Thursday, December 24, 2009

Carole Lombard: The Divine Screwball

19th-century pitcher Rube Waddell
A genre and a star is born
With the exception of perhaps Cary Grant, no movie star has been more identified with screwball comedy than Carole Lombard. In fact, if it weren’t for Lombard, the genre might not have received its name. “Miss Lombard has played screwball dames before…she needs only a resin bag to be a female Rube Waddell.” So said Variety in 1936, comparing Lombard’s performance, as Irene Bullock in My Man Godfrey, to the nineteenth-century baseball legend known for his screwball pitches.

Risk taker
From her breakthrough role in Twentieth Century (1934) opposite John Barrymore, it was apparent that a comic genius was born. Lombard could have become a typical Hollywood leading lady on her movie star looks alone, but instead she jumped head-first into screwball comedies, taking on roles that often downplayed her natural beauty. She took comedic risks that few women in Hollywood were willing to take and it paid off big time. The public loved Lombard, and they loved her screwball heroines.

At the top of her game
By the mid-1930s, Lombard was one of the top box office draws, besting Janet Gaynor, Bette Davis, Jean Harlow, and Katherine Hepburn. She was also on a winning streak with films like Hands Across the Table, Love Before Breakfast, The Princess Comes Across, My Man Godfrey, and Nothing Sacred.

Carole Lombard and William Powell in My Man Godfrey
Enduring popularity
Lombard tried her hand at drama with some success, but the public loved her screwball persona best and it’s the comedies that have endured. Even by today’s standards, Lombard’s performances seem strikingly fresh and contemporary. If it wasn't for her untimely death in 1942, who knows what heights she could have reached. Even so, few have risen so high.

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