carole lombard hoosier

Carole Lombard: As It Happens

Attention readers of this column and Carole Lombard fans everywhere. Join me on Twitter tomorrow and Friday for a very special event: “Carole Lombard: As It Happens,” with live Twitter feeds as we follow her realtime through her planned day in Indianapolis selling war bonds. We will then follow her home for a reunion with Clark Gable. Coverage begins early tomorrow morning, Thursday January 15, and continues Friday January 16 on Twitter. Join me at @Robert Matzen. For those of you not currently on Twitter, here’s your chance to sign up and get acquainted.


Who’s up for another live-event hurrah for Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3? How about coming to hear me speak at the Fort Wayne History Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Sunday, October 5, 2014, at 2 p.m? I’m an introvert and a cranky pain in the ass, and yet I’m told I’m a good speaker when I get going on the topics contained in Fireball. I make no bones about this: Audience members have been known to pull out wallets and shower me with cash after a lecture. I guess it’s possible they are using money to shut me up, but I choose to believe that they’re moved to purchase based on the many compelling themes in Fireball. As a result, I think it would be worth your while to book plane reservations or get in your car and commute to Fort Wayne and incur all the expenses such a weekend would entail just to step in the middle of this incredible story and visit the place of Carole Lombard’s birth.

Before and after my lecture, tours will be conducted of the Peters family home on Rockhill Street where Jane Peters (who would become Carole Lombard) was born on October 6, 1908 and lived to age six. Her father continued to live there after his wife and three children had split for California. Two special guests are already confirmed for the October 5 lecture and house tours: my very good friend Carole Sampeck, director of the Carole Lombard Archive Foundation and Hollywood historian who was quoted at several points in the Fireball narrative, and Marina Gray, Lombard expert and one of my two Jedi Ninja researchers on Fireball. Carole is flying in from Dallas and Marina from Seattle, so you begin to understand what a special weekend this will be.

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

My Indianapolis triumph: turning around a disgruntled teen. I never did get their names, but it was a positive experience for the three of us.

I’ve talked previously about the many lectures and signings that comprised the tour, starting in Santa Monica and Hollywood, California, and moving on to locations in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and culminating in Indianapolis, where Lombard spent what was the most intense, satisfying day of her life, and Las Vegas, Nevada, where that life ended 24 hours later. I especially like focusing on the skeptics in the audience—people dragged to the event, like the teenaged girl in Indianapolis who had been brought to a Sunday afternoon lecture by her enthusiastic dad. How sullen she started out; I felt bad for her. But by the end, I had her in the palm of my hand. Poor kid didn’t know what hit her as she took in this story of love, romance, betrayal, sacrifice, patriotism, tragedy, and grisly post mortems. This story is irresistible.

The most recent lecture was to 75-or-so people at a film convention in Columbus, Ohio, and here I found both aviation buffs and Hollywood authorities and that’s the best part for me—the Q&A. The people who raise their hands for questions test my knowledge and challenge my assertions. They bring new information to the table, like the woman who tipped me off to a significant and forgotten incident in Indianapolis, or the woman in Las Vegas who possessed deeply buried information about Carole Lombard’s faith. This is all new information worthy of the revised trade paperback second edition of Fireball due out next spring.

Oh, yeah, by the way, the first printing is nearing sellout and demand is still strong. A second printing of Fireball is in order, so why not add in some more facts where possible?

The new book project is starting to suck me in, but there’s work to be done on Fireball first. I owe it to the 22 souls aboard Flight 3, people I bonded with on the mountain and people who haven’t left me since. I could feel them about me that first night in Santa Monica, and they’ve been nearby many times since. I’ll be curious to see if I feel anything special when I’m standing in the room in which Carole Lombard was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’ll be a special weekend and I invite you to join me there, so save the date: Sunday, October 5, 2014.

At the Crossroads

When you enter the state of Indiana on President Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System, you see a sign that says, “Welcome to Indiana, Crossroads of America.” Further probing into the state reveals that Indianapolis is also known as the Crossroads of America, so you’re really at the crossroads when you reach Indiana’s capital city. On Sunday I spoke at a quaint bookstore on Mass Ave in downtown Indianapolis called Indy Reads Books talking about Fireball and on Monday morning I appeared on CBS affiliate WISH-TV’s Indy Style talking more Fireball in general and Carole Lombard’s last day of life in particular. For Lombard it was a blur of a winter’s day with appearances from downtown at the Capitol Building to the tony northern suburbs.

Indianapolis is laid out crazily around a downtown circle much as Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed Washington DC, with diagonal streets laid over a city grid, and the diagonals intersecting in roundabouts here and there. I guess it’s no coincidence since L’Enfant disciple Alexander Ralston co-designed the street pattern of Indianapolis. It’s easy to argue that these guys were geniuses…or that these guys were just plain nuts. Indy’s got six-way intersections and more pedestrians that you can shake a stick at. Jaywalking seems to be a sport in Indianapolis, and some streets have bike lanes but all streets seem to have bicyclists—who don’t always behave predictably. Downtown motorists had better be on their toes all the time because fancy driving doesn’t just happen on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; it happens all over Ralston’s complicated downtown system.

But I digress. I asserted on Indy radio, TV, and in person that Carole Lombard enjoyed two especially stellar days in a stellar life: her March 29, 1939 elopement with Clark Gable to Arizona, and her January 15, 1942 day selling war bonds in Indianapolis. Carole had to love everything about her time in Indy, where thousands of people treated her like a queen from the first instant to the last in a slate of appearances that ran like clockwork.

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

Getting started at Indy Reads Books.

An excellent Indianapolis Star feature by Will Higgins that heralded my lecture looked exclusively at the local angle on Lombard’s Indy trip, which was orchestrated by local businessman J. Dwight Peterson. I had seen the name in my research but didn’t call him out in Fireball, so Higgins’ article dovetails nicely with the narrative. I quickly learned in my Indy Reads lecture just how much the locals claim Lombard and how magical her day in town has remained over the decades. Attendees were very much into it, and included a rare father-daughter combo with the young lady maybe 13 and not too enthusiastic at the beginning, but the story is irresistible and before long she perked right up. I also met longtime Lombard-Gable fan Patricia Kennedy, who filled me in on some local particulars about the Lombard visit. It was a wonderful give and take of information—my national view and their local view, and I learned some things that will certainly make a future edition of Fireball.

My TV segment the next morning on Indy Style was more magic, as host Andi Hauser found herself engrossed in a copy of Fireball while prepping, and when I offered the exclusive Myron Davis Indianapolis photos as roll-ins with the segment, Brian, the director, snapped them up. How’s the saying go—Print anything you want about me; just spell my name right? I found out afterward that they spelled my name wrong in the super, and if you click the link it’s hideously misspelled still, but only because TV people live in a world where everything happens fast and the next thing is important and the thing that already happened isn’t. The meeting before airtime was maybe three minutes and the host, producer, and director asked brief questions and I knew to give brief answers because of the general state of hurry. But they treated me and Fireball very well, so Robert Matzum it is!

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

With Andi Hauser on CBS Channel 8’s Indy Style.

Afterward Mary and I sped down to the Capitol for a private tour of the Lombard hotspots, using Davis’s photos for visual reference. Jennifer Hodges and Rose Wernicke of the Tour Office helped us triangulate where Carole stood and handed out war bond receipts imprinted with her photo, personal message, and signature. It was near the office of Indiana Governor Henry Schricker, which made sense in terms of logistics. But Lombard and party were tucked away in a corner behind a makeshift wooden counter, outside a doorway. I asked Jennifer why that would have been. She thought a moment. “That’s the governor’s business office, so they would have been able to take her out that way afterward, down the stairs and outside without having to go out through the crowd.” Like I say: clockwork.

The 2014 view inside the Indiana State Capitol Building showing a glimpse of the same spot in 1942. The building was refurbished in the 1980s, so some of the appointments have changed–but not much.

Outside the building Mary and I easily found the spot where Carole stood on a makeshift platform for her speech that was covered by all the newsreel companies and by national radio. It was at the bottom of the steps near the east entrance, with the facade of the building unchanged today from what the Davis photos showed in 1942.

Our tour of Indianapolis was a clear success, and I can only hope the stop in Las Vegas next week goes as well. It will include some TV early in the week, followed by a lecture and signing on Saturday, April 12, at the Sahara West Library, with Potosi Mountain in full view. I know from writing the story how special Nevadans are; I’m hoping to meet some whose parents or grandparents participated in the search and recovery in 1942. Or maybe there are a couple hardy first responders still with us who can teach me a thing or two like the people of Indianapolis did just yesterday.

Carole Lombard delivers a speech outside the Indiana Capitol Building in 1942.

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

The same spot today.