Nov 1, 2010

Book Review: "Chasing Carole" by Barbara Washburn

I finished "Love, Lucy" and "Chasing Carole". I think you all know how good is Lucille's autobiography, the classy way she remembers the people she knew, and how damn interesting was her life. So I'm gonna dedicate this post to trying to tell you what's "Chasing Carole" about, a book that I bought because I wanted to know about Carole Lombard's life. I'm still figuring out what I exactly learned about it.

I started reading "Chasing Carole" yesterday. I didn't know too much about the author or the book, just that it was kind of a "novelized biography"...

After reading the first pages, in my mind Janice-from-Friends' voice went: "OH-----MY----GOD: CAROLE LOMBARD HAD A DAUGHTER WHEN SHE WAS 14 AND GAVE HER TO AN UNCLE???" and then Janice again: "OH---MY---GOD: CAROLE LOMBARD WROTE A DIARY AND THE AUTHOR, HER GRANDDAUGHTER, IS GOING TO SHARE IT WITH ME?". It just couldn't be true, I never heard anything like that. Plus, the author and the supposed granddaughter had different names. What the freak was I reading??

I didn't check facts over the Internet right away. Maybe I didn't want to break the spell so soon. In the book, a 46-year-old woman, Cass MacGowan, starts writing about the day she was told by her mother that Carole was her grandmother. Her mom hid that little fact from her till she was 20 and Cass resented it. One day, Clark Gable's son contacted her and gave her Carole's diaries. So the book is supposed to be Cass' research process over her famous granny plus Carole's """original""" diary entries.

The book is organized this way: you read a few pages titled CASS about (duh) Cass' life told in first person and in past tense and then a few about Carole's and so on. Cass talks about the conversations she has with her mother about the few times she met Carole, her daily investigation at home, how she grabs a beer every two minutes, about her dogs Lauren and Bacall, about her girlfriend Cameron, how bad she feels because Lombard didn't keep her daughter with her, why she blames Clark Gable for Carole's death AND about Carole's (or "Missy") apparitions in her apartment as a ghost (really) who asks her to write the book because that way people will know her and what she felt (at that point I went:  "oh, she appeared in dreams and talk to Lucy too!"). 

The texts titled CAROLE are supposed to be from Carole's journal, so it's also told in first person and past tense. Her """diary""" starts by the time she was marrying William Powell. The Profane Angel of course would write adding curse words in every line, not keeping any intimate detail to herself (and when I say intimate, I mean it) and of course she wouldn't be a funny clown all along her writings: she had a lot of serious situations to deal with. Anyway,  """her"""" entries are incredibly entertaining and interesting. Here are a couple of paragraphs from different parts of the book to give you an idea:

"Hands off my ass, Gable" I raised one eyebrow a I looked up at him. He laughed, returning his hand to my lower back. He spun me around, trying to prevent another glimpse of Norma Shearer. 'Nice try, but who could miss that fucking  red dress'
'Easy now'
I tried glaring at him, but he smiled, and I shook my head. 'It's the White Mayfair, for Chrissake, and she shows up in red!"
"The story whispered about Jean got pregnant and Bill insisted on an abortion; the procedure and its aftermath were pushing Jean beyond her emotional endurance. I believed it; in the first year of our marriage I missed two periods and told Bill I was probably pregnant. He insisted I get tested immediately and arrange for an abortion if it was positive. We had a huge fight right then, it was the beginning of the end of our marriage. The test was negative, I was anemic again and that was causing the problem"
"With fall came bird season, ducks and pheasant, and Clark planned a three week trip to the Dakotas, arranging to stay at private preserve. We loaded the station wagon with camping gear, food, weapons, and Bobby, the bird dog. Clark was excited and it was contagious. We left before dawn, a thermos of coffee and a box of cinnamon rolls between us on the front seat. We crept out of the dark canyons with a rare sense of freedom. Bobby curled up in the back behind Clark, asleep as soon as the car rolled out of the drive. The air was nippy, and I snuggled into my jacket, happy as the proverbial pig in shit.  I dozed, the sun was up when I woke.
My left foot was asleep. I shook it vigorously and said "Damn, I hate this".
"What". Clark glanced at me. "Are you doing the one-legged I gotta pee dance?"
I laughed, rubbing my booted foot. 'Nah' I reached for the thermos and cups. 'Coffee?'"

