Friday, August 8, 2014

Carole's Story

Carole Landis was one of the most popular stars of the 1940's but today she is mostly remembered for her tragic death. She was born on January 1, 1919, in Fairchild, Wisconsin. Her real name was Frances Lillian Mary Ridste. Carole was the youngest of five children. Her father Alfred was Norwegian and her mother, Clara was Polish. Alfred, a machinist, abandoned the family shortly before Carole was born and moved to Montana. Clara had been having an affair with a man named Charles Fenner and some believe he was Carole's real father. She later married Charles but the marriage didn't last. Tragically in 1919 Carole's brother Jerome died after accidentally being burned with boiling water. Clara took her children to Montana and tried to reconcile with Alfred. In 1923 Clara moved the family to San Bernardino, California. Alfred came to California a few years later. Clara had to work several jobs and the children were often left alone. Carole formed a close bond with her sister Dorothy. In 1924 tragedy struck again when their brother Lewis was accidentally shot and killed. At the age of nine she attended a talent show with her mother and brother Lawrence. During the show Carole impulsively ran up on stage and sang "That's My Weakness Now". She became obsessed with show business and told her family she was going to be a movie star. Her favorite stars were Carole Lombard, Kay Francis, and Gary Cooper. She developed into a very attractive teenager and began winning local beauty contests. Carole was smart and popular but she hated school. Her first boyfriend was Irving Wheeler, a nineteen year old writer. On January 14, 1934 they eloped in Yuma, Arizona. When her mother found out she had the marriage annulled. Carole got permission from her father and the couple remarried on August 25. After living together for a few weeks she realized she was not ready to be a wife and walked out on Irving. Carole dropped out of high school and got a job at a movie theater. In 1935 she decided to go to San Francisco to pursue a singing career.

Carole worked as a hula dancer and landed a job singing with the Carl Ravazza orchestra. Later there would be rumors that she had worked as prostitute while in San Francisco. There is no truth to these rumors and she always had a steady paycheck coming in when she lived there. Carole had become a successful singer but her real dream was to be a movie star. In September 1936 she quit the band and moved to Hollywood. She appeared as an extra in movies like A Star Is Born and A Day At The Races. Carole met forty-one year old choreographer Busby Berkeley at an audition. They started a romance and he helped her get a contract at Warner Brothers. Carole was now making a name for herself in Hollywood and her picture started appearing in magazines. Her estranged husband, Irving Wheeler, took advantage of her new fame by suing Busby for $250,000 for "alienation of affection". He lost the case in court and Carole officially divorced him. In 1938 Busby broke up with Carole and Warner Brothers dropped her contract. She worked as a model and appeared in several unsuccessful plays. Carole signed a contract with Republic Pictures in 1939. Her first leading role was opposite John Wayne in the western Three Texas Steers. She had brief relationships with journalist Kenny Morgan and Pat DiCicco, ex-husband of Thelma Todd. Carole's big break came when Hal Roach cast her as a beautiful cave girl in the 1940 movie One Million B.C. The film was a huge hit and made Carole a star. Her success continued with leading roles in Turnabout and Topper Returns.  In early 1940 she underwent a major transformation. She lost weight and had cosmetic surgery on her nose. When she wasn't making movies Carole posed for cheesecake photos that showed off her long legs and 36 inch chest. She desperately wanted to be taken seriously as an actress but she knew these photos would help her career. Carole was nicknamed "The Ping Girl" (because she makes you purr). She hated the nickname and even took out an ad asking the press not to call her that.

