Carole Lombard, and to celebrate, Vince of the blog Carole and Co. is hosting a marvelous four-day blogathon titled "Carole-tennial + 3!"
There are some terrific entries by well-known bloggers which can be found at the links for Day 1 and Day 2. I highly recommend all Lombard fans spend time visiting the numerous posts, which are varied and highly worthwhile. (Update: Here's the links for Day 3. There are 22 blogathon entries on Carole to date, with one day left to go.) (Update: Here's the final wrap-up post. 27 entries!)
Carole Lombard has always been one of my favorite actresses, so I was honored to be asked to participate in the festivities.
For my contribution, I chose a fairly unknown aspect of Carole's early family life which I helped to unearth during my senior year history internship at the University of Redlands in the mid-'80s. I alluded briefly to this story in a post back in 2007, but today I'll share it in greater detail.
I had a wonderful opportunity to intern at the historic Kimberly Crest House & Gardens in Redlands, which is located in San Bernardino County, California. My mission was to identify, organize, and preserve a huge collection of decades of family photographs.
(Photo credit: Kimberly Crest House & Gardens.)
Kimberly Crest, originally built in 1897, was purchased by J.A. Kimberly of Kimberly-Clark fame in 1905, when he and his family left Neenah, Wisconsin, for the balmy climate and fragrant orange groves of Redlands.
During my initial interview with the estate's curator, he mentioned that Carole Lombard was a relative of the Kimberly family and might have visited the estate as a child. This immediately caught my interest, as I was a classic film fan from a young age and had a particular love for Lombard.
It's easy to forget that there was no internet available to the general public in the '80s! However, I had two books on Carole in my collection, Leonard Maltin's entry in the Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies and the Citadel picture book THE FILMS OF CAROLE LOMBARD by Frederick C. Ott.
The Ott book had a couple of especially good photographs of the young Carole, who had striking eyes even as a child, and so I knew that I was looking for a little girl who looked like this picture, taken from Ott's book:
On the very first day of my internship, I hardly knew where to begin. As I slowly looked through the photos, trying to assess the scope of my semester's work, I came across this photo, and when I took a good look at the little girl on the right, I was certain I'd struck gold:
It was simply labeled Christmas 1919. Carole Lombard, then known as Jane Peters, would have been 11 years old.
Fortunately J.A. Kimberly kept diaries, and when we turned to the pages for Christmastime of 1919, we hit pay dirt again, with a reference by Mr. Kimberly to "Totsie and Jane" visiting for Christmas. We knew from other references that Totsie was a family nickname for Jane's mother, Elizabeth "Bessie" Peters. The Peters family had moved to California in the mid-teens after Jane's parents divorced.
Later in the week I found three additional photographs of little Jane Peters.
The discovery caused something of a local stir, being written up in various newspapers, and at the end of the semester the PBS program ON CAMPUS came out to Kimberly Crest and filmed a segment on my internship, the Lombard photos, and Kimberly Crest.
I've been looking for my folder of newspaper clippings and news photographs for a few weeks now, and unfortunately at this point I've only been able to put my hands on a Xerox of one of the newspaper articles, hence the relatively poor quality of the above photo. When I locate the rest of my Kimberly Crest materials, I hope to substitute a better quality photograph.
For more information on the Peters-Kimberly connection, visit the Ancestry of Carole Lombard page.
For more on Kimberly Crest, visit Places Earth, Redlands Magazine, and Wikipedia.
Incidentally, Kimberly Crest may look familiar to those who have visited the Magic Castle in Hollywood, California. The Magic Castle, originally built in 1909, used the same architectural plans as Kimberly Crest. The architects were Oliver Perry Dennis and Lyman Farwell.
Kimberly Crest can be toured by the public. Visit the estate website for more information.
2014 Update: For more on Carole Lombard, please visit my tribute at ClassicFlix as well as my post on the book FIREBALL.