Hockey players nickname everybody. Locally, the National Hockey League Pittsburgh Penguins have a “Kuny,” a “Scuds,” a “Duper,” a “Tanger,” and a “Borts.” They do this at rinks all around the world. I’ve found no evidence that Carole Lombard ever played professional hockey, but hockey players would admire her penchant for nicknaming everyone, including her own mother. In fact, alternate names run so rampant in Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 that a reader I met in L.A. in January, Ruth Peeples, asked for the creation of a scorecard to keep all the nicknamed people in Carole’s life straight.
Since it’s impractical to drive around inserting a cheat sheet in every copy of the book in stores and warehouses, let’s take a moment and run them down here.
Carole’s mother was Elizabeth Peters, and you’d think that “Mom” would suffice, or “Mother,” but to Carole she was “Petey” or “Tots,” and mostly I used Petey in the book with an occasional Tots thrown in when looking at Elizabeth Peters from the perspective of her famous daughter. In unpublished interviews kept at the Academy Library, Alice Marble refers to Mrs. Peters entirely as “Petey,” including when Marble recounts conversations in which Carole referenced her mother…always as Petey.
Carole knew her brother Fred as “Fritz” and her brother Stuart as “Tootey.” There wasn’t much Carole could do with close friend Dixie Pantages because Dixie already fit the bill, but her other best galpal, Madalynne Fields, became “Fieldsie” to Carole and then to everyone else in Hollywood. Jean Garceau, secretary to Clark and Carole Gable, was just “Jeanie,” but Loretta Francelle, the hairdresser who worked on all Carole’s pictures, was, picturesquely, “Bucket.” The people in Lombard’s universe knew they had arrived if they picked up a nickname, and I have to wonder if it was Carole who dubbed close friend Cesar Romero “Butch” because this one certainly has a Lombardesque ring to it.
When Carole took up tennis, her teacher, Elinor Tennant, became “Teach” first on the courts of Hollywood and then all over the world. Carole’s protégé Alice Marble, the TB-hospital refugee whom Carole sponsored to worldwide tennis stardom, including U.S. and Wimbledon championships, became “Allie.” Then Margaret Tallichet, whom Lombard sponsored for a career in pictures, became “Tallie.”
Carole’s men had nicknames too. You’d think “Bill” would suffice for first husband William Powell, but just to note their age difference of 17 years, Carole called him “Pops” or “Popsie,” and every once in a while, “Junior.” Her tempestuous year with crooner Russ Columbo saw each referring to the other as “Pookie,” and when Clark Gable came along and became husband number two, Carole didn’t go with the obvious “Clark” or even “King,” as in King of Hollywood. She called him “Pa” or “Pappy” or sometimes what Spencer Tracy called him, “Moose.” In turn, Gable referred to Carole as “Ma” or “Mrs. G.”
So this is for you, Ruth, a glossary of Carole Lombard’s nicknames for friends, family, and lovers. This is in no way comprehensive and I invite additions.
Allie – Alice Marble, tennis star
Bucket – Loretta Francelle, Carole’s hairdresser
Fieldsie – Madalynne Fields, Carole’s friend, housemate, confidante, and secretary
Fritz – Frederick Peters II, Carole’s eldest brother
Jeanie – Jean Garceau, secretary to the Gables
Junior – William Powell (alternate to “Pops” and “Popsie”)
Moose – Clark Gable (alternate to “Pa”)
Pa or Pappy – Clark Gable
Petey – Elizabeth Peters, Carole’s mother
Pookie – Russ Columbo
Pops or Popsie – William Powell
Tallie – Margaret Tallichet, Paramount PR girl who became a leading lady
Teach – Elinor Tennant, Carole’s tennis instructor
Tootey – Stuart Peters, Carole’s elder brother
Tots or Totsie – Elizabeth Peters, Carole’s mother (alternate to “Petey”)