’Sullivan, Okay America, 1931.    Universal tried to borrow Lombard as Lew Ayres’ secretary in what purported to be a version of… The Walter Winchell Story.   Indeed, the script was written  for Winchell to play the the gossip columnist Larry Wayne. Or, Ego, to his boss.We never saw the real Winchell horror story until 1956 when Burt Lancaster staggered us all in the the stunning Sweet Smell of Success.
  6. Joan Blondell, The Greeks Had A Word For Them, 1932.     Producer Samuel  Goldwyn gave the role to Ina Claire, but shopped around for a dizzier blonde.  Warned off Jean Harlow, he borrowed Paramount's Profane Angel - too sick to continue after two weeks. Enter: Blondell. "Nobody believed she was sick," says Claire, sick, herself, at being relegated to a smaller role.  "I think she knew it was a lousy movie and just wanted out." Other rumours insisted Carole was away aborting a baby by William  Powell, Harlow's final lover.
  7. Genevieve Tobin, One Hour With You, 1932.      Co-director Ernst Lubitsch managed to  overcome Maurice Chevalier's insistance on Kay Francis and Carole as leading ladies by getting him to settle for Tobin and Jeannette MacDonald.
  8. Katharine Hepburn, A Bill of Divorcement, 1932.     Carole's test was  even worse than Kate's -  which had producer David O Selznick  yelling: "Godammit, that's the worst fucking scarecrow I've ever seen.  Cast her in The Witch  of Endor. " Director George Cukor was no happier.  "She  seemed to bark through  her nose, very nasal... mannish and mannered." Critics loved her "flamed like opal, half-demon, half-Madonna...  half-Botticelli page, half bob-haired bandit. " Kate and Cukor made a further nine  films together over 47 years.
  9. Mary Brian, Hard To Handle, 1932.    Lombard refused to partner James Cagney’s right-handed con-man Lefty Merrill (!).  His cons include a crooked dance marathon contest -  Cagney took part in one, with Loretta Young, in the previous year’s Taxi.
  10. Ann Dvorak, The Way To Love, 1933.     Starting her Paramount battles, Carole  - aka The Hoosier Tornado - refused to be Maurice Chevalier's sidekick...

  11. Mary  Brian,  Hard  To Handle,  1933.    ... or James Cagney's when Warners welcomed him back from a second strike for better money with a film ironically called Bad Boy. Mary Brian was Peter Pan's original Wendy, 1924.
  12. Gertrude Michael, The Notorious Sophie Lang, 1933.    Lombard simply, totally refused to be notorious. So she lost the 1936 sequel Sophie Lang Goes West, as well.
  13. Elissa Landi, Sisters Under the Skin, 1933.  Another Lombard rejection - benefitting, this time, Landi as Judy O Grady aka… Blossom Bailey
  14. Dorothy Wieck, Miss Fane’s Baby Is Stolen, 1933.     Lombard, Sylvia Sidney, Gloria Swanson fled the drama of a kidnapped baby - for coming far too soon after the 1932 Lindbergh baby case. In her second and last Hollywood movie, the Swiss-born, Sweden-raised German actress Wieck showed them what they missed in a stunning performance, tearing at our emotions and causing our tears, as the widowed actress mother of the stolen tot played by ever smiling two-year-old Baby LeRoy. Lombard split for Bolero. Wieck returned to Berlin, opening her own drama academy and winning another 40 screen roles until retiring in 1975. Wieck returned to Berlin, opening her own drama academy and winning another 40 screen roles until retiring in 1975.
  15. Bette Davis, Bordertown, 1934.   Archie Mayo directed - as Archie L Mayo, if you please.  Warner Bros produced. But Paul Muni being Paul effin’ Muni could choose his own leading lady.   He juggled Lombard and Lupe Velez, however Bette was all the rage after Of Human Bondage.
  16. Helen Mack, Kiss and Make Up, 1934.     As far as the title went, Carole wouldn't...  So Mack took over the best role in the so-so comedy, Paris plastic surgeon Cary Grant’s “unadorned” sercretary, Anne, sittting in the wings waiting for him to get over an infatuation with most beauitiful achievement, Genevieve Tobin.
  17. Elissa Landi, Sisters Under the Skin,1933.  Another Lombard rejection - benefitting, this time, Landi as Judy O Grady aka… Blossom Bailey.
  18. Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night, 1934.     Carole was more keen on  the film than the other five stars rejecting it.  Or, she was, until hearing that Clark Gable felt she would be an easy conquest now that she'd split with William Powell. She was not easy but  succumbed and  Ma, as he called her, became the third Mrs Gable on March 29, 1939.
  19. Loretta Young, Shanghai, 1934.       Saint Loretta was an oddly demure  choice to succeed  the feisty Lombard -  called away for a Universal gig.
  20. Ann Harding, Peter Ibbetson, 1935.    Chosen by director Sidney Franklin as Gary Cooper's lover - but Henry Hathaway made the final film.

