A photo of a thoughtful Carole Lombard dressed in an elegant light outfit from early 1939.
Why did she make these requests shortly after she married Clark Gable, supposedly at the peak of their legendary romance? Was it really because she was so disturbed by Jean Harlow's flamboyant funeral? How many new brides are thinking about where they will be buried? Did she request that she be buried alongside of Gable?
Carole began dating Clark Gable seriously in early 1936, a year and a half after Russ Columbo's death and after Gable had formally separated from his second wife, Ria Langham Gable. Ria agreed to a divorce in early 1939 and Carole and Clark were finally married on March 29, 1939. Gable was filming "Gone With The Wind" when they eloped to Arizona. He will forever be identified with the noble rogue character of "Rhett Butler" that he played in that film.
When she married Clark Gable she dressed in a discrete gray business suit, a sensible choice for what was for her a second marriage and what was to be the third of five marriages for Gable.
Meeting the press the day after their elopement at her home with Carole wearing what she wore to their Arizona wedding ceremony. The suit was very similar to the one that she wore six years earlier, (see above), on the day that she divorced William Powell in Reno, Nevada.
Carole gave that marriage all that she could possibly give it. They were a publicist's dream come true, a living, breathing, photo opportunity and they soon became America's favorite couple as duly documented by a seemingly endless supply of publicity photos.
(left) Gable and Lombard at a prize fight in LA. (right) Arriving at the LA premier of Gone With The Wind in January, 1940.
Lombard created a private world for Gable at their Encino ranch that she purchased with her savings. (Gable was cash strapped after his divorce from his second wife.) She decorated the house primarily to suit him and in the process sold off the antique collection that she had acquired over the years, much of it with the help of former actor and interior designer Billy Haines.
Carole made sure Gable was served, and sometimes prepared herself, the simple food that he preferred, such as a good steak and potatoes. (Carole gave up on gourmet cooking after her marriage to Gable.) She went fishing and hunting with Gable and his buddies and even learned to shoot skeet, soon becoming a better shot than Gable.
While she was at the top of the social ladder in the film colony, yet she sold off many of her signature jewels, such as her star sapphire collection with their past associations. She also gave up many of her old friends, especially those that Gable did not care for. (Their home had no guest rooms.) She even rationed the time she spent with her family far more closely. (Carole's mother and her two married brothers usually visited her when Gable was not at home.) Perhaps because of their differing schedules, they maintained separate bedrooms. And despite serious attempts and visits to medical professionals, their marriage was not blessed with children.
Gable and Lombard at a Hollywood gathering for Greek War Relief, January 8, 1941.
Loyalty was a characteristic that Carole Lombard was expected to give in her marriage to Clark Gable and also was one that she was looking for in return from him. For Carole a double standard didn't work. Unfortunately for her, loyalty to any particular woman was not, nor would it ever be, Clark Gable's strong suit. A close acquaintance said of Gable, "Of course, Clark never really married anyone. A number of women married him, he just went along for the gag."
To the public their marriage was the ideal union, and it was portrayed as such by both Clark Gable and Carole Lombard with the eager assistance of the photographers and the publicity staff of MGM. The many wonderful photographs of them as a couple have served as the substantiating basis for the legend of their perfect marriage in the public's mind.
(left) A black and white photo taken at the ranch in 1940. (right) A full color photo taken during the same session by a MGM photographer.
Notice the MGM publicity department number in the lower right of the photo on the left. Gable was a virtual brand for MGM, hence their interest in promoting him and the romance of his marriage to Carole Lombard, particularly after he had been married twice to women almost 20 years older than he was. However, several of their close friends, such as actor Robert Stack who had known both Lombard and Gable since he was a teenager and who would co-star with Carole in her last film, "To Be Or Not To Be", commented that for Lombard "the marriage was all give while getting very little in return."
A photographic study of Clark Gable by George Hurrell.
Clark Gable was born in Ohio in February of 1901. Named chairman of the Hollywood Victory Committee by studio chiefs after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he was personally asked to make a heartland war bond selling tour by Harry Hopkins, a senior advisor to President Roosevelt. But Gable declined citing his shooting schedule for his film "Somewhere I'll Find You". Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, encouraged him to go and offered to suspend shooting on the film until he got back. Gable again declined saying that he was not comfortable with public speaking, this despite having New York theater experience.
