A Woman of Firsts

helen richey to follow

Helen Richey was Amelia Earhart’s copilot on one flight across the Atlantic. She also was a lot of FIRSTS: first woman hired to be a pilot by a commercial airline in the United States, first woman licensed as an aviation instructor, and the first woman to fly a scheduled mail flight. To top off her brilliant career during WWII she commanded a group of women pilots for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, flying bombs between factories and airbases. She lived a pretty exciting and groundbreaking life, and ended too soon. At the age of 38 she killed herself.

Sometimes a Hero

mrs mary couchmanThis is a photograph of Mrs. Mary Couchman shielding three small children, one of them her son, as bombs fall during an air attack on October 18th, 1940. The three children were playing in the street of the small Kentish Village when the siren suddenly sounded. Bombs began to fall the 24 year old Couchman ran to them and gathered all three into her arms, protecting them with her body. When she was complimented on her bravery, she said, “Oh, it was nothing. Someone has to look after the children.”

Meet You at Forest Lawn?

.facebook_-1730550010Carole Lombard’s most famous relationship came in 1936 when she became involved with Clark Gable. They had worked together previously in 1932’s No Man of Her Own, but at the time Lombard was married.  Years before they had worked together as extra’s on a silent film, but neither of them ever met.  When Gable was reunited with Lombard at the Mayfair Ball where Lombard was the hostess, their romance took off. Gable was married at the time to oil heiress Ria Longham, so the affair was kept quiet.

The situation actually got Gable to accept to role as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, he had previously not wanted to play the part, but MGM head Louis B.Mayer made the deal too good to turn down when he offered Gable the money to settle the divorce agreement with Langham allowing him to marry Lombard. The divorce was final on March 7, 1939 and he proposed to Lombard at the Brown Derby on March 29, 1939, during a break in production from Gone with the Wind, Gable and Lombard zoomed off to Kingman, Arizona and were married with only a press agent present.  They bought a ranch in Encino California.

clark gable and carol lombard

Carole’s movie career hit a dark spot with Fools for Scandal she decided to move to more dramatic roles. In 1939, she took a role with Jimmy Stewart in David O Selznick‘s Made for Each Other and with Cary Grant in In Name Only.  This was still not what audiences seemed to want from her so she returned to comedy, reuniting with Alfred Hitchcock in Mrs. Smith in 1941.  This seemed to give her career the boost she needed, her last and final film unbeknownst to her was To Be or Not to Be in 1942, it would be her most successful movie.

clark gable and carole lomard.

When the U.S.entered World War II at the end of 1941, Lombard traveled to her home state of Indiana for a war bond rally with her mother, Bess Peters, and Clark Gables press agent, Otto Winkler (also the only person at their wedding).  Lombard was able to raise over $2 million in defense bonds in a single evening.  Her party had initially been scheduled to return to Los Angeles by train, but Lombard was anxious to reach home more quickly and wanted to fly.  Her Mother and Winkler were both afraid of flying and insisted they follow their original plans.  Lombard suggested that they flip a coin; they agreed and it in that instance their lives changed, Lombard won the toss.

The early morning of January 16, 1942 Lombard, her mother, and Winkler boarded a plane to return to California.  It refueled in Las Vegas and took off at 7:07 and 23 minutes later crashed into “Double Up Peak” 32 miles southwest of Las Vegas. All 22 aboard, including 15 army servicemen, were killed instantly.

Carole Lombard in Indiana selling war bonds.

Carole Lombard in Indiana selling war bonds.

Gable was flown to Las Vegas after learning of the crash, to claim the bodies of his wife, mother -in-law, and Winkler, who aside from being his press agent was also a good friend. Lombard’s funeral was held on January 21st at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.  She was laid to rest beside her mother under the name of Carole Lombard Gable.

Lombard’s final film, To Be or Not to Be (1942) was a satire about Nazism and World War II was in post-production at the time of her death. The films producers decided to cut the part of the film that Lombard’s character asks, “What can happen on a plane?” out of respect for the circumstances surrounding her death.  When the film was released it received mixed reviews, mostly about the controversial content, but Lombard’s performance was hailed as the perfect send off to one the 1930’s Hollywood’s most important stars.

At the time of her death Carole Lombard was to be in the film They All Kissed the Bride the role was given to Joan Crawford. Crawford donated all of her salary for the film to the Red Cross, which had helped extensively in the recovery of the bodies of the air crash.

Lombard and Gable on their 2nd Anniversary.

Lombard and Gable on their 2nd Anniversary.

Shortly after her death, Gable (who was inconsolable and devastated by his loss) joined the United States Air Forces, as Lombard had asked him to do numerous times after the US entered WWII. After officer training, Gable head a six man motion picture unit attached to a B-17 bomb group in England to film aerial gunners in combat, flying five missions himself. In December 1943, the United Maritime Commission announced that a Liberty ship named after Carole Lombard would be launched. Gable attended the launch of the SS Carole Lombard on January 15, 1944, the two year anniversary of Lombard’s record breaking war bond drive. The ship was involved in rescuing hundreds of survivors from sunken ships in the pacific and returning them to safety.

carole lombard and clark gable 1932

Despite being married twice more, Gable chose to be interred beside Lombard in Forest Lawn Memorial Park when he died in 1960. She was the love of his life.

Source:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carole_Lombard

Lost and Sometimes Found

Lost and Sometimes Found

1945. Pictures like these were published in newspapers after the war, to help locate surviving relatives.
I guess in this world of technology overload I haven’t put much thought on how you would find loved ones without it after a tragedy.

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