Friday, January 28, 2005

Carole Lombard and the Art of Living

Some actresses are famous for their off-screen lives, with their screen roles playing an almost inconsequential part in their appeal. I would classify Marilyn Monroe in this category. Her pitiful, sad life and remarkable beauty are the objects of our interest, and, had she never starred in a movie, film history would not be noticeably altered.

Some actresses are famous entirely for their virtuosity on the screen, with their personal lives rousing little to no interest outside the most rabid of fans. I would classify Bette Davis in this category. Who cares what she did off-screen? She was a phenomenonal actress, whose work stands on its own merits.

Some actresses meld both on- and off-screen personalities so perfectly, that the lives they live infuse their art with a totally new, unique spirit, one that cannot be imitated or replicated. This category's premiere member is Carole Lombard. She had such a zest and appreciation for living, that her particular vitality poured over into her work on-screen and left us with memorable performances that came to personify a fledgling genre of film: the screwball comedy.

I am endlessly fascinated by Carole Lombard - the actress to a certain extent, the woman to a great extent. To me, she is one of the few persons I've ever read of who truly got the purpose of this earthly life. As far as I know, she was not a Christian by name, but you'd have to look far and wide to find someone more Christian by nature. It is almost as though God created a person so infused with His spirit, that public testimony of faith would have been almost redundant. (I'm probably verging on heresy here, but God's grace is bigger than my heresy, and I'm trying prayerfully to express my observations.) She lived with a joy and immediacy that stuns me and humbles me. For instance, this quote from a 1938 interview with Gladys Hall for Motion Picture magazine sums up Carole's philosophy nicely:

"I love everything I do. I'm intensely interested in and enthusiastic about everything I do, everything. No matter what it is I'm doing, no matter how trivial, it isn't trivial to me. I give it all I've got, and I love it. I love living, I love life. Eating, sleeping, waking up again, skeet-shooting, sitting around an old barn doing nothing, my work, taking a bath, talking my ears off, the little things, the big things, the simplest things, the most complicated things -- I get a kick out of everything I do while I'm doing it.
If I don't love what I'm doing, I don't DO it. But, if I have to do something I'm not nuts about now and then, and who doesn't, I DO it and get it over with. I never anticipate trouble. I never worry, never fret. I can't duck issues. Ducking issues causes more grief than the issues themselves ever do. I never sit around and clutch my head and moan, 'I HAVE to do so-and-so, alas lo, the poor Lombard!' -- I just say, 'Let's DO it!' or 'Okay, let's GO!' -- and it's done, and there's nothing to it."

There is a true art to this kind of living. This grabbing life by the ankles and shaking it upside-down until you empty its pockets of every joy, every sorrow, every laugh, every sob, just everything, everything it has to offer, reveling in all of its gifts - good and bad - this exulting in every facet, arms open wide - there is holiness in this, for God is at the center of it all. And, knowing how to come through it all and maintain this kind of exuberant attitude, speaks to me of a faith that is boundless.

I love her views on growing older, as expressed in the same interview as the previous quote:

"With age there comes a richness that's divine. Age takes on a beauty everyone can't see, perhaps. But I see it ... I don't know of anything in the world more beautiful, more fascinating than a woman ripe with years, rich and lush as velvet with experience, her humor as tangy and flavorous as sunriped fruit. If women wouldn't get so self-conscious about getting old, they wouldn't get old metally, and then they wouldn't be old at all, only wise and simply divine. I LOVE the idea of getting old."

I wish we could have seen Carole Lombard perfecting the art of aging in the same way she perfected the art of living. What a salty, sassy old broad she would have made!

Whenever I re-read one of the many books that I have collected about Carole Lombard, I usually end up sighing and asking Jason, "Is it possible to miss someone you didn't know personally?" Because, I do miss Carole - I miss her incredibly.

Her view on her career in movies is also refreshingly balanced. On one hand, she loved and took seriously the whole business of movie-making. She was grateful to have such a lucrative career in the midst of the Great Depression. She never took her position as a film star for granted. On the other hand...(from the same interview as the previous two quotes):

"I love my work and I take it seriously. As I love everything I do and give everything I've got to whatever I'm doing. But I do not go about clutching my Career to an otherwise naked bosom. If my work were to be taken away from me tomorrow, I wouldn't be stopped. I'd go on living, and still love it. There are a thousand things I could do, would do, would want to do. I'm like old Solomon. If he had lost one of his wives, he wouldn't exactly have been a widower. I couldn't be widowed by the loss of any one facet of my life. Because it's too rich, life is too abundant. There are too many things to want to do, to have, to get, to lose, to find out about..."

Carole didn't bow at the altar of false idols.

One last quote from Carole about God. This is from an interview given to Adela Rogers St. Johns shortly before her untimely death while coming home from a war bonds-selling tour. It was published the month after her death in Liberty magazine.

Of the concept of God: "I don't seem to get solemn about it, and some people might not understand. That's why I never talk about it. I think it's all here -- in the mountains and the desert. I don't think God is a softie, either. In the end, it's better if people are forced back into -- well -- into being right, before they're too far gone. I think your temple is your everyday living."

A life well-lived won't save your soul. Only Jesus through God's grace can do that. But, a life well-lived is a blessing to God, a way to honor Him, the best proof of gratitude to Him. Carole Lombard may not have known Jesus by name in this life, but He truly must have known her, and I have little doubt that in those final few seconds on January 16, 1942, in a DC-3 flying inexorably toward a Nevada mountain in the deep silence of a winter's night, Jesus came for His little lamb and lifted her out of her seat and into His arms. Such must be the grace of God.


Spaceyfan said...

Hi Justine,
Just a note to tell you how much I loved your article on Carole Lombard. She was married to my favourite actor William Powell and starred in one of my all time favourite movies, My Man Godfrey.

She was certainly a jewel of a human being. Your article was exquistely written, and if she were alive to read it, Carole would have loved your glowing review of her.

I too am a Christian, and I agree completely with you that if anyone ever lived a life that Christians are "supposed to" she did. She embodies the spirit of life that God wants us all to have and take joy in.

I could only wish to be a tenth of the person she was, to not only possess such beautiful philosophies of life but to live them out as well.

Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute to a wonderful lady that many under the age of 50 haven't even heard of. Can you imagine that??? Poor things, if they only knew what they were missing!

That Other Carole said...

Justine, I happened upon your wonderful piece while surfing. I knew Carole's secretary, Jean Garceau, and was entrusted with many of Carole's personal things following Jean's death. You have captured Missy Carole's marvelous spirit beautifully -- Thank you so very much!

Justine said...

Oh, Other Carole!

How can you leave such a tantalizing commentary and then no way to communicate with you? Cruelty, I say!

Wow - you knew Jean Garceau?!? So cool! "Not the rose, but near the rose..." Please share what kinds of Carole memorabilia with which you were entrusted. What do you know about the notes that legend says Carole left with JG to be given to Clark Gable during CL's war bonds-selling tour?

Okay, I'll post this here and hope that you revisit this site. Goodness me, how exciting! Please share, if you are so inclined.

Thanks for visiting,
P.S. If your real name is "Carole," please tell me: Did the "e" make all the [expletive deleted] difference for you too? :)