lombard gable


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

Glamour pusses Gable and Lombard share an ‘up’ moment exiting Ciro’s on the Strip in August 1941.

Why do we need there to be a happily ever after? When I was interviewed during the Fireball book tour, I would often hear things like, “Gable and Lombard had the kind of love that would have endured.” There would be such conviction in the voice of the interviewer, and at moments like that I found myself in an awkward place because the interviewer believed what was being said and, in fact, it was and was not true.

During the years that Carole Lombard and Clark Gable were together, she was in love with him in a mature way and he was in love with her in his own way. She was an older soul and possessed a strong altruistic streak. He was a perpetual adolescent and quite selfish the way males can be. Up to the time they became an item, he had relied only on himself, number one, and there was no number two. But suddenly she became number two and worked like hell to maintain that position, which must have been, for her, something like barbequing in a snowstorm. As the premiere sex symbol in the world and therefore a male of unquestionable power, Gable cut a swath through the female population of Hollywood. He slept around and continued to sleep around until the day Lombard died. She approached this fact as practically as she could: This is the price I’m paying to be Mrs. Clark Gable. He can get his rocks off wherever he likes because I know he comes home to me.

But that doesn’t mean she found rationalizing easy, and even a self-confident soul and sexual libertine like Carole Lombard had her limits.

Every indication is that if she had lived, he’d have gone right on as a brigand for as long as the marriage could endure. There were rumors at the time of her death that their union had already hit the rocks. A particular photo that appears in Fireball bears this out. They are sitting together in a restaurant, and she is smiling politely but looking like hell and he looks as miserable as you’ll ever see Clark Gable looking. It’s not the kind of grouchy-miserable that you see when Clark Gable is acting. This is vulnerable-miserable, pained-miserable, as if they are arguing and he’s wrong and he knows he’s wrong.

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

Three months later, here they are, her smile painted on, his nonexistent. She rests her hand on top of his hand, but she’s not holding his hand and he’s not playing along.

When the host of a Fireball interview would turn the statement into a question, “Gable and Lombard had the kind of love that would have endured, didn’t they?” there was my opening and I would answer with the truth: They loved each other, yes, but there were problems with the marriage that I think would have ended it before too much longer. Probably by 1945 or 1946, had she lived, she would have given up and left Clark Gable. Sometimes, loving someone and giving it your all isn’t enough. Sometimes, unconditional love causes the self to endure too much, give away too much; in this case she would have given away the prime of her life. I could easily see her reaching age 36 or 38 and no longer being willing to serve as consort to a hard-drinking, womanizing sovereign. Or I could see Gable waking up one morning and beholding a Lombard whose looks were beginning to wane from smoking, drinking, stress, and the natural process of aging. You can see the beginnings of it in the photo discussed earlier. At that point Gable might decide to trade his wife in for a newer model, say the sleek, 10-years-younger Lana Turner.

Whether Carole would have ended it or Clark would have, I don’t think this relationship was headed for happily ever after, and it was the shattering event of her death at age 33, after only two-and-a-half years of marriage, that bronzed the timeless, forever love of Gable-Lombard legend, the kind of love this twosome sometimes captured but was beginning to find elusive.

Looking even further down the line, I could see the Gables divorcing and remaining friends like she was friends with her ex William Powell and somewhere around 1955 getting together again for a Gable-Lombard picture or two. Precedent: Lombard made My Man Godfrey with Powell three years after their divorce. Gable made Key to the City with Loretta Young 16 years after she bore their love child—a child he would never acknowledge. Stars set personal feelings aside for the sake of box office. Astaire and Rogers weren’t exactly fond of one another; Abbott and Costello grew so far apart they didn’t speak except in front of the camera.

That’s life is how I look at it. Happy endings don’t come about very often and “for keeps” usually isn’t for keeps, especially in Hollywood. But that doesn’t detract from the story of Lombard and Gable. They were real people, “juicy people,” Loretta Young called them, and they deserve to be remembered for who they really were, not who we wish they would have been.

Hail to the King

Happy Birthday, Clark Gable. Today, had you taken better care of yourself, you would be 114. Let that be a lesson to you.

Come to think of it, Mr. Gable, I guess no matter how many cigarettes you had eschewed, no matter how many bottles of Chivas Regal you hadn’t consumed, you wouldn’t be around at 114. That’s a lot of years, and how they do fly by.

Some places reflect the years better than others. This past week I found myself in a city that feels very old: San Francisco. I was there on business, business so intense that I had barely a moment to see the sights, but a friend and I scaled Telegraph Hill from Chinatown to Pioneer Park and Coit Tower and looked out at Alcatraz, my first-ever glimpse of The Rock. Hard not to think about Al Capone or Clint Eastwood’s Escape from Alcatraz. Or his Dirty Harry, for that matter. It’s going on 70 years since Capone died; almost 40 since Escape was made; more than 40 for Dirty Harry. Hell, it’s already been 52 since The Rock closed as a prison. Years, years, years, speeding by.

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

My discovery: the top of Lombard Street. Pioneer Park is above.

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

It’s a long way down Lombard Street from here, all the way down Telegraph Hill to Columbus Avenue in the Italian part of town.

Exploring the streets that radiate out from Pioneer Park, I stumbled on Lombard Street, and it was one of those moments when my mind went boinggg! I had read someplace decades ago that Jane Peters took the name Lombard because of Lombard Street; it was here in San Francisco that mother Elizabeth Peters had first lighted with the kids in 1914 after leaving Fred in frosty Fort Wayne. Now, here I was at the head of Lombard Street all these years later, in another century, feeling some magic about the name and exploring on down the long hill to Corso Cristoforo Colombo—yes, Lombard intersects with Colombo. (Another intersection of the two would take place in 1933. Sort of.) Up yonder hill to the west Lombard Street turns serpentine in a crazy little section that’s a kick to drive down as I found out later in the evening.

I asked Carole Lombard authority Vincent Paterno, proprietor of bold and sassy Carole & Co., if he had ever heard this story about the origin of Lombard’s name, and he said he thought she took Lombard from family friend Harry Lombard. I had heard this too, but part of me wonders if she would have appropriated the name of a friend, which could have made an awkward moment or two had he said no. But I could see her using the name of the wildest street in San Francisco, Lombard Street.

