By MICHAEL OLDHAM | Special to the Palisadian-Post
One of her first of several uncredited roles had actress Carole Landis playing in the 1937 film, A Star is Born. In 1940, the actress with bombshell looks became a star herself.
But by 1948, Landis was a star that was falling, as her Hollywood film career was in a downward spiral. The love life of the 29-year old was in shambles, as well.
Sadly, the made-for-Hollywood story of a teenage Carole Landis going from a movie usherette to movie star in just a few short years would not have a happy ending. Landis would end her own life inside her sprawling Capri Drive home in the Riviera.
The Wisconsin-born beauty’s death would shock Hollywood when her lifeless body was discovered on July 5, 1948. But upon review of her personal life, this tragic ending is less surprising.
Carole Landis had a depressive side to her personality. She may have even attempted suicide previously.
Many other lowlights and highlights of Landis’s life are on display on the website Glamourgirlsofthesilverscreen.com. The site provides a timeline of the soft-brown haired star who would eventually dye her hair blonde. Many of the details about Landis’ life are not as pretty as the actress.
Landis, whose family called her “Baby Doll,” grew up in a home without her father. As a little girl, she was fascinated with screen stars. She would purchase second-hand film magazines, decorate her walls with movie star pictures and listen to what the radio could tell her about the silver screen glitterati.
Carole’s young mind was engaged in the big-time world of Hollywood, which would be her future. This early fascination with film stars went along with something she admitted later in life: “I always seemed so much older than the other kids my age,” she once said, “They seemed like tots.” As a young teenager, she engaged in yet another adult area of life.
At age 15, she married, but it would unravel within months. This move proved to be no fluke in Landis’ romantic life. She married four times by the time of her death.
None of Landis’ four marriages had long courtships. It was said that Carole, like her father, had a restlessness about her. And her pattern of quickie marriages testified to this personality trait.
Eric Gans, author of the biography Carole Landis: A Most Beautiful Girl, was contacted for this article. Not all of Landis’s marital problems were her own doing, but author Gans wrote that “she was clearly not a good wife.”
After marriage number three, Landis herself tried to defend her marriage record. “Why do people attack me for getting three divorces?” she said. “It’s legal; if there’s something wrong about it, why don’t they attack the laws of the land, and let me alone?”
But after Landis’ first marriage fell apart, Hollywood was right around the corner. At 16 years of age, Landis left her mother’s home in San Bernardino, California and hopped on a bus to San Francisco. She worked briefly as a singer, but soon got on a bus to Hollywood, where she landed uncredited film parts beginning in 1936. By the late 1930s, Landis had a few credited roles in some movies. Her big successes came in 1940 when she played the female lead in the film, One Million B.C.
The Hollywood spotlight had finally discovered Carole Landis. But the shapely Landis would argue that it was the reverse. “Hollywood didn’t discover me, I discovered it,” she once said.
By the year 1948 Landis, still under 30 years of age, was living in her 13-room mansion on Capri Drive. The rooms were well-appointed. The house had a swimming pool where a gathering of stars would lounge around at a party she gave in the summer of 1947.
Her fourth and final husband was W. Horace Schmidlapp. He had bought the Palisades house for Landis a little over a year after their 1945 marriage.
During her marriage to Schmidlapp, however, Landis got romantically entangled with the actor Rex Harrison, a married man. Once again, her love life was a mess and apparently it was too much for her to cope with and she ended her life.
Biographer Gans learned of the good qualities of Landis that may have all been forgotten by the public. Landis “was supremely generous to the GIs during [WWII], spending more time and energy both abroad and in base tours locally.” Gans said that Landis did more for the troops “than just about any actress.”
Finally, Gans points out that everyone who knew Carole Landis “talked about how generous and full of life she was.” He added, “For me, she embodied the ultimate in beauty as a gift that she shared with the world.”
Michael Oldham, co-author of Movie Star Homes: The Famous to the Forgotten and author of the novel The Valentino Formula and Flashback Los Angeles: Postcard Views, Then and Now can be reached at HollywoodLandings@sbcglobal.net.
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