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Carole Lombard - 8/10
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Carole Lombard Profile

Carole Lombard, who personified the glamorous giddiness of 1930s comedy, has become the standard by which actresses who combine beauty and zany humor are measured. Many of her contemporaries noted that the wit, charm and high spirits of her characters were extensions of Lombard's own personality. Barbara Stanwyck once said of her fellow actress that she was "so alive, modern, frank and natural that she stands out like a beacon."

Born Jane Peters in Fort Wayne, Ind., on October 6, 1908, Lombard was raised in California from age six and was discovered at 12 by director Allan Dwan, who spotted her in a neighbor's yard in Los Angeles and cast her in his film A Perfect Crime (1921). She returned to films at age 17 with a contract at Fox, where her name was changed to Carole Lombard. After a few routine roles, she moved on to a stint with Mack Sennett, for whom she made a dozen or so two-reelers during 1927-28 and learned the timing which would become the basis of her comedy technique.

Lombard progressed to playing leads in minor films at Pathe and Paramount, where she was signed to a seven-year contract in 1930. After four years of roles in which her blonde beauty and fashion flair seemed more important than her acting talents, she burst into stardom in Twentieth Century (1934). The role of Lily Garland, a chorus girl-turned-temperamental-star who is pursued for professional reasons by Broadway impresario John Barrymore, at last allowed a proper outlet for Lombard's quicksilver comic gifts, and she helped turn the film into a prototype of screwball comedy.

Lombard's My Man Godfrey (1936) and Nothing Sacred (1937) also became classics of the screwball genre, and are often considered among the funniest movies ever made. In the former film she gives what many consider the definitive Lombard performance as a ditsy heiress who takes in an apparently penniless hobo (William Powell, Lombard's ex-husband in real life) and turns him into the family butler. In the latter, she is a Vermont girl who is thought to be dying and allows hotshot reporter Fredric March to wring maximum publicity out of her "fate" even though it's all a mistake.

After her comedy successes led to her being named Hollywood's highest-paid star, Lombard turned serious in four films: Made for Each Other (1939), in which she plays the wife of struggling young attorney James Stewart; In Name Only (1939), a touching romance in which she's part of a love triangle that also includes Cary Grant and Kay Francis; Vigil in the Night (1940), in which she's a dedicated nurse at a British hospital; They Knew What They Wanted (1940), in which she is the mail-order bride of immigrant Charles Laughton, and the offbeat Alfred Hitchcock marital comedy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941), co-starring Robert Montgomery.

Lombard returned to comedy in grand style with her final film, To Be or Not to Be (1942), Ernst Lubitsch's scintillating political satire about a theatrical couple (Lombard and Jack Benny) who find ingenious ways of outwitting Nazis in World War II Poland. On January 16, 1942, shortly after the completion of this film, Lombard was killed in an air crash near Las Vegas after having sold $2 million worth of war bonds in her home state of Indiana.

She left behind a grief-stricken widower -- Clark Gable, whom Lombard had married in 1939 after a well-publicized courtship. President Roosevelt sent a consoling cable that read in part, "She brought joy to all who knew her, and to millions who knew her only as a great artist."

* Titles in Bold will Air on TCM in August

by Roger Fristoe
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