The tragic life of Carole Landis

December 08, 2013


Warning: suicide photo of Carole Landis at the bottom of the post.

The story of Carole Landis fascinates me for quite a while now and more so now I am reading a biography about her. I am wondering: how is it possible that an actress like Carole was so underrated? She had a remarkable talent, a good sense of humor and she was also very beautiful, and, not less important, she had a big heart. Some described her as the kindest woman they have ever met. The public loved Carole and she even got her own fanclub. She was the ultimate pin up girl in WWII and did alot for the war effort. Yet she didn't really make it in Hollywood and she was mostly assigned to B movies or as the second lead (most of the time to Betty Grable who kept being an obstacle for Carole).

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Carole was born Frances Lillian Mary Ridste in Wisconsin on January 2, 1919. Her father deserted the family before Frances was born and two of her brothers died tragically (one burned to death and the other was accidentally shot and killed by a neighbor boy at the age of 11). Frances seeked love at quite an early age and when she was barely 15 she met her first husband Irving Wheeler, who was 19 at the time, and they married in 1934. Frances' mother Clara had the marriage annulled but the couple remarried when Frances was an adult. The marriage didn't last long and Frances went back to her mother. Carole had difficulties with living under the same roof with a man for more than two months and this would continue for the rest of her life.


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Frances left school in no time and went to San Fransisco to seek stardom. She changed her name to Carole after her favorite actress Carole Lombard and found the name Landis in the telephone book. She dyed her hair from soft brown to blonde. It didn't took long for Carole to work her way up and within 18 months she went from a Hula dancer to a popular band singer with the Carl Ravazzo Orchestra at the St. Francis hotel. Carole was barely 17 when she headed for Hollywood in the late summer of 1935. And after spending only 6 months in Hollywood, she met Busby Berkely at an audition for Warner's "Variety Show". Berkely was able to get Carole a 7 year contract. She was being offered roles but mostly in B-movies. In 1938 the bubble bursted and her contract with Warner's ended. Carole went back to modelling, some stage plays and doing some radio. It was Hal Roach who gave Carole's career a push and it was back on track. He casted Carole as Loana in One Million B.C but her acting was obscured by Carole's beautiful body who was clad in animal skins only. She was then labeled as 'the ping girl'. Carole was not at all happy with that nickname as *ping* was meant as in the erection in a man's pants. Carole's body caused much controversy many times as she was a rather busty woman.


In 1939 Carole had plastic surgery to perfect her face. The tip of her nose and the tip of her chin were removed as they 'grew slightly towards eachother'. In 1940, Carole married a yacht salesman but the marriage only lasted for 4 months. And in 1941 Carole also got a contract at 20th Century Fox. In the contract was included a non-negotiable clause: sleeping with Fox's head Darryl F. Zanuck. He was known for sleeping with every actress he hired; those who declined did not work for Fox. In 1941, Carole was also very buzy for the war effort; she spent much time touring army bases. Carole spend more time with the troops than any other Hollywood star and her husband had much difficulties with it. These tours almost costed Carole her life: near-fatal pneumonia, amoebic dysentery and malaria. But Carole was a true trouper. Carole wrote a book about the tours called Four Jills in Jeep in which she writes her experiences along with with Kay Francis, Mitzi Mayfair and Martha Rye. Four Jills in a jeep was later made into a movie. In 1943 Carole married Air Force Captain Thomas Wallace in England. But just like the others, this marriage collapsed too in 1944. Wallace had much difficulties in being married with a movie star. Carole dyed her hair brown; something she refused for a leading role in the movie Sand and Blood (1941). They actually wanted Hedy Lamarr for the part but her studio refused to loan her out. Carole did not want to become a second rate Hedy and refused to dye her hair brown also because she made fame as a blonde. It has been said that this role would have given her the Hollywood career she dreamed of. Eventually it was Rita Hayworth who was cast for the part. Not a brunette either. 

However, when Carole did dye her hair years later, she did it for the war effort. Carole never went back to blonde and thought also that, by dying her hair brown, she would be offered more serious roles. Nothing was less true.



