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Carole Landis

in Topper Returns (1941)
Born Frances Lillian Mary Ridste
January 1, 1919(1919-01-01)
Fairchild, Wisconsin, U.S.
Died July 5, 1948 (aged 29)
Pacific Palisades, California, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1937–1948
Spouse(s) Irving Wheeler (1934 annulled; 1934–1939 divorced)
Willis Hunt Jr. (1940 divorced)
Thomas C. Wallace
(1943–1945) (divorced)
W. Horace Schmidlapp
(1945–1948) (her death)

Carole Landis (January 1, 1919 – July 5, 1948) was an American film and stage actress whose break-through role was as the female lead in the 1940 film One Million B.C.. Landis has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,[1] at 1765 Vine Street.


Early life and family

Landis was born Frances Lillian Mary Ridste in Fairchild, Wisconsin. Her mother was a Polish farmer's daughter.[2] A Time magazine article published the month of her death identifies her father as a "drifting railroad mechanic"[2]; according to a 2005 biography, the mother was married to Norwegian Alfred Ridste, who abandoned the family before Carole was born, and it was Charles Fenner, her mothers's second husband, who most likely was Carole's biological father.[3] Carole was the youngest of five children, two of whom died in childhood.

In January 1934, 15-year-old Landis married her 19-year-old neighbor, Irving Wheeler, but the marriage was annulled in February 1934. They later remarried on August 25, 1934. Wheeler named Busby Berkeley in an alienation of affections lawsuit in 1938 involving Landis,[3] and they divorced in 1939.


Early years

Landis dropped out of high school at age 15 and set forth on a career path to show business. She started out as a hula dancer in a San Francisco nightclub and later sang with a dance band.[2]. She dyed her hair blonde and changed her name to "Carole Landis" after her favorite actress, Carole Lombard. After saving $100 she moved to Hollywood.[2]

Film career

Her 1937 film debut was as an extra in A Star Is Born; she also appeared in various horse operas.[2] She posed for hundreds of cheesecake photographs.[2] She continued appearing in bit parts until 1940 when Hal Roach cast her as a cave girl in One Million B.C.. The movie was a sensation and turned Carole into a star. A press agent nicknamed her "The Ping Girl" (because "she makes you purr").[2]

Carole Landis at Armed Forces Radio Studio, ca.1940s

Landis appeared in a string of successful films in the early forties, usually as the second female lead. In a time when the singing of many actresses was dubbed in, Landis's own voice was considered good enough and was used in her few musical roles. Landis landed a contract with 20th Century Fox and began a sexual relationship with Darryl F. Zanuck. She had roles playing opposite fellow pin-up girl Betty Grable in Moon Over Miami and I Wake Up Screaming, both in 1941. When Carole ended her relationship with Zanuck, her career suffered and she was assigned roles in B-movies.

USO Tours

In 1942, she toured with comedienne Martha Raye, dancer Mitzi Mayfair and actress Kay Francis with a USO troupe in England and North Africa. Two years later, she entertained soldiers in the South Pacific with Jack Benny. Landis traveled more than 100,000 miles during the war and spent more time visiting troops than any other actress. Landis became a popular pin-up with servicemen during World War II.


In 1945 she starred on Broadway in the musical A Lady Says Yes with Jacqueline Susann, with whom she reportedly had an affair[4]. Susann purportedly based the character Jennifer North in her book Valley of the Dolls on Landis.


Landis wrote several newspaper and magazine articles about her experiences during the war, including the 1944 book Four Jills in a Jeep, which was later made into a movie, costarring Kay Francis, Martha Raye, and Mitzi Mayfair. She also wrote the foreword to Victor Herman's cartoon book Winnie the WAC.

Personal life

Busby Berkeley, director-choreographer, proposed to her in June 1939, but later broke it off. In 1940 she married yacht broker Willis Hunt Jr., a man she called "sarcastic" and left after two months.[2] Two years later, she met an Army Air Corps captain named Thomas Wallace in London, and married him in a church ceremony; they divorced a couple of years later.[2]

She nearly died from amoebic dysentery and malaria she contracted while traveling overseas while entertaining American troops.

