Fireball Lombard movie

A Facebook Fourth

A couple months ago I mentioned that I was writing a film treatment of Fireball. It wasn’t my idea to create a movie version—it was suggested by my accountant, who’s a good man to keep happy. As I noted in my column about the idea of a Fireball film, the subject keeps coming up and I’ve been writing to satisfy what you might call popular demand.

Since mid-May I’ve had some conversations with Hollywood insiders and they’ve convinced me that I’m better off developing not just a treatment, which is the equivalent of an outline of the story of a film, but a complete screenplay. I got started working on the screenplay as time allows, basically when I’m not writing Mission: James Stewart and World War II. But a couple of Facebook conversations on the Carole Lombard page [login required for FB link] put spurs to my efforts and I’ve been working hours a day to get the screenplay done and out there.

On July 2, a member of the Carole Lombard group, Brian Lee Anderson, posted on the CL page, “I got asked today what actors I hope portray Carole and Clark in the film version of Fireball … Who would you like to see?” That question prompted 88 replies, many with photos of prospective Lombards and Gables. Vincent Paterno then picked up the conversation and moved it to his Carole & Co. website.

The next day, I mentioned on Facebook that I’m working on a screenplay of the story, which generated 79 replies on its own. I hesitated to post anything because, as I feared, a by-product of doing so is that now there are people out there counting the days until Fireball is released to screens nationwide.

It’s not quite that simple. Granted, a Hollywood management type and a Hollywood producer are interested in seeing the script when it’s done. Granted, I have a couple of other irons in the fire as to how to circulate the script, but make no mistake, this is a spec script. It’s not a work for hire at this point. There’s no guarantee Fireball will ever become a major motion picture, or a feisty indie for that matter. That said, I have never seen such a groundswell of interest, energy, and positive push for an idea before. It’s practically risen to the level of a grass-roots campaign to get this thing made.

To play along with Brian Lee Anderson’s July 2 question, a problem well beyond who’s going to option the Fireball screenplay and get a production in gear is who would play Carole Lombard? Who would play Clark Gable? They were true originals and we’re familiar with their faces, voices, and mannerisms because their movies are available today on DVD, TCM, Netflix, and any number of cable channels. Leo DiCaprio made a good Howard Hughes in The Aviator specifically because the audience didn’t know Howard Hughes that well. What did the shy, reclusive Howard look and sound like? Who the hell knows? Like Leo DiCaprio, I guess. But Gable and Lombard? We know them to a T and good luck with casting.

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

When you look at Henry Cavill, do you see Clark Gable?

At the same time, my brother-in-law Michael Rothhaar and nephew Will Rothhaar are Hollywood actors, really accomplished actors, and I’ve seen them do remarkable things with the characters they’re playing. I’ve directed actors giving performances that made my jaw drop—How do they do what they do? How do they become other people and recite pages of dialogue memorized the night before as that other person? There are enormously talented actors out there, and I can’t rule out the fact that the perfect Lombard and Gable exist—actors capable of playing these two from the inside out.

Casting today’s stars as Hollywood legends is the stuff of endless debate. For the sake of argument, here are the results of the Facebook threads of last week:

Lombards mentioned include Kate Hudson (most votes), Jennifer Lawrence, Carey Mulligan, Jennifer Garner, Cameron Diaz, Reese Witherspoon, Maggie Lawson, Amy Poehler, Kelly Rutherford, Amy Adams, Michelle Williams, Amber Velletta, Dakota Fanning, Melissa Joan Hart, Blake Lively, Kate Winslet, Melanie Laurent (who’s French), Kristin Chenoweth, Charlize Theron, and Naomi Watts.

For Gable, George Clooney ran away with the voting, and then came Henry Cavill (multiple votes); Leo DiCaprio (“Yes definitely!” and “Not in a million years!” votes), Robert Downey Jr., Colin Farrell, Anson Mount, Jeffrey Dean, Chris Pratt, Hugh Jackman, and Brad Pitt.

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

George Clooney during production of The Monuments Men. Pass the hair dye and let’s get this thing going.

I don’t like to wade into such frays, but I can’t resist. Personally I always thought Gable was George Clooney’s part to give away. He’s got the movie-star presence of a king of Hollywood, and as affected as Gable always played Gable, well, Clooney would be all over that. A growing problem is Clooney’s age, given that Gable was 41 at the time of the crash, and Clooney’s past that now. Still, I think he could do it if only because it was difficult to pin Gable’s age down back in the day and he was always playing younger and older. Blacken his hair and he’s 30; gray his temples and he’s 50.

I’m always looking at actresses to see if they’re Lombard candidates. Whoever it is better be funny by nature. Charming as hell. Jill Clayburgh (God rest her soul) was neither, and a lack of connection to who she was playing helped sink her rendition in Gable & Lombard, made way back in 1976. I could see Zooey Deschanel, Kate Hudson, or Anna Faris in the part and my dark horse—my literal dark horse because she’s part Brazilian with raven hair and dark eyes—is Jordana Brewster of D.E.B.S. and four of the Fast & Furious pictures. She’s capable of charming your pants off and she’s got the Lombard square jaw that could evoke CL to those in the know.

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

Jordana Brewster. Coloring’s wrong but personality’s right.

Most intriguing of all the casting opinions:

  • NC 1945 the restored TWA DC-3 in Kansas City to portray its sister ship, the doomed NC 1946, better known as Flight 3. They were on the assembly line at the Douglas plant in Santa Monica at the very same time in February 1941. Thank you, Michael McComb, for that idea.
  • Kate Hudson as Carole and Goldie Hawn as Carole’s mother Petey, as pitched by Brian Lee Anderson. Yes, Brian, that would be cool as hell.
Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

Goldie and Kate as Petey and Carole?

So that’s how I spent my Fourth, writing like mad while keeping an entertained eye on Facebook.

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

The sister ship of the doomed Flight 3, now being refurbished in Kansas City and awaiting its big break in Hollywood.