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Homage to Carole Landis

Donald Phelps

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Chiefly known as a B film actress who later played a few supporting roles in A pictures at Fox, Carole Landis (1919-1948) appeared in over fifty films. Almost half of these were uncredited before she achieved some recognition in One Million B.C. (Hal Roach, 1940), in which she and her co-star Victor Mature were both cast by D.W. Griffith (who filmed her screen test). She would work again with Mature at Fox in I Wake Up Screaming (a 1941 noir, also co-starring Betty Grable and Laird Cregar) and My Gal Sal (a musical biopic of 1942, also co-starring Rita Hayworth, in which Mature plays Paul Dresser – the popular 1890s composer and older brother of Theodore Dreiser, who started out working in a carnival). A feminist since her youth who tried to start a girls football team at her Wisconsin high school, Landis was born Frances Lillian Mary Ridste, and chose her first name because of her admiration for Carole Lombard. In 1944, she published Four Jills in a Jeep – a book about her first wartime USO tour, entertaining troops in England and North Africa – and appeared as herself in the Fox film derived from it. Some of her other better-known films, all cited in the following poem, include Turnabout (1940), Topper Returns (1941), Moon Over Miami (1941), It Happened in Flatbush (1942), Orchestra Wives (1942), and It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dog (1948). (Uncited  but also notable is her role in Douglas Sirk’s 1946 A Scandal in Paris.) She died a suicide from an overdose of Seconal, and her body was discovered by Rex Harrison.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum


You entertained
In some negligible
Night spot:
Victor Mature
Struck, perhaps, by
Some glimpse of
That abiding tautness,
He could transmute
The Jenesaisquoi
So his Avon paperbackbred mind
Doubtless formalised it
Into stardom; and so
To a sufficiency
For any girl of spirit
He did; bypassing, however,
That defiant native savvy of yours:
Like an elderly
Nagging relative
Kept whining:
Where’s the map?
Have you for sure
Checked your carfare?
In other words,
Centrifugal panic;
Attempting to evade which,
You fled
Into dissolution:
The permanent comfort station;
Your independence raging,
Which earned you murder.
Laird Cregar:
Your self-elected
Regrettably belated protector,
Was on the right track
But in the wrong calling.
He should
In a way, was
A judge:
Rather like his
Dead Lady
In the calling
Of detective
He judged rightly
As far as it went;
But, alas;
Perceived God
As insufficient audience
For his truth.
Himself, awash
In cheap romance He affected to join
His lady: liebestod
While Victor
The guide to false Maturity
Wound up
In more senses
We might assume
Than one
With Carole’s sister Blonde:
The plump
Betty Grable:
Carole’s partnerblonde
In Moon Over Miami;
Betty’s plump cheeriness
Countered somewhat
By the glimmer
Of reality confronted
That played
Like a more or less
Benign erosion
Over Carole’s face
Noticeably lengthening:
The ivory visor
Of her strong grin
Not quite defying
Rejection? Abandonment?
Yet, not on her own account
The smile
Of the Big Sister:
The sisterhood
Of Blondell
Of Stanwyck
Of Sheridan.
In an era
Of early aging.
She possessed however
A jocose mischief
Maybe, bawdry?
That the studios
Tried to cultivate
In knockabout farces:
Costarring with Blondell
And Roland Young
In Topper Returns:
A watering down
Of Thorne Smith’s
Bawdy spookfests
Smith’s Turnabout:
Where she pretended to
House her husband’s psyche:
Talking from her belly
And shinnying
Up a flagpole.
Tomboy Big Sister!
In Orchestra Wives:
Getting her backside kicked
By Anne Rutherford.


It prepared her derrière
No doubt
For jouncing
In a jeep –
It was hardly
A mere joke;
In World War Two
With three other actresses
Entertained GIs
At the front;
On the radio show
Duffy’s Tavern,
Abe Burrows’
Sandpaper sarcasm
Empowered Landis
In mocking the males
Who jeered
At female
Though, it would seem,
Punctuated her career.


One recalls:
As a honky tonk
Caravan owner,
Discovered Victor Mature
On her then present
Urged, perhaps,
By racial memory
Of how they confronted
Anachronistic dinosaurs
In One Million B.C.
Showperson Landis
Looked askance
At her caller’s
Tar and feather suit;
Moved, perhaps
By the Four Jills spirit
Admitted him to her caravan
His medicine show legacy
A snappy
Checkerboard outfit;
In which
He regaled her audiences
With his doublehanded
Pianistic virtuosity;
That is,
Until Rita Hayworth,
Sophisticated chanteuse
From Manhattan,
At his callow showiness.
(in due course)
he disencumbered himself
of Landis Productions;
which he now
he said
as cheap and flashy.
Affecting successful transition
From flashy dresser
To Paul Dresser:
Having dropped
No doubt
For smoother pronunciation
The inconvenient I;
Having, perhaps,
An adequate supply. While Carole went onward
Probably unobtrusively
In B Minus flicks:
It Happened in Flatbush;
It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dog;
With ageing studio standbys:
Lloyd Nolan
Cesar Romero
Allyn Joslyn:
Steadfast rough and tunmble;
Until whatever appeared
Indefinitely endurable
In resources
Or challenges
Ceased to be:
There on the kitchen floor.


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© Donald Phelps & Rouge July 2007. Cannot be reprinted without permission of the author and editors.
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