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

Original poster art from San Francisco, selling the bad boy and the warbler with the gams.

Birthday boy Clark Gable made a picture about San Francisco called San Francisco while banging his new girlfriend, Carole Lombard, in the spring of 1936. The picture San Francisco featured a different kind of banging as it details the earthquake of 1906 that leveled parts of the city. Does anyone know if the picture premiered in San Francisco? I like to think it did, back in the day when studios took their stars and the press on junkets amid much ballyhoo to launch the A-pictures.

This was a landmark film for its recreation of the Big One and shows off Gable at his finest as yet another black-hearted rogue, the kind of role that established him as a man’s man and bad boy who made the ladies swoon. Women didn’t want to own Clark Gable because they knew he couldn’t be owned—but they spent a great deal of time imagining what it would be like to get roughed up a little by Clark Gable, who was 35 at the time of San Francisco and in his absolute prime. It became a great part of the legend between them: Lombard in her prime, the year she made My Man Godfrey, landed Gable in his prime, causing a great stir among the gods. It was quite a year on Olympus.

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

Clark and Carole early in their relationship. Customary Coca-Cola in hand, she wears a look that admits she just ate a canary.

Carole was always very big on birthdays, so somewhere, maybe up there on Olympus, she is calling Benny Massi to make sure the catering from Brown Derby is perfect for Pa’s surprise party to celebrate this, his 114th birthday.


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

A 1944 Government Printing Office poster for Gable’s wartime feature. Notice he was Major Clark Gable by the time of the picture’s release in the second half of 1944.

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me sooner to check out Clark Gable’s 1944 propaganda picture, Combat America, as background research for my new book project. But it took prompting from my pal Tom before I went ahead and sought out Combat America.

For those not in the know, Gable enlisted in the Army Air Corps in August of 1942, seven months after the death of wife Carole Lombard aboard TWA Flight 3. At this time Gable was making no secret of the fact that he didn’t care whether he lived or died. In fact, he preferred the latter over the former, and if he were to cash in, he would like to go the way Ma did.

Meanwhile, at MGM of Culver City, Louis B. Mayer and his lieutenants had spent many of their waking hours worrying about their multi-million-dollar investment, Clark Gable, king of the movies, getting mixed up in the war. Whenever the subject would come up they would hammer into Gable’s ear: You’re too old to go. For God’s sake you’re 41. Stay stateside where you can do the most good for the greatest number of people.

Gable was the hardest-headed man in Hollywood. Lombard had learned this sideways and in their six years together developed ways to penetrate that cement noggin—but mostly she just surrendered and did thing’s Pa’s way.

After Ma’s passing, Pa Gable was a sleepwalker, at first numb and somewhat pliable, and then after some months his old cement-head self. When it became inevitable to MGM that Gable was going to enlist, the powers that be dealt with ways to keep their man in one piece. He told them flat-out that he would not be a paper soldier who stayed stateside and wore a uniform for show and appeared on camera reading scripts about how hard the war was. He was going over. He was going up.

Of all the studios, MGM was tightest with Official Washington, so it was no great feat in summer 1942 for Mayer’s brain trust to arrange for Gable to be inducted into the Army Air Corps with the mission of making a motion picture about the importance of aerial gunners on heavy bombers that would soon be flying dangerous missions over the wartime industrial heart of Nazi Germany.

Gable went in in August 1942, fulfilled 13 weeks of officer’s training in Florida with men half his age, and emerged an officer for assignment in the Polebrook-based 351st Bomb Group in the Eighth Air Force. Gable was thus a member of the Mighty Eighth and in the middle of the great air war in Europe at its most devastating point. Daily, he saw bomb crews go over and not come back. He saw B-17s come limping home to base shot to pieces. He was there to record all of it on 16mm color film with an MGM camera crew.

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

Gable poses for a photo with the crew of the B-17 Delta Rebel after a flight with them in 1943.

For Gable personally, there were problems and they were significant. MGM couldn’t let him serve as an enlisted man—how would that look for a king to be a private or noncom? So he served as a captain with a specialty in aerial gunnery…but gunners on B-17s were at most noncoms, not officers. The officers on a B-17 were the pilots, navigator, and bombardier. Plus, Gable hadn’t been assigned to a crew from the beginning and hadn’t trained with that crew for grueling months and years in preparation for service with the Eighth. He flew from May to September 1943 on five missions, mostly “milk runs,” which were shorter hops from eastern England over the Channel to targets in German-occupied countries. Practically speaking, Gable had to go on shorter runs because he was an extra man on the plane, taking up space and adding weight. You can see a recap of the Gable missions here. On his only mission to Germany as a gunner/observer, one man in the crew was killed and two others wounded, and this was the mission during which a piece of ordinance nicked Gable’s boot in his gunner’s position in the waist of the plane.

Gable’s bigger problem in the service was being Clark Gable and a center of attention. If ever an organization did not thrive with a celebrity in its midst it was the United States Army fighting the most brutal war imaginable in 1943, and there was Gable distracting air crews just by being around base. It wasn’t going to work; it couldn’t work. So when Gable “ran out of film” after exposing 50,000 feet of 16mm footage, he was sent home to MGM to cut together a feature that would become Combat America.

Gable’s biggest problem was how fast the air war had changed. Since his enlistment in August of 1942, the Eighth Air Force had converged on Great Britain like so many swarms of bees and set up massive operations in and around Norwich. They started sending concentrated bombing missions into Germany right away and got shot out of the skies with sickening frequency. By the time Gable got over there and into the war and made his film and came home, there was no need to make a movie explaining to the civilian population what it was like to be a machine gunner on a bomber—the whole thing was daily news and men were enlisting by the thousands to be glamorous flyboys.

That’s a lot more backstory than you needed about Gable’s feature documentary, Combat America, which meanders through 62 minutes to remind us how little direction Gable had making his picture and how frustrated he must have been with the entire enterprise. He wanted to go and fight and die in the air. Instead he went, fought a little, spent too much time on the sidelines filming and drinking, and lived. Lived to sit in the dark back at MGM looking at real fighting men on a moviola.

