by Beverly Adam (author of Two Lovers: the love story of Carole Lombard and Russ Columbo).
In the early morning of August 25, 1934, Louella Parsons calls in to her newspaper about a Russian toga party, which she has just attended at Carole Lombard’s house with her husband Doc Martin. Louella’s speech is slurred as she talks to the copier and proceeds to misspell half of the names of those who attended.
She mentions having drunk purple wine in a goblet and remarks that popular singer and upcoming movie star Russ Columbo, made an appearance at the party as “Carole’s crooning cavalier”. She is, as one can surmise, extremely drunk. It was one helluva a party.
The Roman toga party was held at Carole’s Dutch colonial home in Hollywood, which had several rooms that were done in a classical Roman style designed and built by her good friend Billy (William) Haines. Two newspapers, including Louella’s, write about the event. Carole, it was reported, had asked Billy to build a long low quad-angular table for her Roman feast. She planned the food herself, having learned how to cook many Italian dishes to please her lover Russ Columbo.
Carole Lombard’s living-room.
Close friend, actor Roger Pryor, who had appeared in Lady By Choice with Carole Lombard and in Wake Up And Dream with Russ Columbo, partied along with his soon-to-be wife, lovely actress Ann Sothern.
Surprisingly among the guests were long legged, ex-showgirl Gloria Foy, and her acting husband Alan Edwards.
One of the beauties present, Arline Judge, was married to Hollywood director Wesley Ruggles (Bolero, No Man of Her Own, Shoot The Works). .
Carole and Russ’s good friend, actress Geneva Mitchell, was there with director Lowell Sherman (Broadway Thru A Keyhole). The couple had recently danced the night away with Carole and Russ at the Wilshire Gold Ballroom, where Russ paid the orchestra extra to play into the early morning hours and the rumba the couple danced was considered to be very good.
Dave Burton, who had just finished directing Carole and Roger Pryor in Lady By Choice, made an appearance, as well. One newspaper noted that director Walter Lang (Love Before Breakfast) cut the roasted pig during the party and Lang’s future spouse, Madalynne Fields, who was Carole’s personal assistant, was in attendance.
The party was comprised of mostly A-list musical film directors and their sweethearts. Louella Parson’s boss, Ivan St. John, was working for Randolph Hearst at Photoplay Magazine. He was the ex-husband of gossip columnist Adela St. John, and took a seat at the low feasting table, as did future director Jack Moss.
Songwriters Harry Revel and Mack Gordon (Broadway Thru A Keyhole and We’re Not Dressing) were seated at the table, and later they asked Russ to sing some of their songs, which he had performed live on the radio, and from the movie Shoot The Works.
Many of the guests who attended that evening knew of Russ’s engagement to Carole Lombard, who has been taking catechism classes in order to be married to him in the Catholic church. Russ had been wearing a ring with a solitaire diamond in the center, a gift from Carole, on his wedding finger, hinting to the press how pretty soon they would be marrying. Carole had also been doing the same, wearing one of her famous rings on her wedding finger.
Fate has definitely laid a hand upon some of the guests present, changing unexpectedly their lives and fortunes, some for the better, and some for the worse. Carole, who wanted to lighten the mood, as both she and Russ have been having some dark foreboding concerning their own futures, encouraged her guests to have fun and the party went Hollywood crazy.
Why do I feature this cartoon? Because fated Pompeii exploded on the day Carole chose to host her Roman party.
Fast forward to the early 1940’s…. Comedic actress Barbara Stanwyck, whose screwball style everyone is comparing to Carole’s, begins to take on roles Lombard turns down, such as the movie Ball of Fire. Is there any rivalry between the two comedic actresses? No, in fact the newspapers tell us Barbara was at this exclusive toga party and hanging out with Carole and her friends. Say what? I look again at the newspaper clippings from 1934. No mention of Barbara Stanwyck anywhere. It never happened. It was just a publicity stunt to give Barbara some ink and to attach her rising star to that of the established Queen of Screwball, Carole Lombard’s.
To read more about their life for free on my blog read:How Russ Columbo became The Valentino of The Radio