Carole's early days were filled with heartache and dreams of stardom. She was born on January 1, 1919 in Fairchild, Wisconsin. Her birth name was Frances Lillian Ridste - she had been named after her maternal grandmother Francis Sentek. Carole was the youngest of five children. Sadly her brother Jerome had died in 1917 after being burned by boiling water. Her father Alfred Ridste was a railroad worker and her mother Clara Sentek Ridste was a housewife. In the Spring of 1919 the family moved to Denton, Montana. Clara began having a relationship with a farmer named Charles Fenner. She filed for divorce and Alfred sued Charles for alienation of affection. The divorce became so messy that Carole and her siblings were put in Foster care for a short time.
Left to Right: Carole's brother Lewis, her brother Lawrence, Carole, her mother Clara, her sister Dorothy
1919 newspaper articles about the Ridste divorce
Clara married Charles Fenner in December of 1919 but the marriage only lasted eighteen months, Then she took the children to San Diego, California where she reunited with Alfred. In 1923 the entire family relocated to San Bernardino and moved into a tiny home at 175 Bryant Street. Alfred walked out on Clara leaving her to raise the children alone. They were very poor and Carole's older sister Dorothy often watched her while their mother worked. According to family sources Carole was sexually molested by a relative during her childhood. Tragically in 1925 Carole's ten year old brother Lewis died after he was accidentally shot with gun.
Left to right: Carole's sister-in-law Helen Ridste, her sister Dorothy, her mother Clara, and Carole
A 1932 newspaper article mentioning France Ridste (Carole Landis)
Carole enjoyed playing sports especially baseball and volleyball. She even tried to start an all girl football team! Carole was raised a Catholic and attended church every Sunday. Her philosophy was "Pass the good deed along". In the Fall of 1933 she met twenty year old Irving Kay Wheeler, a civilian conservation corps worker. They eloped on January 14, 1934 in Yuma, Arizona. Because Carole was only fifteen her mother had the marriage annulled and Irving was arrested. In August of 1934 the couple got Alfred Ridste's consent and were married again.
Carole, her first husband Irving Wheeler, and her sister Dorothy in 1933
A 1934 newspaper article about Carole's marriage annulment
Carole and Irving moved into a one room apartment with no refrigerator. After three weeks of marriage she walked out on her husband. She dropped out of school and got a job working at a restaurant where she earned $2 a day plus tips. Carole started saving money so she could move away and become an actress. Years later her father Alfred said "When she was five years old we knew she had unusual talents. Without any professional training whatever she learned to sing an dance beautifully - and we were confident she would achieve her goal to become an actress."
Carole at age three
Carole with her maternal grandparents Francis and Ludvig Sentek
Carole (right) with her sister Dorothy and brother Lawrence