I came across this letter on a Facebook (posted by Brian Lee Anderson) Carole Lombard fan page. It’s written in Lombard’s own hand for Movie Mirror magazine in celebration of Thanksgiving 1939, and I find it evocative on a couple of levels. I don’t know how much prepping she did or who might have helped her with this piece. This was her RKO period so it’s not a Russell Birdwell/Selznick PR piece, and maybe it’s just Carole being Carole and winging it. The sentiment is beautiful, democratic, and gives a nod to the fact that, hey, worldly possessions are important. It’s better to have them than not to have them.
The handwriting itself shows an unusual amount of concentration and workmanship from someone who often scribbled like your average M.D. A handwriting analyst might say that the lack of slant in one direction or the other indicates a practical, down-to-earth person, which she certainly was, and the occasional backward slant reveals a rebellious streak that just couldn’t be contained.
To me the allusion to world events hits closest to home because in working on my new manuscript, Mission: James Stewart and World War II, I am forced to confront human suffering that’s at the least uncomfortable and often devastating. She wrote her Thanksgiving message about a year after Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass symbolizing the beginning of the end for Jews in Nazi-occupied territories. She wrote it two months after the invasion of Poland that sent refugees streaming westward. She wrote it with the German war machine rising to strike against France and England and with Hitler rallying hundreds of thousands in Nuremberg. She wrote it as the conflict between Japan and China raged for its second year. She wrote it in anticipation of a war that would claim more than 400,000 American lives, including her own.
The Allies would prevail in what would become World War II, and their spoils included the writing of the history of it. I continue to struggle to uncover accounts of civilians under the rain of Eighth Air Force bombs because the losers in war don’t get to tell their stories. But if war is hell, then those unlucky enough to watch 200 B-24 Liberators fly over and unload their “cartons of eggs” truly knew what hell was all about. Before you say, “Well, they were the enemy, that’s what they deserved,” consider that the bombs fell on civilians who had learned that challenging Nazi authority meant death; on Jews hiding in Berlin basements for years; and on Dutch, French, and Polish nationals forced to work in German factories. Tens of thousands of these humans were blown back to their molecular components by the Americans of the Mighty Eighth.
And that’s what I see written between the lines of Carole Lombard’s Thanksgiving 1939 message. There’s a palpable sense of foreboding, that history was about to blow through in the form of a worldwide cyclone and no one, absolutely no one, would be spared.