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Carole Landis

Carole Landis: A Most Beautiful Girl

Eric Gans
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 288
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    Carole Landis
    Book Description:

    Despite appearing in twenty-eight movies in little over a decade, Carole Landis (1919-1948) never quite became the major Hollywood star her onscreen presence should have afforded her. Although she acted in such enduring films asA Scandal in ParisandMoon over Miami, she was most often relegated to supporting roles. Even when she played the major role in a feature, as she did inThe Powers Girland the film noirI Wake Up Screaming!, she was billed second or third behind other actors.

    This biography traces Landis's life, chronicling her beginnings as a dance hall entertainer in San Francisco, her career in Hollywood and abroad, her USO performances, and ultimately her suicide. Using interviews with actors who worked with Landis, contemporary movie magazines and journals, and correspondence, biographer Eric Gans reveals a tragic figure whose life was all too brief.

    Landis's big break came in 1940 with Hal Roach'sOne Million B.C.She appeared in thirteen Twentieth Century-Fox pictures between 1941 and 1946. In 1942-43, Landis entertained troops in England and North Africa in the only all-female USO tour. The trip led to her memoir,Four Jills in a Jeep, and a Fox movie of the same title. After her last American film in 1947, she completed two projects in England while having an affair with married actor Rex Harrison. Tormented by a love that could not lead to matrimony and depressed about growing older, she took a fatal drug overdose on July 5, 1948.

    Eric Gans is professor of French at University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of numerous books including most recentlyThe Scenic Imagination: Originary Thinking from Hobbes to the Present Day, and his articles have appeared in many periodicals.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-319-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    One evening in January 2003, my wife and I watched a film on Turner Classic Movies entitledI Wake Up Screaming, a 1941 adaptation of Steve Fisherʹs novel of the same name. The two female leads were played by Betty Grable, familiar from many 1940s musicals, and Carole Landis, who was merely a name, but whose beauty amazed us.

    Seeing Carole for what I believe to be the first time, I could not have guessed that this classic film noir told, after a fashion, the story of her career. Like Vicki, the filmʹs ill-fated heroine, Carole burned with the ambition...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Beginnings (1919–1935)
    (pp. 11-23)

    It is not to psychoanalyze Carole to point out that she came from a family without a father. Carole was not the first in her line to have problems living with a man.

    Caroleʹs mother was born Clara Sentek on May 11, 1894, on a family farm in Fairchild, Wisconsin, third of the eight children, two boys and six girls, of Louis/Ludwick and Frances/Franciska Sentek, both born in 1867. (At least six different spellings of the family name are found on official documents.) Fairchild, a small village in Eau Claire County in west-central Wisconsin (2000 population, 564), was, during the...

  6. CHAPTER 2 In Northern California (1935–1937)
    (pp. 24-30)

    We must presume in the absence of other evidence that the timing of Francesʹs departure for the Bay Area was determined by the state law that required school attendance until the age of sixteen, married or not. Thus, when she turned sixteen on January 2, 1935, she was free to leave school, and she did. Like Francesʹs rendition of ʺThatʹs My Weakness Now,ʺ the financing of her departure is one of a number of often-told tales in which the data float from place to place. According to the most reliable account, the oft-quoted amount of $16.82 was the bus fare,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 First Years in Hollywood (1937–1939)
    (pp. 31-41)

    Caroleʹs beginnings in Hollywood were far from auspicious. After finding a five-dollar-a-week apartment, she did the rounds of the studios for a few months with no assurance of employment. Despite the contacts given her by Evelyn OʹBrien, Carole had difficulty finding work; just as two years earlier in San Francisco, something like one hundred dollars was all that stood between her and destitution. After a few months, her circumstances may have become desperate; perhaps this is the period when Caroleʹs anonymous friend says she and her husband put Carole up on their couch when her money ran out. Presumably OʹBrien...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Ping Girl: At Roach Studios (1939–1940)
    (pp. 42-63)

    It was while working on her second and last Republic Western that Carole got her big break, the female lead in Hal Roachʹs eye-catching science-fiction tale,One Million B.C.The story has been told many times and is by all appearances authentic: D. W. Griffith, who was helping Roach cast the picture, chose the female lead by observing the candidatesʹ running form. Hal Roach tells the story:

    One Million B.C.was a prehistoric picture, a figment of my imagination. D. W. came over to work for me, and I said, ʺDave, Iʹd like you to cast the picture.ʺ They brought...

