As leading comedians of their times, Mae West (1893–1980), Rosalind Russell (1907–1976) and Carole Lombard (1908–1942) continue to reach audiences in very individual ways. Mae West plays with feminine clichés, reversing established gender roles with ambiguous looks and suggestive language. In her roles as a self-confident career woman, Rosalind Russell captivates viewers with her quick-witted repartee while also surprising them with slapstick humor. Carole Lombard convinces audiences through her subtle elegance, sometimes as a spoiled heiress and millionaire, sometimes as an ambitious actress who wants to conquer the stage or screen.
Rainer Rother introduces these three screen legends in separate essays. He reveals how their comedies employed clichés, both playing with them as well as subverting them. West, Russell and Lombard’s memorable performances gave voice to courageous as well as graceful commentary in Hollywood’s golden era.