Saturday, March 10, 2012

Gone Too Soon: Carole Landis

Note: This post was written as part of the "Gone Too Soon" blogathon hosted by Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood. Please visit Comet Over Hollywood for a complete list of contributors and subjects. Thanks to the blogathon I've read some very interesting and informative posts over the past 24 hours.

I've always been fond of actress Carole Landis, who starred in three of my favorite 20th Century-Fox films of the early '40s. Landis was a beautiful, talented woman who was also a patriot who worked tirelessly visiting troops around the world during World War II. Carole seemed to "have it all," and yet by the age of 29 she was dead, an apparent suicide.

Carole's Hollywood career began with bit roles in "A" films such as FOUR'S A CROWD (1938) and GOLD DIGGERS IN PARIS (1938), and she played leading roles in "B" films such as the early John Wayne Western THREE TEXAS STEERS (1939). Her career moved into high gear with ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1940), opposite Victor Mature, and it seemed as though perhaps major stardom would be hers.

Carole subsequently played major supporting roles in a pair of Betty Grable films which were as good as they were different. MOON OVER MIAMI (1941) was a colorful musical with the two women hunting for rich husbands at a resort, a tried-and-true story which Fox remade many times. In I WAKE UP SCREAMING (1941), sometimes credited as the first film noir, Carole played Grable's sister, who wants wealth and glamour but comes to a bad end. Carole was reunited with her ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. costar Victor Mature in this film.

Landis had another supporting role in ORCHESTRA WIVES (1942), a highly diverting musical starring George Montgomery, Ann Rutherford, and Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. (A sad side note: one of Landis's costars in the film, Cesar Romero, would later serve as a pallbearer at her funeral.)

1942's films also included the so-so IT HAPPENED IN FLATBUSH, a baseball story costarring Lloyd Nolan, and MY GAL SAL, a Technicolor film starring Rita Hayworth and (once again) Victor Mature.

During this period Landis was busy with another project which she found very rewarding, touring military bases in the United States and around the world. Her most notable effort in this regard was the "Four Jills" tour undertaken along with Kay Francis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair; the tour, which lasted from October 1942 to March 1943, included two months in North Africa under dangerous conditions. It provided the basis for a book by Carole and the subsequent film FOUR JILLS IN A JEEP (1944), in which the title actresses played themselves.

Landis continued to act steadily -- perhaps her most notable later credit was Douglas Sirk's A SCANDAL IN PARIS (1946) -- but her career never really fired on all cylinders.

Tragically, Carole overdosed on Seconal on July 5, 1948. Her body was found by Rex Harrison, with whom she was engaged in an unhappy love affair. Carole also suffered from chronic illness, having contracted amoebic dysentery during one of her WWII tours, and it appears she feared aging. Our blogathon hostess, Jessica, wrote a thoughtful post on Carole's death last summer.

For more information on the life of Carole Landis, I highly recommend reading CAROLE LANDIS: A MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRL by UCLA professor Eric Gans. Gans treats Landis's life in a thorough, non-sensational manner, providing as much insight as possible into Carole's too-short life and career. The book, which was published in 2008 by the University Press of Mississippi, is 282 pages, including nearly 30 pages of exhaustive footnotes and a lengthy bibliography.

Update: I've now posted a second post in the Gone Too Soon blogathon, on tragic actress Gail Russell.


Blogger monty said...

Wonderful post about Carole you have done Laura. I too have enjoyed her work in the films Moon Over Miami, I wake Up Screaming and Orchestra Wives. She was very talented.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Cliff Aliperti said...

Enjoyed it Laura, and thanks for recommending the book as it's been on my maybe list for awhile.

Enjoyed her most recently in "I Wake Up Screaming," which you mentioned. Boy, was she a beauty there!

10:47 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks Monty, I'm glad you enjoyed it and especially that you've seen all of my favorite Landis films!

Cliff, I hope you'll enjoy the book when you get it; I found it highly informative. There's another book out on her which appears on the surface to perhaps be a little more sensationalistic, but I'd like to know for sure, as I'd be interested in reading more on her life.

Best wishes,

11:40 AM  
Blogger David Lobosco said...

Wonderful story. Carole Landis was so beautiful and yet it was not enough. I first noticed her in Moon Over Miami - I thought she was prettier than the star Betty Grable. Great story!

11:45 AM  
Blogger DorianTB said...

Laura, you did a wonderful job with your Carole Landis post! I'll admit I haven't had a chance to catch up with FOUR JILLS AND A JEEP, but I liked her very much in I WAKE UP SCREAMING and the comedy HAVING WONDERFUL CRIME. Why do so many talented stars who seem to have so much to live for opt to take their own lives. So sad, but you wrote about her beautifully.

3:13 PM  
Blogger Page said...

I just realized you've done two post for the Blogathon! How exciting.

Carole was a good actress and another one that sadly her death and the circumstances, her troubles overshadowed her career.
Beautiful but flawed!
I agree with everyone else that you've done a lovely tribute on Carole.
An interesting read! Off to read your Gail Russell post now.

8:46 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

David, Dorian, and Page, thank you all so much for the lovely comments, I'm sorry I've been away from blogging and unable to answer them over the last couple days!

Dorian, I have a copy of HAVING WONDERFUL CRIME, I'm looking forward to seeing it! Thanks so much for the recommendation.

I hope you also enjoyed the Russell post, Page. Two lovely actresses who certainly were "gone too soon."

Best wishes,

7:53 PM  

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