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Carole Lombard and the

Mystery of Flight 3

by Robert Matzen

ISBN: 978-0-9885025-1-2

January 2014; clothbound, with dust jacket
400 pages; 16 pages of rare photos; now in second printing

WINNER: 2015 Benjamin Franklin Gold Award as Biography of the Year

Click to order from Amazon: Hardcover  Kindle  Audiobook CD  Audible download

Upcoming appearance by Robert Matzen:

  • Please stay tuned for future author appearances.

Praise for Fireball:

Air & Space Smithsonian calls Fireball "Absorbing" in the March 2014 issue

"Matzen provides an intriguing mixture of biography and history as he relates not only the story of Lombard’s life, but those of the other passengers on Flight 3, as well as the curious elements of the plane crash. Narrator Gilbert delivers a skillful performance that will keep listeners engaged throughout."

Publishers Weekly
Review of the Fireball audiobook as performed by Tavia Gilbert

"Matzen’s page-turning narrative on the fascinating drama of Carole Lombard’s ill-fated journey back home from a successful War Bond tour combines the best of Hollywood biography, America during the tense, uncertain early days of its involvement in World War II, traveling by air in the 1940s, and a Sherlock Holmes-type detective story not unraveled until now. Fireball is a page-turner in every respect, with the added benefit of being thoroughly researched and documented. A must-read!"

James V. D'Arc
Author, When Hollywood Came to Town; co-author, Lone Pine in the Movies
Curator, Motion Picture Archives, Brigham Young University

"Reading Fireball is like sitting through a classic, edge-of-your-seat film noir. The construction is so cinematic in a Sunset Blvd.-like flashback style that it's easy to envision what a great motion picture this compelling book would make."

Dick Dinman
DVD Classics Corner on the Air and

"I don't know if I've been brought to tears as many times reading a book as I have this one... I'm glad I know what happened, and that I now understand the true impact of the crash, but that knowledge haunts me and I'm sure it always will."

"As a piece of investigative reporting, it's awe-inspiring, and it's also a damn good dual biography."

Scott Eyman
Author of Lion of Hollywood: The Life and Legend of Louis B. Mayer
and the newly released John Wayne: The Life and Legend
Read Mr. Eyman's recent Fireball review at

Fantastic job of research, served up as a real page-turner. It would make a great movie."

Lou Lumenick
Chief Film Critic
New York Post

The Story

At 5:00 A.M. on January 16, 1942, actress Carole Lombard, Hollywood's "Queen of Screwball" and the wife of the king of the movies, Clark Gable, stepped onto a Transcontinental & Western Airlines DC-3, designated as Flight 3 in Indianapolis, Indiana with her mother, Elizabeth Peters, and MGM publicity man Otto Winkler. Lombard had just completed the first sale of war bonds and stamps in the nation following its entry into World War II. Exhausted from five days on the road, Carole intended to return to her husband and Encino, California home and by the fastest means possible. Fourteen hours later, Flight 3 lay a flaming pile of debris strewn across the side of Potosi Mountain, Nevada.

Fireball provides a fresh look at Carole Lombard's life, and presents a first-ever examination of the events that led to that final flight and her death. The book also provides a day-by-day look at the struggles of Clark Gable and Lombard's family, friends, and fans, to cope with the tragedy. Lombard became the first Hollywood star to sacrifice her life in World War II. The War Department offered Gable a funeral service with full military honors but he refused it knowing that his wife would not approve of such spectacle. 

But Fireball goes much further and explores the lives of the 21 others on the plane, including 15 members of the U.S. Army Air Corps, and addresses one of the most enduring mysteries of World War II: On a clear night full of stars, with TWA's most experienced pilot at the controls of a 10-month-old aircraft under the power of two fully functioning engines, why did Flight 3 crash into that Nevada mountainside?

Author Robert Matzen dug deep into never-before-explored corners of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences Library to offer fresh new perspectives on Carole Lombard, “the Queen of Screwball.” He also explored 2,000 pages of federal government and TWA records on the crash and spoke to friends of Carole Lombard and Clark Gable as well as crash experts and family members of the passengers on Flight 3 to tell not one but 22 heartbreaking stories, one for each of the souls aboard the doomed airliner.

The gripping page-turner Fireball presents the story of the people on the plane, the friends and families left behind, and the heroic first responders who struggled up a mountain hoping to perform a miracle rescue. From the first page to the last, Fireball tells a story of accomplishment, bravery, sacrifice, and loss. 

Order an author-signed copy
at the $26.95 cover price


Story Within a Story

Life magazine sent photographer Myron Davis on the road to capture Lombard's day of bondselling for an uplifting photo essay. Davis made 32 negatives on January 15, 1942 and returned to Chicago to process the film...only to receive the call that Lombard was dead. Life subsequently killed his story and used only one of the photos in its obituary of the actress. A few others made newswires or surfaced for high-quality reproduction while the rest remained in a trunk for 70 years and have never been seen. GoodKnight Books acquired the entire group from Myron Davis's estate, and many of these fascinating photos will be published for the first time in Fireball. All photos chosen for print have never been seen and offer a glimpse of Lombard's hectic last full day of life. The above photo showing Carole raising an American flag (the flag that had flown over the U.S. Capitol on December 8, 1941 as FDR declared war on the Axis powers) is part of the Davis group and one of the photos that was sent out over newswires. At far right stands Otto Winkler, Clark Gable's publicity man who was killed on Flight 3 along with Carole and her mother, Elizabeth "Petey" Peters. At far left is Will Hays the "film censor," and at the microphone is Indiana Governor Henry F. Schricker.

About the Author

Robert Matzen is a former NASA contractor with 10 years' experience in communications related to aeronautics research. But then, Robert wrote the book on research. Literally. He broke into print straight out of college with the mass-market paperback, Research Made Easy: a Guide for Students and Writers for Bantam Books, where his editor was the New York publishing-world legend, Toni Burbank. Since then Robert has written  bestsellers and edited the bestselling books of other authors. His sixth book, Fireball, has risen as high as number two on the Amazon bestseller list for biographies. His fifth, Errol & Olivia: Ego & Obsession in Golden Era Hollywood topped three bestseller lists and earned a Benjamin Franklin Finalist Award as well as finalist recognition in both the USA Book Awards and ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year competitions. Visit Robert's blog.

Robert's earlier books about Hollywood history included Carole Lombard: a Bio-Bibliography (Greenwood Press) and Errol Flynn Slept Here, which was co-written with Michael Mazzone. Robert appeared as an on-camera expert regarding Lombard on the BBC2 television documentary, Living Famously: Clark Gable, and has appeared as an expert concerning Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland on radio for BBC4 and in print for periodicals including the New York Post and Palm Beach Post.

Robert is also a filmmaker whose work has achieved national broadcast and won awards including a New York Festivals Gold Medal, American Association of Museums Muse Award, and many others. His 2001 historical documentary, When the Forest Ran Red, is recognized as the classic interpretation of the French and Indian War in America—the war that launched the career of George Washington. Robert’s work in film and video includes many programs for NASA where he collaborated with the Astronaut Office and many NASA senior leaders on videos for NASA events,, and NASA Television.