WEIRDLAND: Carole Lombard's Fireball, The Greatest Generation, Homefront

Friday, February 28, 2014

Carole Lombard's Fireball, The Greatest Generation, Homefront

If you are interested in the Golden Age of Hollywood and an in depth look inside the life and death of Carole Lombard, then Fireball: "Carole Lombard & the Mystery of Flight 3" by Robert Matzen is a must read. It was released on January 16, 2014 on the 72nd Anniversary of the mysterious plane crash that killed Carole and 21 others. As you turn each page, Matzen takes you on an intriguing journey of discovery.

I didn’t really know that much about Carole Lombard other than she was a famous movie actress from the 20’s and 30’s, and married to the famous Clark Gable. As you turn the pages, the photographs in the book and the historical background into the Hollywood Era bring Lombard and Gable to life. Matzen’s research details just how “highly influential” Lombard was.

He describes the love story between Lombard and Gable as well as the people they surrounded themselves with. Moreover, the reader experiences all the emotions of that terrible night on January 16, 1942 when the DC-3 crashed into Mt. Potosi at an elevation of 8,200 feet, with Lombard and 21 others on board. Robert Matzen says, “The wreckage of the plane had been beckoning me up that mountain for years, and finally I went. That adventure was all the inspiration I needed, and I am dumbfounded that no one has told this story before me. The plane crash is always looked upon as a throwaway item, as the end of Lombard’s story, rather than as a story itself. But it has everything: love, bravery, courage, foolhardiness, sadness, and death.”

When asked about doing his research, Matzen said, “To get a fresh perspective on Carole Lombard, I located unpublished manuscripts as well as interviews with principals that had been kept in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for almost 40 years.” Source:

Tom Brokaw defines "the greatest generation" as American citizens who came of age during the Great Depression and the Second World War and went on to build modern America. The vehicle used to define the generation further is the stories told by a cross section of men and women throughout the country under eight topics: Ordinary People; Homefront; Heroes; Women in Uniform and Out; Shame; Love, Marriage and Commitment; Famous People; and the Arena. Unlike any era YAs have known, the 1940s are characterized by a people united by a common cause and values. -Carol Clark (Fairfax County Public Schools, VA)

"Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney were raising the spectacle of heavyweight boxing matches to new heights of frenzy. Baseball was a daytime game and a true national pastime, from the fabled Yankee Stadium to the sandlots in rural America. The New Yorker was launched, and the place of magazines occupied a higher order.

Flappers were dancing the Charleston [According to Robert Matzen, Carole Lombard embraced the flapper lifestyle and won several Charleston competitions at the Coconut Grove]; Fitzgerald was publishing The Great Gatsby; The idea of personal responsibility is such a defining characteristic of the World War II generation that when the rules changed later, these men and women were appalled." -"The Greatest Generation" (2010) by Tom Brokaw

Jeff (Kyle Chandler) and Ginger (Tammy Lauren) were my favorite characters on the series. I loved watching them bicker. They got together out of loneliness at Jeff’s brother’s wedding, both having to see the people they loved with someone else. They dated, became engaged, broke up, and got back together during the two seasons of the series. The series finale featured their wedding.

"Homefront" was well done and authentic, with astonishing attention to detail and a fantastic cast as its best features. The story started at the end of WW2 and told of the seismic shifts that were underway as those who served came back home and, along with those who stayed behind, had either difficulties or adventures adjusting.

“The world would never be so simple again,” said the ad tagline, which gives you the premise in a nutshell. There’s the spunky screwball girl and wannabe actress (Tammy Lauren) who’s waiting for her sweetheart to return but meets his wife instead and has to plan for a different future.

And every small town has to have the sultry siren, the war widow dame (Kelly Rutherford) who looks like she walked straight out of a noir (producers did cast for her Gloria Grahame attitude). Those roles, filled by extremely talented actors (especially the women), were set up as a microcosm of society, every class and type with whom we’d watch the postwar age unfold.

One thing I vividly remember is that the lifestyles and styling seem just the way you’d expect in reality, meaning it looks like the character came home after seeing the latest Betty Grable or Veronica Lake movie, ran to the mirror and mimicked her look, as opposed to you being painfully aware you’re looking at a 90s actress playing dress-up.

They act as believable people, not as reasonable facsimiles; some trendy, some traditional, each looking as they should. It’s no wonder the show was nominated for over a dozen Emmys, and won four for art direction, hair and costuming. Wherever you lay your eyes there’s a detail and a touch of realism someone thought to include: furniture, cars, slang, gossip, products, sponsors, newsreels, all were woven in where appropriate. The brides from Europe are wearing dresses authentic to their regions, and according to the complaints of some of the actresses, even the underwear was uncomfortably vintage. The show was even shot in the style that would have been in use in the 40s, so for example they used no zoom lenses.

Music was a huge part of the series and it was picked carefully, featuring deeper, more meaningful tracks than just the basic Swing’s Greatest Hits compilation. Good old fashioned traditional values like courtship were in there, and mostly without cynicism, as one reviewer wrote, it was like a wholesome Norman Rockwell painting come to life, but you also got the necessary portion of social realism beneath that pretty painting, of unmarried girls facing pregnancy scares, the struggle of trying to walk after polio, dealing with racism, civil rights struggles, PTSD and divorce.

Homefront was one of the best examples of comfort television I’ve ever seen, and with the critical acclaim and the awards it got, it deserves a better place in TV history than just being a cute soap. It was a bigger step than people realize, toward the high production-value throwback series we enjoy now like Mad Men or Boardwalk Empire. But because of poor network promo, six time slot moves by ABC, an expensive production budget, and chronically low ratings, it barely squeaked out two full seasons and is pretty much forgotten now. Source:


HarpoSnarx said...

Robert Matzen has written a grand book. He skillfully brings Lombard back to life and tells of her tragic last days with compassion, truth and insight. He also focuses on the many other people affected by the doomed flight - passengers, crew, witnesses, rescuers, survivors and an America embarking on one of its greatest trials.

I came to know about Carole Lombard through teevee and books. I arrived in the world a generation after this era, teevee was The Media. In the mid 60s there wasn't a lot of programming so they ran a lot of old B/W classic movies to fill the time. I saw a lot of excellent movies with superb casts. Somewhere in there this lovely lady made her mark; she did comedy, she did drama, you name it.

The consensus of her peers was that Lombard was a good human being too. She was known for her ribald sense of humor and practical jokes on and off movie set; ex., she used to present male costars with enormous hams with their pictures on the wrapping.

She was also known for helping up and comers establish themselves. Case in point, she insisted Fred Macmurray ("My Three Sons") and Anthony Quinn be given roles in her films which advanced their movie careers.

To acquire an appreciation of her work, I guess you have to SEE her movies. I hope you can get over the aversion to B/W movies most people have. People are missing out on so much.

I suggest you rent or stream, "My Man Godfrey," "The Twentieth Century," or "Hands Across the Table." See what you think. BTW, good analysis.

Elena said...

thanks a lot for your insights, Harpo! your recommendations about your favorite films of Carole Lombard are spot-on and I share your enthusiasm towards her personality and amazing charisma.