Actress (1919-1948)



Carole Landis was born amidst the revelry marking the new year. She made her debut in the world on Jan. 1, 1919. The place was Fairchild, Wisconsin. Her father was a Norwegian railroad mechanic, Alfred Ridste, and her mother, Clara Stentek Ridste, was Polish.

Her given name was Frances Ridste, but she changed it to Carole Landis when she went to work as a singer and dancer in San Francisco in 1935. She had pulchritude, personality and promise. She also had a husband, Irving Wheeler. They were wed in January of 1934; the marriage was annulled because she was only 15; the persistent duo remarried in February, 1934; they were divorced in 1939.

By then, Landis had played bit parts in several Warner Brothers movies, including some Busby Berkeley flicks. It was in 1939 that her career got chugging at Republic Pictures. She was the heroine in two Three Mesquiteers westerns, one starring John Wayne, and a serial, “Daredevils of the Red Circle.”

Her real start came when she starred, clad in skimpy garb, in a 1940 movie which, when re-made in 1966, marked the dawn of the career of another sex star, Raquel Welch. The film was “One Million B.C.”, the Landis version staged by independent producer Hal Roach.

It was not only her appearance that won her the role, but her agility. She could run. Indeed, in high school, her key interest was athletics, and she had formed a girls’ football team, which the school administration ordered disbanded because the sport was deemed unladylike.

 “Topper Returns” (1941), in which she played the ghost Marian Kirby who flirted with mortal Cosmo Topper, was another Roach production in which she had a starring role. Roach’s studio publicists dubbed her the “ping girl.”

Then came her movies for Fox: “Moon Over Miami” (1942), “I Wake Up Screaming” (1942), “Cadet Girl” (1942), “Dance Hall” (1942), “It Happened in Flatbush” (1943), “My Gal Sal” (1943), “Orchestra Wives” (1943), “Manila Calling” (1943), “Wintertime” (1944), “Secret Command” (1945), and “Having a Wonderful Crime” (1945).

In 1942, she teamed with Martha Raye, Kay Francis and Mitzi Mayfair in a UFO tour of the British isles. Her book, recounting the experience  — “Four Jills in a Jeep”  —  was made by Fox into a 1944 movie, with Landis and her three former cohorts portraying themselves.

Landis was a Hollywood success. Her personal life, however, was a flop. In 1940, she had a whirlwind marriage to Willis Hunt Jr. which lasted from the Fourth of July to Nov. 14 of that year. Her marriage to Thomas C. Wallace likewise had a short run  — from Jan. 5, 1943-July 19, 1945. She married W. Horace Schmidlapp on Dec. 8, 1945, and filed for divorce.

The divorce never went through. Her death interceded.

On the Fourth of July in 1948  — on the day that she would have been celebrating a wedding anniversary, had her second marriage lasted  — she had dinner with actor Rex Harrison. He was a married man with whom she was reportedly having an affair, and the end of that affair was said to be impending. And her film career was on the wane.

The next day, Harrison discovered Landis’ dead body. She died from an overdose of Seconal in her Brentwood Heights, California home.


Copyright 2002, Roger M. Grace