Carole Lombard: 70 years since death of screen legend

By Maryann O’Connor

Today marks 70 years since the death of one of early Hollywood’s brightest stars, Carole Lombard.  She was tragically killed in a plane crash on the way back from assisting her home state, Indiana, to raise money for the war effort. She was just 33.

Lombard was known for her great screen presence and comedy turns: one of the very few stars of early Hollywood to successfully transition from silent cinema to the ‘talkies’. In 1999 she was named as one of 50 screen legends by the American Film Institute (AFI).

“She is so alive, modern, frank and natural that she stands out like a beacon on a lightship in this odd place called Hollywood.” Barbara Stanwyck

Jane Alice Peters, as she was then, was discovered at the age of 12 whilst playing baseball out on the street. She starred in A Perfect Crime (1921) but struggled to land any other roles until 1925. She was then in four pictures, a run which ended with a car accident in 1926.  She suffered extensive scarring on one side of her face, a setback which she eventually recovered from but led to her release from her contract with Fox. In 1930 she signed with Paramount Pictures.

The roles which brought Lombard the greatest acclaim were Twentieth Century (1934), which she starred in with John Barrymore (pictured together above) and My Man Godfrey (1936) for which she won an Oscar nomination. She was said to be good at knowing which parts to pick and commanded one of the biggest salaries in the business. Her last films were Mr and Mrs Smith (1941) and To Be Or Not to Be, which she completed in 1941 but, due to the US entering WWII, was not released until after her death in 1942.

She starred with future husband Clark Gable in No Man of Her Own (1932), the one and only time they played a starring role opposite each other (they also worked together as extras in 3 films, including Ben Hur). They became involved in 1936 and married in 1939.

In the early hours of January 16th 1942, the military plane which was carrying Carole Lombard, her mother and an MGM executive (23 people in total onboard the plane) crashed into the side of a mountain just 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas. Franklin D. Roosevelt, US President at the time, awarded Lombard the Medal of Freedom posthumously as the first woman killed in the line of duty in WWII.

Franklin D. Roosevelt sent this message to Clark Gable upon hearing of Lombard’s death;

“She brought joy to all who knew her and to millions who knew her only as a great artist… She is and always will be a star, one we shall never forget, nor cease to be grateful to.”

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