Carole Lombard, who was born in Indiana, then volunteered to go in his place, even though she had virtually no live stage and no public speaking experience. She tried very hard up until the end to get Gable to accompany her on the tour just as Douglas Fairbanks had toured with Mary Pickford on a war bond sales tour during World War I. The tour that Carole undertook was to include several cities according to both news accounts of the day and author E. J. Fleming.
By January of 1942, Lana Turner, Gable's co-star in the 1941 film "Honky Tonk" as well as his current project "Somewhere I'll Find You" was about to turn 22 years old. A precocious woman, she would ultimately marry eight times and have countless affairs. She was already well along in earning her reputation as a home breaker in Hollywood. And Gable was known to have a roving eye, a point of contention between himself and Lombard.
Heating up the screen. Lana Turner and Clark Gable in Somewhere I'll Find You, 1942.
While Gable was unwilling to delay the shooting of "Somewhere I'll Find You" to accompany his wife on the war bond tour, he was very interested in seeing that the tour reflected well on himself. He insisted that Carole be accompanied on the tour by a publicity man from MGM, his studio. That man was Otto Winkler. Carole responded that she and her mother were quite capable of traveling alone, but he persisted, most probably on the advice of Howard Strickling, the head of publicity at MGM, and she relented.
On the Sunday night before she left on the war bond tour, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable reportedly had a fierce argument over Lana Turner and his roving eye. Gable ended the argument by walking out on her, leaving her home alone on the night before she began the tour. Jean Garceau, their secretary, later noted how uncharacteristically subdued Lombard was when she left home the next morning to begin the tour.
Nor was Clark Gable at the train station to see his wife off on when she embarked with her mother and MGM press agent Otto Winkler on the City of Los Angeles for Chicago. This was a tour that Carole undertook on his behalf. His absence naturally aroused press curiousity.
Howard Strickling, the head of publicity at MGM, put out a press release to cover for him. It said that Gable was unable to attend because he was in Washington, D.C. confering with the military on how best he might serve his country. This was a total fabrication and an example of how Strickling and MGM manipulated press coverage of this tour to protect and enhance Gable's standing with the public.
Carole's eastbound train to Chicago left Los Angeles on Monday. It stopped briefly in Salt Lake City, Utah on Tuesday morning, January 13. She got off and gamely pitched bonds on the train platform for a waiting crowd and spoke with a reporter about the schedule for her war bond tour. She said that Indianapolis was going to be the first stop and Cleveland was going to be the second stop.
Carole Lombard in Salt Lake City, Utah on Tuesday January 13, 1942.
Along the way Carole tried, whenever possible, to reach Gable by telephone both at their home and at his studio. He was nowhere to be found. Perhaps he was making himself unavailable to let her know just how annoyed he was with her. Others have said that he was simply otherwise occupied. He would have to live with himself for the consequences of his actions for the rest of his life.
After arriving in Chicago on Wednesday January 14, Carole did a radio interview on Station WGN and met with federal officials planning the tour while her mother continued on by train to Fort Wayne, Indiana. Carole flew on to Indianapolis Wednesday evening with Otto Winkler and she met her mother at the train station there on Thursday morning to begin the first formal day of the war bond tour.
In Indianapolis on Thursday, January 15, 1942 her first official act according to biographer Wes D. Gehring was a two o'clock flag raising at the Indiana statehouse. Afterwards Lombard and dignitaries moved inside the rotunda for a furious hour of bond sales. Buyers received a bond receipt bearing her picture that was printed with the signature "Carole Lombard Gable", a role she clearly enjoyed playing to the hilt for the public, according to her first husband William Powell. After a quick stop at her hotel, where she found a bouquet of flowers from Gable, (perhaps thru the services of the publicity department of MGM), she was off to the governor's mansion for a tea and reception for the Indiana Defense Savings staff.
That evening Carole spoke at the Cadle Tabernacle to more than 12,000 people. In a moving speech she said "We know what an enormous task lies ahead...[But] as Americans, we have the rare privilege of deciding for ourselves the direction we are to take. We have made that decision." She ended the evening by leading the entire crowd in singing the national anthem.
Carole with her mother, Bess Peters and Otto Winkler at the Indianapolis train station on Thursday, January 15, 1942.
(left) Selling bonds in the Capitol rotunda. (right) Leading the crowd in singing the national anthem at the Cadle Tabernacle.
Carole and her mother meet with reporters at the end of the long day.