Carole married Willis Hunt, a wealthy yacht salesman, on July 4, 1940. The marriage lasted only four months. After their split she enjoyed romances with Franchot Tone, Charlie Chaplin, and art director Cedric Gibbons. Carole was offered a lucrative contract with 20th Century Fox in December 1940. She began having a sexual relationship with the studio's president Darryl Zanuck. Carole costarred with Betty Grable in Moon Over Miami and with Cesar Romero in Dance Hall. She dated George Montgomery, her costar in Cadet Girl, and was engaged to screenwriter Gene Markey, who would later marry Myrna Loy. When she stopped giving in to Darryl Zanuck's sexual demands her career suffered. Although she was an established star Carole was given supporting roles in movies like Orchestra Wives and Wintertime. During World War 2 she devoted much of her time to entertaining the troops. In 1942 she went on five month U.S.O. tour with Kay Francis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair. They traveled to Africa and England where they performed hundreds of shows for the soldiers. On January 5, 1943 she married Air Force pilot Tommy Wallace. Carole wrote a book based on her experiences during the war called Four Jills In A Jeep. The book was made into a movie in 1944 and Carole played herself. Carole suffered from depression and was hospitalized in May 1944 after a suicide attempt. During the summer of 1944 she went on a two month U.S.O. tour of the South Pacific with Jack Benny. While overseas she suffered numerous illnesses and nearly died from pneumonia. By the end of 1944 her marriage to Tommy was over and her career was in trouble. She was cast in low budget movies like Having Wonderful Crime and Behind Green Lights. In January 1945 Carole starred on Broadway in the musical A Lady Says Yes. She became romantically involved with her female costar, Jacqueline Susann. A Lady Says Yes was not a success and it closed after only eighty-seven performances. One bright spot in her career was the 1946 drama A Scandal In Paris. It was a hit and her performance got rave reviews.

Carole married Broadway producer Horace Schmidlapp on December 8, 1945. She divided her time between Hollywood and New York City where Horace lived. Carole loved children and wanted desperately to become a mother. Unfortunately she suffered from endometriosis and was unable to get pregnant. She considered adopting a baby but her marriage to Horace was rocky. In October 1946 she lost her contract with 20th Century Fox and made another suicide attempt. Carole and Horace bought a thirteen room mansion in Pacific Palisades. She began having an affair with married actor Rex Harrison in early 1947. That fall she went to England to make The Silk Noose and Brass Monkey. Rex Harrison followed her there and the relationship got serious. She filed for divorce from her husband in March 1948 but Rex Harrison refused to file for divorce from his wife. On July 4, 1948 Carole had dinner with Rex Harrison. During the evening he ended their affair. Carole was heartbroken and committed suicide by taking an overdose of Seconal. She was just twenty-nine years old. Rex Harrison discovered her body on the bathroom floor the next morning. Instead of calling for help he immediately left the house. Carole was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. After a brief investigation her death was officially ruled a suicide. Although Rex Harrison was never charged with any crime many people believe that he lied to the police about what really happened that night. I should have been a clown. I am always getting slapped. The slaps come from every direction, from the people I want to help, from those I want to love, for the big and little guys I am sorry for." Carole Landis was a talented actress who was never given the chance to become a superstar. She was a beautiful woman who spent her life searching for true love. Her efforts to entertain the troops earned her the respect of the soldiers and her kindness made her one of the most beloved stars in Hollywood. Carole still has many fans all over the world who will never forget her.

~ Original biography by Elizabeth Ann 2013

Friday, August 1, 2014

Having Wonderful Crime

In 1945 Carole starred in the screwball comedy Having Wonderful Crime. She is Helene Justus, a ditzy newlywed who gets involved in a murder mystery while on her honeymoon. Fox loaned her to RKO to make the movie. George Murphy plays Helene's husband Jake Justus who helps her solve a crime involving a missing magician and a check for $50,000. She and George also costarred in the 1942 comedy The Powers Girl. The cast includes Pat O'Brien, Chili Williams, and Lenore Aubert. Carole was close friends with Pat O'Brien and his wife Eloise. She and Pat had worked together before in This Woman Is Dangerous and Secret Command. Having Wonderful Crime was based on the book by Craig Rice. 
The movie was directed by Carole's friend Eddie Sutherland who would later be a pallbearer at her funeral. The costumes were designed by Edward Stevenson. Having Wonderful Crime was made as a low budget B-movie. It was filmed on location in Del Monte, Carmel, and Malibu Lake. Filming began on April 25, 1944 and ended on July 1. During this time Carole was having marital problems and she was hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Having Wonderful Crime was released on April 12, 1945. The tagline for the film was "When a body meets a body...in a trunk". Unfortunately the movie was not a box-office hit. Although it got mostly bad reviews some critics said that Carole gave one of her best performances.

