Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

If you happened to be at the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California, this past weekend, I want to be in touch with you because I wonder if you heard a kuh-thump sound. That would have been Carole Lombard turning over in her grave, because at the Heritage auction house in Dallas, Texas, a movie poster from one of her films auctioned today for $107,550. The reason she turned would have done the old flip-a-roo is that the poster represented Supernatural, her least favorite picture in a career spanning almost 80 screen appearances over 20 years.

As some of you may know, I’ve been involved with movie posters since high school, and to me there’s nothing so evocative as the smell of a stack of old lobby cards or other carefully aged, 80-year-old paper. I saw the Supernatural one sheet on a wall in Hollywood somewhere around 1985—the one that sold for $107K may have been the same copy for all I know. I believed it would go high because it’s rare (only a few survived) and scarce (many people want the few that exist) and stunning to look at. Lombard’s mesmerizing eyes follow you from all angles—it’s one of those posters, the spooky kind, as CL clutches a glowing crystal ball in her hands.

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

Roma Courtney, now possessed by the spirit of Ruth Rogen, who recently went to the chair for murder.

As recounted in Fireball, Supernatural is Carole’s only horror film, made in 1933 by the Halperin Brothers¾Victor, who directed, and Edward, who produced. Their reputation on poverty row preceded them to Paramount Pictures, where Lombard was then under contract and forced to make this tale of a dead murderess whose spirit drifts around possessing people, including at one point Roma Courtney as portrayed by our gal. The Halperins had just hit pay dirt creating one of Bela Lugosi’s signature features, White Zombie, great-great-great granddaddy of today’s endless stream of derivatives, including a series I just can’t stand called The Walking Dead.

Give me Supernatural any day. It’s a tons-of-fun sexy pre-code feature that moves at a mile a minute. The cast is solid led by Carole, Randolph Scott, H.B. Warner (relevant to today’s general viewer for It’s a Wonderful Life and Sunset Boulevard, although he goes way back in the silents), and Vivienne Osborne as the crazed, dead-then-undead killer. Everyone takes the proceedings oh so seriously, where today with something like this there’d be lots of winks and nods at the camera. Why Lombard was so exasperated making Supernatural I really don’t understand, because she was way into all things paranormal, cavorted with psychics and palmists, and should have seen the benefits of making a picture that was truly different from what was frankly a lot of crap that Paramount kept putting her in—mindless melodramas that induce migraines today. But exasperated she was, to such an extent that at one point during production she threw her arms open wide and screamed to the heavens, “Who do I have to screw to get off this picture?!”

Well, Carole, Supernatural lives on. Brother does it. Your mug made the cover of the Heritage auction catalog and the fact that the Supernatural one sheet, complete with your staring eyes and a pair of glowing, shadowy brow ridges that would make any gorilla proud, will hit the news in collecting circles for the fact that this poster cracked a hundred-grand and comfortably so. You might as well grin and bear it, baby. You have made the news in 2017.


Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen


  1. I agree that Supernatural is a fun thriller, Robert. There are, if memory serves me correctly, two moments in which there is a closeup of Lombard’s face as the spirit of the dead murderess invades her body in one scene and then later leaves her in the other.

    They are impressive effects achieved through the same camera filter system, I believe, that Rouben Mamoulian had utilized for the closeups of Fredric March’s transforming from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde two years before.

    I’ve had some old movie lobby cards for, literally, decades now, including some original Flynn stuff, like The Sea Hawk, Santa Fe Trail and Prince and the Pauper. I got them for pennies, well, a handful of dollars, in the ’60s, and now they just sit in a closet gathering dust. I’ve often had thoughts of trying to sell them (I once had a dealer’s eyes light up when he saw them but he only offered me $700 or so, and I know they’re probably worth considerably more).

    I’ve heard of Heritage Auctions in Dallas but get paranoid of getting ripped off somehow, so don’t do anything with them. Maybe one day.

  2. Delightful movie poster story. Got me thinking, though. Carole Lombard (Jane Alice Peters) may well have tried to communicate to a few people after she crashed into that mountain, evidencing that our souls survive death. Really?

    Take Lucille Ball, for example. I am fairly certain that in her autobiography she wrote that while sleeping Carole communicated to her from beyond, encouraging her to excel in her career. Translation: the character that Ball created for television in I Love Lucy was oddly like Lombard – the cry-like-a-baby reaction when her character gets into deep trouble after a prank goes awry, and Desi rattles off in Cuban sentences his mercuric reaction to Lucy – something that the audience just loves. Ball constructed part of her character, from what I’ve observed having viewed the series in re-run as a kid, from Carole Lombard.

    I don’t believe we hang around graves very long after we’ve gone. Depends on the kharma, and the ability or inability to detach and move on. Or just hang out in Astral for a while. I think Carole did just that for a while, to comfort Clark, but I take comfort from the training i have had for the last 7 years, that we do move on and reincarnate. And I believe she did, maybe 5, 10 or 20 years later.

    Though one story I viewed on a national broadcast, ABC from New York, several years ago about reincarnation. A kid who reincarnated over 50 years later after having been shot down and vividly remembering the crash of his fighter plane in the Pacific during WWII (“little man on fire, little man on fire – he yelled as a four year-old in a nightmare), was regressed by professionals and became a proven marvel for those who investigated this with his family, verifying with military records and some still living the kid’s recollections of the flight. The Founders of American aren’t spinning because of the current presidential administration – they moved on. I think it is safe to say that Carole is among us now, and completely unaware of the poster sale.

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