Carole Landis was one of the most popular stars of the 1940's but unfortunately today she is mostly remembered for her tragic death. She was born Frances Lillian Ridste on January 1, 1919, in Fairchild, Wisconsin. Carole was the youngest of five children. Tragically her brother Jerome had died in 1917 after accidentally being burned with boiling water. Carole's family moved to Montana and her parents divorced. Her mother Clara married a farmer named Charles Fenner but the marriage didn't last. In 1923 Clara moved the family to San Bernardino, California and reunited with Carole's father Alfred Ridste. Soon after Alfred abandoned the family. Clara had to work several jobs and the children were often left alone. Carole formed a close bond with her older sister Dorothy. In 1925 tragedy struck when their brother Lewis was accidentally shot and killed.
At the age of nine Carole attended a talent show with her mother. During the show Carole impulsively ran up on stage and sang. She became obsessed with show business and told her family she was going to be a movie star. Carole developed into a very attractive teenager and began winning local beauty contests. She was smart and popular but she hated school. Her first boyfriend was twenty-year old Irving Wheeler. On January 14, 1934 they eloped in Yuma, Arizona. When her mother found out she had the marriage annulled. Carole got permission from her father and the couple remarried in August. After living together for a few weeks she realized she was not ready to be a wife and walked out on Irving. Carole dropped out of high school and got a job at a movie theater. In 1935 she decided to go to San Francisco to pursue a singing career.
She worked as a hula dancer and landed a job singing at a local nightclub. Later there would be rumors that she had worked as prostitute while in San Francisco. There is no truth to these rumors and she always had a steady paycheck coming in when she lived there. Carole enjoyed being a singer but her real dream was to be a movie star. In the Fall of 1936 she moved to Hollywood. She appeared as an extra in movies like A Star Is Born and A Day At The Races. Carole met forty-one year old choreographer Busby Berkeley at an audition. They started a romance and he helped her get a contract at Warner Brothers. Carole was now making a name for herself in Hollywood and her picture started appearing in magazines. Her estranged husband Irving Wheeler took advantage of her new fame by suing Busby for $250,000 for "alienation of affection". He lost the case in court and Carole officially divorced him. In 1938 Busby broke up with Carole and Warner Brothers dropped her contract.
Carole married Willis Hunt, a wealthy yacht salesman, on July 4, 1940. The marriage lasted only four months. After their split she enjoyed romances with Franchot Tone, Charlie Chaplin, and art director Cedric Gibbons. Carole was offered a lucrative contract with 20th Century Fox in December 1940. She began having a sexual relationship with the studio's president Darryl Zanuck. Carole costarred with Betty Grable in Moon Over Miami and with Cesar Romero in Dance Hall. She dated George Montgomery, her costar in Cadet Girl, and was engaged to screenwriter Gene Markey. When she stopped giving in to Darryl Zanuck's sexual demands her career suffered. Although she was an established star Carole was given supporting roles in movies like Orchestra Wives and Wintertime. During World War 2 she devoted most of her time to entertaining the troops. In 1942 she went on five month U.S.O. tour with Kay Francis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair. They traveled to Africa and England where they performed hundreds of shows for the soldiers.
On January 5, 1943 she married Air Force pilot Tommy Wallace. Carole wrote a book based on her experiences during the war called Four Jills In A Jeep. The book was made into a movie in 1944 and Carole played herself. Sadly Carole suffered from depression and was hospitalized in May 1944 after a suicide attempt. During the summer of 1944 she went on a two month U.S.O. tour of the South Pacific with Jack Benny. While overseas she suffered numerous illnesses and nearly died from pneumonia. By the end of 1944 her marriage to Tommy was over and her career was in trouble. She was cast in low budget movies like Behind Green Lights. In January 1945 Carole starred on Broadway in the musical A Lady Says Yes. She became romantically involved with her female costar, Jacqueline Susann. A Lady Says Yes was not a success and it closed after only eighty-seven performances. One bright spot in her career was the 1946 drama A Scandal In Paris. It was a hit and her performance got rave reviews.
Carole married Broadway producer Horace Schmidlapp on December 8, 1945. The couple divided her time between Hollywood and New York City. Carole loved children and wanted desperately to become a mother. Unfortunately she suffered from endometriosis and was unable to get pregnant. She considered adopting a baby but her marriage to Horace was rocky. In October 1946 she lost her contract with 20th Century Fox and attempted suicide again. Carole began having an affair with married actor Rex Harrison in early 1947. That fall she went to England to make two films. Rex followed her there and the relationship got serious. She filed for divorce from her husband in March 1948 but Rex refused to file for divorce from his wife. On July 4, 1948 Carole had dinner with Rex. During the evening he ended their affair. Carole was heartbroken and committed suicide by taking an overdose of Seconal. She was just twenty-nine years old.
Rex discovered her body on the bathroom floor the next morning. Instead of calling for help he immediately left the house. Carole was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. After a brief investigation her death was officially ruled a suicide. Although Rex Harrison was never charged with any crime many people believe that he lied to the police about what really happened that night. Carole Landis was a talented actress who was never given the chance to become a superstar. She was a beautiful woman who spent her life searching for true love. Her efforts to entertain the troops earned her the respect of the soldiers and her kindness made her one of the most beloved stars in Hollywood. Carole still has many fans all over the world who will never forget her.