The title itself sucks. Combat America: what the hell is that? Audiences had no chance to feel a sense of mystery, a sense of, “I have to go see Gable’s new war picture.” On the other hand the title didn’t matter because the picture got negligible distribution. In the end, Gable had gone overseas on what might have been the greatest snipe hunt in recorded history.

Most of the footage shot in England was MOS (picture with no sync sound). A few times cameras rolled with audio to show Gable interacting with the brass or with other soldiers—non-actors all, men who were terribly self-conscious in the presence of the king. Gable narrates throughout and he’s sincere in the effort. He takes us on tours of ancient British sites, he takes us to character studies of the men of the 351st, he takes us inside pre-flight briefings and through missions all the way to landings back in England. It’s a bittersweet experience watching Combat America because we know where Clark Gable was at this point in his life. A widower who had been launched into mid-life crisis; a man who wanted to serve but ended up (in his own mind) a buffoon among those fighting and dying; a filmmaking professional denied a real goal and the support to do what he did best: make movies, and convey to the people back home what he had seen, heard, and done in the war. It soothed Gable not at all that he earned the Air Medal and a Distinguished Flying Cross, or that Adolf Hitler put a bounty on the king’s head.

Combat America is available complete on YouTube, although the print looks like Lake Erie stands between it and you; one only wonders how it could benefit from Blu-Ray restoration, if the original elements even exist in the MGM vaults.


Here we are on Sunday, January 18, 2015. Seventy-three years ago today, Sunday, January 18, 1942, recovery teams were combing the unforgiving mountainside of Mt. Potosi, Nevada at the site of what one Civil Aeronautics Board investigator called “the most completely destroyed airplane I have ever seen.”

This year of 2015, the events covered in the book Fireball occurred on the same days of the week as they did in 1942, which led me (after the germ of the idea was hatched by Carole Sampeck) to launch a Twitter effort to replay key events in Carole Lombard’s last days in real-time, as they happened, beginning at 1:35 P.M. Central on Thursday, the moment Lombard and her party—including her mother Elizabeth Peters (“Petey”) and press man Otto Winkler–were greeted at Union Station, Indianapolis, by the Indy mayor and other officials. I then followed her progress through the day, which included five big events and interactions with at least 20,000 people, and her sudden decision made on Thursday night to fly home instead of take the train.

This past Friday, two days ago, the Twitter reports transitioned to updates from TWA as Flight 3 progressed across the country.

I learned a couple of things through this Twitter campaign. First, I learned how many people still care. The effort drew many new Twitter followers who were eager to participate. Second, I was struck by how fast events transpired for 19.5 hours, from the moment she stepped off the train to the moment Flight 3 struck the mountain. She was in almost constant motion one way or another. For example, from the train station at 1:35 she was driven to the state capitol for a speech and flag raising at 2:00, a bond sale from 2:30 to 3:30, another flag raising at the Claypool Hotel at 3:45, more driving to the governor’s mansion for a tea and reception from 4:15 to 5:30, private dinner with VIPs back at the Claypool at 6:30, a bond rally in a local civic center before 12,000 at 8:30, and a private reception for her friends and family once more at the Claypool at 10:30. Then did she retire for a long sleep? No, of course not. After midnight, Carole, Petey, and Otto packed up for a trip to the airport to wait for a flight that came in late, and you know how easy it is to catch a few winks in an airport terminal. The travelers didn’t board until 5:00 A.M. and then proceeded through a day of hops from city to city on a DC-3 (an uncomfortable plane to fly in) that ranged from the shortest of 1 hour, 11 minutes to the longest of 2 hours, 56 minutes in duration. During the Lombard portions of Flight 3’s intercontinental progress, the plane took off seven times and landed six. Get off the plane, climb on board. Get off the plane, climb on board. For any of us today, one layover is too many and two is torture. But six?

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

Detail of one of Myron Davis’s photos for Life, this one taken at the governor’s mansion, shows Carole Lombard with her guard down for a moment and already exhausted–hours before beginning her cross-country trek. Was she capable of rational decisions by the time she ordered Winkler to book plane reservations?

The first landing out of Indianapolis was into a bad weather situation in St. Louis that caused a two-hour delay in a crowded terminal. Living that in real-time was difficult (because I wanted to get on with the story), but I was sitting at my computer after a good night’s sleep. Imagine those two hours when you’re on Coca Colas, snack bar sandwiches, and upright naps all night and through the morning. Another weather delay followed at the next stop in Kansas City and this one made the local papers because of so many delayed flights and stranded passengers. From there the plane dragged its passengers to Wichita, then Amarillo, then Albuquerque where what was left of Carole Lombard was told she must vacate her seat and wait for another flight.

As I tracked events real-time, I realized that any human—even good-hearted, down-to-earth Carole Lombard—would snap. She must have been seeing polka-dotted koala bears by this time when all she wanted to do was get home.

Many have asked the unanswerable questions: Why was she in such a rush? Why did she drag her companions on a plane when both expressly wished to avoid the dangers of air travel? Was it all about her husband Clark Gable cheating on her? Or was there something more than this? It’s been hypothesized that Carole believed, or had it confirmed in Indianapolis, that she was pregnant and wanted to rush home to tell Gable. This explanation would solve the problem of obtaining the buy in of her companions to get home ASAP. But after at least two miscarriages and a procedure at Johns Hopkins to “clean her out” in efforts to get pregnant, would she put her reproductive system through this particular 19.5 hours of hell? We will never know the answers, assuring that this aspect of the mystery of Flight 3 will remain.

I ended my Twitter effort on Friday night with TWA Control cutting off any further public information about Flight 3 when it was clear that the plane had crashed. Several people confirmed for me later what I already knew: Those last moments are chilling to re-live, no matter how often we do it.

Some people heard of the real-time Twitter feed and signed on after events had transpired, so I have been issuing sporadic updates about goings-on at the scene and thinking about the fact that when Carole Lombard’s marathon ended, Clark Gable’s began. With no warning what was coming or how brutal it would all be, Gable never had a chance.