  Lenore Aubert and Carole

Pat O'Brien, Carole, and George Murphy

Lenore Aubert and Carole

Pat O'Brien, George Murphy, and Carole

George Murphy, Carole, and Pat O'Brien

Courtesy of Joe

Friday, July 18, 2014

Did Marilyn Monroe Copy Carole?

Carole had a lot in common with 1950s bombshell Marilyn Monroe. They were both sex symbols who worked at 20th Century Fox and died tragically young. Marilyn seems to have been inspired by some of Carole's photos.

In 1940 Carole posed for Life magazine demonstrating different exercise poses

Marilyn did a very similar photo shoot ten years later

Carole posed on a lounge chair wearing a white bikini in 1943

A decade later Marilyn also posed in a white bikini on a lounge chair

 In 1946 Carole and nineteen year year old Marilyn appeared on the cover of US Camera

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mystery Sea Raider

In 1940 Carole starred in the wartime drama Mystery Sea Raider. She plays a beautiful young woman who is taken hostage aboard an enemy ship. The cast includes Henry Wilcoxon, Onslow Stevens, and Kathleen Howard. Academy Award winner Edith Head designed the costumes.

Onslow Stevens and Carole

 Kathleen Howard and Carole

 Carole on the set

Carole and the cast on the set

Manila Calling

In 1942 Carole starred in the World War 2 drama Manila Calling. She plays a beautiful American who gets trapped on an island in the Phillipines. The cast includes Lloyd Nolan, Cornel Wilde, and Elisha Cook Jr.


 With Lloyd Nolan

With Lloyd Nolan

Monday, July 7, 2014

1945 Interview With Mary Margaret McBride

In 1945 Carole did a radio interview with Mary Margaret McBride. She talked about her 
childhood and her early days in Hollywood. You can listen to the interview here ...

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Carole's Last Day

Tragically on July 5, 1948 Carole was found dead in her Pacific Palisades home. She had committed suicide at the young age of twenty-nine. Carole spent her last evening alive with her married lover Rex Harrison.


12:00 PM - Carole hosts a pool party for a dozen friends including Rex Harrison. She goes swimming and appears to be in good spirits. Carole tells her friends they have to leave early because she is having a private dinner with Rex Harrison. This is the seventh night in a row that they have dinner together. Rex Harrison is married to actress Lili Palmer and has a four year old son. Carole has been having an affair with him for over a year. Because of the affair she had filed for divorce from her husband Horace Schmidlapp. Financial problems had also forced her to put her Pacific Palisades home up for sale.

Carole and Rex Harrison in 1948

5:00 PM - Carole puts on a plaid skirt, a white blouse, and gold sandals. She is also wearing her favorite gold cross and a St. Christopher medal. Before dinner Carole and Rex Harrison each have a Scotch and Soda. They dine on cold roast chicken, a tossed salad, and lemon chiffon pie that Carole had baked herself. She plays "Warm Kiss, Cold Heart" on her phonograph. Rex Harrison will later claim they had a pleasant evening discussing Carole's career. The truth is Carole is hopelessly in love with him and desperately wants him to leave his wife. During the evening they get into an argument and he ends their relationship.

Carole's Pacific Palisades home

9:00 PM - Rex Harrison leaves Carole's house. He is the last person to see her alive. After leaving Carole Rex Harrison goes to visit his best friends Roland and Nan Culver who live a few blocks away. Carole is heartbroken over the end of their affair and makes a decision to end her life. She collects all of the photos and mementos from their relationship and puts them in a suitcase. Then she drives to the Culver's house and leaves the suitcase in their driveway. The next day Nan Culver finds the suitcase and gives it to Rex Harrison. He burns everything that is in it.


