Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How Carole Became "The Ping Girl"

In 1940 Carole was under contract at Hal Roach Studios. Her career was taking off and she had been given leading roles in One Million B.C. and Turnabout. Hal Roach decided to give Carole the nickname "The Ping Girl: Because She Makes You Purr". The idea came from an automobile ad slogan that said "change ping to purr". Carole hated this nickname probably because the word "ping" was also slang for a male erection.

When Hal Roach threw a party at Ciro's to introduce "The Ping Girl" Carole refused to attend. She said  "I was never consulted  about the scheme nor do I approve the appellation they would like to inflict upon me. For these reasons I will not be present at my own reception to ping, purr, or even coo." Carole even sent letters to all the newspaper editors to complain. She wrote:

 "This is the lament of a fugitive from a leg-art career. I want a fair chance to prove myself something more than a curvaceous cutie. I want to get out of bathing suits and into something more substantial. Unfortunately the publicity department of my studio does not agree. They have conceive the brilliant idea of selling me to the public as "The Ping Girl" - because she makes you purr. This flash of genius is to be illustrated with a series of pictures out of their files suggestive of anything but acting talent. I haven't any legal redress. There isn't I am advised any way to stop the publicity department. Therefore I am asking you to help me nip the scheme in the right place - in the pages of your newspaper."

Carole also asked that the newspapers not publish any more of her bathing suit pin-ups. Her protest got her a lot of attention and some critics thought it was all just a publicity stunt. Luckily for Carole the press rarely mentioned "The Ping Girl" after 1940. She was later called "The Chest" but she didn't like that sexist nickname either. During the war the soldiers affectionately named her "The Blonde Bomber".

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Carole's Songs

Carole had a beautiful voice and she loved to sing. She had started her career as a nightclub singer in San Francisco. Carole sang duets on the radio with stars like Groucho Marx and Bob Hope. She also recorded several songs for the troops during World War 2. Unfortunately Carole never recorded a studio album. You can listen to some of her songs here ...

It Had To Be You (from a 1945 radio performance)

Personality (from a 1946 radio performance)

Sunday Monday, and Always with Martha Raye and Mitzi Mayfair

I'm An Old Cowhand with Bob Hope 

Carole and Bob Hope
Pistol Packin' Mama with Bob Hope

I'm Your Pin-Up Girl

O The Desert O The Prairie with Groucho Marx

SNAFU with Mitzi Mayfair and Martha Raye

Mitzi Mayfair, Carole, and Martha Raye

Friday, March 11, 2016

Mystery Sea Raider

In 1940 Carole starred in the wartime drama Mystery Sea Raider. She plays June McCarthy, 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. You can watch the entire movie here ...

Onslow Stevens and Carole

 Kathleen Howard and Carole

Henry Wilcoxon and Carole

 Carole and Onslow Stevens

 Carole and Onslow Stevens

 Carole on the set

Carole and the cast on the set

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Four Jills In A Jeep

Carole entertained thousands of soldiers during World War 2. In September 1942 she began a five month U.S.O. tour with Kay Francis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair. Their group was part of the "Feminine Theatrical Task Force". They went to England, Bermuda, Africa, and Ireland. The group traveled more than 50,000 miles by plane, truck, and jeep. They made 150 personal appearances and performed in 125 shows. Kay introduced the show, Martha told jokes, Mitzi danced, and Carole sang. Her specialty was the song "Strip Polka". The four women became close friends during the tour. Kay was bisexual and developed a crush on Carole. When the girls were in Africa they went through four air raids. They also survived an earthquake and numerous illnesses. Carole had her appendix removed and nearly died from an e. coli infection. She lost fifteen pounds while on the tour.

Carole, Martha Raye, Mitzi Mayfair, and Kay Francis

Carole wrote several magazine articles about her experiences during the war. In 1943 she was asked to write a book for Random House. The title of the book was Four Jills In A Jeep. She told stories about traveling with the other women and performing for the soldiers. Most of the book is about her romance with her husband Tommy Wallace. Carole had the help of a ghostwriter named Edwin Seaver but she wrote the majority of the book herself. She dedicated it "To the Officers and Enlisted Men Who Made Our Tour So Inspiring". In December 1943 Four Jills In a Jeep was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post. When the book was published in the spring of 1944 it sold well and got rave reviews. Before the book had even come out Fox decided to turn Four Jills In A Jeep into a movie. Filming began on October 18, 1943. The movie was directed by William A. Seiter.

The "Jills" in England

Carole, Kay, Martha, and Mitzi agreed to play themselves. They were all excited to see their adventures on the big screen. Carole's onscreen romance with John Harvey was based on her real-life relationship with Tommy. The all-star cast included Phil Silvers, Dick Haymes (his film debut), Betty Grable, Jimmy Dorsey, Carmen Miranda, and Alice Faye. Yvonne Wood designed the costumes for the film. Carole was furious when the censors refused to let the actresses wear sweaters. In one scene she wore her own wedding dress. There are numerous songs including "How Blue The Night" and "You'll Never Know". Most of the songs are sung by Dick Haymes. The highlight of the film is Carole singing her only solo number "Crazy Me". All of the musical numbers were staged by Carole's close friend Don Loper


Unfortunately Carole and the other actresses had no creative control over the making of Four Jills In A Jeep. The movie ended up being mostly fiction. The plot made their journey seem easy and it completely ignored all of the struggles they went through. Many of the scenes and characters in the movie did not even come from the book. Carole was very unhappy that it turned out to be just a fluffy musical. Four Jills In A Jeep was released on March 17, 1944. The movie was not a hit and a lot of critics panned it. Carole told a friend "I'm afraid the picture hasn't had as good a press as I hoped". Although she had proved she was a talented writer Carole would never write another book.

With John Harvey in the movie

Kay Francis, Mitzi Mayfair, Carole, and Martha Raye

With Mitzi Mayfair

The "Jills" on stage

Carole. Kay Francis, and Martha Raye

 Carole with Kay Francis and Martha Raye

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Carole's Story

"She was a warmhearted person who loved her family and all she met giving freely of herself, her time and talents.
She was loved by all." ~ Dorothy Ross, Carole's sister

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. She once said "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 still has many fans all over the world who will never forget her.