In one tumultuous day Carole reached her quota of $500,000 and then surpassed it by selling over $2,000,000 in war bonds in Indianapolis. The war bond tour was scheduled to go on to Cleveland, Ohio. (Gable was born in Ohio.) But Lombard abruptly ended the tour after visiting Indianpolis and asked to fly home to Los Angeles. Her mother, who was deathly afraid of flying, and MGM publicity man Otto Winkler tried to persuade her to do otherwise, but she absolutely insisted on flying home immediately. Reluctantly Winkler found three open seats on TWA Flight # 3 which originated at LaGuardia in New York City and had Burbank Airport in Los Angeles as its ultimate destination. He also alerted his boss, Howard Strickling, to the abrupt change in plans.
They left Indianapolis at 5:27 a.m. on Friday, January 16. After scheduled stops for passengers and refueling in St. Louis, Missouri; Amarillo, Texas (where she sent a last telegram to Gable); and Albuquerque, New Mexico they were to land in Los Angeles, Burbank early that evening.
The seating chart on departure from Las Vegas. Carole and her party sat in the middle section of the plane.
Delayed by weather the plane landed in Las Vegas to refuel around 6:30 p.m. Shortly after taking off around 7:07 p.m. TWA Flight # 3 slammed into the side Mount Potosi just southwest of that city. All 22 people aboard were killed in the crash, probably instantly.
The middle section of the plane where Carole and her party were seated, as found after the crash.
Clark Gable and Howard Strickling as well as MGM publicist Ralph Wheelright flew by chartered plane to Las Vegas shortly after receiving news that Carole's plane was down. An aerial flight that evening confirmed that there were no signs of life at the still burning remote crash scene.
Early the next morning MGM vp Eddie Mannix joined the recovery team that climbed up the side of Mt. Potosi. Mannix preliminarily identified Carole's body which was both decapitated and badly burned "by wisps of blond hair and the general contours of her face". (Carole's left arm and hand were never found.) The gruesome scene of blood and carnage haunted Mannix for the rest of his life.
In the days before helicopters were available for recue work, the recovery team dragged the bodies over the mountain side on sleds and mules.
Gable waited for Mannix to return with the bodies of Carole, her mother Bess and Otto Winkler in the safety of his Las Vegas hotel room at the El Rancho Motor Inn. He spent some of the waiting time in the Pioneer Saloon in nearby Goodsprings. He never viewed Carole's remains.
Carole Lombard's final wishes were in her will and it was filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. They were carried out "to the extent possible" by her widower, Clark Gable. He was undoubtedly guided by his mentor Howard Strickling. Both were aware that Clark Gable had a reputation to protect and a legend to secure. Burial in a modestly priced crypt at Forest Lawn in Glendale would put her in the Great Mausoleum near where Russ Columbo was entombed. It is the very first provision in her will.
Why did she request that she be dressed in white?
Was it because of her Bahai faith, because white was her favority "color" or was it because brides are usually dressed in white? Carole had agreed to take instruction in the Catholic faith as a preliminary step to marrying Russ Columbo just before he died. Her first marriage to William Powell would not have been an impediment to a Catholic marriage for Lombard and Columbo since William Powell, who was 16 years older than Carole, had been previously married and had a son by that marriage. Church canon law did not recognize the Powell and Lombard marriage as valid, thus in that context, the prior marriage did not exist.
Did Carole Lombard request that she be buried alongside Clark Gable?
While she left most of her fortune to Gable and she named him as her executor she did not request that they be buried next to each other.
Carole Lombard Gable and her mother were entombed in the Sanctuary of Trust in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn after a brief late-afternoon funeral service in the Church of the Recessional on Wednesday, January 21, 1942. Clark Gable, "inconsolable and unapproachable", used a private family room with a separate entrance to watch the ceremony in seclusion from the 46 invited guests including Carole's two brothers Fred and Stuart; Dixie Pantages Karlson, Carole's lifetime friend; Madalynne Fields Lang, her former social secretary and dear friend; and William Powell, her first husband.
Carole's vault is just a stone's throw from the Sanctuary of Vespers where Russ Columbo was entombed in 1934. Her mother was buried alongside of her and to her right. A white dress was carefully folded and placed in Carole's coffin just before it was sealed. A third crypt was purchased to the left of Carole Lombard's for the ultimate use of Clark Gable. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, Clark Gable's crypt is positioned between Carole's crypt and the Sanctuary of Vespers where Russ Columbo's tomb is located.
See also: http://cinemafan2.livejournal.com/2