Through "her" entries you visualize the world around her. Parties with stars, conversations with her famous friends like Myrna Loy, her daily activities (peeing included), her family, her work at  the studios, her devastating  miscarriages, crazy fans invading their house, how she felt about Clark (and the things she did with him...and not only her hunting activities are very detailed), how painful was the process of waiting for his divorce from his old wife, their fights because he was "screwing" other women, how much she wanted to become a mother...

When I reached page 120 (out of 281) I decided to check facts. So, as you can hear in this interview, the author invented the whole story about the child and researched about Carole's life from academic information, old magazines, plus the biographies "Screwball" and "Long live the King".

Cass' story got weirder and weirder (and kind of repetitive): Carole's ghost starts haunting her, takes possession of friend Cameron's body to be nearer, gives basic (and ludicrous) explanations about afterlife and how she picks the clothes she wants to wear for each apparition, how much she really loves her granddaughter, blah blah blah. Plus Cass' friend is being stalked by a female student of hers and everything gets more and more dramatic. Conclusion: I decided to skim her parts, I couldn't care less. I just read properly the few visits of Cass to the past via granny's ghost powers (or maybe via the medications she took, I dunno) and the few comments about classic movies like "His Girl Friday" and "The Thin Man". 

So, this is what you get buying "Chasing Carole": 

a) a weird story about a non existing academic teacher that talks with her grandmother Carole, becomes obsessed with her, drinks lots of beer and wants to understand who she really is and who was her granny etc etc etc...and....

b) ...a very vividly and explicit """diary"""" that sounds like written by Carole and transports you to Old Hollywood. The only problem is that at some points Carole talks about her "daughter" in her diaries referring at her as her "cousin", a resource chosen by the author to make some kind of link with the fictional story and give it some basis. 

SO if you, like me, don't know too much about Carole's life I recommend to read a proper biography first (maybe the ones mentioned by the author, I dunno) and then read this one just for fun.


  1. I have no qualms with using Carole Lombard's life as the basis for a novel, but the plot device here -- that she gets pregnant at age 13 -- does make one pause.

    If one wants to create a fictional pregnancy period for the young Lombard, it might have been better to have had it occur at about the time of the automobile accident she was in, which I believe occurred in early 1926. She was sidelined from films for virtually the entire year due to the accident, and a pregnancy (and birth) could be worked into her life during that stretch with minimal difficulty (she turned 18 in October 1926). Getting pregnant at age 13 has a terribly unsettling feel to it.

    The excerpts I've seen from the book seem to capture Carole's spirit wonderfully, though I don't know if she would have written as much blue language as she allegedly said; she basically only used that kind of vocabulary to ward off unwanted Hollywood lotharios, some of who were her workplace superiors. (In the company of people she wasn't sure would be comfortable with such language, she refrained from using it.) If you can get past the major plot device, it sounds like a fascinating novel.

  2. VP81955: I rechecked and the difference is actually 14-15 years old when supposedly she had the baby (she says her "cousin" is 8 years old, and the year is 1931), I'm sorry about that (it's unbelievable anyway, but she died so young that the author didn't have too much margin to make a plot). Anyway, the car accident and the recovery WAS indeed used as background for the whole thing! (in fact I think that gave the author the idea of the book). Only that according to the book, it would have happened when she was 14, not almost 18 :) But, yes, I think it captures it spirit to. Hey, seems that you know a lot about Carole, have you read any bio worth buying??? Cheers, thanks for stopping by.

  3. You have me intrigued! This is going on the Amazon wish list. Thank you!

  4. You're welcome Sarah, even when I didn't like the parallel story, "Carole's diary" is really entertaining :) Thanks for stopping by ^^

  5. Footnote for this book should have read, "Gable & Lombard & Powell & Harlow" by Joe Morella & Edward Z. Epstein, 1975

  6. Footnote for this book should have read, "Gable & Lombard & Powell & Harlow" by Joe Morella & Edward Z. Epstein, 1975

  7. You're welcome Sarah, even when I didn't like the parallel story, "Carole's diary" is really entertaining :) Thanks for stopping by ^^



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