Happy 108th Birthday, Carole Lombard!

Carole Lombard, the Great Dame of American cinema, was born Jane Alice Peters in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 108 years ago today. Here are 10 CL Did-You-Knows:

  • Lombard’s parents divorced when she was young, and it was during a Southern California vacation that her mother decided to relocate there with her three children (Carole had two older brothers).
  • Lombard was discovered at age 12 while playing baseball in the street by director Allan Dwan, who cast her in his picture A Perfect Crime (1921) as a tomboy. It was the only picture in which she would be listed in the credits as Jane Peters.
  • At age 18, Lombard was in an auto accident that scarred the left side of her face. Plastic surgery repaired the damage sufficiently for her career to continue after her recovery.
  • Lombard appeared in more than 35 silent pictures, many of them comedy shorts made by the Mack Sennett Company, where she honed the comedy skills that would serve her so well later in her career. She made 42 talkies before her life tragically came to an end at age 33.
  • Her name appeared in movie credits as Carol Lombard until an E was mistakenly added to her first name in the credits for Safety in Numbers (1930). The studio decided that would be the spelling of her name going forward, and she went along. She had her named legally changed to Carole Lombard in 1936.
  • Lombard was nicknamed the Profane Angel for her lovely appearance and, er, colorful vocabulary (it’s said she swore like a sailor).
  • Lombard’s first marriage, to actor William Powell, was short-lived—they were married just 26 months—but they remained devoted friends for the rest of her life.
  • She and second husband Clark Gable first met while serving as extras on the set of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). They were extras on three films together and made one feature—No Man of Her Own (1932)—together, but wouldn’t become romantically involved until 1936.
  • For all her success in screwball and romantic comedies, Lombard turned down the female lead roles in three classic of those genres: It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and His Girl Friday.
  • Lombard and her mother were on a war bonds tour when the TWA plane they were traveling on crashed 33 miles southwest of Las Vegas in the Spring Mountains. The flight’s three crew members and all 19 passengers were killed. She was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the first woman killed in the line of duty during World War II.

Happy birthday, Carole Lombard, wherever you may be!

Carole Lombard

Happy 124th Birthday, William Powell!

William Powell was born William Horatio Powell 124 years ago today in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Of all the actors of the Cladrite Era, it is Powell we would choose to model ourselves after. He came off as suave, sophisticated, elegant, witty, warm and decent. Here are 10 WP Did-You-Knows:

  • Though their marriage lasted just over two years, ending in divorce in 1933, Powell and Carole Lombard remained close friends until her death in 1942.
  • Powell and legendary baseball manager Casey Stengel attended Central High School in Kansas City, Missouri, together.
  • Harlean Carpenter, who would be known years later as Jean Harlow, lived just a few blocks away from Powell in Kansas City, but the two would not meet until they were both working actors in Hollywood.
  • Powell had been romantically involved with Harlow for two years at the time of her death and he paid for her funeral, spending $30,000.
  • William Powell made 13 pictures with Myrna Loy—14, if you count her cameo in The Senator Was Indiscreet (1947).
  • Politically, Powell was a Republican.
  • Powell’s favorite singer was Jo Stafford.
  • Powell had cancer of the rectum in 1938. An unconventional treatment that involved inserting platinum needles containing radium pellets into his body caused the cancer to go into remission and he lived for another 46 years.
  • Powell’s career was not threatened by the advent of talkies; on the contrary, they caused his star to rise.
  • Though Powell was nominated three times for the Best Actor in a Leading Role Oscar, he never won.

Happy birthday, William Powell, wherever you may be!

William Powell

Spend New Year’s Eve with the Marxes & the Charleses

What are you doing New Year’s Eve? We’re not referencing the classic song of that name (a favorite of ours, by the way); we’re asking the question. Because Turner Classic Movies has arranged a day of programming that, for our money, negates any need to even think of joining the inebriated hordes who’ll be out on the town, paying too much to have too little fun. Stay home instead, and enjoy the Marx Brothers all day and Nick and Nora Charles (and Asta, too) all night!

The Marx Brothers‘ first—and finest—seven pictures will air (slightly out of order, which is a bit of a head-scratcher) beginning at 8:15 a.m. ET, followed by all six Thin Man movies (which are being shown in proper order) beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

It’s nearly 23 hours of programming, so you’ll want to get plenty of rest tonight.

