Meanwhile, in an Alternate Reality…

For Immediate Release

MOVIE AND TV COMEDY STAR CAROLE LOMBARD TO PEN MEMOIR

Actress vows to ‘come clean’ in Putnam hardcover

HOLLYWOOD, May 1, 1961/AP —G.P. Putnam’s Sons announced today that the publisher will release the autobiography of motion picture and television actress Carole Lombard. The would-be author had stated previously that her book would be entitled, “Just One of the Guys.” Last week, Miss Lombard, who will turn 50 in October, made a public appearance after months of seclusion following the November, 1960 death of her ex-husband, Clark Gable. It is speculated that her memoir will discuss life with the one-time “king of the movies,” as well as their 1946 divorce, continued close friendship, and recent reuniting as co-stars of the romantic comedies, “Teacher’s Pet” and “But Not for Me.”

Miss Lombard’s career began in silent pictures for the Fox and Sennett studios and then continued in the sound era at Paramount. But it was the 1934 Columbia Picture “Twentieth Century” that shot her to the top. She solidified her status as “queen of screwball” two years later with an Academy Award-nominated performance in “My Man Godfrey.”

Miss Lombard and Mr. Gable began their association in 1936 and once comprised the most famous couple in Hollywood. They were married during production of the highest grossing motion picture of all time, “Gone With the Wind.” They enjoyed status as the most prolific and profitable stars of the World War II years, and, despite rumors of marital turmoil, their separation at war’s end caught Hollywood by surprise.

Miss Lombard said she has been working on the manuscript for more than two years. In describing its title, she said, “It was the men who ruled the Hollywood roost, and I had to make room for myself in the ‘boys’ club.’ Then I had to do it again when I decided to produce some pictures, and especially when I wanted to direct features and then serve as executive producer of my TV series.”

That series, “Carole of the Belle,” features Miss Lombard as Carole Simpson, a divorced newspaper reporter raising her daughter on a Seattle houseboat called the “Puget Belle.” Now in its 11th season on the National Broadcasting Network, “Carole of the Belle” was second in popularity in the last decade only to the CBS smash hit “I Love Lucy,” which starred Miss Lombard’s friend of more than 20 years, Lucille Ball.

In addition to her groundbreaking work in motion pictures and television, among the topics to be remembered by Miss Lombard are a car crash that nearly ended her career in 1925; her marriage to suave leading man William Powell; the strange death of Russ Columbo, a 1930s singer with whom she was romantically linked; a long-time friendship with tennis star Alice Marble; a brush with death when an airliner on which she had been traveling crashed in Nevada after she had disembarked; and her battles with HUAC and unwillingness to “name names.”

Famous for her salty vocabulary and known as one of the most down-to-earth of Hollywood’s elite, Miss Lombard said she would “pull no punches” in her book, although she was coy when asked if she would discuss her post-Gable romances with actor/director Orson Welles, and then her most controversial relationship of all, with actor Paul Newman, a man 15 years her junior.

Putnam anticipates an autumn 1962 release for “Just One of the Guys.”

###

 

How this came about…

A colleague of mine, Wendy, is reading Fireball and said to me yesterday, “The whole thing is such a tragedy because if anyone should have lived a long life and produced a great memoir, it’s Carole Lombard.” Wendy paused and said, “She’d have made a great old lady.”

Which got me to thinking. Suppose she hadn’t died on that mountaintop. Suppose she had lived a normal lifetime and worked the length of a normal career. What would have happened? Of course it’s pure fantasy, but when you have spent as much time in someone’s head as I have in hers, you get to a point where you can draw conclusions. Here they’re laid out. Somehow or other, the marriage would have ended, but Lombard didn’t hold grudges and after a time she and Gable would have been friendly. Without the tragedy of her death hanging over his head, three things would have changed: 1) Gable’s ambition wouldn’t have been snuffed out and his brand would have thrived; 2) the public would have been spared seeing Clark Gable as a mortal and he wouldn’t have aged prematurely, and 3) at age 41 and then 42 and 43, he wouldn’t have gone to war; he would have made very popular pictures from 1943 through 45, during the biggest boom in Hollywood history.