12:00 AM - Carole returns home and has a few drinks. Her autopsy would later show that her blood alcohol level was .12 which meant she was not drunk. She tries to call several friends including Marguerite Haymes but no one is home. Marguerite will get Carole's message later that evening but decides it's too late to call her back. Carole decides to write two final notes on her personal stationary. First she writes a four line lovers farewell to Rex Harrison. The she writes a heartbreaking note to her beloved mother. She folds the note to her mother and puts it on her dresser.

"Dearest Mommie - I'm sorry, really sorry, to put you through this but there is no way to avoid it - I love you darling you have been the most wonderful mom ever And that applies to all our family. I love each and every one of them dearly - Everything goes to you - Look in the files and there is a will which decrees everything - Good bye, my angel - Pray for me - Your Baby"

2:00 AM - Carole goes into her upstairs bathroom and takes an envelope filled with Secanol out of her cabinet. She was not a chronic user of Secanol. Her doctor had given her a prescription when she was hospitalized in October 1946. It appears that this was the first time she took any of the pills. There is writing on the envelope that says "Red - quick - 2 hours. Yellow, about 5, Can take 2. Use for severe pain". Carole swallows approximately forty Secanol tablets. She leaves the envelope and a glass of water on the bathroom counter. Then Carole goes into her bedroom and lays down on the bed for several minutes.

Carole's bedroom

3:00 AM - She walks back into the bathroom where she collapses. Sadly Carole will die on the bathroom floor. She is lying on a carpet next to an open cabinet. Her arms are bent as if she had been trying to raise herself up. Carole's head is resting on a jewelry box and her left hand she is holding a satin bookmark with the Lord's Prayer on it. She had taken five times the amount of Secanol needed to cause death. Carole had suffered from bouts of depression during her life. This was the third time she had attempted suicide but in the past she had always been rescued by friends.

Carole's body on the bathroom floor

11:00 AM - Rex Harrison calls Carole several times but her maid, Fannie Mae Bolden, tells him she is not awake yet. He goes to the house and tells Fannie "Well, I think she's dead". Together they go to the upstairs bathroom where they discover Carole's body. Harrison says "Oh, no, my darling, why did you do it?". He will later claim that he felt Carole's wrist and there was a slight pulse. Instead of calling for an ambulance he goes home and calls his boss Darryl Zanuck. Fannie goes to a neighbors house where she calls the police and Florence Wasson, Carole's best friend. The police arrive and take photographs of Carole's body.

A detective views Carole's body

4:00 PM - Florence calls Dorothy Ross, Carole's sister, in Long Beach to tell her what happened. Rex Harrison returns and is questioned by the police. They find the note that Carole left for her mother but there are conflicting reports about the second note. Florence claims that it was actually a memo that Carole wrote about taking her cat to the vet. Lili Palmer later admits that a police officer found the note Carole wrote to Rex Harrison in the bathroom. Rex Harrison pays the officer five hundred dollars and destroys the note. There are dozens of reporters at the house. The press speculates that Carole was having serious money and health problems.

Carole's mother and sister

7:00 PM - Carole's mother Clara Ridste and her sister Dorothy Ross arrive at the house. Her mother is heard screaming "Oh my baby, I want to see my baby. Why didn't somebody call me?" and then collapses. Carole's body is taken to Bogg's and Mashmeyer's funeral home. Rumors circulate that she was pregnant with Rex Harrison's love child  but her autopsy confirms that she was not pregnant. Carole was unable to have children because she suffered from endometriosis. The official cause of her death is "barbituate poisoning due to ingestion of overdose of Secanol". Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday, July 10 at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.



About marrying Rex Harrison: "Oh, I'd love to marry him but you know how those things are."

After Lupe Velez's 1944 suicide: "I know just how Lupe Velez felt. You go just so far, and then what have you got to face? There's always the fear of being washed up. You begin to worry. You get bitter and disillusioned. You fear the future because there's only one way to go and that's down.".

On July 2, 1948: "I've never been so happy in all my life. The sun's shining. It's a wonderful day!"

Carole made this recording two days before she died