Brought to you by OBS reviewer JoAnne
This fresh look at Hollywood’s “Queen of Screwball,” Carole Lombard, presents a first-ever examination of the events that led to the shocking flight mishap that took her life on the side of a Nevada mountain in 1942. It also provides a day-by-day account of the struggles of Lombard’s husband, Clark Gable, and other family, friends and fans to cope with the tragedy. In effect, just having completed the first sale of war bonds and stamps in the nation following its entry into World War II, Lombard became the first Hollywood star to sacrifice her life in the war. The War Department offered Gable a funeral service with full military honors, but he refused it, knowing that his wife would not approve of such spectacle. Based on extensive research rather than gossip, this investigation further explores the lives of the 21 others on the plane, including 15 members of the U.S. Army Air Corps, and addresses one of the most enduring mysteries of World War II. On a clear night full of stars, with TWA’s most experienced pilot at the controls of a 10-month-old aircraft under the power of two fully functioning engines, why did the flight crash into that Nevada mountainside? This gripping page-turner presents the story of the people on the plane, the friends and families left behind, and the heroic first-responders who struggled up a mountain hoping to perform a miracle rescue. It is a story of accomplishment, bravery, sacrifice and loss. (From the back of the book)
I have always believed deeply that when you read a book, it should draw some sort of emotion from you, whether it be joy, sadness, disgust, consternation, etc. I can tell you that this book did not disappoint. It left indelible marks upon my very being. I have always known about Carole Lombard and Clark Gable. I have even visited the place where they spent their honeymoon. Please understand this: I am not a star-watcher, nor do I follow their every movement. But it was the situation of these two lives which intrigued me: two people very much in love, and without warning, taken from each other.
Admittedly, it is something that happens to people every day. But you do not read about it every day. You do not read about their lives quite the way Mr. Matzen has written. He has interspersed every other chapter with Ms. Lombard and Mr. Gable’s life from their beginning right up until the end together. You learn things that are not the fodder of fan magazines – the tragedies that befell her when she was young, and the reason she lived her life at such a fast pace. She felt she had to; that she needed to, as if each day meant something important, and she was not going to let one minute slip by unnoticed.
Mr. Gable lived his life quite different from hers, and reading it, you wouldn’t expect the two completely different personalities to come together at all. But they did; and they lived furiously; and when the news of her death is a reality to him, it shakes him up and shapes him as nothing else has ever done before.
As I said, every other chapter is about these two, but it is what is in between that is the most heart-wrenching of all. Matzen allows us into the lives of the others on the plane, the people who were there and some that were not supposed to be (although I suppose, in a way they were supposed to be); a glimpse of their lives and the ones they left behind who were waiting for word even while Mr. Gable was hurrying to find his wife.
At the last, there is the story of the people who gave their time and effort climbing up that mountain on a cold January day, trying to see if there was anyone alive who needed rescuing, and their stories are here as well, and just as thought-provoking. A sad read, but an intense one, and worth the time.