Good on Cheryll Devall of KPCC for working up a radio piece on today's 70th anniversary of the day that Hollywood comic actress Carole Lombard died in a plane crash. Lombard was the genuine article, as they say. A fast-talking, saucy platinum blonde, she starred in screwball comedies and during the thirties reportedly became Hollywood's highest paid actress. She was briefly married to much-older actor William Powell, then had a number of affairs with high profile talent, including Clark Gable. Gable reportedly used some of the cash from his starring role in "Gone With the Wind" to secure a divorce, and he and Lombard were married in 1939. With his fame from GWTW, and her success in films such as "My Man Godfrey" and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," they were the It Couple of the day.
Gable and Lombard famously settled on a 25-acre ranch in Encino, formerly owned by director Raoul Walsh. It came with 250 citrus trees, stables for nine horses, and a two-story Connecticut-style house. "Clark and I have fallen in love with the Valley. This is our home, and we're here to stay," Lombard said in an interview. From the Valleywood chapter of my book, "The San Fernando Valley: America's Suburb:"
The lovebirds gave each other horses—a sorrel show horse called Sonny for Gable, and a bay polo pony named Melody for Lombard. She wore pigtails and grubby clothes to work on the property, and took shooting lessons so she could go hunting with the boys. But nights were elegant—linen napkins, Waterford crystal and antique flatware were her style. She also enjoyed driving the yellow Cadillac Gable had given her.
Gable bought a Caterpillar tractor and joined the citrus association, but after three poor seasons he gave up on the notion of turning a profit. They also tried raising hens, but the eggs cost about a dollar apiece to produce. If he couldn't succeed at growing, at least he could defend the castle. One afternoon a burglar managed to get into the house by bluffing the cook, took a pistol and hid overnight in the garage. The next morning, Gable caught the intruder inside the house and they scuffled. Gable came out on top, and the Van Nuys police were called. They arrived well after studio security officers.
Lombard was born in Indiana, but grew up in Los Angeles and attended Virgil Middle School and Fairfax High. Within weeks of the U.S. joining World War II, she and her mother went back home to Fort Wayne help sell war bonds. On the final leg of their flight west to Burbank, the Transcontinental and Western Air DC-3 crashed at night into a cliff in Nevada's Spring Mountains. All aboard died. Lombard was 33 years old.
From Devall's story on KPCC:
An investigation indicated that some beacons on the ground had been turned off because of war-related blackout orders. After Carole Lombard’s death, President Franklin Roosevelt awarded her the Medal of Freedom as the first American woman killed in the line of duty during World War II.
In Hollywood lore, Gable was devastated by her death. He took to riding a motorcycle on long solo cruises across the Valley, then joined the Army. He later remarried and lived until 1960, but Gable is buried beside Lombard at Forest Lawn in Glendale. While the Encino ranch was long ago divided by home builders, the Gable-Lombard house remains. For a long time was owned by Michael Milken. He may still have it for all I know.
Photos from Architectural Digest/credit Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences