During World War II, one of the most tireless Hollywood entertainers on the circuit was Carole Landis. A contract player for Twentieth Century Fox, she was dubbed with the name, “The Ping Girl” in the early 1940’s. Although Carole had contracts with both Warner and Fox, she was never able to capture a lead role that would propel her to true Hollywood stardom.
Frances Lillian Mary Ridste was born on New Years Day, 1919 in Fairchild, Wisconsin. Her father deserted the family when Frances was quite young and her mother moved her and her siblings to California. Born with a natural beauty, young Frances won many beauty contests before trying to make a break in Hollywood. Her beauty was never taken for granted however, and even as a girl had more feminist leanings. She was very interested in sports and even tried to start and all-girl football team while still in school.
After she completed high school, Frances and her husband, Irving Wheeler went to San Francisco so that she could take a job as a nightclub dancer and band singer. Using the self-coined stage name of Carole Landis, her naturally warm and rich vocals paired with her stunning looks enabled her to land extra parts in Hollywood. In 1937, she won a contract with Warner Brother’s, but she was only given bit parts in well known films such as A Star is Born, A Day At The Races and The Broadway Melody of 1938. This trend continued throughout 1939, until she was approached by Hal Roach to appear in the lead of his 1940 cavemen epic, One Million B.C. Carole was chosen for the part because of her athletic abilities. It was also at this time that her nickname of “The Ping Girl” was coined by Frank Seltzer, a publicist for Roach. Apparently it was short for “purring” and Carole protested strongly and publicly against it; a two-page article of her protest appeared in Life magazine.
Her career seemed to be on a definite upswing and Carole was given a contract to Twentieth Century Fox. There she was featured in a host of films, frequently as a second female lead. She appeared in two films with Betty Grable, Moon Over Miami and I Wake Up Screaming and as the second female character in the Rita Hayworth film, My Gal Sal. She spent much of 1943 entertaining troops overseas and her tireless devotion rendered her weak from amoebic dysentery, malaria, and near-fatal pneumonia. It was during her time entertaining the troops that she wrote a book of her experiences entitled, “Four Jills In A Jeep, The Rolliking Adventures Of Four Hollywood Stars Who Entertained The Troops In Bermuda, England, & Africa,” which was later made in the 1944 film, Four Fills In A Jeep, which Carole starred alongside Martha Raye, Mitzi Mayfair and Kay Francis, along with a host of other performers such as Carmen Miranda and Betty Grable. Critics unfairly dismissed the film as being “self-praise.” Within only two years, and three more films, Fox dropped her contract. Her professional and personal lives seemed to be in a tailspin. Her flailing fourth marriage to Horace Schmidlapp, her illnesses and her lack of a contract made Carole’s future prospects very grim. She was rendered to playing in B films such as Out of the Blue, noose and Brass Monkey.
On July 5, 1948, Carole Landis was found dead in her Brentwood Hills home, a victim of a sleeping pill overdose. The previous evening, she had dined with Rex Harrison, whom she’d been having an affair. Apparently, with the impending end of her affair with Harrison, Carole took her own life. A gorgeous woman, talented actress and wonderful songstress, Carole Landis was dead at the age of 29.
Original biography ©Dawn Marie, bombshells.com, 2002