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Carole Landis

A Most Beautiful Girl

Eric Gans

Publication Year: 2008

Despite appearing in twenty-eight movies in little over a decade, Carole Landis (1919-1948) never quite became the major Hollywood star her onscreen presence should have afforded her. Although she acted in such enduring films as A Scandal in Paris and Moon over Miami, she was most often relegated to supporting roles. Even when she played the major role in a feature, as she did in The Powers Girl and the film noir I Wake Up Screaming!, she was billed second or third behind other actors. This biography traces Landis's life, chronicling her beginnings as a dance hall entertainer in San Francisco, her career in Hollywood and abroad, her USO performances, and ultimately her suicide. Using interviews with actors who worked with Landis, contemporary movie magazines and journals, and correspondence, biographer Eric Gans reveals a tragic figure whose life was all too brief. Landis's big break came in 1940 with Hal Roach's One Million B.C. She appeared in thirteen Twentieth Century-Fox pictures between 1941 and 1946. In 1942-43, Landis entertained troops in England and North Africa in the only all-female USO tour. The trip led to her memoir, Four Jills in a Jeep, and a Fox movie of the same title. After her last American film in 1947, she completed two projects in England while having an affair with married actor Rex Harrison. Tormented by a love that could not lead to matrimony and depressed about growing older, she took a fatal drug overdose on July 5, 1948. Eric Gans is professor of French at University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of numerous books including most recently The Scenic Imagination: Originary Thinking from Hobbes to the Present Day, and his articles have appeared in many periodicals.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

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Introduction

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pp. 3-10

One evening in January 2003, my wife and I watched a film on Turner Classic Movies entitled I Wake Up Screaming, a 1941 adaptation of Steve Fisher’s novel of the same name. The two female leads were played by Betty Grable, familiar from many 1940s musicals, and Carole Landis, who Seeing Carole for what I believe to be the first time, I could not have...

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Chapter 1. Beginnings (1919–1935)

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pp. 11-23

It is not to psychoanalyze Carole to point out that she came from a family without a father. Carole was not the first in her line to have problems living with a man.....

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Chapter 2. In Northern California (1935–1937)

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pp. 24-30

We must presume in the absence of other evidence that the timing of Frances’s departure for the Bay Area was determined by the state law that required school attendance until the age of sixteen, married or not. Thus,when she turned sixteen on January 2, 1935, she was free to leave school,and she did. Like Frances’s rendition of “That’s My Weakness Now,” the...

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Chapter 3. First Years in Hollywood (1937–1939)

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pp. 31-41

Carole’s beginnings in Hollywood were far from auspicious. After finding a five-dollar-a-week apartment, she did the rounds of the studios for a few months with no assurance of employment. Despite the contacts given herby Evelyn O’Brien, Carole had difficulty finding work; just as two years earlier in San Francisco, something like one hundred dollars was all that...

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Chapter 4. Ping Girl: At Roach Studios (1939–1940)

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pp. 42-63

It was while working on her second and last Republic Western that Carole got her big break, the female lead in Hal Roach’s eye-catching science-fiction tale, One Million B.C. The story has been told many times and is by all appearances authentic: D. W. Griffith, who was helping Roach cast the picture, chose the female lead by observing the candidates’ running form....

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Chapter 5. “Sex-Loaded”: At Twentieth Century-Fox (1941)

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pp. 64-93

Louella Parsons tells us that Carole’s Fox contract, which she learned about on Christmas Day 1940, was no sooner signed than Carole had to rush to the hospital to visit her mother, who had been involved in an automobile accident. The contract began on the first of the year, with an opening salary of$400 per week, to increase in steps through $550, $750, $1,000, $1,350, and...

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Chapter 6. B Actress and Patriot (1941–1942)

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pp. 94-112

After completing her double assignment of Cadet Girl and I Wake Up Screaming in September 1941, Carole traveled to New York, where she stayed for a month, attending all or part of the “subway” World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Carole attended the marriage of her friend Florence Heller (later Wasson) to Albert Lary on...

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Chapter 7. The Gift of Beauty: Carole at War (1942–1944)

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pp. 113-141

As Carole tells us in the opening pages of Four Jills in a Jeep, she had wanted to entertain Allied troops overseas even before Pearl Harbor. Since she was working on The Powers Girl in August 1942, she could not be part of the first group sent abroad, which included Al Jolson and Merle Oberon. Apparently,this first team made too many demands on its hosts and did not leave a...

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Chapter 8. Regrouping (1945–1946)

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pp. 142-162

Having made public the impending dissolution of her marriage, and with no immediate engagements in Hollywood, Carole returned in early October1944 to New York, which would remain her base of operations until May of the following year, when she would travel briefly to Hollywood, then go...

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Chapter 9. Anglophilia (1947–1948)

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pp. 163-183

The year 1947 began with a curious incident that contributed to Carole’s sense of being—as in the subtitle of the Liberty article that recounts it—“made and marred by publicity.” On January 6, the national press published a list of the six “best undressed” women drawn up by lingerie model Joan Smith, who claimed to have posed for over five thousand underwear...

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Chapter 10. The Good Die Young (1948)

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pp. 184-203

If there is one area of Carole Landis’s life that has been explored in detail,it is her suicide. In the months following the event, hints were dropped that some major revelation was in the offing, but nothing new was ever reported. Today the police files are gone or at any rate unavailable, and it seems unlikely that any new facts will emerge. But as in many so-called...

Notes

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pp. 204-252

Bibliography

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pp. 253-265

Filmography

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pp. 266-270

Index

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pp. 271-282


E-ISBN-13: 9781604733198
E-ISBN-10: 1604733195
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604730135
Print-ISBN-10: 1604730137

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2008