For my blogathon entry, I am covering Carole Lombard’s friendship with Lucille Ball.
January 16, 2017 is the 75th anniversary of the death of comedienne Carole Lombard. In 1942, Lombard, along with her mother, husband Clark Gable’s press agent, and fifteen army servicemen were killed when their plane crashed into the mountains in Nevada. Lombard, et. al. were on their way back from a war bond rally in Lombard’s home state of Indiana. It has been said that the group was supposed to travel back to Los Angeles via train, but Lombard was anxious to return home and wanted to fly. Her mother and Gable’s press agent did not want to fly, but agreed to flip a coin with Lombard. Lombard “won.” After her death, Clark Gable was inconsolable and was seen racing around his San Fernando neighborhood on his motorcycle. Friends were concerned that he was suicidal. Two such friends were Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz.
Ball and Lombard were friends from RKO Studios. They were neighbors in the San Fernando Valley. When Ball and Arnaz married in November of 1940, Lombard and Gable (who married the year prior) threw them a party at the Chasen’s nightclub in Hollywood. Many of Ball and Arnaz’ friends predicted instant doom for their union, but not Lombard and Gable. Lombard and Gable frequently invited Ball and Arnaz to spend the day with them at their ranch. After Lombard’s death, Gable (after tearing around on his motorcycle) would stop at Ball and Arnaz’ doorstep just to talk about his beloved wife Carole. He would also occasionally bring over one of her films for the three of them to watch. In her book, Love Lucy, Ball notes that she was never sure whether Gable was trying to torture himself by watching his late wife’s films, or whether seeing and hearing her brought him a sense of comfort (Ball, p. 123). However, Ball and Arnaz were there for Clark and consoled him and entertained him when he needed it.
By 1951, Ball’s career in the movies was waning and Arnaz’ never really started (because of his accent, studios claimed he was difficult to cast). They had an opportunity to star in their own series in the fledgling industry of television. Ball was currently appearing on CBS’ radio show, My Favorite Husband, and the network wanted to move the program to the small screen. At the time, “movie people” frowned on television as it seemed like a novelty and beneath them somehow. It took some time to lure big screen stars to the small screen. Ball and Arnaz (who at this time was a successful bandleader with The Desi Arnaz Orchestra that toured the country frequently) had to make a decision. One night, Ball had a dream where friend Carole Lombard appeared and she said (to Lucy) “take a chance honey, give it a whirl.” This was all the confidence Lucy needed and I Love Lucy was born and television history was made.
TRIVIA: Lucy had a superstition about the combination of the letters AR–a combo which is present in both Lombard’s first and last name. Lucy believed she hadn’t hit it big until she married Desi ARnaz. When I Love Lucy filmed their pilot, Lucy and Desi’s characters were Lucy and Larry Lopez. Aside from the fact that those names sound corny, Lucy wanted the characters renamed to incorporate “AR.” Lucy and Larry Lopez became Lucy and Ricky RicARdo. Later in her subsequent sitcoms, Lucy appeared as: Lucy CARmichael (The Lucy Show); Lucy CARter (Here’s Lucy) and Lucy BARker (Life With Lucy).
Ball, Lucille (1996). Love Lucy. Boulevard Books.