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Carole Lombard’s life had a storybook quality about it. Blond and vivacious, she was plucked off the streets of Hollywood as a teenager and put in her first movie. She was sassy as well as beautiful. Comedy became her forte. In the 1930s she helped pull America through the Depression with a string of screwball comedies. Clark Gable who became her husband said he saw Lombard in My Man Godfrey and realized he loved her.
Carole Lombard, the beautiful flower of the screen who’s life came to a sudden end after a plane crashed into Table Rock Mountain outside Las Vegas.
Carole, her mother, and an MGM publicist named Otto Winkler were killed, along with fifteen soldiers and flyers who were reporting for duty. Lombard was only thirty-three. At the time, she was returning from a tour selling war bonds. She had raised over two million dollars, then a record for an individual effort.
The crash site is still visited by airplane archaeologists and others. It is a grueling three hours up the mountain. The vegetation is manzanita and century plants. The mountain base is an hour’s jeep ride over a rocky road. The peak looms in the distance, some eight thousand feet high.
The Lombard flight was redirected at the last minute from Boulder to Las Vegas because the Nevada airport was more modern. This was not the only cruel irony. A young violinist named Szigeti patriotically gave up his seat to a soldier. Carole’s mother had a premonition and begged her daughter to return by train. The actress refused. It was rumored she was anxious to return to Hollywood to keep an eye on Gable who was starting a movie with Lana Turner.
It was a twist of a Hollywood plot that put Otto Winkler on the plane. Years before as a cub reporter, he had covered a paternity trial in which Gable had been unsuccessfully sued. The actor had liked Winkler and had gotten him a job at MGM. Later, Winkler was best man at Gable and Lombard’s wedding. When Carole went on the war bonds drive, Gable persuaded Winkler to tag along as a chaperon.
The plane went down a few minutes after take off. It was a clear night. The pilot may not have been at the controls. According to the folklore that surrounds the crash, the pilot left an inexperienced co-pilot in charge and wandered over to talk to his famous passenger who had starred in Twentieth Century with John Barrymore.
It took the original search party some twelve hours to reach the wreckage. The rough mountain trails were buried by winter snow. The party was led by an Indian guide. The peak of the mountain glowed crimson in the night where the plane wreck burned.
The mountain cliff is scarred where the plane hit. One of the engines is still embedded in the rock. Rusted landing gear lies nearby. All around is a tangle of wires, shards of windshield, and crushed aluminum—still shiny in the summer sun.
Gable waited at the foot of the mountain throughout the night for word from the rescue party. Eddie Mannix, MGM’s security chief, talked the actor out of joining the expedition. Mannix wanted to spare him the gruesome sight. Finally, word came down from the mountain: There were no survivors. Everyone aboard had been killed instantly.
A heart shaped clip belonging to Carole was found near the site. Gable had it made into a locket and wore it around his neck. Even today, other artifacts turn up: buttons, safety pins, brassiere clasps that may have belonged to Carole, a lone earring. For years after the crash, Gable annually sent out a search party hoping to find Carole’s wedding ring and her V for Victory broach.
Lombard was deeply patriotic. She would cry when they played The Star Spangled Banner. When war was declared, she urged Gable to enlist. He was reluctant to give up his career and leave the idyllic life they lived on their San Fernando Valley ranch.
After Lombard’s death, Gable drank heavily and sat up nights re-running her old movies. Later, he enlisted in the army as a private and served with distinction as an aerial combat photographer in Europe.
Before putting his career on hold, Gable finished the movie he had begun with Lana Turner. It was a melodrama called, Someday I’ll Find You..
Born under the name William Clark Gable, his early life was ordinary, unhappy and confusing. Two towns claim him as a native son, Cadiz, Ohio and Meadville, Pennsylvania. His mother died when he was but a few months of age. He attended the Hopedale Schoolhouse in Hopedale, Ohio, which then was both a grammar and high school housed in the same building located on a hilltop directly behind the family residence. With his family, William attended Hopedale Methodist Church where his father was a Sunday School teacher. A poor student, he became a school dropout leaving home to take a job with Firestone Tire in Akron, Ohio. The biggest attractions in the city for William Gable were movies and especially the Akron Music Hall where a stock company was doing a live performance. He hung around the hall until landing an unsalaried position. He found out what he wanted to be and no amount of adversity, hardship or negative opinion would ever change his mind. A long indirect journey to Hollywood began with many odd jobs along the way leading him to Portland, Oregon. He landed a job with a stock company gaining valuable training from the woman who would become his wife and lead him to Hollywood and a career which spanned three decades with appearances in 92 movies including “Gone With the Wind,” one of the most popular film of all times. Gable won an Academy Award in 1934 for his role in “It Happened One Night.” His third marriage to actress Carole Lombard ended with her tragic death at 33 in a plane crash in 1942 while participating in a bond drive. Distraught, he withdrew from his career and though well over the draft age, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps becoming an aerial gunner during World War II flying in five bombing missions over Germany and received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal. Discharged with the rank of Major, he returned to Hollywood and resumed film making. Two weeks after completing his last movie, “The Misfits,” He suffered chest pains and was transported to Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles where he was diagnosed as having suffered a coronary thrombosis. On the ninth day of his confinement he was gone. Clark Gable was buried in a closed casket. An Episcopal service was led by an Air Force chaplain accompanied by an honor guard at the Church of the Recessional at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. His fifth wife Kay had arranged for him to be interred next to his third wife, Carole Lombard. A few weeks later she delivered a boy at the same hospital where his father died.