On January 16th, 1942, a plane crashed in Las Vegas shortly after taking off. Tragically, none of the passengers survived. Among the passengers was 33-year-old Carole Lombard.
Carole Lombard was an actress during Hollywood’s Golden Era. She was best known for her work in many screwball comedies. She was also well known for her marriage to actor Clark Gable. The two of them were known as one of the industry’s favorite couples.
Decades after her death, we still talk about Carole Lombard. She’ll always be remembered as one of our country’s best actresses.
But there’s also a lot of mystery surrounding the tragic plane crash that killed her and 21 others…
Carole Lombard left her Midwestern upbringing in Fort Wayne, Indiana at age 7 to head to the Hollywood hills. By the age of 9, she was acting in Westerns. She had a prolific career in both silent films and sound films.
Some of her best-known work during the early part of her career included Hearts and Spurs, High Voltage, The Racketeer, The Arizona Kid, From Hell to Heaven, and The Eagle and the Hawk. Many of her earliest films are now considered to be “lost” – meaning that no surviving print seems to exist.
Carole’s career never seemed to slow down at any point. She would work on several films and she immediately became one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses. It was in the 1930s that she became a regular in some of the era’s best-known screwball comedy films.
These films included My Man Godfrey, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Nothing Sacred and Fools for Scandal. She established herself as one of Hollywood’s best comedic actresses.
To this day, she remains an influence on many female actors who wish to venture into comic acting. She also developed a reputation for her generosity, kindness, throwing lavish parties, and her marriage to actor William Powell.
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Apart from her talent as a gifted actress, Carole Lombard would later become known for her marriage to Clark Gable. She divorced William Powell in 1933 – two years after her marriage to him.
She would later state that she and Powell were incompatible though they remained great friends till Lombard’s death. It was shortly after her divorce from Powell that Carole Lombard became successful in screwball comedy films. One of her first successful comedy films was in No Man of Her Own. Her co-star in the film was Clark Gable, who was also making his name in screwball comedies and had become a major Hollywood star.
This collaboration began their romance, and they would eventually get married in 1939 – at the height of Clark Gable’s success with Gone With The Wind. They were now one of Hollywood’s most famous and beloved couples.
Carole Lombard was in her early thirties and showed no sign of slowing down with her career. She continued to act in a variety of films, with screwball comedies being her main forte.
While 1939 may have been a great year for both Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, it was also the start of the Second World War. Carole decided she wanted to play her part in helping the US Army and its Allies fight against the Nazi’s.
She was a staunch supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and she raised her hand to help out the Army in any way possible. She was among the first Hollywood stars to play a part in helping the Army’s efforts during the Second World War.
She was given the responsibility of selling Defense Bonds. Clark Gable was in charge of assigning wartime jobs to other Hollywood stars.
On one day, January 16th, 1942, Carole Lombard was going to fly to Indianapolis to deliver war bonds. She and 21 other passengers had left Albuquerque and had a layover in Las Vegas. Then, shortly after the plane took off it crashed into Mount Potosi. Carole Lombard and her fellow passengers had all died in the plane crash.
As soon as he learned about the tragic plane crash, Clark Gable traveled to Las Vegas to collect Carole’s body.
Once the news became public, it became a tragedy for Hollywood and for the country as a whole. Americans knew not only of Carole Lombard’s incredible acting talents but also her patriotism. Americans felt that they had not only lost a great entertainer but a great fellow citizen.
Tributes and condolences poured in from Hollywood and the general public as news about Carole Lombard’s death continued to spread. It was one of the most tragic events to happen in Hollywood and the fact that Carole Lombard was only 33 years old made it even sadder. It was also sad that Clark Gable had lost his wife. They were one of Hollywood’s most loved couples and for many fans, it was too much to handle.
The talent of Carole Lombard and the relationship between her and Clark Gable continues to impress fans to this day. Decades after her death, Carole Lombard remains an icon of Hollywood. Her work in screwball comedies is legendary and she’s always cited as one of the best actresses who was involved in this uniquely American style of comedy. Her relationship with Clark Gable remains one of the greatest love stories that was created in Tinsel Town!
We don’t expect to see any of this slowing down any time soon. Newer generations will likely watch Carole Lombard’s films and she’ll continue to be discussed as one of Hollywood’s best actresses. Her patriotism and service to the United States will also never be forgotten. Today, many Hollywood stars may portray war heroes on the screen. But Carole Lombard was part of a generation that actually served their country during times of war!
Carole Lombard represented not only the American Dream but also the Hollywood Dream. No matter how big a star she became, she never forgot her down-to-earth Midwestern roots. She was known to show kindness to her co-stars and to the crew of every film she worked on. She was known to shun the pretentiousness and snobbery that was often associated with major film stars.
She was known to be one of Hollywood’s highest-paid actresses, earning around $465,000 from her work in film and radio. She also was known, at one point, to be the best dressed woman in Hollywood.
She was also known for her commitment to her husband Clark Gable. After their marriage, she was known to turn down acting roles if they didn’t coincide with his work schedule. When she wasn’t working, she wanted to make sure she spent as much time with her husband as possible. When they weren’t working, they would spend much of their time on their 20-acre farm in Encino, California.
After her passing the Treasury Department referred to her as a patriot who “died for her country.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt also expressed his condolences for her passing.
He would make a public statement in which he said of Carole Lombard:
“Mrs. Roosevelt and I are deeply distressed. Carole was our friend and guest in happier days. She brought great joy to all who knew her and to the millions who knew her only as a great artist. She gave unselfishly of her time and talent to serve her government in peace and in war. She loved her country. She is and always will be a star, one we shall never forget or cease to be grateful to…”
The plane crash that killed Carole Lombard and 21 others did strike a chord with the people of Las Vegas – which was still a sleepy town in those days.
People wanted to know why the plane ended up crashing. Much of the speculation was surrounding the pilot. Prior to leaving Albuquerque, New Mexico, a new flight crew came on board. This was led by Captain Wayne Williams who was accompanied by 1 co-pilot and 1 flight attendant. 15 soldiers got on board and the only civilians were an army wife named Lois Hamilton and Carole Lombard and a few of her compatriots.
It’s believed that the co-pilot unknowingly was flying toward Mount Potosi. The light was low as beacons were turned off – out of fear that Japanese Warplanes might be able to easily attack the West Coast of the United States.
There’s also a mystery as to why the crew didn’t use all the navigation devices that were available to them. The plane crash went from being a tragedy to a scandal, and for many, the unsolved mystery is what keeps it a scandal.
There was even speculation as to why Carole Lombard was so eager to fly. Though her marriage to Clark Gable seemed idyllic, there were rumors that the marriage was in trouble. There were also rumors that Clark Gable was having a relationship with Lana Turner.
The mystery behind the plane crash remains unsolved. For many people, it remains a major scandal.
But for most of us, it’s one of the great tragedies for Hollywood and for America as a whole. Perhaps the best way we can remember Carole Lombard is to sit back and enjoy one of her many movies. Though her life ended in tragedy, much of it was dedicated to making us laugh through her excellent work in film.
And for that, we are eternally grateful to her…
Are you a fan of Carole Lombard?
Do you think newer generations know about her life and career? Or do us cinephiles need to introduce them to one of Hollywood’s classic actresses?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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