Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Carole's Early Years (1919-1934)

Carole Landis at age eight

Carole's early days were filled with heartache and dreams of stardom. She was born on January 1, 1919 in Fairchild, Wisconsin. Her birth name was Frances Lillian Ridste - she had been named after her maternal grandmother Francis Sentek. Carole was the youngest of five children. Sadly her brother Jerome had died in 1917 after being burned by boiling water.  Her father Alfred Ridste was a railroad worker and her mother Clara Sentek Ridste was a housewife. In the Spring of 1919 the family moved to Denton, Montana. Clara began having a relationship with a farmer named Charles Fenner. She filed for divorce and Alfred sued Charles for alienation of affection. The divorce became so messy that Carole and her siblings were put in Foster care for a short time.

Left to Right: Carole's brother Lewis, her brother Lawrence, Carole, her mother Clara, her sister Dorothy

1919 newspaper articles about the Ridste divorce

Clara married Charles Fenner in December of 1919 but the marriage only lasted eighteen months, Then she took the children to San Diego, California where she reunited with Alfred. In 1923 the entire family relocated to San Bernardino and moved into a tiny home at 175 Bryant Street. Alfred walked out on Clara leaving her to raise the children alone. They were very poor and Carole's older sister Dorothy often watched her while their mother worked. According to family sources Carole was sexually molested by a relative during her childhood. Tragically in 1925 Carole's ten year old brother Lewis died after he was accidentally shot with gun.

 Left to Right: Carole's brother Lewis, her sister Dorothy. her father Alfred, Carole, her brother Lawrence

A 1925 newspaper article about Lewis Ridste's death

Carole was such a beautiful child that everyone called her "Baby Doll".  From a young age she dreamed about becoming a movie star. She loved watching The Gish sisters and covered her walls with photos of Kay Francis and Mary Astor. When Carole seven she won her first talent contest by singing "Yes Sir That's My Baby" and dancing the Charleston. She started taking dance lessons and performed with her sister in local clubs. By the time Carole was twelve she was winning beauty contests. She attended Sturges junior high school where she was boy crazy and often skipped her classes. Carole said "I always seemed so much older than the other kids my age - they seemed like tots."

Left to right: Carole's sister-in-law Helen Ridste, her sister Dorothy, her mother Clara, and Carole

A 1932 newspaper article mentioning France Ridste (Carole Landis)

Carole enjoyed playing sports especially baseball and volleyball. She even tried to start an all girl football team! Carole was raised a Catholic and attended church every Sunday. Her philosophy was "Pass the good deed along". In the Fall of 1933 she met twenty year old Irving Kay Wheeler, a civilian conservation corps worker. They eloped on January 14, 1934 in Yuma, Arizona. Because Carole was only fifteen her mother had the marriage annulled and Irving was arrested. In August of 1934 the couple got Alfred Ridste's consent and were married again.

   Carole, her first husband Irving Wheeler, and her sister Dorothy in 1933

A 1934 newspaper article about Carole's marriage annulment

Carole and Irving moved into a one room apartment with no refrigerator. After three weeks of marriage she walked out on her husband. She dropped out of school and got a job working at a restaurant where she earned $2 a day plus tips. Carole started saving money so she could move away and become an actress. Years later her father Alfred said "When she was five years old we knew she had unusual talents. Without any professional training whatever she learned to sing an dance beautifully - and we were confident she would achieve her goal to become an actress."

Carole at age three

Carole with her maternal grandparents Francis and Ludvig Sentek

Carole (right) with her sister Dorothy and brother Lawrence

Famous Friends

Everyone in Hollywood wanted to be Carole's friend! Here is she with some of her famous fans ...

With Yvonne De Carlo                                                                                                   With Raoul Walsh

With Louella Parsons and George Jessell                                                  With Tom Drake

                                           With Xavier Cugat                                                                 With Carmel Myers                                              

 With Gracie Fields                                                                                       With Victor Mature

 With Steve Cochran                                                                           With Dorothy Lamour

 With Ed Sullivan                                                                         With Robert Stack

 With Linda Darnell                                                                                 With Randolph Scott

 With Gary Cooper                                                                            With Mickey Rooney

With Bruce Cabot

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Radio Shows

Carole appeared on more than seventy radio shows during her career. You can listen to some of them here ...

February 16, 1941 ~ Brother Orchid with Pat O'Brien and Donald Crisp
May 10, 1943 ~ Johnny Eager with John Garfield
November 8, 1943 ~ George Washington Slept Here with Jack Carson
February 21, 1944 ~ Design For Scandal with Robert Young
April 11, 1944 ~ Duffy's Tavern with Ed Gardner

November 12, 1944 ~ Philco Radio Hall of Fame with Charles Boyer and Nan Wynn
 March 16, 1946 ~ Continental Celebrity Club with John Daly
 December 26, 1946 ~ Command Performance with Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante

Carole's Story

"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

Carole Landis was one of the most popular stars of the 1940's but unfortunately today she is mostly remembered for her tragic death. She was born Frances Lillian Ridste on January 1, 1919, in Fairchild, Wisconsin. Carole was the youngest of five children. Tragically her brother Jerome had died in 1917 after accidentally being burned with boiling water. Carole's father, Alfred Ridste, abandoned the family and moved to Montana. Soon after her mother Clara married a farmer named Charles Fenner. Some people believe he was Carole's real father. Clara's marriage to Charles didn't last and in 1923 she moved the family to San Bernardino, California. Alfred came to California a few years later but he was absent for most of Carole's childhood. Clara had to work several jobs and the children were often left alone. Carole formed a close bond with her older sister Dorothy. In 1925 tragedy struck when their brother Lewis was accidentally shot and killed.

At the age of nine Carole attended a talent show with her mother. During the show Carole impulsively ran up on stage and sang. She became obsessed with show business and told her family she was going to be a movie star. Carole developed into a very attractive teenager and began winning local beauty contests. She 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.

She worked as a hula dancer and landed a job singing at a local nightclub. 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 enjoyed being a singer but her real dream was to be a movie star. In the Fall of 1936 she 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 found work 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. 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 most 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. Sadly 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 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. The couple divided her time between Hollywood and New York City. 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 attempted suicide again. Carole began having an affair with married actor Rex Harrison in early 1947. That fall she went to England to make two films. Rex followed her there and the relationship got serious. She filed for divorce from her husband in March 1948 but Rex refused to file for divorce from his wife. On July 4, 1948 Carole had dinner with Rex. 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 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. 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.