  9. CHAPTER 5 “Sex-Loaded”: At Twentieth Century-Fox (1941)
    (pp. 64-93)

    Louella Parsons tells us that Caroleʹs Fox contract, which she learned about on Christmas Day 1940, was no sooner signed than Carole had to rush to the hospital to visit her mother, who had been involved in an automobile accident. The contract began on the first of the year, with an opening salary of $400 per week, to increase in steps through $550, $750, $1,000, $1,350, and $1,750, ending at $2,000 in six years. (Carole went through the steps each year through 1945, when leaves of absence delayed her last increase, so that her final Fox salary in 1946 was...

  10. CHAPTER 6 B Actress and Patriot (1941–1942)
    (pp. 94-112)

    After completing her double assignment ofCadet GirlandI Wake Up Screamingin September 1941, Carole traveled to New York, where she stayed for a month, attending all or part of the ʺsubwayʺ World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Carole attended the marriage of her friend Florence Heller (later Wasson) to Albert Lary on September 9 in Los Angeles, was in Milwaukee for the American Legion convention around the twentieth, and reached New York by the twenty-third. She appeared on the Eddie Cantor radio show with Joe Dimaggio on the twenty-fourth, did the town...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Gift of Beauty: Carole at War (1942–1944)
    (pp. 113-141)

    As Carole tells us in the opening pages ofFour Jills in a Jeep, she had wanted to entertain Allied troops overseas even before Pearl Harbor. Since she was working onThe Powers Girlin August 1942, she could not be part of the first group sent abroad, which included Al Jolson and Merle Oberon. Apparently, this first team made too many demands on its hosts and did not leave a positive impression; although Caroleʹs book avoids criticism, columnists were less reticent. In contrast, ʺThe Four Jillsʺ—the film title was invented by the Fox publicity department while the ladies...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Regrouping (1945–1946)
    (pp. 142-162)

    Having made public the impending dissolution of her marriage, and with no immediate engagements in Hollywood, Carole returned in early October 1944 to New York, which would remain her base of operations until May of the following year, when she would travel briefly to Hollywood, then go on to Reno and, finally, Las Vegas for her third divorce.

    Instead of seeking film work, Carole accepted a role in a new Broadway musical, a Shubert production originally entitledA Lady of ?but renamedA Lady Says Yeswhen it hit Broadway. The stage had never ceased to tempt Carole since...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Anglophilia (1947–1948)
    (pp. 163-183)

    The year 1947 began with a curious incident that contributed to Caroleʹs sense of being—as in the subtitle of theLibertyarticle that recounts it—ʺmade and marred by publicity.ʺ On January 6, the national press published a list of the six ʺbest undressedʺ women drawn up by lingerie model Joan Smith, who claimed to have posed for over five thousand underwear and swimsuit ads. These included Lana Turner, ʺprettiest in a slip,ʺ Rita Hayworth, ʺmost languorous in a negligee,ʺ Jane Russell, ʺmost gorgeous in a brassiere,ʺ and, finally, Carole Landis, ʺloveliest in a nightgown.ʺ But in the first...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Good Die Young (1948)
    (pp. 184-203)

    If there is one area of Carole Landisʹs life that has been explored in detail, it is her suicide. In the months following the event, hints were dropped that some major revelation was in the offing, but nothing new was ever reported. Today the police files are gone or at any rate unavailable, and it seems unlikely that any new facts will emerge. But as in many so-called mysteries, despite some gaps in the evidence, there is not much doubt as to the basic facts of the case.

    Rex and Carole had been together a great deal since he ended...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 204-252)
    (pp. 253-265)
    (pp. 266-270)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 271-282)