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 Irving Wheeler, a nineteen year old writer. 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 on August 25. 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.
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.