Year
1942
Month Day
January 16

Actress Carole Lombard killed in plane crash

On January 16, 1942, the actress Carole Lombard, famous for her roles in such screwball comedies as My Man Godfrey and To Be or Not to Be, and for her marriage to the actor Clark Gable, is killed when the TWA DC-3 plane she is traveling in crashes en route from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. She was 33.

Gable and Lombard met in 1932 during the filming of No Man of Her Own. He was just starting out on his trajectory as one of Hollywood’s top leading men and she was a talented comedic actress trying to prove herself in more serious roles. Both were married at the time–Gable to a wealthy Texas widow 10 years his senior and Lombard to the actor William Powell–and neither showed much interest in the other. When they met again, three years later, Lombard had divorced Powell and Gable was separated from his wife, and things proceeded quite differently. Much to the media’s delight, the new couple was open with their affection, calling each other Ma and Pa and exchanging quirky, expensive gifts. In early 1939, Gable’s wife finally granted him a divorce, and he married Lombard that April.

In January 1942, shortly after America’s entrance into World War II, Howard Dietz, the publicity director of the MGM film studio, recruited Lombard for a tour to sell war bonds in her home state of Indiana. Gable, who had been asked to serve as the head of the actors’ branch of the wartime Hollywood Victory Committee, stayed in Los Angeles, where he was set to begin filming Somewhere I’ll Find You with Lana Turner. Dietz advised Lombard to avoid airplane travel, because he feared for its reliability and safety, and she did most of the trip by train, stopping at various locations on the way to Indianapolis and raising some $2 million for the war effort.

On the way home, however, Lombard didn’t want to wait for the train, and instead boarded the TWA DC-3 in Las Vegas with her mother, Elizabeth Peters, and a group that included the MGM publicity agent Otto Winkler and 15 young Army pilots. Shortly after takeoff, the plane veered off course. Warning beacons that might have helped guide the pilot had been blacked out because of fears about Japanese bombers, and the plane smashed into a cliff near the top of Potosi Mountain. Search parties were able to retrieve Lombard’s body, and she was buried next to her mother at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California, under a marker that read “Carole Lombard Gable.”

Hysterical with grief and adrift in the empty house he had shared with Lombard, Gable drank heavily and struggled to complete his work on Somewhere I’ll Find You. He was comforted by worried friends, including the actress Joan Crawford. That August, Gable decided to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Forces. He spent most of the war in the United Kingdom, and flew several combat missions (including one to Germany), earning several decorations for his efforts. He would remarry twice more, but when he died in 1960 Gable was interred at Forest Lawn, next to Lombard.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Shah flees Iran

Faced with an army mutiny and violent demonstrations against his rule, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the leader of Iran since 1941, is forced to flee the country. Fourteen days later, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the Islamic revolution, returned after 15 ...read more

The Persian Gulf War begins

At midnight in Iraq, the United Nations deadline for the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait expires, and the Pentagon prepares to commence offensive operations to forcibly eject Iraq from its five-month occupation of its oil-rich neighbor.  At 4:30 p.m. EST, the first fighter aircraft ...read more

Prohibition is ratified by the states

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes,” is ratified by the requisite number of states on January 16, 1919. The movement for the prohibition of alcohol began in the early ...read more

“Moon Maniac” killer is executed

Albert Fish is executed at Sing Sing prison in New York. The “Moon Maniac” was one of America’s most notorious and disturbed killers. Authorities believe that Fish killed as many as 10 children and then ate their remains. Fish went to the electric chair with great anticipation, ...read more

Soviets send troops into Azerbaijan

In the wake of vicious fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Azerbaijan, the Soviet government sends in 11,000 troops to quell the conflict. The fighting–and the official Soviet reaction to it–was an indication of the increasing ineffectiveness of the central ...read more

Crittenden Compromise is killed in Senate

The Crittenden Compromise, the last chance to keep North and South united, dies in the U.S. Senate. Proposed by Senator John J. Crittenden of Kentucky, the compromise was a series of constitutional amendments. The amendments would continue the old Missouri Compromise provisions ...read more

Bill Cosby’s son murdered along CA interstate

On January 16, 1997, disgraced comedian and TV star Bill Cosby’s 27-year-old son Ennis Cosby is murdered after he stops to fix a flat tire along California’s Interstate 405 in Los Angeles. The 405, which runs some 70 miles from Irvine to San Fernando, is known as one of the ...read more

Hitler descends into his bunker

Adolf Hitler takes to his underground bunker, where he remains for 105 days until he died suicide. Hitler retired to his bunker after deciding to remain in Berlin for the last great siege of the war. Fifty-five feet under the chancellery (Hitler’s headquarters as chancellor), the ...read more