New Year's Eve -- Duck Soup and After the Thin Man posters

Happy birthday, Kay Fwancis!

This post is a revised version of one that appeared on January 10, 2012:

For decades, actress Kay Francis, a big star in the 1930s, was all but forgotten by contemporary critics and audiences, but not so today. The good folks at Turner Classic Movies, bless their hearts, have worked hard to place her pictures back into the spotlight.

Francis, born Katherine Edwina Gibbs on January 13, 1905, in Oklahoma City, starred primarily in what are sometimes dismissively dubbed “women’s pictures,” but her work usually rises above even the most trite and sentimental of plots and premises.

On Monday, TCM again honors Francis with what has become an annual birthday tribute, airing ten of her pictures between the hours of 6am and 8pm. Though TCM has omitted some of Francis’s best work from the tribute this time around — she’s wonderful in the Ernst Lubitsch classic Trouble in Paradise, and she excelled when paired with William Powell in several pictures in the early Thirties, especially the romantic comedy Jewel Robbery and the tear-jerker romance One Way Passage, both released in 1932 — you should, if you’ve never been exposed to the glamor and grit that is Kay Francis, be readying your DVR, even as you read this, to capture all fourteen hours of the tribute. (Those who are already Francis fans won’t need the above nudge.)

Here’s the full line-up (all times eastern):

6:00 A.M. — STREET OF WOMEN (1932)
A property developer is torn between his wife and his mistress.
Cast: Kay Francis, Roland Young, Alan Dinehart. Dir: Archie Mayo

7:15 A.M. — ANOTHER DAWN (1937)
An officer’s wife at a British outpost in Africa falls for another man.
Cast: Kay Francis, Errol Flynn, Ian Hunter. Dir: William Dieterle

8:30 A.M. — STOLEN HOLIDAY (1937)
A Paris fashion model marries a fortune hunter to protect him from the law.
Cast: Kay Francis, Claude Rains, Ian Hunter. Dir: Michael Curtiz

10:00 A.M. — SECRETS OF AN ACTRESS (1938)
A leading lady falls for a married architect who’s invested in her play.
Cast: Kay Francis, George Brent, Ian Hunter. Dir: William Keighley

11:15 A.M. — WOMEN ARE LIKE THAT (1938)
Years after their break-up, a couple finds each other all over again.
Cast: Kay Francis, Pat O’Brien, Ralph Forbes. Dir: Stanley Logan

12:45 P.M. — WOMEN IN THE WIND (1939)
Personal conflicts flare between competitors in a women’s air race.
Cast: Kay Francis, William Gargan, Victor Jory. Dir: John Farrow

2:00 P.M. — IT’S A DATE (1940)
Mother-and-daughter singers vie for the same man and the same stage part.
Cast: Deanna Durbin, Kay Francis, Walter Pidgeon. Dir: William A. Seiter

3:45 P.M. — PLAY GIRL (1940)
An aging gold digger takes a young woman under her wing.
Cast: Kay Francis, James Ellison, Mildred Coles. Dir: Frank Woodruff

5:15 P.M. — ALLOTMENT WIVES (1945)
Unscrupulous women marry servicemen for their pay.
Cast: Kay Francis, Paul Kelly, Otto Kruger. Dir: William Nigh

6:45 P.M. — DIVORCE (1945)
A frequently divorced woman sets her sights on a happily married man.
Cast: Kay Francis, Bruce Cabot, Helen Mack. Dir: William Nigh

For more on Kay Francis, check out Scott O’Brien’s well-received biography of the star, Kay Francis: I Can’t Wait to be Forgotten–Her Life on Film and Stage, published by BearManor Media and out now in a revised and updated second edition.

P.S. The title of this post refers to the widely known fact that Francis had a rather noticeable speech impediment. Listen carefully when she pronounces her Rs, and you’ll hear it.

In Their Words: William Powell

If allowed to experience the career of just one movie star from the Golden Era of Hollywood, we might just choose to be William Powell, who made suavity and elegance seem accessible and fun.

In any case, Powell, whose 121st birthday we missed yesterday, ranks near the top of the list of our favorite stars of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. A belated happy birthday, Bill; we’ll raise two toasts in your honor today.