The Year of Fireball

Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen dust jacketI’ve told this story often: When I climbed Mt. Potosi with my guide, Jim Boone, on a cold October day, I stood at the site where TWA Flight 3 struck rock cliffs and exploded, and I felt an electric connection with the people who died on January 16, 1942, all 22 of them. It’s easy to feel a connection with Carole Lombard, the movie star that you see in the movies and in thousands of photos on the internet. But I also experienced a direct link to the pilots and stewardess, to Carole’s mother, to her press representative, to a quiet war bride, and to soldiers whose names I didn’t even know at the time. They were all there on the mountainside—I mean vividly there—and they communicated to me that once they had been alive, and they were important, with stories to tell.

I came back from the mountain and started putting their stories together, sitting in my office all alone writing Fireball week after week, month after month, researching Carole Lombard and these people and thinking to myself, Will anybody care? What if nobody cares?

Fireball has been out almost a year now, and there are at least four people who truly don’t care. If you go to Amazon and look at the reviews you will see all four there, with comments like, “interesting to someone who lived during that era, but the author spent too much time writing about people and their lives who were killed on ill fated flight.” Set against this view are tens of thousands of people who eagerly consumed the book and now know the story of how Carole Lombard lived and died. So many readers have said to me, “I didn’t know anything about Carole Lombard when I started.” If they didn’t know Lombard, they probably didn’t know Gable, and none would have known Carole’s mom or Otto Winkler, or pilots Wayne Williams and Morgan Gillette, or stewardess Alice Getz, or Lois Hamilton the Army wife, or soldiers with names like Barham and Nygren and Varsamine.

I knew up on the mountain that this book would be different and not what a reader of Hollywood biography might expect. It’s a mile-a-minute story, so why would I want to pound it into a standard format? These people lived and breathed and so must their story, and so I told it on two parallel tracks: The story of the crash, and the story of the passengers in life. Mostly it’s Carole Lombard’s story of course; she was as memorable a character as lived in the twentieth century, and people want to know about her. They want to know about Clark Gable as well, and the dynamics between Carole and Clark as lovers and spouses. The trick was to weave all the other characters into the story, the people Carole knew and loved, and also the other passengers, the rescuers, and the crash investigators. So many cool, competent, heroic people for one book, and I got to be the first to tell their story.

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

Best broadcast media coverage: six TV and three radio appearances in Las Vegas.

I am sitting here on the last day of 2014 looking back at the year of Fireball, a book now in its second printing, feeling such a sense of satisfaction that people do care about this story and these people. I know because I met them at lectures and book signings. I looked into the eyes of veteran television interviewers who couldn’t learn enough about the story; I heard interest in the voices of radio personalities who had invited me on the air. There are so many angles to pitch—Carole Lombard’s trail-blazing career as a liberated woman in Hollywood; the tempestuous love of Carole and Clark; his infidelities and how they contributed to his wife’s death; Otto Winkler’s premonition that he would die on a plane; the mystery of how TWA’s most experienced pilot could steer a perfectly running airplane into a mountainside on a clear night; the fact that all 19 passengers were traveling on government business related to the war; my own trek up the mountain and what it was like to find the last thing I expected: human remains at the crash site after all these years.

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

Biggest crowd: more than 130 in Carole Lombard’s hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

It was a fantastic year for Fireball, from the book launch in Santa Monica, California, in January to all those lectures across the country to the featuring of the Fireball trailer at www.bookreels.com just two days ago. Some dude named Pitbull even wrote a song about Fireball. Personally I can’t hear any mention of Carole Lombard in the lyrics, but I guess he liked the book anyway. I’m pretty sure Carole would have liked his song.

I don’t know what 2015 holds, but I’m excited to find out. Happy New Year everybody; may 2015 be a spectacular year for you—a Fireball kind of year.

The Machine

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

The stars of Deliverance, Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight (as much as you would like to believe it’s not Jon Voight but really Robert Matzen).

I haven’t thought much about Burt Reynolds for a long time. Way back when, I remember thinking he was pretty cool. Burt got his start in TV as brooding half-breed Quint on Gunsmoke and moved to his own detective TV show before hitting it big in Deliverance and then The Longest Yard. I remember liking him in this romantic western he made called The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing when I was a kid, but right after The Longest Yard, I lost interest in Burt Reynolds. I dismissed him as a one-trick pony who could only play Burt Reynolds. Granted, in Deliverance he was good, and he would call Deliverance “the best film I ever did,” a film that “gave me credibility as an actor.” What an unsettling picture. It was made by John Boorman in 1972 when movies had taken a hard left into nastytown, and thankfully Boorman wasn’t in an artsy mood when he exposed his film in the wilds. Here’s the Deliverance trailer to give you a three-minute primer on one startling weekend on the rapids. Deliverance also features Jon Voight, who people used to mistake me for (and often) 25 years ago. These people weren’t deterred by the fact that Voight had many years and four inches on me and there was this one time in a Sizzler in L.A. that was downright embarrassing when a woman exclaimed, “Oh my God!” and attracted a lot of attention because she thought I was Jon Voight. I would like to think that Jon Voight wouldn’t be caught dead in a Sizzler. All the attention might have been flattering if I happened to like Jon Voight’s looks, which I never did. But I digress.

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

Long before Katniss there was … Burt.

Right around the time of Deliverance, Burt Reynolds appeared as the gatefold in Cosmopolitan, which was beyond a big deal at the time. You can go ahead and Google “Burt Reynolds Cosmo” and the image will come right up. Reynolds may not have invented the beefcake photograph, but he sure did give the concept a boost at the height of the Sexual Revolution. He spent the 1970s as the definition of virility and put the cherry on his own sundae by directing and starring in the gritty cop picture Sharky’s Machine in 1981.

