Sunday, January 16, 2011

Pop History Moment: The Death of Carole Lombard

For all her wacky antics onscreen, the foremost film comedienne of the 1930s was a patriotic American girl at heart; shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Carole Lombard had managed to personally sell millions of dollars worth of war bonds, more than anyone else up to that time.

PhotobucketWhich made her death, on this day in 1942, all the more poignant; returning home from a war bond rally in her home state of Indiana, the plane in which Lombard was traveling made an unscheduled refueling stop at what is now Nellis Air Force Base, near Las Vegas. Shortly after resuming its journey to Burbank, on a clear night, the plane crashed into the side of Mount Potosi near Double-Up Peak, igniting a forest fire in the process.

All 22 passengers onboard TWA Flight 3 - including MGM publicist Otto Winkler as well as Lombard's mother - were killed. Lombard's last words to an adoring public before boarding that fateful flight had been: 'Before I say goodbye to you all, come on and join me in a big cheer! V for Victory!' She was 33.

Her husband, Hollywood leading man Clark Gable, was said to be inconsolable at the loss, and soon enlisted, eventually flying bombing missions over Germany as a gunner; despite a subsequent remarriage, following his own death in November 1960 he was buried next to her. Jack Benny, Lombard's final costar (in the Ernst Lubitsch-directed anti-Nazi comedy To Be or Not to Be) scrapped that week's episode of his popular radio sitcom in favour of music in her honour.

To further honour her and her efforts, President Franklin D. Roosevelt officially named her the first female casualty of World War II, saying she had died in the line of duty, and posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Two years later (minus a day) the Liberty ship SS Lombard was launched, bearing her name...

Carole Lombard has been played in the movies most famously by Jill Clayburgh, in Sidney J. Furie's 1976 film Gable and Lombard, opposite James Brolin as Clark Gable.
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