by Tom Castaldi
Jane Alice Peters became one of America’s favorite movie stars in the 1930s as Carole Lombard. She was born in Fort Wayne in 1908 and spent the first six years of her life in the shingle-style house on Rockhill Street (built in ca. 1905). Her grandfather was John Clouse Peters, one of the founders of the Horton Washing Machine Company, and her mother, “Bess” Knight, was a vivacious and strong actress descended from “Gentleman Jim” Chaney, an associate of the notorious robber baron of the 1880s, Jay Gould.
Jane Alice fondly remembered her young days in Fort Wayne, attending the Washington Elementary School a few blocks to the south and playing rough games with her brothers, “Fritz” and “Tootie.” She remembered most vividly, however, the great Flood of 1913 when, under the direction of her mother, Bess, her house became a rescue center for flood victims, among other reasons, because the family had one of the only telephones in the area. Jane Alice remembered helping her mother collect supplies, run errands, and help care for those displaced by the rising waters.
Jane Alice and her mother left Fort Wayne in 1914, eventually settling in Hollywood. At age 12, she made her film debut and by 1924 was a glamorous actress for Fox Studios.
She changed her name to Carole Lombard, in recollection of an old family friend, Harry Lombard, a one-legged relative from Fort Wayne living in California. Her dynamic Hollywood career was highlighted by roles in Mack Sennett films, steamy romances, marriage to William Powell, exotic parties, outstanding comedy roles in major movies opposite the best actors in the business, and, finally, marriage to Clark Gable.
Carole Lombard died in a plane crash on January 16, 1942, while promoting a war bond drive soon after the beginning of World War II.
Side Bar--Older Historical Marker Text:
In this house on October 6, 1908 was born Jane Alice Peters, daughter of Fredrick C. and Elizabeth Knight Peters. She took the professional name of Carole Lombard and became one of the most important figures in the motion picture industry.
Erected by the City of Fort Wayne, Indiana, under the direction of Mayor Harry W. Baals, January 1, 1938 on the occasion of her appearance in David O. Selznick’s Technicolor production, “Nothing Sacred.”
From Fort Wayne Magazine, “Along the Heritage Trail with Tom Castaldi” – May June 2004 No. 6, p. 80