The real machine was Reynolds himself, who starred in a picture I will always have a soft spot for, The Man Who Loved Women as a man who, well, loved women, as he was transitioning into Phase II of his career as panderer to the lowest common denominator of audiences in several car pictures, Smoky and the Bandit, Cannonball Run, Stroker Ace, et al ad nauseam. Some of these co-starred two-time Oscar-winning actress Sally Field, with whom Burt fell “in like” (his term) for a while. But wait. Wasn’t it about 15 minutes ago that Burt was young stud to cougar Dinah Shore and they carried on admirably for quite some time? I mean, these two were hot stuff there for a while despite a 20-year age difference; hot stuff to the extent that when you saw them together, you just knew that the headboard had been rockin’ and would soon be rockin’ again. I will double-check Webster’s, but I am pretty sure that the definition of “chemical attraction” still reads, “See Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore.” [Note to whippersnappers: Tennessee-born Dinah Shore started out as singer around the beginning of World War II and went on to greater fame as a TV personality in the 1960s and 70s–the Oprah of her day. She was soft-spoken and demure, except with Burt. Dinah passed on in 1994 at the age of 77.]

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

Dinah’s daughter pleads with Mom to steer clear of Bad Boy Burt. But there was no fighting the attraction.

I missed the entire 1990s Reynoldsance—Phase III of his career—when Burt (apparently, as I’m just reading this) appeared in two big pictures I never saw, Striptease, which I didn’t watch because I feared becoming impotent at seeing Demi Moore strip, and Boogie Nights, which was a concept that had no appeal for me at all.

That’s my background for an unsettling-going-on-sad experience just now as I thumbed through 674 Burt Reynolds-owned items that are being auctioned off December 11 and 12. These are hard times for Burt, apparently, and this scenario is all too common these days for people living beyond their capacity to produce income. Burt’s awards are on the block, everything from high school sports trophies to many Top Box Office Star awards (proving the vast appeal of the Reynolds machine), several People’s Choice Awards, and an Emmy. Burt’s gun collection, real and prop weapons, are going. Burt’s cars, going. Dozens and dozens of photos and books inscribed to Burt by presidents, athletes, and fellow actors will be sold off. Clothing, pieces of his art collections—both paintings and statuary—will scatter to the winds.

Why would somebody want a Top Box Office Star statuette that was given to somebody else? If you didn’t earn it yourself, why put it on your mantel? But mine is a minority opinion: Almost everything has bids, mostly multiple bids, so I figure that Burt will do all right out of this endeavor. He claims he is only getting rid of stuff he’s tired of having around, and I’m gratified to see that there are only four Dinah Shore items being offered, three of them canvases she painted. It would be nice if there were many Dinah items in Burt’s possession; items he was determined to hold tight. (Yes, I have a special fondness for this couple and their time together.)

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

Reynolds has always been a larger-than-life character, as was Dinah. Together the chemistry was off the charts.

I hope I make it to death before my estate hits the auction block. I like my stuff too much to see it go prematurely. Actually, I was sort of hoping to build a great pyramid and take it all with me to the afterlife, and I’m feeling a little down that Burt didn’t think of this as well. After spending some time looking back at Burt Reynolds, I appreciate him a lot more. Is it sacrilege to label Burt Reynolds as Clark Gable in the same place but at at a different time and without the backing of the biggest studio in Hollywood? I’ll let you ponder that one as I admire Burt’s life of accomplishment. Believe me, I’ve just skimmed the surface here of a career spanning more than 50 years. Reynolds has hobnobbed with the elite. He has done good work that he’s proud of, and he has entertained millions. Now I hope he can go on and live a comfortable life post-auction and enjoy a grand Reynoldsance IV.

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

One more for the road. They were in popularity something akin to the Gable and Lombard of the 1970s.



Everybody Comes to Ricks–Even Today

Show of hands—who here hasn’t seen Casablanca? If you’re a regular who’s been drawn to my columns by the explorations of old Hollywood, I know you have seen it, but if you stumbled upon Fireball and were surprised by the story and content and haven’t lived and breathed Hollywood’s Golden Era, then maybe you have not seen Casablanca and all I can say in that case is, invest 110 minutes. You won’t be sorry. In a nutshell, a multi-national cast of characters with competing interests meet up on the neutral soil of Casablanca, French Morocco, in the middle of World War II, at Rick’s Café Americain. Many of these people are seeking to flee North Africa for freedom from Nazi oppression and they wait, and wait. Letters of transit have been stolen from a murdered Nazi and these are carte blanche documents guaranteeing free passage out of Casablanca for any bearer.

On Monday November 24 Bonhams New York is auctioning off a collection of items related to Hollywood’s Golden Era. Included are a number with ties to Casablanca, most notably Sam’s piano, the one actor Dooley Wilson played when he performed As Time Goes By and other numbers in the film. The letters of transit were hidden in that piano, you know. For, oh, what, a million—three million?—you can buy Sam’s piano and hide stuff of your own inside it. Sam’s piano would be a pretty cool thing to possess, and I know just where I’d put it, in the great room by the fireplace. I’d invite my piano-playing friends over to try it out. But I’m not buying big stuff these days so I plan to stay out of Monday’s fray at Bonhams.

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

Rick and Ilsa during their mad fling in Paris; the only time he was ever truly happy?

I think it’s possible the auction-house experts are crazy given the values placed on some of the Casablanca-related items to be offered on Monday. There’s the first script that reached Warner Bros. called “Everybody Comes to Rick’s” along with the studio reader’s comments. That’s a unique item, all right, but would you pay $40,000–60,000 to own it? If the low-end estimate is $40K, does that mean bidding opens at $20K? I’ve been around Hollywood collectibles since high school, and scripts have never been that highly prized. Even when director or star notes from classic pictures are written in the margins, scripts haven’t gone as high as $40K that I’m aware of. I’ll be curious to see if this one meets reserve, especially since Warner Bros. bought the concept and then tinkered and rewrote, resulting in an endless stream of blue pages (last-minute revisions were always done on blue paper so all would be alerted to the new material—particularly the actors who had just memorized the old material).

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

Rick looks at Ilsa, who has just walked into his gin joint, as Capt. Renault and Victor Laszlo observe.

