Wednesday, March 13, 2013
CAROLE LANDIS: AN UNREALIZED TALENT
Carole Landis was born Frances Lillian Mary Ridste on Jan. 1, 1919, in Fairchild, WI. Landis moved to California from the Midwest in 1934, and first found work as a hula dancer and a Big Band singer in San Francisco. After signing a studio contract with Warner Bros., she appeared in more than 20 films in 1937 and 1938, including A Star is Born with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, and "A Day at the Races" with the Marx Brothers. But Landis usually played bit parts -- cashiers, hat-check girls, secretaries and party guests.
Her big break came when director Hal Roach cast her with Victor Mature in One Million Years B.C. (1940). She followed that with Turnabout (1941), co-starring with Adolph Menjou, and I Wake Up Screaming (1941), with Mature and Betty Grable. Landis continued to star in small films, while the best roles in the biggest films were given to the more established Hollywood stars of the day. The best movie I ever saw Landis in was Moon Over Miami (1941). The star of the film was Betty Grable, but Landis played her bookworm assistant and in my opinion Landis looked more beautiful in the film than Grable.
Landis toured extensively with the USO during World War II, helping to sell War Bonds and entertaining the troops, both in the United States and overseas. She wrote about her experiences in a best-selling book titled, "Four Jills in a Jeep," and also starred in the film version of the book, playing herself. During her entertaining overseas Landis contracted amoebic dysentery and malaria, which she never completely recovered from.
In 1945, Landis married Broadway producer W. Horace Schmidlapp. By 1948, her career was in decline and her marriage with Schmidlapp was collapsing. She entered into a romance with actor Rex Harrison, who was then married to actress Lilli Palmer. Landis was reportedly crushed when Harrison refused to divorce his wife for her; unable to cope any longer, she committed suicide in her Pacific Palisades home at 1465 Capri Drive by taking an overdose of Seconal. She had spent her final night alive with Harrison. The next afternoon, he and the maid discovered her on the bathroom floor. Harrison waited several hours before he called a doctor and the police. Carole Landis died on July 5, 1948 at the young age of 29. According to some sources, Landis left two suicide notes, one for her mother and the second for Harrison who instructed his lawyers to destroy it. During a coroner's inquest, Harrison denied knowing any motive for her suicide and told the coroner he did not know of the existence of a second suicide note.
I have never been able to watch a Rex Harrison movie after hearing what he did to Carole Landis. No one makes anyone commit suicide, but with the fragile mental state Landis was in, Harrison used her even though he had no intention of leaving his wife. Harrison did not break any laws, except his code of ethics was non existant. Carole Landis deserved better than the life she led. Abuse at home, four failed marriages, and a career that went downhill quick pushed Landis to make a decision that ended a true beauty's life. It was a tragic end to a beautiful actress, but what also was tragic was how short her life was and how much talent she had that was never realized...