Bloody October Post #6: The Death of Carole Lombard
Everyone in Hollywood loved the talented comedienne Carole Lombard. She was lively, funny, friendly, generous, kind, natural, and beautiful. She was so full of life; death never seemed to yawn before her. But on January 16, 1942, Lombard’s sudden death shook the world. Hollywood was shocked. How can someone so vital die so young, so suddenly? her death not only rocked the nation but led to the downfall of the career of one of the most legendary actors of all time. January 16, 1942, was “The Day The Comedy Died”.
On March 28, 1939, Clark Gable married the love of his life, Carole Lombard. He went through an expensive divorce from his second wife, Maria “Ria” Langham, to marry Lombard, and he acted in a movie–Gone with the Wind–just for the sake of financing the divorce. The lovestruck couple ran away on a day that Clark had off from filming and eloped in Kingman, Arizona.
(l) one of my favorite pictures of Gable and Lombard. (r) this was one of the last appearances the couple made together (Dec. 1941)
Gable and Lombard were no doubt the greatest couple of the 20th century. They were totally and completely in love with each other. They dabbled in each other’s interests, treated each other with respect, and always played pranks on each other. They were the most popular couple in Hollywood, and everyone who knew them said they never looked happier.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Carole wanted to help her country. Clark, as president of the Hollywood Victory Committee, commissioned her to go on a war bond tour in Indianapolis. Carole’s mother, Elizabeth Peters, and Clark’s best friend and publicist Otto Winkler would accompany her.
Clark and Carole’s secretary, Jean Garceau, would later recall that Carole seemed to know what was going to happen. She had a faraway look in her eyes and she told Jean to take care of Clark for her. She also gave Jean a set of notes, instructing her to let Clark open one each day she would be gone. Her alleged last words to Clark were “You better get yourself into this man’s war”. The couple was cold towards each other because they had an argument over Clark’s philandering.
Carole in Indianapolis during the bond tour: with her mother, selling bonds, singing the national anthem, and raising the flag. These were the last photos taken of her.
In Indianapolis, Carole signed autographs, made speeches, and sang the national anthem. She sold over $2 million in war bonds, higher than anyone to this day. Her last public words (will always and forever give me the chills) were: “Before I say goodbye to you all – come on – join me in a big cheer- V for Victory!”
Carole’s was supposed to board a train on the morning of January 16, but she missed Clark and wanted to go home as soon as possible. Her mother, a firm believer in numerology, was too frightened to fly because there were to many number 3s–the unluckiest number in numerology. The flight number was TWA#3, the plane was a DC-3, Carole was 33 years old, and they were a group of three people. Carole decided to toss a coin with her mother. She won the coin toss, so the group was to fly back home that evening. A sad fact was that Carole was asked to give up her plane seats for three servicemen and take the flight slated for the next day, but Carole, too eager to get home, refused.
Back at the Encino ranch, Clark had a surprise party waiting for Carole. He got a call from MGM publicist Eddie Mannix at the time Carole’s plane was supposed to land in L.A. He was informed that Carole’s plane crashed near Las Vegas, and that a plane was already chartered to take him to the crash site immediately. Clark, Eddie Mannix, Otto Winkler’s wife, and Carole’s brothers Stuart and Fred all boarded the plane. On the flight, Mannix recalled that Gable seemed to have sensed what happened, but was trying not to believe it. A rescue team with stretchers and medical supplies was already headed to the top of Mount Potosi. Clark, who saw the fire from atop the mountain, had to be physically restrained from running up there himself. What happened was that Carole’s plane crashed into Mount Potosi, resulting in a violent, terrific explosion, that, according to locals, was seen from miles away. None of the twenty-two passengers survived. Carole was only thirty-three years old. Mannix joined the search party, and was haunted for the rest of his life by what he saw. All what remained of Carole’s burned, unrecognized body was her decapitated head, her right hand, her torso, and most of her legs. She was identified by a single lock of long blonde hair, and by the warped remains of a pair of ruby clips Clark gave her Christmas a month ago. There was also a charred script by her hand. The hair and clips were given to Clark, who wore them in a locket for the rest of his life. It was said that when Clark was told the terrible news, he broke down and cried that he didn’t want to live in a large, empty house alone, without Carole.
Clark at Carole’s funeral
Clark returned to Los Angeles with the bodies of his mother-in-law, his friend, and the love of his life. He bought three crypts at Forest Lawn: one for Bessie, one for Carole–and one for himself. carole was the first woman to die in World War II, and she was honored by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. A liberty ship was even named after her. A small funeral was held on the 21st, in which a haggard Clark, in sunglasses, spoke to no one. According to her request, a white dress by the designer Irene was laid atop the remains of Carole’s body. She was buried as Carole Lombard Gable. When Clark got home, Jean Garceau gave him the last note from Carole. After reading it, Clark broke down in tears. No one ever knew what that last note said.
Clark Gable being sworn into the army on February 15, 1942. In just a month, he seemed to have aged twenty years.
Despite his devastation, Clark conducted himself well and never asked for sympathy. He was professional on the set of his new film, Somewhere I’ll Find You. However, Clark was never the same man again. All the life and spark that was in him and adored by millions of fans died along with Carole. He suffered from severe depression and alcoholism from that moment forth, and he seemed tohave aged drastically. Some say he attempted suicide several times after Carole’s death by crashing his motorcycle into a tree. In honor of Carole’s wish, Clark joined the military and was in the Air Force for three years (interesting since after her death he developed a phobia of planes). Some people said he was intending to die while in war. After making a film comeback in 1945, Gable’s career was never the same again. His films became mediocre and there was a subdued, morbid tone to his acting. Some of his films, especially those in the 1940s, are quite eerie to watch. His career and his popularity never again saw the heights that it had in the 1930s. Gable’s love life suffered as well, and until he died, he was constantly looking for a Lombard substitute. If you look at his photos with all his postwar girlfriends and wives, they all (somewhat) resembled Carole in looks and personality.
Of course ,with any legendary death, there is a ghost story. However, Lombard’s brand of haunting is different. She haunted the thoughts and minds of those who loved her. Some of her friends, such as Spencer Tracy and Jack Benny, went into severe depression, never quite the same again. Gable no doubt was constantly haunted by thoughts and memories of Lombard. Carole’s best friend, Lucille Ball, claimed that Carole constantly visited her in her dreams. One of those dreams would end up in the creation of the most successful TV show of all time, I Love Lucy.
Although Gable and Lombard’s relationship was cut off in life, it has been said they are together in death. Not only is Clark’s body interred next to Carole’s, they haunt the same places together. Apparently, they haunt the Gable and Lombard suite in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. During their affair, they would go up to that room for $5 a night to carry on their trysts. Sometimes Lombard’s ghost is seen wandering the twelfth floor of the hotel. Her ghost was also seen in her former home on Hollywood Boulevard. Her ghost wears a bright red dress, and searches for the spirit of her former boyfriend, Russ Columbo, who also died in an untimely death. Both Gable and Lombard haunt the Pioneer Saloon in Nevada, which is right by Mt. Potosi, and was where Gable waited for Lombard’s body to be taken out of the wreckage. Sometimes Carole haunts the saloon alone, searching for Clark. Her spirit also wanders among the trees on Mt. Potosi.
When Clark passed away in 1960, it was said he seemed so serene, as though his life was complete and he was ready for death. Do you think this had to do with Carole?