How can the preliminary script command $40K and producer Henry Blanke’s production file only rate an estimate of $12–18K? I don’t get that one at all since the file includes Lenore Coffee’s suggestions for darkening the storyline by having Rick betray Victor and Ilsa. As noted in Errol & Olivia, Coffee was a brilliant script doctor employed by the various studios; she was doing a lot of work at Warner Bros. in the early 1940s. Censor Joe Breen’s Production Code criticisms are contained in the Blanke files too, and I’ve always wondered about two aspects of the final picture that survived the censor: 1) all the references to Capt. Renault’s trade of sex with young girls for police favors; and 2) 18-year-old bride Annina’s willingness, even eagerness, to make the sex trade with Renault and, by implication, with Rick. Perhaps the answers can be found in these documents; it seems to me that the salacious aspects of Casablanca must have really perked up first-run audiences at a time when other studios were offering up virginal product with the likes of Betty Grable, Alice Faye, and Deanna Durbin.

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

Barely legal, but not what Rick is after. Just-18 Annina will pay any price to get out of Casablanca.

I wrote a column a few years ago on my late, lamented Errol & Olivia blog opining that Ilsa had never loved Rick and was using him and knew all along she’d stay with Victor. Recent viewings have made me second guess myself; the ambiguity of the characters and their motives is one of many qualities of Casablanca that keeps people coming back for more. Consider them for a moment…

  • Rick Blaine, the cynic with a past who allowed himself to fall in love once, just once, with the mysterious Ilsa. Rick invested himself in the relationship and knew happiness—perhaps never was Rick truly happy except with Ilsa. But she dumped him. Dumped him cold. Dumped him in the rain. And forced him to go on with only memories of happiness and a determination never to stick his neck out again.
  • Ilsa Lund, the icy closed book of a woman who gives herself to Rick when she believes her husband is dead. But he’s not dead, and this news is what causes her to dump Rick cold. In the rain.
  • Victor Laszlo, husband of Ilsa and world-renowned devil to the German empire. He sports a dashing scar and an air of high competence. He knows his wife has had a fling with Rick, but Victor has got his sights set far higher than any affair of the flesh.
  • Louis Renault, corrupt prefect of police but a man of great charm and, above all, utter pragmatism. We feel like we can trust Louis because he makes no bones about the fact that he is corrupt. He’s impossible not to like.
Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 by Robert Matzen

Major Strasser and Capt. Renault observe the goings-on at Rick’s Café American, primarily the effect of newcomer Ilsa on previously impervious Rick.

The sets are overrun with character actors, each with a few lines here and there. But all these actors are memorable; they all get a moment of great dialogue and they all become real. The wretched city of Casablanca is a character too, recreated modestly on the Warner backlot but teeming with “scum and villainy” (George Lucas would use Casablanca as the inspiration for his Mos Eisley spaceport 35 years later).

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

You bitch! Look what you’ve done to poor Rick.

I’ve directed a picture or two in my life, and the introduction of the city of Casablanca as the setting for this morality play is jaw-dropping. Director Michael Curtiz establishes a pesthole packed with desperate humans in just a moment. It’s a hot, uncomfortable place overrun with predators and prey. Inside Rick’s the camera dollies in, dollies out, and the shots are static when they need to be, or close, or distant, each one perfect from a director who was always good and here, never better.

Oh, the dialogue. Ilsa comes back into Rick’s life after dumping him and she’s on the arm of a larger-than-life hero. What does Rick do? Late at night we find him inside his closed bar, drinking, alone, in the dark. Ilsa has walked back into his world and ripped the scab, a scab still fresh, right off of his soul. Sam comes in and finds Rick and knows what his boss is going through. Sam knows all about Rick and Ilsa—he was with Rick in the rain for the dumping. It’s clear that Sam is scared and worried.

“Boss, ain’t you going to bed?” he asks.

“Not right now,” grumbles Rick into his glass.

“Ain’t you planning on going to bed in the near future?”


“You ever planning on going to bed?”


“Good,” says Sam. “I ain’t sleepy either.”

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

“You ever plannin’ on going to bed?” asks Sam to Rick. “No!” he snaps.

African Americans at this time were, as a rule, used for comic relief, but Sam is a friend, an equal, and a character deeply drawn. But they all are in this picture. Well, except for Major Strasser, the hard-core Nazi and the guy we love to hate.

I wish Bonham’s and the consignors well in Monday’s auction. We will see soon enough if bidders are willing to shell out tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars for this hodgepodge of props, costumes, scripts, documents, and movie posters connected with classic film. I wonder if the letters of transit have expired—they might come in handy someday and one of them is for sale in this auction, at an estimated $100–150K. One thing seems clear—Casablanca has stood the test of time as well as any picture from the Golden Era, and shows no signs of slowing down. Because it is still so popular, I wouldn’t be surprised to find Sam’s piano on display at a Vegas casino sometime soon.

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

Sam plays the famous piano as a moribund Rick looks on.

Man’s Man

Fifty-four years ago today, Clark Gable died. He had been hospitalized for days after having suffered a heart attack at the ranch in Encino and was thought to be recovering, but succumbed suddenly on November 16, 1960. He passed out of this world as the logo of the Golden Age of the motion picture. His face, toothy grin, and jug ears were IT for Hollywood. He made only two features that stand the test of time, It Happened One Night and Gone With the Wind, but two were enough. Oh, sure, he made other big pictures and many movie buffs will remember Red Dust and Honky Tonk, but by the time Gable’s wife Carole Lombard died on Flight 3 in 1942, Gable’s best work was behind him. He went off to fight in World War II and came back to a huge box office return in 1945 when he made Adventure with Greer Garson, but this was a bad picture and would be followed by many other pictures that were, if not bad, then indifferent.

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

On top of the world, Ma! Or so Clark Gable thought, seen with Carole Lombard here at the announcement of their wedding in March 1939.

Why didn’t the Gable brand endure? Simple. When Carole died, Clark died. He would go on roaming the earth for 18 years as a guy in a Clark Gable suit, but the essence of what made Gable Gable, the swagger, the growl, the I’ll-smack-you-around-and-you’ll-like-it, were gone. Once his character Rhett Butler had thrilled the world by saying, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” and then life imitated art and he didn’t give a damn after his wife died on an airplane on a freezing Las Vegas night.

