Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Carole's Sister Talks About Their Childhood

Carole was very close to her older sister Dorothy Ross. In 1985 Dorothy wrote about their childhood and Carole's road to stardom ...

How do you become a movie star? Well, let me tell you some about Carole - Frances Lillian Ridste. As we grew up in San Bernardino she was a very vivacious and beautiful little girl. Mother called her “Baby Doll” and she always signed her letters to mother as “Baby”. She was literally born singing and dancing, always performing when someone was near. She read every movie magazine she could get and had pictures of the stars on our bedroom walls. Her favorites were Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Mary Astor and Kay Francis. The intrigue of the Gish sisters was of course the names - Frances Lillian and Dorothy. They were silent movie stars and we saw them frequently at the Saturday matinees.

Carole (sitting) and her sister Dorothy

It is interesting that Mary Astor and Kay Francis were both a big part of her movie life. She made pictures with them and they were good friends. Kay Francis of course was on some of the USO Tours and was at Carole and Tommy’s wedding. Also in the movie Four Jills In A Jeep, which Carole wrote of their USO Tours. BUT I’m getting ahead of the story! When Frances was about seven years old the Fox Theater chain built a big, beautiful theater in our town and the management had talent contests. Frances was very outgoing and of course she was one of the first to enter. Without any fear and enjoying every minute she won first prize. She sang “Yes Sir That’s My Baby” and danced the Charleston. That victory really spurred her on and her dreams became greater to be a movie star.

Carole playing dress-up with a friend

The Fox Theater in San Bernardino

The owners and dance instructor of the (only) dance studio in our town offered to give Frances free dancing lessons if she would appear in shows to be given at Resort Hotels and other places. Of course she was all for it, but my mother would not let her unless I was with her so the owners made the bargain for both of us. We worked hard, studied and practiced for weeks and then the night of our first appearance came. It was to be at a hotel in The Valley of the Moon, which is in the Big Bear Mountains. I can well remember the night we drove up there. It was a cold winter night. The moon was full and the sky soft with fluffy clouds that passed over the moon making everything kind of scary, but it was so beautiful as we drove the winding road through the beautiful pine trees and well worth the trip.

Carole (left) and her sister Dorothy

Our performance was successful and we were given dinner for it. Lest I imply that the dance group was just Frances and me I had better mention we had eight girls in the group. About that time the Fox theaters were sponsoring a beauty contest. It was in three of the Fox theaters in San Bernardino, Redlands, and Riverside. The winner of the first contest and several of the runner-ups went on to the next town. Frances and I went to all three. She won first in all of them and I made second in the last contest. The Rose Room was a dance hall in town that held Saturday matinees for the younger crowd and you can believer that Frances was always there. Again, mother would not let her go without me so I sat and watched her dance, dance, dance! She was so popular, such a marvelous dancer and won so many dance contests. She was really a natural - her life was singing and dancing.

Carole with her mother Clara and sister Dorothy

Finally on to Hollywood!! She stood in the extras lines for hours on end and days on end taking any bit part she could get. She was given a part in the chorus line in the picture Varsity Show, a musical starring Dick Powell and the Lane Sisters (there were four of them). Busby Berkeley saw and took her out of the line and she was on her way as a starlet for Warner Brothers Studio. She worked hard, studied much, took singing lessons, golf, tennis, horseback riding, learned French and other foreign languages and seemed successful through work and perseverance in all she attempted to do.

She went on from movie to movie, to New York stage plays and then made One Million B C. That was her big thrill because it had its world premiere in her hometown of SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA, at the very Fox theater where she won her first contest singing and dancing. As the War came (World War II) she went on U.S. bond selling tours all over the United States, to the Stagedoor Canteens to entertain service men and on USO tours here stateside as well as England, Africa, and the South Pacific. She was a warmhearted person who loved her family and all she met giving freely of herself, her time and talents. She was loved by all…

~ Written by Dorothy Ridste Ross (1917-1997), sister of Carole Landis

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Radio Shows

Carole appeared on more than seventy radio shows during her career. You can listen to some of them here ...

May 10, 1943 ~ Johnny Eager with John Garfield

November 12, 1944 ~ Condemned In Paris with Charles Boyer and Nan Wynn

December 26, 1946 ~ Command Performance with Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Durante

November 8, 1943 ~ George Washington Slept Here with Jack Carson


February 16, 1941 ~ Brother Orchid with Pat O'Brien and Donald Crisp

March 16, 1946 ~ Continental Celebrity Club with John Daly

Friday, May 6, 2016

A Gentleman At Heart

In 1941 Carole starred in the romantic comedy A Gentleman At Heart. She plays Helen Mason, a museum owner who falls in love with a gangster. The cast includes her best friend Cesar Romero, Milton Berle, Chick Chandler, and Rose Hobart. Irving Wheeler, Carole's first husband, worked on this movie as Chick Chandler's stand-in. A Gentleman At Heart was directed by Ray McCarey. You can watch the entire movie here ...

Carole and Cesar Romero

Chick Chandler, Milton Berle, Carole, and Cesar Romero

Cesar Romero and Carole

 Carole with Milton Berle

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How Carole Became "The Ping Girl"

In 1940 Carole was under contract at Hal Roach Studios. Her career was taking off and she had been given leading roles in One Million B.C. and Turnabout. Hal Roach decided to give Carole the nickname "The Ping Girl: Because She Makes You Purr". The idea came from an automobile ad slogan that said "change ping to purr". Carole hated this nickname probably because the word "ping" was also slang for a male erection.

