After several of her friends suffered small ailments around the same time, Carole Lombard sensed a theme. For her “Hospital Party,” she greeted her guests at the door dressed as a nurse, handed each a robe and led them to their own hospital bed. Cocktails were served in glass tubes, and dinner was rolled out on an operating table and eaten on bed trays. The event became the talk of Hollywood in 1935.

Today, fans often remember Carole for her screwball comedies, her marriage to Clark Gable and her tragic death in 1942, in a plane crash at age 33 — but before she died, this Hollywood original lived a full life. “Carole was a joy to be around,” says Michelle Morgan, author of Carole Lombard: Twentieth-Century Star. “Her motto was, ‘I love living, I love life.’ She was enthusiastic about everything.”

Hollywood has always been filled with beautiful women, but Carole’s lust for life set her apart from the pack. After five years doing bit parts in westerns and adventure films, Carole found her niche in slapstick comedies, where her vitality, can-do attitude and innate comic timing helped her attain leading lady status. “She was a great actress regardless of what role she had,” says Morgan, “but she was an expert comedienne.”

The daughter of a well-off but broken home, Carole developed her independent spirit by competing with her brothers. “She climbed trees, played sports and tore her dresses while scaling fences,” says Morgan. “If anyone bullied her brothers, she would think nothing of sorting them out.” She grew into a confident, outspoken and “liberated” woman before the term even existed.

On a film set, Carole knew what she wanted and wasn’t afraid to ask for it. “I was surprised how out- spoken and powerful she was, at a time when women were not supposed to be that way,” says Morgan. Of course, not everyone found those qualities appealing. Her future husband, Clark Gable, was put off by Carole’s boisterous personality when they costarred in 1932’s No Man of Her Own. “In the beginning, he didn’t know what to make of her,” says Morgan.

Inside Life of Clark Gable’s Wife Carole Lombard Before Her Death
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Carole Lombard Died Tragically Amid Promising Career

Carole’s time as Hollywood’s favorite hostess came after the end of her marriage to William Powell, star of the Thin Man film series, in 1933. “He was a more conservative, stay-at-home, pipe and slippers kind of guy, and that wasn’t her at all,” explains Morgan, who notes that despite the divorce, they remained close friends. “In 1938, he was diagnosed with colon cancer, and she was right there with him.”

After the split, Carole rented a 3,000-square-foot French Provincial style home on Hollywood Boulevard, where she dreamed up events for guests that included actors and producers as well as the gaffers, cameramen and stylists who made Carole look good. “She was very inclusive,” says Robert Matzen, the author of Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3. “If you were a friend of hers, you were in and she would treat you like a brother or sister.”

The party came to an end when Carole and Clark fell in love after a chance meeting at the Mayfair Ball. “They lived happily and quietly together,” says Morgan, who notes that after so much time as the center of attention, “Carole was very content to put her efforts into her home life.”

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