I was chatting in Detroit with my new friends Joe and Marsha the other day about Fireball, and about the Clark Gable that emerged from the Flight 3 disaster. Joe admires what Gable did with the rest of his life, just as I admire it. Clark learned from tragedy; he appreciated what he had lost; he put one foot in front of the other; he kept breathing; he endured. Gable was never the same man, but he was a man—he was called a “man’s man” and proved it. He gave himself a month to grieve; he went back to work; he enlisted in the Army Air Corps, and he went to Europe to fight. He was 41 then, and served with men 20 years younger. He asked for no special favors and ran the obstacle course just like anyone else. He went up in B-17s and secretly wished to go down in flames so he could experience Lombard’s last moments and then lie with her at Forest Lawn.

But, goddammit, he lived. And he kept on living, always haunted by the woman who blew into his life like a tornado, challenged him, adored him, cast her spell…and then was gone. She haunted him every day, her face, her voice, her perfume, the things she said, the way she said them, always there. But not there, because she was gone.

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

Just killin’ time, waiting for his ticket to be punched in 1951.

The self-righteous among us will condemn Clark Gable and say from the soap box, “If he loved her so much, why wasn’t he faithful? Why did he carry on with Lana Turner and cause Carole to rush to her doom?” I always go all biblical at that point and advise that those out there without sin should cast the first stone.

There’s nothing in this world quite like sitting with Clark, Carole, and Petey in the Great Mausoleum of Forest Lawn. The three of them and me, sitting there, in utter peace and quiet in a sequestered corridor. It brings so much to mind, first and foremost the sadness of it all, the way Carole and Petey died, and the way Clark, in his way, died with them. Three crypts side by side by side, with simple faceplates and dates of birth, dates of death. There’s a story of a million words there in that tiny little 10 feet of corridor. He purchased three crypts in January of 1942, two for his wife and mother-in-law, and one for himself. He married twice more, but his wishes were ironclad: place me next to Ma.

On this date 54 years ago, Clark finally got his wish. After years of smoking too much, years of drinking too much, years of enemy flak, fast cars, fast motorcycles, eating food too rich for him, he finally, finally got his wish. He punched a ticket to see Ma. He returned to the only human companion who ever made sense to him. This day, 54 years ago.

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

I wonder if Spencer Tracy (left) is thinking about spending two days with Gable at the El Rancho Vegas awaiting word of Carole’s fate. Here the greats, including Robert Taylor and James Stewart, gather for the King’s funeral at Forest Lawn in November 1960. At this same Church of the Recessional, Gable had endured the funerals of Ma and Petey 18 years earlier. In this shot, Air Force Chaplain Johnson E. West accompanies Kay Williams Gable, widow of the actor, after the service.

The Censor Almost Forbade

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

Lombard models a gown she wears early in To Be or Not to Be.

Carole Lombard’s last picture, To Be or Not to Be, aired on the Saturday night prime time edition of The Essentials on Turner Classic Movies the other night. I only learned this the day after. Damn! I missed it, which is a shame because I enjoy the perspectives of Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore as they dissect the classics.

To Be or Not to Be shares with Saratoga, Rebel Without a Cause, the upcoming Paul Walker picture, Furious 7, and many others, the distinction of being released after the death of a major star. Saratoga was in mid-production when Jean Harlow took sick and passed away, causing a problem for MGM that became a publicity gimmick: spot the scenes featuring a body double for Harlow. As recounted in John McElwee’s fantastic book, Showmen, Sell It Hot! producers and distributors sometimes face this macabre fork in the road, having to complete or market a motion picture featuring a leading player who’s suddenly deceased. McElwee discusses at length the problems facing MGM when another Walker, this one Robert, died during production of My Son John. Following the death of super-hot cult icon James Dean in a car crash, Warner Bros. cashed in with a teenaged population that camped out in theaters to watch their “crossed-over” hero over and over and over again. As described by McElwee, the stellar box office of Rebel led to a fast reissue of Dean’s two other pictures, East of Eden and Giant, as well as production of an odd little documentary, The James Dean Story. Cash registers really do jingle when a big star dies.

I had always read that Carole Lombard’s last picture didn’t do well, which made no sense given the very public, very heroic, way she died. Then I did the research and learned what boffo business To Be or Not to Be did upon its release in February 1942, a discreet one month after Lombard’s passing on TWA Flight 3. To Be was a smash hit for United Artists, which it probably would not have been otherwise due to the three strikes against it.

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

Another photo from one of her last portrait sessions.

For those few of you who haven’t seen To Be or Not to Be, do yourselves a favor and rent or buy it at once. The plot concerns a troupe of actors in a Warsaw that experiences Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939. The harmless group of performers is enjoying a run of Hamlet but had also been rehearsing a comedy about Hitler that is now shut down by the invaders—the censor forbids such satire of the Fuhrer.

Who in an America plunged into war was going to buy a comedy about Hitler? That was strike one. The title, a line from Hamlet, itself spelled trouble in rural areas, and UA sought to change it prior to the picture’s release. Strike two. In fact, Carole Lombard spent the first leg of her bond tour in a tizzy because To Be or Not to Be was about to become The Censor Forbids. As covered in Fireball, telegrams shot back and forth between the train and New York, with Carole asserting that a change to this new title “in no way conveys the spirit of the picture and is unbecoming to an organization as important as United Artists.” She found the new title “suggestive” and distasteful, and in general raised such a stink that UA quickly backed down.

Strike three was Lombard herself. She wasn’t scoring at the box office, and her pictures of late had been unsuccessful. Only two of her past seven pictures had done well, and neither was a smash. The two pictures she had lined up after To Be were practically B-level and both at second-tier studios, one at Columbia and the other at Universal.

All these factors conspired with the outbreak of war to make United Artists executives in New York nervous, and the combination of them indicated that the picture was about to premiere to middling business.

No wonder Lombard was in a pissy mood on the train. Well, it didn’t help that she had just brawled with her husband, Clark Gable, about his eyes wandering in the direction of a hot little number at MGM named Lana Turner. Stakes were high for Carole all around on this bond trip, and she was plenty shrewd enough to understand that headlines of big bond sales in Indianapolis would help restore her name at the box office.

Carole and co-star Jack Benny knew they had something special in To Be or Not to Be. They had fun and shooting went fast—two positive signs for the picture that was supposed to be sneak previewed on the evening of Monday, January 19. Theoretically Carole could have completed the bond tour as scheduled by train and still made the preview, but of course she died on January 16 and the preview never happened. She did not live to see her last picture, which most fans call her best.