In 1945, Landis married Broadway producer W. Horace Schmidlapp. By 1948, her career was in decline and her marriage with Schmidlapp was collapsing. She entered into a romance with actor Rex Harrison, who was married to actress Lilli Palmer at the time. Landis was reportedly crushed when Harrison refused to divorce his wife for her; unable to cope any longer, she committed suicide at her Pacific Palisades home by taking an overdose of Seconal.[5] [6] She had spent her final night alive with Harrison. The next afternoon, he and the maid discovered her on the bathroom floor. Harrison called a doctor and the police.[7] According to some sources, Landis left two suicide notes, one for her mother and the second for Harrison who instructed his lawyers to destroy it.[8] During a coroner's inquest, Harrison denied knowing any motive for her suicide and told the coroner he did not know of the existence of a second suicide note.[9]

Carole Landis was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California in plot 814 of the "Everlasting Love" section. Among the celebrities at her funeral were Cesar Romero, Van Johnson, and Pat O'Brien.[10] Harrison attended with his wife.[2]

Selected filmography

Year Film Role Notes
1937 A Star Is Born Girl in beret at Santa Anita bar Uncredited
A Day at the Races Dance Extra
Fly Away Baby Blonde at Airport
The Emperor's Candlesticks Bit
Broadway Melody of 1938 Dancer
Varsity Show Student
Hollywood Hotel Hat Check Girl with Coat
1938 The Invisible Menace Woman wanting to go with her Johnnie
A Slight Case of Murder Partygoer Leaning on Piano During Song
Gold Diggers in Paris Golddigger Alternative title: The Gay Impostors
Four's a Crowd Myrtle, Lansford's 2nd Secretary
1939 Three Texas Steers Nancy Evans Alternative title: Danger Rides the Range
Daredevils of the Red Circle Blanche Granville
1940 One Million B.C. Loana
Turnabout Sally Willows
1941 Topper Returns Ann Carrington
Moon Over Miami Barbara Latimer, aka Miss Sears
I Wake Up Screaming Vicky Lynn Alternative title: Hot Spot
1942 My Gal Sal Mae Collins
Orchestra Wives Natalie Mercer
1943 Wintertime Flossie Fouchere
Show Business at War Herself
1946 A Scandal in Paris Loretta de Richet Alternative title: Thieves' Holiday
1947 Out of the Blue Mae Earthleigh
1948 Noose Linda Medbury Alternative title: The Silk Noose
Brass Monkey Kay Sheldon Alternative title: Lucky Mascot


  1. ^ Carole Landis from the Hollywood Walk of Fame website
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Casually in Hollywood". Time. July 19, 1948.,8816,798846,00.html. Retrieved 2009-12-19. 
  3. ^ a b Fleming, E.J. (2005). Carole Landis: A Tragic Life in Hollywood. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland and Co. ISBN 978-0-7864-2200-5, p. 49
  4. ^ Nicholas Wapshott (1991) Rex Harrison, p. 111
  5. ^ Parish, James Robert (2002). The Hollywood Book of Death: The Bizarre, Often Sordid, Passings of More Than 125 American Movie and TV Idols (3 ed.). Contemporary Books. pp. 315. ISBN 0-809-22227-2. 
  6. ^ Gans, Eric Lawrence (2008). "The Good Die Young (1948)". Carole Landis: A Most Beautiful Girl. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 197–199. ISBN 9781604730135.,M1. Retrieved 13 June 2009. 
  7. ^ Mosby, Aline (July 06, 1948). "Carole Landis Mystery Death Clues Hunted". Oakland Tribune. p. 1. 
  8. ^ Gans, Eric Lawrence (2008). Carole Landis: A Most Beautiful Girl. Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 190. ISBN 1-604-73013-7. 
  9. ^ Actor Rex Harrison answering questions from coroner Ira Nance at inquiry on Carol Landis' suicide, a July 1948 Los Angeles Times photograph from the UCLA Charles E. Young Research Library website
  10. ^ Mosby, Aline (July 11, 1948). "Scores Attend Funeral of Carole Landis". Oakland Tribune. p. 1. 

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