Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Dubbed the free spirit of 1930s Hollywood, American actress Carole Lombard perished in a fiery plane crash, on the toss of a coin.
She started her career in the era of the silents, at home in screwball comic roles, but in dramatic ones too.  

She made her name with the classic My Man Godfrey, in 1936. That year was a watershed for her in another respect as well, as she and Clark Gable began their romance. 

Although she already knew him, it was her arrival at a Hollywood fancy dress party where guests had been told to turn up in something white, and she arrived in a white ambulance, that impressed her idiosyncratic nature upon the cocky moustachioed star. 

The couple married in 1939, and moved to a ranch outside Los Angeles. Columnists wrote of them as an ideal Hollywood couple: Carole Lombard was alluring as a bonne vivante, and Gable was devoted to her.
In mid January 1942, Lombard had just raised more than 2 million dollars at a midwinter war bonds rally in Indianapolis on the far side of the country. She was travelling with her mother, and her press agent Otto Winkler, and the three were tired and keen to start home for Los Angeles. Winkler suggested they take sleeping compartments on a train back, but Lombard wanted to get back more quickly, and in the end they tossed for it.

In the early hours of 16 January they boarded a TWA Flight 3, heading west. It flew via Albuquerque in New Mexico, where 15 military flying officers joined the flight, and four very fortunate passengers gave up their places to let them on board. As twilight came the plane made a refuelling stop at Las Vegas in the Nevada desert, and took off into the gathering darkness for the last hop over the Rockies to Burbank Airport in Los Angeles. The night was clear and flying conditions reported to be excellent.
At 7.30 p.m. miners at the Blue Diamond Mine up in the Rockies reported seeing a massive, fiery explosion near the top of the range. It was quickly confirmed they had witnessed the crash of TWA Flight 3.
Gable, whom reporters described as “pretty broken up” and looking haggard, flew to the area and attempted to scrabble with his bare hands through the brush up the rugged peaks. At the same time posses of cowboys, Indians and soldiers from a nearby military base joined the local miners in trying to reach the crash site. When searchers did get there they found all 22 people on board dead, their bodies broken and badly burned, including Carole Lombard. Distraught, Gable enlisted to fight in the war, and Hitler, said to have been a major fan, offered a sizeable reward for his capture. 
Investigations revealed the plane had almost cleared the top of the mountains, and that a course a few hundred metres to one side would have seen it pass safely by. The question of why an experienced pilot flew straight into a mountaintop on a clear night with no reported mechanical problems, remains unanswered still.
Carole Lombard got her way to fly over taking a train when she won the toss of a coin with Otto Winkler in Indianapolis. The mountain the plane crashed into was named Double or Nothing Peak.

       “On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”
              - epitaph of comic actor W.C. Fields, died 1946

From my book "Dead Famous: Deaths of the Famous and Famous Deaths".

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