  21. Irene Dunne, Theodora Goes Wild, 1935.     Columbia wanted Marion Davies and Clark Gable rekindling their Cain and Mable chemistry. But Marion was finished - retired. OK, Lombard! She had first worked with Gable in No Man of Her Own, 1931, and remained indifferent to him. Until they became lovers and wed in 1939. Enter: Dunne and Melvyn Douglas. Well, he had a ’tash…
  22. Mary Ellis, Fatal Lady, 1935.  It  was still Brazen when offered  to Lombard.  Like who else? Apparently she didn’t see the connection. New Yorker Ellis was happier - better! - on stage and in opera. Hidden away in the background was Rudolph Valentino’s brother, Albero, in the last of his four movies.
  23. Marlene Dietrich, The Garden of Allah, 1936.     Garbo was also mentioned in dispatches.
  24. Jean Arthur, Mr Deeds Goes To Town,1936.     Switched allegiences from Longfellow Deeds to My Man Godfrey. Director Frank Capra started shooting minus a female lead... who never saw the classic until 1972.
  25. Madeleine  Carroll, The  Case  Against  Mrs Ames, 1936.     Madeleine-George  Brent stood in for Lombard-Gary Cooper.  They simply refused and were punished - loaned out to Universal and Columbia for what proved huge hits,  My Man Godfrey and Mr Deed Goes To Town. By 1937, Carole was the highest paid star: $465,000.
  26. Ann Sothern, Danger - Love At Work, 1936.    Universal tried tailoring  James Edward Grant's story, Marry an Orphan,  for Lombard, gave up and off-loaded the tale to Fox where Simone Simon took over Toni,  was fired, and Sothern saved the day.
  27. Joan Fontaine, A Damsel In Distress, 1937.     Ginger had flown and Fred needed a new partner to twirl... Carole, Ruby Keeler and London musical queen Jessie Matthews were all invited to be Lady Alyce Marshmorton. They were not free.Fontaine was... and later joked that the Fred Astaire musical “set my career back four years.” She just couldn’t dance! That didn’t stop her working for director George Stevens again in Something To Live For, 1952, and tryingfor the female lead of his Giant in 1955.
  28. Frances Farmer, Exclusive, 1937.     Refused the distaff side of a pair of journalists on rival papers: finally, Frances and Fred MacMurray.
  29. Katharine Hepburn, Bringing Up Baby, 1937.    Director Howard Hawks only thought of Lombard but... No matter, Lombard replaced Hepburn the following year for In Name Only, also opposite Cary Grant.   
  30. Jean Harlow, Saratoga, 1937.       Plan A: RKO-Pathe bought the Anita Loos script for Constance Bennett in 1929.  MGM was in three minds about a Plan B: Carole Lombard (Paramount refused  to loan her), Joan Crawford or Harlow v Cark Gable.  Shooting was all but over  when Harlow collapsed on-set and later died from suspected  uremic poisoning. Metro completed the movie with her double, Mary Dees (voiced by Paula Winslowe), after  bad taste thoughts of a re-shooot with Jean Arthur or Virginia Bruce…. the way Crawford lapt into They All Kissed The  Bride, in 1942 after  Lombard’s air crash death. By chance, the last words from the real and tragic Harlow  on-film are: Good-bye.

