One of America’s most popular female actresses of the 1930’s, Carole Lombard is best known for her leading roles in screwball comedies. Her box office hits entertained the nation. But before Lombard achieved the status of a Hollywood legend, she lived the life of an ordinary Hoosier girl.
Jane Alice Peters (who later changed her name to Carole Lombard) was born October 6, 1908, in Fort Wayne, Ind. Lombard remembered her early years in Indiana with great fondness. When her parents separated, Lombard and her mother moved to Los Angeles.
At the age of 12, Lombard starred in her first film, ‘A Perfect Crime’ (1921). A beautiful young woman, she caught the eye of executives at Fox Film Corporation. They signed Lombard to a one-year contract when she was just 16 years old. As part of the contract, the studio insisted she choose an intriguing stage name. Thus, Carole Lombard was born.
Lombard’s relationship with Fox lasted just one year. She was cast in a few small roles, but was unhappy with the lack of opportunities. When her one-year contract expired, Fox chose not to continue the association. Carole believed the studio ended the contract because she had sustained a noticeable facial scar following an automobile accident.
Between 1927 and 1929, Lombard appeared in several short films as one of the “Sennett Bathing Beauties.” It was her first experience with slapstick comedy.
Lombard got her big break in 1930. She starred in the western, The Arizona Kid. Executives at Paramount Pictures loved the film and quickly signed her to a contract. Initially, she made $350 a week. By 1936, she was making $3,500 per week.
In 1931, Lombard married Hollywood star Warner Baxter. The couple were complete opposites. It was no surprise when the marriage ended two years later.
1934 marked Lombard’s first appearance in a screwball comedy production, ‘Twentieth Century‘. The film was a stellar success and Lombard had discovered her niche. She went on to star in several comedic films, most of which became box office hits. In 1936, Lombard was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in the film, ‘My Man Godfrey‘.
Lombard married Hollywood heartthrob Clark Gable in 1939, and the couple was said to be a great match. No one could have predicted the sad end to Lombard’s life just a few years later.
On the eve of America’s entry into World War II, Lombard became involved in fundraising efforts. On January 15, 1942, she traveled with her mother to Indiana to attend a war bond rally. Lombard raised $2 million in just one night – an unprecedented amount of money. It would be Lombard’s last public appearance.
On her way home from the rally, Lombard’s plane crashed over Nevada. The crash killed everyone on board. Lombard was just 33 years old.
The nation mourned the loss of a beloved public figure. In the aftermath of the crash, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Lombard to be the first woman killed in the line of duty during WWII. She was awarded a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom. The United States Maritime Commission named a liberty ship in her honor. The SS Carole Lombard launched on January 15, 1944.
At the time of her death, Lombard was the highest paid actress in Hollywood. Today, she is remembered as one of the greatest American comedians of the 1930’s. Carol’s Fort Wayne childhood home still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.