What We Talk About When We Talk About Carole Landis

tumblr_matz261yzH1qh0yodo1_500Originally, Carole Landis was going to be the second installment of Sexy Rexy’s Wretches, but she really deserves her own What We Talk About post.

So poor Carole Landis, right? She hits it big in 1940 with One Million B.C., sings so well Fox lets her do it on film, co-stars in one of the best early noirs, I Wake Up Screaming, and has an affair with Darryl Zanuck. Everything’s really great! She’s called “The Ping Girl,” because she “makes you pur.” I don’t know what that means either. Publicists were crazy back in the day!

Then she breaks up with Zanuck and finds herself relegated to awful movies. Okay, fine, she picks herself up and goes on a USO tour with Martha Raye, Kay Francis, and Mitzi Mayfair. Then she writes a book about it that becomes the movie Four Jills in a Jeep, starring all four ladies. Not too bad, right?

An engagement with Busby Berkley falls through (probably for the best), three marriages fall apart, she can’t have children, and maybe the only bright spot (questionable!) is appearing in a Broadway musical (and maybe having an affair!) with Jackie Susann, who allegedly based Jennifer North in Valley of the Dolls on Landis.

Then she meets Rex Harrison—married to Lilli Palmer, by the way. They fall in love but Harrison won’t divorce Palmer. So Landis does what any self-respecting blonde starlet whose career is slipping and whose married lover won’t leave his wife would do: She takes an overdose of Seconal.

This is where things get strange. Harrison apparently found Landis’ body, but didn’t call the police or an ambulance for hours. And though Landis allegedly left two notes, one for her mother and one for Harrison, the latter was destroyed sometime over the course of that day.

Both Harrison and Palmer attended Landis’ funeral. As Palmer wrote in her excellent memoir Change Lobsters and Dance, “What does one wear to the funeral of one’s husband’s mistress?”

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