Monday, November 12, 2012

Hot Tears Flow for Carole

November. My personal time for reflection. For glancing over my shoulder and taking stock of where I stand. Stealing a moment to count my blessings and note my lessons learned. It's also a time for speaking from the heart and giving thanks to those who've helped shape my life. In big ways. In small ways. In many ways. All the little building blocks of my world.

Today, I'd like to offer a small tribute to Frances Lillian Mary Ridste of Fairchild, Wisconsin. Or ... more widely known to her fans as Carole Landis of the silver screen.

Through a brief but busy career with appearances in some 54 films, Carole, a moniker she legally adopted in honor of her idol Carole Lombard upon her tragic death in a plane crash, was always at the mercy of the men in charge. She wanted so much to be taken seriously as a gifted actress and be given an equal chance to perform both onscreen and onstage. She utilized her beauty to enter show business but struggled to find memorable lead roles in which to showcase her considerable abilities. Her career would ultimately rise and fall at the whims of those seeking her romantic favor. And ultimately, she played the game as long as she could.    

So here's to Carole. 
To Frances Lillian Mary Ridste.
The Pin-up.
The Actress.
The Entertainer.
The Daughter.
The Woman.
The Soul.

Her upbringing was fraught with physical and emotional difficulties. Abandoned by her biological father before her birth, Carole would endure poverty, the death of two siblings, the divorce of her parents, sexual abuse as a child, and an annulled marriage by age fifteen. She would eventually be married five times to four different men by age 26. 

Although she desperately wanted a child, she suffered from endometriosis and could not conceive. During her life she would also suffer from dysentery, malaria, pneumonia, and ultimately depression.

Seen as an escape to a better life, the alluring glamour of Hollywood consumed her at a young age and with a natural talent for singing, she finally said goodbye to her mother and boarded a bus bound for San Francisco at age sixteen with $100 in savings.

She found work as a chorus girl in musicals and eventually became a favorite of choreographer/director Busby Berkeley. At one point they were even engaged to be married, but due to unfounded rumors resurfacing her engagement was terminated by Berkeley's mother.

One Million B.C. (1940) - Not necessarily her best role, but perhaps her most famous.

More marriages came and fell apart. She entered into a relationship with film producer Darryl Zanuck and more roles began to come her way. But after her relationship ended, (surprise) her career suffered.

To help with the war effort she joined the USO in 1942. For the next couple years she traveled the globe entertaining servicemen. Landis logged over 100,000 miles on her tours to North Africa and Europe, spending more time visiting troops than any other actress.  

After the war she began a serious relationship with actor Rex Harrison, then still married to Lilli Palmer. Rex refused to divorce his wife for her. 

This lead to her dreadful day of reckoning.

Her ambitious struggle against the odds ended abruptly on the evening of July 4, 1948. Her lifeless body was discovered by Rex Harrison the following day. The tragic details are chronicled here

Much has been made of the events of that day. The elapsed time between Rex discovering her body and his eventual call to police to report it. Over two hours. 

Her family, stating her future plans, her upbeat mood during the day (she hosted a pool party for a dozen friends at her home the day she "suicided") and Harrison's suspicious behavior, claim that her death was not of her choosing. 

I've chosen not to post her famous post-mortem photo, but some blogger sites have even raised questions regarding some odd aspects of those police scene photos. 

Sources claim she left three suicide notes. One for her maid with information regarding her cat's need of medical attention. One for her mother (excerpted in the top header of this page). And another for Rex Harrison which he allegedly had his lawyer burn. Along with other letters and documents of correspondence.

For a while after these events Harrison's career cooled off, but later recovered (My Fair Lady - 1964). He eventually divorced Palmer anyway in 1957.

Perhaps in addition to her troubled upbringing, Carole Landis' inherent natural beauty and desire to be loved contributed in some way to her own turbulent relationships, her enduring unfulfillment, and ultimately, to her sad demise. By all accounts she was a kind open-hearted person. In a cut -throat business full of "actors" she was easy prey. And when she fell for a married man. It was a no-win situation for her. She didn't want to hurt Lilli Palmer, nor be a "home wrecker" in the eyes of the public. 

Carole's actress friend Lupe Velez had found herself in a similar "no-win situation" and took a lethal overdose of Seconal (sleeping pills). Carole had commented to friends at the time that she understood exactly how Lupe felt. And in the end, a few years later Landis chose the exact same method to escape her troubles. 

The world kept turning for most. But not for Carole. The final curtain came down on one of the most promising careers of 1940s Tinsel Town. She survived so much strife. But at that point, she couldn't bear one more broken heart. That's truly what killed Carole Landis.

Thankfully her legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of those who remember her... 
and share her story.     

Learn more about Carole here at her "official" blog.  Or here.


And don't wait until someone is gone, to show them what they mean to you. 
Eulogies are only cold comfort for the ones left behind.


  1. What a beautiful tribute! Carole is one of my favorite actresses and it's nice to know she had not been forgotten :-)

    1. Gone. But not forgotten. Keep the fires burning Elizabeth.

  2. Nice tribute Darren. Carole also has touched my life.