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

Restrained UA artwork announces “Carole Lombard’s last picture.”

I urge you to watch To Be or Not to Be because it’s such a smart picture. The humor is sly throughout, with Lombard portraying a famous Polish actress who contemplates infidelity with a young air force pilot 10 years her junior. Laugh at Nazis? The audience couldn’t help but laugh because the premise worked. This joke really was on Hitler.

Carole Lombard turned 33 as production commenced, and she never looked better. To Be or Not to Be is a swan song that needed no tricks and no ballyhoo, and UA was careful not to say or do anything untoward—anything that could upset a grieving Mr. Gable or his studio, powerful MGM. Metro itself had gone to questionable extremes in pitching Saratoga, like urging theater operators to set up shrines to the dead blonde bombshell, complete with saintly photos, crucifixes, and floral displays. No such showmanship seeped out of UA—To Be or Not to Be sold itself as the masses sought one more date in the dark with the late queen of screwball and American war hero, Carole Lombard.

Don’t Call Him “Jimmy”

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

In 1952 James Stewart played a doctor wanted for murder in The Greatest Show on Earth. Through the course of picture, he never appeared without clown makeup.

It’s happening again: I’m on the trail of an elusive subject, trying to figure him out, following clues leading to deconstruction of his personality to the elements, then examining them and reassembling the human. This time, I’m finding the exercise frustrating. Well, as frustrating as usual.

The subject is James Stewart, Hollywood leading man from 1937 to the early 1970s, not to mention war hero, political conservative, and deity to what seems to be an entire demographic of the U.S. population. One of the first things I learned: He didn’t favor the familiarity of “Jimmy.” I interviewed his movie and television co-star Julie Adams recently and picked up on the fact that she called him not “Jimmy” but “Jim.” Said Adams, “I always called him that, and so did everyone else; I don’t think he liked Jimmy.”

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

The biggest heartbreak about the only picture Carole Lombard and James Stewart made together was the amount of money this contrived melodrama lost at the box office.

This is a tough nut to crack, this chasing down of a deified figure. There are a thousand stories out there of good deeds done by James Stewart, and I’m finding nothing juicy, nothing to humanize him. It takes me back to trying to decipher the real George Washington—not the capital city, not the university, not the bridge. The man who started it all. Eventually I got at this guy, who was in youth an ambitious, hot-tempered (did you know he was a redhead?), self-educated natural athlete who dearly loved the ladies. A theme of one of my documentaries was that GW pursued the married Sally Fairfax—which earned the video a ban by a major Christian DVD distributor! George Washington loved freedom, all right—the freedom to make an untaxed fortune, and it was self-interest, not altruism, that started him down the revolutionary road. Eventually, he was willing to give up everything for the good of his fellow Americans. Everything. And believe me, he had a lot to lose. The courage of convictions that grew within him, the awareness to know what was required of a leader, and a pre-existing and unshakeable self-discipline, all combined into what became the most admired man in the world. All that said, it was interesting that he had a violent temper; it was interesting that he pursued the wife of his best friend. It was all part of the same package.

In the end, I figured out George Washington, and I admired his human failings because he fought these parts of himself on his way to immortality. So now I have to learn the failings of James Stewart. He’s practically got the Knights Templar guarding his image; to me their protection harms his legacy rather than protects it. Isn’t a subject of biography interesting precisely for what he or she overcame in life? The inner conflicts? The failings? The handicaps? The demons?

The next book will be about a lot more than James Stewart, but he’s the focal point like Carole Lombard was in Fireball. I’ve been busily watching Stewart pictures of late, most recently Broken Arrow with Jeff Chandler and, as Stewart’s love interest, 16-year-old Debra Paget, nearly unrecognizable sans trademark heavy eye makeup. Yes gang, I said Stewart had a 16-year-old love interest to his 41! Today, they call that statutory rape, and even in the context of a picture made in 1950, I grew a little fidgety looking at their clinches.

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

James Stewart with Debra Paget.

I’m blazing a trail of pictures I never gave a hoot about. Another one I caught recently was The Naked Spur co-starring Janet Leigh and Robert Ryan and before that Strategic Air Command with June Allyson. I could always take or leave James Stewart as an actor, which, really, makes me a match as a biographer because I’m starting out neutral. No image to protect. No axe to grind. Oh, sure, he’s perfect in It’s a Wonderful Life and I really liked Harvey—although I never bought him as an alcoholic in that picture. His ingenuousness and his playing against cynical Henry Fonda worked beautifully in The Cheyenne Social Club. His body of work is simply outstanding and the more you think about the variety of his pictures, the more impressive Stewart becomes. He was much more the chameleon as an actor than he appears at first blush. Like when he played a clown in the circus and on the lamb from the cops who stayed in makeup throughout the film. This wasn’t John Wayne or Errol Flynn playing 17 variations of his public persona; Stewart could be a man with a past, a killer, a voyeur, or an obsessive-compulsive. Throughout the 1950s you never knew which James Stewart you’d meet in the dark.

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

James Stewart picks up his mail at a rented Brentwood home in 1936, soon after arriving in Hollywood.

What the hell made this guy tick? He played the accordion and built model airplanes as a pastime during years most young men his age spent getting laid, or trying to. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps nine months prior to Pearl Harbor at a time when a majority of Americans were staunch isolationists trying to look the other way from an inevitable war. Instead of cashing in on celebrity and spending the war in his crisp uniform stateside, getting laid some more, he itched for combat and finally got an overseas assignment that landed him smack in the middle of hell. He sounds too good to be true, and maybe he was.

I’ve already got some great clues about the real James Stewart and how he got that way. For the record, I’m determined to confine my book to a particular theme and not encroach into the territory of a writer also developing an aspect of Stewart. I don’t feel that my book on Stewart will be competing with anybody else’s because I think one will complement the other and demand for both will be heightened.

I encourage all of you to help me write this book. What do you know about Stewart that can help me grasp his character in the way I ultimately understood others I’ve chronicled? Your opinions, insights, and clues are welcome as we embark on this grand new adventure into the past.