A screen legend known for her great looks and her zany comic energy, Carole Lombard had deep roots in Indiana. The actress who would come to be known as ” America ‘s Screwball Girl” was born Jane Alice Peters in 1908 to a well-established Fort Wayne family. Her paternal grandfather had founded the Horton Manufacturing Company, which supplied more than half the world’s washing machines by 1924. He built the house where young Jane spent her first eight years, at 704 Rockhill Street. When her parents divorced, the girl moved to Los Angeles with her mother, a powerful role model who embraced women’s rights, numerology and the Baha’i faith.
Jane was “discovered” at the age of twelve playing baseball in the street, and cast as a tomboy in the 1921 silent picture A Perfect Crime. Signed to Twentieth Century Fox as a teenager, the actress changed her name and made a number of silent films before a near-fatal car accident in 1926 left her with a scarred face and a canceled contract. But Lombard prevailed, undergoing plastic surgery and learning everything she could about lighting and make-up in order to regain her place in the spotlight. By the decade’s end she had successfully made the transition to talkies, and began commanding some of the highest wages paid to an actress to date. Some of her most notable screen credits include Made for Each Other, Twentieth Century, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and My Man Godfrey, for which she received her single Oscar nomination. She was directed by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Howard Hawks, her second cousin. Lombard played opposite James Stewart, John Barrymore and William Powell, to whom she was briefly married. But is as Mrs. Clark Gable that Lombard is remembered, marrying in 1939 the actor with whom she’d co-starred in No Man of Her Own seven years earlier.
Known as “The Profane Angel” for her colorful off-screen wisecracks, her boundless energy on camera and off earned her another nickname. The “Hoosier Tornado” was putting some of that vigor to patriotic use in early 1942, when she returned to her home state to headline a highly successful war bonds rally. On the return flight home, the TWA flight crashed into a mountain in Nevada, killing all passengers on board including the actress and her mother. President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Lombard the nation’s first female casualty of the war, and posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
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