Carole Lombard author to share star’s story More than 70 years after Fort Wayne native’s death in 1941 plane crash, new details continue to emerge
The author of a book on famous actress Carole Lombard’s life and tragic 1942 death will have new details to share when he speaks Sunday during the first event in the 2014-2015 George R. Mather Lecture Series at the History Center.
Some of that new information will go into an upcoming revised edition of his book “Fireball: Carole Lombard & the Mystery of Flight 3” (GoodKnight Books, $26.95), which was published Jan. 16, author Robert Matzen said during a recent phone interview.
The director of the Carole Lombard Archive Foundation in Dallas also will be at the lecture to display items from its collection, including the black lace scarf Lombard wore at a war bond rally in Indianapolis the night before she died and the portrait of her that her husband, Clark Gable, always hung in his movie studio dressing room.
Mather Series lectures focus on local history, and Lombard was born here as Jane Alice on Oct. 6, 1908, in a large home near the corner of Rockhill and Main streets in Fort Wayne. The home is now a private residence, but the owners will open it to the public for a free tour at 4 p.m. Sunday after Matzen’s lecture.
Jane Peters’ family was wealthy. But when Jane was age 5 or 6, her father suffered a brain injury at work, causing periodic fits of rage, Matzen said previously. Jane Peters’ mother left him and moved Jane and her two brothers to California, where Jane became involved in acting and later changed her name to Carole Lombard.
Lombard became a major film star whose movies still play today on classic movie channels, Matzen said. Her romance with movie star Clark Gable also remains one of the great Hollywood love stories.
Lombard was flying from Indianapolis to California on Jan. 16, 1942, when the plane carrying her, her mother and 20 others slammed into a mountain southwest of Las Vegas, killing all aboard. Lombard was 33.
Matzen, who spent 18 months researching and writing the book, believes the co-pilot filed the wrong flight plan, which sent them toward the mountain where the plane crashed.
Since the book was published, he was able to get access to the FBI files on the crash.
“There really weren’t any smoking guns in there,” he said.
The most interesting thing in the file was that spherical objects, which later came to be called Unidentified Flying Objects, or UFOs, reportedly were seen on Lombard’s plane’s flight path a few days before her trip and also on the night of the fatal flight, Matzen said.
Some other interesting finds:
* Lombard had dinner the night of the flight with Nellie Simmons Meier, a famous palm reader who lived in Indianapolis. Meier reportedly told Lombard not to take the plane, but to go home by train, as originally had been planned.
* Lombard’s paternal grandfather was a co-founder of the Horton Washing Machine Co.
* Lombard’s mother came from the wealthy Knight family, and her parents were married in Lombard’s Knight grandparents’ mansion on the northeast corner of what is now Spy Run and Tennessee avenues. The building now provides long-term housing and recovery programs for men trying to overcome alcohol and drug addictions.
* Lombard kept her religious beliefs private, but numerous documents show she joined the Baha’i faith in 1938, Matzen said. Founded in the mid-1800s, the Baha’i faith teaches there is one God and that all humanity “will achieve its spiritual and social maturity and live as one family in a just, global society,” according to www.bahai.us. <br>
<center> Lombard lecture </center><br>
WHAT: Robert Matzen, author of the book “Fireball: Carole Lombard & the Mystery of Flight 3” will speak about her life as the first of this year’s Mather Lecture Series presentations. The Carole Lombard Archive Foundation also will present a display of Lombard’s from its collection.
WHEN: 2 p.m. Sunday
WHERE: The History Center, 302 E. Berry St.