When Hal Roach threw a party at Ciro's to introduce "The Ping Girl" Carole refused to attend. She said  "I was never consulted  about the scheme nor do I approve the appellation they would like to inflict upon me. For these reasons I will not be present at my own reception to ping, purr, or even coo." Carole even sent letters to all the newspaper editors to complain. She wrote:

 "This is the lament of a fugitive from a leg-art career. I want a fair chance to prove myself something more than a curvaceous cutie. I want to get out of bathing suits and into something more substantial. Unfortunately the publicity department of my studio does not agree. They have conceive the brilliant idea of selling me to the public as "The Ping Girl" - because she makes you purr. This flash of genius is to be illustrated with a series of pictures out of their files suggestive of anything but acting talent. I haven't any legal redress. There isn't I am advised any way to stop the publicity department. Therefore I am asking you to help me nip the scheme in the right place - in the pages of your newspaper."

Carole also asked that the newspapers not publish any more of her bathing suit pin-ups. Her protest got her a lot of attention and some critics thought it was all just a publicity stunt. Luckily for Carole the press rarely mentioned "The Ping Girl" after 1940. She was later called "The Chest" but she didn't like that sexist nickname either. During the war the soldiers affectionately named her "The Blonde Bomber".

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Carole's Songs

Carole had a beautiful voice and she loved to sing. She had started her career as a nightclub singer in San Francisco. Carole sang duets on the radio with stars like Groucho Marx and Bob Hope. She also recorded several songs for the troops during World War 2. Unfortunately Carole never recorded a studio album. You can listen to some of her songs here ...

It Had To Be You (from a 1945 radio performance)

Personality (from a 1946 radio performance)

Sunday Monday, and Always with Martha Raye and Mitzi Mayfair

I'm An Old Cowhand with Bob Hope 

Carole and Bob Hope
Pistol Packin' Mama with Bob Hope

I'm Your Pin-Up Girl

O The Desert O The Prairie with Groucho Marx

SNAFU with Mitzi Mayfair and Martha Raye

Mitzi Mayfair, Carole, and Martha Raye

Friday, March 11, 2016

Mystery Sea Raider

In 1940 Carole starred in the wartime drama Mystery Sea Raider. She plays June McCarthy, a beautiful young woman who is taken hostage aboard an enemy ship. The cast includes Henry Wilcoxon, Onslow Stevens, and Kathleen Howard. Academy Award winner Edith Head designed the costumes. You can watch the entire movie here ...

Onslow Stevens and Carole

 Kathleen Howard and Carole

Henry Wilcoxon and Carole

 Carole and Onslow Stevens

 Carole and Onslow Stevens

 Carole on the set

Carole and the cast on the set

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Four Jills In A Jeep

Carole entertained thousands of soldiers during World War 2. In September 1942 she began a five month U.S.O. tour with Kay Francis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair. Their group was part of the "Feminine Theatrical Task Force". They went to England, Bermuda, Africa, and Ireland. The group traveled more than 50,000 miles by plane, truck, and jeep. They made 150 personal appearances and performed in 125 shows. Kay introduced the show, Martha told jokes, Mitzi danced, and Carole sang. Her specialty was the song "Strip Polka". The four women became close friends during the tour. Kay was bisexual and developed a crush on Carole. When the girls were in Africa they went through four air raids. They also survived an earthquake and numerous illnesses. Carole had her appendix removed and nearly died from an e. coli infection. She lost fifteen pounds while on the tour.

Carole, Martha Raye, Mitzi Mayfair, and Kay Francis

Carole wrote several magazine articles about her experiences during the war. In 1943 she was asked to write a book for Random House. The title of the book was Four Jills In A Jeep. She told stories about traveling with the other women and performing for the soldiers. Most of the book is about her romance with her husband Tommy Wallace. Carole had the help of a ghostwriter named Edwin Seaver but she wrote the majority of the book herself. She dedicated it "To the Officers and Enlisted Men Who Made Our Tour So Inspiring". In December 1943 Four Jills In a Jeep was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post. When the book was published in the spring of 1944 it sold well and got rave reviews. Before the book had even come out Fox decided to turn Four Jills In A Jeep into a movie. Filming began on October 18, 1943. The movie was directed by William A. Seiter.

The "Jills" in England

Carole, Kay, Martha, and Mitzi agreed to play themselves. They were all excited to see their adventures on the big screen. Carole's onscreen romance with John Harvey was based on her real-life relationship with Tommy. The all-star cast included Phil Silvers, Dick Haymes (his film debut), Betty Grable, Jimmy Dorsey, Carmen Miranda, and Alice Faye. Yvonne Wood designed the costumes for the film. Carole was furious when the censors refused to let the actresses wear sweaters. In one scene she wore her own wedding dress. There are numerous songs including "How Blue The Night" and "You'll Never Know". Most of the songs are sung by Dick Haymes. The highlight of the film is Carole singing her only solo number "Crazy Me". All of the musical numbers were staged by Carole's close friend Don Loper


Unfortunately Carole and the other actresses had no creative control over the making of Four Jills In A Jeep. The movie ended up being mostly fiction. The plot made their journey seem easy and it completely ignored all of the struggles they went through. Many of the scenes and characters in the movie did not even come from the book. Carole was very unhappy that it turned out to be just a fluffy musical. Four Jills In A Jeep was released on March 17, 1944. The movie was not a hit and a lot of critics panned it. Carole told a friend "I'm afraid the picture hasn't had as good a press as I hoped". Although she had proved she was a talented writer Carole would never write another book.

With John Harvey in the movie

Kay Francis, Mitzi Mayfair, Carole, and Martha Raye

With Mitzi Mayfair

The "Jills" on stage

Carole. Kay Francis, and Martha Raye

 Carole with Kay Francis and Martha Raye