  31. Joan Bennett, Vogues of 1938, 1937.      Producer Walter Wanger kept waiting for Technicolor to improve…  His film was …of 1934 when he signed Frances Langford. Then,  …of 1937, when Bennett (the 1940-1965 Mrs Wanger) replaced Carole Lombard. She was, they used to say, scared of nuttin’! Well, she was really  scared about how colour woiuld m ake her look on-screen.  Hey, just look in the mirror, luv!
  32. Joan Fontaine, A Damsel In Distress, 1937.    Fred Astaire  was searching for his new Ginger.  He checked Lombard, Betty Grable, Ruby Keeler and Jessie Matthews, the bra-less wonder of UK filmusicals for Lady Alyce Marshmorton. Fred chose  Fontaine  insisting that no one would believe in Keeler as a member of the UK aristocracy - which Fred knew well. (His sister, Adele, wed Lord Charles Cavendish, second son of the ninth Duke of Devonshire). Fontaine later joked that the musical “set my career back four years.” She just couldn’t dance!
  33. Dorothy Lamour, Spawn of the North, 1938.      Carole was set to star in 1936 - with Cary Grant and his lover, Randolph Scott,  until their gay "marriage"   was in danger of becoming too public. Two years on, when Carole was ill, George Raft and Henry Fonda were rivals in  a salmon fishing conflict.  Lamour was in the middle. As usual.   
  34. Joan Bennett, Vogues of 1938, 1937.      Producer Walter Wanger kept waiting for Technicolor to improve… His film was of 1934 when he signed Frances Langford. Then, of 1937, when Bennett (the 1940-1965 Mrs Wanger) replaced Carole Lombard (scared of colour!) and the film wound up as of 1938 due to a delayed release.
  35. Louise Campbell, Men With Wings, 1937.     In the aerial mix (with Frances Farmer) for Peggy Ranson, caught between two fly boy buddies - WW1 ace Fred MacMurray and airplane designer Ray Milland - in another aviation thriller from one of the titular kind - the 1928 Wings director and WW1 daredevil, Wild Bill Wellman.
  36. Sylvia Sidney, You and Me, 1938.     Carole and George Raft refused Norman Krasna's script if he insisted on debut-directing. Raft was suspended and given the project anew with Sidney and this time she refused Richard Wallace and asked for the maker of her Fury and You Only Live Twice - the out-of-favour Fritz Lang. And got him. Well, she was the mistress of the Paramount boss, BP Schulberg (father of Budd).
  37. Norma Shearer, Idiot's Delight, 1939.     Gable wanted her, of course. Just too busy - even turning down an Orson Welles offer for The Smiler With The Knife.
  38. Rosalind Russell, His Girl Friday, 1939.     Bad decision. After musing on Cary Grant, director Howard Hawks turned The Front Page reporter Hildy Johnson into a woman. Not difficult changing Hildebrand to Hildegarde. Dunne, still Columbia chief Harry Cohn's first choice for anything, joined Lombard, Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers in... completely missing the point. Columbia 's crude czar Cohn voted for Roz after seeing her as Craig's Wife. And Grant played Hildy’s editor Walter Burns.
  39. Joan Fontaine, Rebecca, 1939.  
  40. Barbara  Stanwyck, Ball of Fire, 1941.     Alas, Lombard was unimpressed with Sugarpuss O’Shea - or Snow White rebooted.  (Seven old professors were based on the dwarfs). A fatal decision as she was not, obviously, at the Radio City premiere on January 16,  1942... but leaving Texas for Hollywood after her war bond selling tour. Her plane crashed into Table Rock Mountain, near Las Vegas. No survivors.  Lombard was 34.  "She is and always will  be a star," said President Roosevelt's cable to the distraught Gable.

  41. Claudette Colbert, Palm Beach Story, 1942.     The reason she was free to go on the tour... Preston Sturgess, a rare Hollywood auteur, wanted her but her Paramount contract stipulated$150,000-plus andsherefused anything less.
  42. Joan Crawford,They All Kissed The Bride, 1942.     After Carole's shock death,  Crawford (who was still screwing Gable when she could across 20 years) shoulder-padded the role and donated her salary to the Red Cross that had found Lombard's body.
  43. Billie Burke, The Cheaters, 1944.      After Lombard’s death, Paramount sold her vehicle to Republic, where Lombard and John Barrymore became Burke and Joseph Schildkraut.


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