In the meantime, Lombard would have made He Kissed the Bride (retitled They All Kissed the Bride) and My Girl Godfrey, and from there, she would have been off to the races as an independent, enjoying good roles with her contemporaries until 1950. I could see her producing and directing by, say, 1948, and not comedies either. I think Lombard would have gone for gritty film noir as a form of artistic expression. She had wanted to succeed at drama but never broke through, so it’s clear she wanted the challenge of meaty work. She would have been out front with Ida Lupino as a woman director and by this time she would have amassed fortune enough to finance A-pictures as an independent.

Imagine Carole Lombard called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. Always a liberal Democrat, Carole would not be the one to rat out a colleague and it was likely she’d lean into the microphone on Capitol Hill and state clearly for newsreel cameras, “Senator, with all due respect, you can kiss my ass.”

In 1954, when MGM severed with Gable, Lombard would have been there as his biggest supporter and sooner or later she would have made pictures with him to give her ex a boost—returning a favor done for her by William Powell in 1936. I picked Teacher’s Pet because I could see Lombard in the Doris Day role, and But Not for Me where she would have been perfect in the cynical ex-wife part played by Lili Palmer.

Carole would not have spoken about Clark during his lifetime, but because she was indeed a “ham” and because she loved to tell stories (never letting the truth get in her way), I could see Miss Lombard following the trail blazed by Errol Flynn and publishing a scorcher of a memoir.

Romantically, she may well have slipped into a romance with Robert Stack, a premiere Hollywood stud and nice guy who was in love with her. The problem was that Bob didn’t need rescuing, and Carole was a rescuer/nurturer who went for powerful men. Always powerful men. Who fit the bill at this time? Obviously, Orson Welles, who would have been available after his divorce from Rita Hayworth. I asked Carole Sampeck to play along and it was she who labeled Welles a likely candidate, and also young Paul Newman, the next big thing in the late 1950s at a time when Carole would have just been turning 50 but, knowing her, still mindful to play the field.

And finally, I believe Lombard would have turned to television, the rival medium. In a White 1950s America dominated by traditional family values, the formula was for aging female movie stars to play wives and mothers, but not Lombard. Carole would have scratched and clawed to play a woman with guts, a divorcee and career-minded mother. A woman making her own way and suffering romantic misadventures week in and week out, making jokes at her own expense and guiding an onscreen child in lieu of the one she could never produce in life.

Notice that the press release gets Lombard’s age wrong by three years. She had already shaved a year off by 33 and sleight of hand would have killed another couple by the early 1960s. Nobody enjoyed pulling a fast one more than Carole Lombard.

So this is my version of the alternate reality wherein Lombard lived out her lifetime–what’s yours?

5 comments

  1. An interesting “rewrite” of history. I could see Carole Lombard having a career similar to Myrna Loy’s later career. Myrna had some great roles in the 40s as the wise and humorous spouse or more mature love interest. It would have been great to have seen Lombard teamed with Grant again, preferably in a comedy. Or what about Lombard in an All About Eve type story? That would be a hoot. I remember Ginger Rogers getting some comedy roles in the 50s in which she was particularly cloying, but Carole Lombard as the over-the-top diva in Black Widow — she’d steal the picture.

    1. I think you’re on the right track, Rosemarie, with Lombard as “the over-the-top diva in Black Widow.” Something in the same universe as Maria Tura. That would have been terrific.

  2. Interesting speculation, Robert, on what might have been.

    I think that Robert Stack would have appreciated your speculation on how his own future would have been affected, too, if Lombard had not been in that plane.

    Certainly your guess that the marriage to Gable would not have lasted makes a lot of sense to me, as well as the feeling that, after the initial acrimony of the breakup, they would have returned to being friends again. Gable remained friends with Crawford long after their physical relationship had ended, I understand.

    One thing in your scenario that I would alter, however, is your assumption that Gable would still have had that heart attack in November, 1960. I suspect that if Lombard had not died that it, in turn, would have probably extended The King’s life, as well. He would have been a happier, more contented, man, not having the same need, I suspect, for the same quantities of booze and cigarettes. He died at 59. In my imaginary scenario Clark and Carole remain laughing pals occasionally seeing one another well into the late 1960s, perhaps even early ’70s.

    Strange, isn’t it, the small quirks of fate that can impact our lives over which we have so little, if any, control. It would have taken just one thing in a chain of events to not occur to stop Carole Lombard from being on that plane that fateful day. And that includes, at one point, the mere flip of a coin which Carole won.

    1. This is fantastic, Vince. Thank you! [Note: Vincent Paterno is one of the world’s leading authorizes on Carole Lombard and runs the comprehensive web site, Carole & Co.]

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