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After a string of hugely popular and successful comedies, Carole Lombard was eager in 1938 to find a pure drama. She found one, Made for Each Other (1939), at Selznick studios, where it was no coincidence that independent producer David O. Selznick was simultaneously preparing his upcoming blockbuster Gone With the Wind (1939); Lombard seriously coveted the role of Scarlett O'Hara, and was eager to show off her dramatic acting chops.
Directed by John Cromwell from a script by Jo Swerling, Made for Each Other is a simple story of a young, newlywed couple struggling with money, baby, and in-law problems. For the part of Lombard's husband, Selznick borrowed James Stewart from MGM. Selznick believed Stewart had just the right amount of screen presence to complement Lombard but not overwhelm her. (In fact, Selznick feared that Lombard might overwhelm Stewart on screen, if anything.)
The two stars got along well. Stewart later called Lombard "the only girl I've ever known who could let out a stream of four-letter words and not embarrass you. In fact, I'd have to say it was ladylike the way she did it." For her part, Lombard said that Stewart's "talent is perfection itself." Director Cromwell praised Lombard as "just a joy" to work with, "a wonderful gal," and soon directed her again in In Name Only (1939), another drama.
Author Marc Eliot has written that for a scene in which Stewart had to cry, the actor resorted to an old trick after Cromwell was unable to talk him into generating real tears: "Stewart took a break, slipped outside the studio, lit a cigarette and... held it close to his face, to allow the smoke to burn his eyes."
David Selznick was so busy with Gone With the Wind at this time that he left Cromwell largely unsupervised. But a preview screening went badly, and Selznick briefly turned his attention to re-editing the film and expanding a climactic sequence in which emergency serum must be flown through a raging blizzard to New York City in order to save a baby's life. Cromwell fought with Selznick over this sequence, but Selznick prevailed, explaining that it was actually quite realistic since a similar scenario had unfolded when Selznick's brother Myron needed special medicine flown quickly to Los Angeles. (It arrived without a moment to spare.)
In his advertising campaign for the film, Selznick played up the "new" Carole Lombard: "CAROLE CRIES! It's a David O. Selznick stroke of showmanship to make Lombard go dramatic!"
The picture opened in early 1939 to excellent reviews. Trade paper Variety called it "an exquisitely played, deeply moving comedy-drama... A happy combination of young love, sharp clean-cut humor and tearjerker." Frank Nugent of The New York Times deemed it "thoroughly delightful, richly human, comic, sentimental and poignant by turns... The story of almost every young couple that ever was or will be." And Time magazine declared, "This mundane, domestic chronicle has more dramatic impact than all the hurricanes, sandstorms and earthquakes manufactured in Hollywood last season." The film also made The New York Times' Ten-Best list at the end of the year, a significant achievement for Hollywood's golden year of 1939.
Despite the good press, however, Made for Each Other was a box-office dud. And while Lombard may not have gotten the part of Scarlett O'Hara, she did win Gone With the Wind's leading man: she married Clark Gable soon after Made for Each Other's release. They were still married when Lombard perished in a 1942 plane crash, at age 33.
Director: John Cromwell
Screenplay: Jo Swerling (screenplay); Rose Franken (suggested by a story by); Frank Ryan (contributor: humorous situations, uncredited)
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Art Direction: Lyle Wheeler
Music: Oscar Levant
Film Editing: James E. Newcom
Cast: Carole Lombard (Jane Mason), James Stewart (John Horace Mason), Charles Coburn (Judge Joseph M. Doolittle), Lucille Watson (Mrs. Harriet Mason), Eddie Quillan (Conway), Alma Kruger (Sister Madeline), Harry Davenport (Dr. Healy), Esther Dale (First Cook), Louise Beavers (Third Cook), Ward Bond (Jim Hatton), Milburn Stone (Newark Official).
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