Carole kept being cast in low budget movies and she dated a huge amount of men - behaviour which ruined her imago and her career. Carole demanded only one thing of men: that they did not make her suffer. It has been rumoured that Carole also had a bisexual affair with Jacqueline Susann, her co-star in the Broadway musical "A lady says yes". In 1945, Carole married Broadway producer Horace Schmidlapp but it was a bi-coastal affair and they spent little time together. Schmidlapp liked it that way but it left Carole ruined once again.

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In early 1947, Carole met the last and true love of her life! The British (and very mean) actor Rex Harrison. Carole was very much in love but Rex was very much married at the time to actress Lilli Palmer who never wanted to know where Carole lived out of fear she would grab a kitchen knife one night and kill Carole. Carole filed for divorce from Horace but Rex didn't want to leave his wife. Carole was just another conquest for him although he claimed he very much loved her and in his autobiography he talked about her with respect; something his biographers did less so. Carole was devastated. One sunday afternoon, when Carole had planned a pool party and intimate dinner with Rex, he told her on the 4th of July that the he went overseas for a role. Carole feared, with reason that a contact break in their affair would mean the end. But she kept her fear to herself; it wasn't in Carole's nature to put pressure on someone to please her own desires. Carole fell into a depression that she would not overcome. It was simply too much damage for her heart to endure.



Her suicide ...
Carole was afraid to grow old - terribly. She was afraid to lose her beauty and youth. Becoming 30 in Hollywood meant that you were old and had lost your youth. She once said the prophetical words: I will not and would not grow old. And she was right. The fear of growing old and her broken heart made it that she ended her life. She killed herself with an overdose of Seconal at the age of 29 in July the 5th in 1948. When Rex left her house, she took all her personal mementos and sorted them in two bags with a note on one for Rex. One bag was found in the house and one on the driveway of the house where Rex stayed with friends. The following morning when Carole's maid was making breakfast in the kitchen, Rex Harrison bursted into the house. He asked Carole's maid to go up to check on Carole. The maid came back with the words "I think she is dead".


They found Carole sprawled on the bathroom floor, nearby lay four pill bottles. Her head rested on a jewellery case and in her hand she held a rosary and an envelope with the words "Red-quick-2 hours. Yellow, about 5. Can take two." (it's about the pills). A suicide note to her mother had also been found on a dressing table; it told the suicide could not be avoided. Carole's hands were positioned under her body as if she attempted to raise herself but didn't had the strength to do so. Harrison claimed he felt a slight pulse and fled the house claiming he would call the doctor and police. He neither called a doctor nor the police until he returned to the house a full hour later, however the doctor and police were already been called. The coroner claimed that Carole had been dead for 12 hours. There was nothing that could be done.

Carole was laid to rest in Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale California. Her gravestone reads the words

"To our beloved Carole, whose love graciousness and kindness touched us all - who will always be with us in the beauties of this earth untill we meet again"



I should have been a clown. I am always getting slapped. The slaps come from every direction, from the people I want to help, from those I want to love, for the big and little guys I am sorry for. 
 Carole Landis


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9 Comments

  1. This post brought tears to my eyes, dear Lindsay. You have portrayed and honoured Carole with such care, beauty and sensitivity. It's truly sad that she opted to end her own life - if only she could have met more (good!) people like you in real life back then, perhaps she wouldn't felt the need to take such drastic measures if she had.

    ♥ Jessica

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    1. She was magnificent but it's sad that pain can become so painful that you just don't want to go on anymore. Thank you very much for your kind message! It's always a bit scary to portray someone good enough.

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  2. Thank you my remembering my beautiful great aunt Carole Landis. She was a wonderful actress and a very kind woman. It's fans like you who keep her memory alive! Please stop by Carole's site at CaroleLandis.net

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    1. Thank you so much for your reply! It is highly appreciated and really struck a chord with me! Thank you!

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  3. Wat een mooi eerbetoon heb je geschreven! Ik had geen idee dat Corale Landis zo'n tragisch leven had. Helaas zoals zo veel Hollywood sterren..

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  4. I do believe that is the most tragic thing Ive ever read......Yet I feel this happens quite often.

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  5. I do not think she was bisexual otherwise there would more information on it its just wishful thinking

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