Classic Video Showplace

Carole Lombard

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 In honor of Women’s History Month, the Showplace honors prominent female-driven classic programs and women who “changed the game” and made a lasting impact in the Golden Age of Hollywood.


Amongst a crowded category of extraordinary women, the most prominent and impactful actress in the 1930s was arguably Carole Lombard.

Bursting onto the screen at the age of 12 in the silent picture, A Perfect Crime.  She caught the eyes of prominent directors, among them Charlie Chaplin, who auditioned her for his classic, The Gold Rush.  

While she was not cast in the film, her audition increased her growing reputation in Hollywood.

At 16 she was signed to a movie contract by Fox to play in low-budget western and adventure films that did not test her range as an actress. According to biographer Wes Gehring “Carole Lombard: The Hoosier Tornado”), she commented on her dissatisfaction with these roles: “all I had to do was smile prettily at the hero and scream with terror when he battled with the villain.”  She was released from her contract at the age of 18 when a car accident left a slight scar on her face.

Lombard was also under contract to film pioneer Mack Sennett and later referred to her time working with him as, according to Gehring’s book, the “turning point of her career”.

In 1930 she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures, who ironically was assigned to play dramatic roles.  After a few non-comedy features she was cast as the lead in the ahead-of-its-time, screwball comedy, Twentieth Century, which began her rapid rise as one of the funniest ladies in cinema.

By 1937, she became the highest paid actress in Hollywood, earning five times more than President Franklin D. Roosevelt was making at that time.

Through the remainder of the 1930s, she starred in many of the decade’s finest comedies.  Most critics would agree her role in My Man Godfrey, which came with an Academy Award nomination as Best Lead Actress, was her finest performance.

At the height of her comedic fame, she did the unthinkable for a Hollywood actor OR actress…she tried to break her typecasting.

Lombard made the controversial decision to lead a dramatic tear-jerker in Made for Each Other in which she plays a wife and mother facing financial problems and a life-threatening illness for her baby.

Lombard received rave reviews for her “serious” acting and proved that she was not only more than a pretty face, but showed the world that a woman actor can reach new heights and show just as much range in performing as a man.

Unfortunately, the film itself did not receive positive reviews and was not considered a financial success.  Lombard’s other attempts at dramatic roles were held in less regard, forcing her to return to comedy films for the rest of her career.

It was during this time that she married Clark Gable, who was arguably the most popular male actor in Hollywood at the time.  Fresh off his success in the classic Gone With The Wind, Gable married Lombard and became the nation’s “supercouple” of the early 1940s.

Lombard returned to prominence in the cinema with another successful string of comedy films and became even more relevant in the hearts and minds of her audience.  During World War II she used her star-power to lead several successful campaigns for war bonds, helping to raise over $2-million in a single evening.

It was during one of these campaigns that took her life while flying in an airplane.  Due to reports (later to be determined as false) that Japanese fighters were spotted in the vicinity, airplane warning lights were turned off so as to not aid the enemy planes from spotting dangerous mountainous terrain.  Lombard’s plane pilot was not familiar with the dramatic incline of the 8,300-foot Potosi Mountains during takeoff and crashed the plane, killing Lombard and everyone on board.

Her final picture, To Be Or Not To Be, released after her death, garnished, like so most of her other movies, tremendous praise for her performance.  She reportedly said it was the most fun she even had while making a motion picture.  

It was her 58th featured film. She was 33 years old when she died.

Fans and celebrities alike all mourned her tragic death. For her husband, it was said that Clark Gable was never quite the same, personally or professionally, after her passing.

You can see Lombard in classic films like 1936’s My Man Godfrey, her dramatic turn in Made for Each Other and other great pictures, as part of the “ATVN Movie Vault” seen regularly on our network.  To view the complete rundown of classic programming on the Astound TV Network, check out the weekly listings here


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound or any other agency, organization, employer or company.