She was particularly noted for her comedic roles in several classic films of the 1930s, most notably in the 1936 film My Man Godfrey. She is listed as one of the American Film Institute's greatest stars of all time and was the highest-paid star in Hollywood in the late 1930s, earning around US$500,000 per year (more than five times the salary of the US President). Lombard's career was cut short when she died at the age of 33 in the crash of TWA Flight 3.
Ancestry and early lifeLombard was born Jane Alice Peters in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Her parents were Frederick C. Peters (1875–1935) and Elizabeth Knight (1877-January 16, 1942). Her paternal grandfather, John Claus Peters, was the son of German immigrants, Claus Peters and Caroline Catherine Eberlin. On her mother's side, she was a descendant of Thomas Hastings who came from the East Anglia region of England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634. Lombard was the youngest of three children, having two older brothers, Fred C. Peters Jr. and Stuart Peters. She spent her early childhood in a sprawling, two-story house at 704 Rockhill Street in Fort Wayne, near the St. Mary's River. Her father had been injured during a work related accident and was left with constant headaches which caused him to burst out in paroxysms of anger which disturbed the family. Lombard's parents divorced and her mother took the three children to Los Angeles in 1914, where Lombard attended Virgil Jr. High School and then Fairfax High School. She was elected "May Queen" in 1924. She quit school to pursue acting full-time, but received her GED from Fairfax in 1927. Lombard was a second generation Bahá'í who formally enrolled in 1938.
Careerbaseball in the street by director Allan Dwan; he cast her as a tomboy in A Perfect Crime (1921). In the 1920s, she worked in several low-budget productions credited as 'Jane Peters', and then later as 'Carol Lombard'. Her friend Miriam Cooper helped Lombard land small roles in her husband Raoul Walsh's films. In 1925, she was signed as a contract player with Fox Film Corporation (which merged with Daryl Zanuck's Twentieth Century Productions in 1935). She also worked for Mack Sennett and Pathé Pictures. She became a well-known actress and made a smooth transition to sound films, starting with High Voltage (1929). In 1930, she won a contract with Paramount Pictures after having been dropped from both Twentieth Century and Pathé.
Lombard achieved a few minor successes in the early 1930s in 1930's Safety in Numbers with Charles "Buddy" Rogers and 1932's No Man of Her Own with Clark Gable, but she was continually cast in second-rate films. It was not until 1934 that her career began to take off. That year, director Howard Hawks encountered Lombard at a party and became enamored with her saucy personality, thinking her just right for his latest project. He hired her for Twentieth Century, alongside stage legend John Barrymore. Lombard was at first intimidated by Barrymore, but the two quickly developed a good working rapport. The film bolstered Lombard's reputation immensely and brought her a level of fame that her previously lackluster career had eschewed her from.
Bolero with George Raft and it was for this film that she turned down the role of Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night. In 1935 she starred in Mitchell Leisen's Hands Across the Table which helped to establish her reputation as a top comedy actress. 1936 proved to be a big year for Lombard with her casting in the screwball comedy My Man Godfrey alongside ex-husband William Powell. Her performance earned Lombard an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. It was followed by Nothing Sacred in 1937, casting her opposite Fredric March and under the direction of William A. Wellman. It was Lombard's only film in Technicolor and was regarded a critical and commercial smash. Nothing Sacred put Lombard at the top of the Hollywood tier and established her one of the highest paid actresses in the business.
Fools for Scandal and moved on to dramatic films for the next few years. In 1939, Lombard took roles opposite James Stewart in producer David O. Selznick's Made for Each Other (1939) and Cary Grant in In Name Only (1939). She also starred in the dramatic Vigil in the Night in 1940.
Audiences did not respond as well to Lombard in dramatic roles and she made a return to comedy, teaming with director Alfred Hitchcock in Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941). The film gave Lombard's career a much needed boost and she followed her success with what proved to be her last film, and one of her most successful, To Be or Not to Be (1942).
Personal lifeIn October 1930, Lombard met William Powell. They had worked together in the films Man of the World and Ladies' Man. Unlike many of Lombard's other suitors at the time, Powell was urbane and sophisticated. He also appreciated her blunt personality and bawdy sense of humor. They married on June 26, 1931. Lombard commented to fan magazines that she did not believe their sixteen-year age difference would present a problem, but friends felt they were ill-suited, as Lombard had an extroverted personality while Powell was more reserved. They divorced in 1933, but remained good friends and worked together without acrimony, notably in My Man Godfrey.
