n this inaugural volume in the Indiana Historical Society Press's Indiana Biography series, Wes D. Gehring, a noted authority on film comedy, examines Lombard's legacy, focusing on both the public and private figure from her early days as merely beautiful window dressing in Mack Sennett silent films, to her development as the leading motion-picture comedienne of her time, to her tragic death in a January 1942 plane crash.
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Lombard (1908-1942) was the brightest star in screwball comedy's constellation, and her tragic death at 33 made her a Hollywood legend. Ball State film professor Gehring celebrates Lombard's many gifts in this valentine. Born in Fort Wayne, Ind., and raised in California, Lombard has a quintessentially American, star-is-born saga: she parlayed talent and timing into a stellar career and marriage to Clark Gable, the king of MGM. In fact, Lombard, who often doubled as an uncredited producer, loved all things cinematic. A keen intelligence and show-biz savvy defined her as much as her boundless energy. The screen siren was fiercely democratic and wildly generous. Her fame grew with the movie industry-from early Mack Sennett shorts to the deft comic genius of My Man Godfrey and Nothing Sacred-and she embraced all the 20th century had to offer: feminism, free love and fun. Possessing classic beauty yet renowned for her eccentricity and ability to swear like a sailor, Lombard was also a survivor. A car crash when she was 17 nearly ruined her budding career, and only plastic surgery and, in her words, "determination and tenacity" kept her on film. Her undeniable charm bewitched many leading men of the 1930s, including George Raft and first husband William Powell. Lombard, who longed to flex her dramatic muscle, was killed in her prime. When she was heading home after a war bonds drive, her plane crashed. Gehring is clearly in love with his subject and details Lombard's life, times and some delicious backstage gossip with a historian's eye and a biographer's appetite for discovery. FYI: This is the first in the press's Indiana Biography Series, which pairs Indiana writers with Indiana subjects of note.
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