In 1934, following her divorce from Powell, Lombard moved into a house on Hollywood Boulevard. She lived with a friend from the days of Mack Sennett, Madalynne Fields, who became Lombard's personal secretary and whom Lombard called "Fieldsie." Lombard became known as one of Hollywood's great hostesses for her outrageous parties with unconventional themes. During this time she carried on relationships with actors Gary Cooper and George Raft, as well as the screenwriter Robert Riskin.
Also during 1934, Lombard met and began a serious affair with crooner Russ Columbo. Columbo reportedly proposed marriage, but was killed in a freak shooting accident at the age of 26. To reporters Lombard said Columbo was the love of her life.
Lombard's most famous relationship came in 1936 when she became involved with actor Clark Gable. They had worked together previously in 1932's No Man of Her Own, but at the time Lombard was still happily married to Powell and knew Gable to have the reputation of a roving eye. They were indifferent to each other on the set and did not keep in touch.
It was not until 1936, when Gable came to the Mayfair Ball that Lombard had planned, that their romance began to take off. Gable, however, was married at the time to oil heiress Rhea Langham, and the affair was kept quiet. The situation proved a major factor in Gable accepting the role of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, as MGM head Louis B. Mayer sweetened the deal for a reluctant Clark Gable by giving him enough money to settle a divorce agreement with Langham and marry Lombard. Gable divorced Langham on March 7, 1939 and proposed to Lombard in a telephone booth at the Brown Derby.
During a break in production on Gone With the Wind, Gable and Lombard drove out to Kingman, Arizona on March 29, 1939 and were married in a quiet ceremony with only Gable's press agent, Otto Winkler, in attendance. They bought a ranch previously owned by director Raoul Walsh in Encino, California and lived a happy, unpretentious life, calling each other "Ma" and "Pa" and raising chickens and horses. They also attempted to have children but were not successful.
Off-screen, Lombard was much loved for her unpretentious personality and well known for her earthy sense of humor and blue language. Friends of Lombard's included Alfred Hitchcock, Marion Davies, William Haines, Jean Harlow, Fred MacMurray, Cary Grant, Jack Benny, Jorge Negrete, William Powell, and Lucille Ball.
DeathWhen the US entered World War II at the end of 1941, Lombard traveled to her home state of Indiana for a war bond rally with her mother, Bess Peters, and Clark Gable's press agent Otto Winkler. After raising over $2 million in defense bonds, Lombard addressed her fans, saying: "Before I say goodbye to you all, come on and join me in a big cheer! V for Victory!" On January 16, 1942, Lombard, her mother, and Winkler boarded a Transcontinental and Western Airlines DC-3 airplane to return to California. After refueling in Las Vegas, TWA Flight 3 took off and 23 minutes later, crashed into "Double Up Peak" near the 8,300 ft (2,500 m) level of Mount Potosi, 32 statute miles (51 km) southwest of Las Vegas. All 22 aboard, including 15 army servicemen, were killed instantly.
Shortly after her death at the age of 33, Gable (who was inconsolable and devastated by her loss) joined the United States Army Air Forces. After officers training, Gable headed a six-man motion picture unit attached to a B-17 bomb group in England to film aerial gunners in combat, flying five missions himself. Gable attended the launch of the Liberty ship SS Carole Lombard, named in her honor, on January 15, 1944.
On January 18, 1942, Jack Benny did not perform his usual program, both out of respect for Lombard and grief at her death. Instead, he devoted his program to an all-music format.
Lombard's final film, To Be or Not to Be (1942), directed by Ernst Lubitsch and co-starring Jack Benny, a satire about Nazism and World War II, was in post-production at the time of her death. The film's producers decided to cut the part of the film in which her character asks, "What can happen on a plane?" as they felt it was in poor taste, given the circumstances of Lombard's death.
At the time of her death, Lombard had been scheduled to star in the film They All Kissed the Bride; when production started, her role was given to Joan Crawford. Crawford donated all of her pay for this film to the Red Cross.
Lombard is interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. The name on her crypt marker is "Carole Lombard Gable". Although Gable remarried, he was interred next to her when he died in 1960. Bess Peters was also interred beside her daughter .
Awards and honorsAmerican Film Institute ranked Lombard 23rd on its list of the 50 greatest American female screen legends. She received one Academy Award for Best Actress nomination, for My Man Godfrey. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 6930 Hollywood Blvd.
Lombard's Fort Wayne childhood home has been designated a historic landmark. The city named the nearby bridge over the St Mary's River the "Carole Lombard Memorial Bridge."