Who’s that Man?!
I was 15 years-old the first time I laid eyes on Clark Gable; it was a rainy day and I was homebound and thoroughly bored. I turned on the television hoping to find something good to watch, and there he was…I found myself staring at the television screen as if I were in some type of trance. I was watching the most handsome man I'd ever seen (in all of my 15 years), I was mesmerized. As I continued watching, sort of gazing at this leading man, my mother walked into the living room so I asked "Mom! Who’s that man?!" Then she said something I didn’t expect to hear. Sort of matter-of-factly she said "That’s Clark Gable, he’s dead." While I was shocked by her answer, I later realized she could be casual about it because she had known who Clark Gable was all of her life, but I'd just 'discovered' him. As I turned my attention back to the television screen and watched the rest of the movie (which I later learned was the film "Strange Cargo," a movie made many, many years before I was born), I thought about how lucky all those people were to have lived at the same time as Clark Gable. From that day forward I decided Clark Gable would forever live in movies, and thus I would forever be his fan!
More than a Leading Man
During his career Clark Gable was the embodiment of Hollywood's leading man. Often described as a "Man’s Man"(the type women want to be with, and men want to be like); his classic good looks and characteristic smile made generations of women swoon. But he was more than a handsome face, he was genuine and a genuinely good person. He gave his one and only Oscar (for It Happened One Night) to a child who admired it. He told the child that it was the winning of the statue that mattered, not owning it. Years later, after Gable's death, the Oscar was returned to his family. Gable served in the U.S. Army during World War ll and received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air medal. He also refused to act in any new movies until the war was over; extremely patriotic, Gable was "The American Star" to many movie goers.
On the topic of women he said "I am intrigued by glamorous women…A vain woman is continually taking out a compact to repair her makeup. A glamorous woman knows she doesn’t need to." He also said there were "good qualities in all women" and when asked about his preference, he replied "Types really don’t matter. I have been accused of preferring blondes. But I have known some mighty attractive redheads, brunettes, and yes, women with grey hair. Age, height, weight haven’t anything to do with glamour."
Seemingly unaffected by vanity, in 1958, a 57 year-old Gable said "My days of playing the dashing lover are over…There has been considerable talk about older guys wooing and winning leading ladies half their age…I don’t care for it myself…Actresses that I started out with…have long since quit playing glamour girls and sweet young things. Now it’s time I acted my age…"
Conquering Hollywood – Even with those EARS!
Gable’s first Hollywood screen test was surprisingly a flop. Studio heads from Warner Brother’s Pictures described him as an "Ape" with "Huge floppy taxi-cab ears." Gable himself once said about his ears that the studio required him to tape them back and one day during a scene with Greta Garbo the tape snapped causing one of his ears to flop in the breeze. That, he said, was the end of his ear taping days.
While filming the 1933 movie "Dancing Lady" Gable was hospitalized with an advanced periodontal disease known as pyorrhea. Almost all of the actor's teeth had to be extracted and he was in the hospital for several days. Upon his release, it would take a couple more weeks before he could be fitted with a dental plate and return to work. When he returned to the movie set he came down with a serious infection and had to be hospitalized once again, this time requiring the removal of his gall bladder, and another month off of work. MGM Studio head, Louis B. Mayer, was so upset after Dancing Lady went over budget by $150,000 because of Gable’s time away from the set that he decided to "teach him a lesson" by loaning him to Columbia Pictures. Well, as movie plots go, Mayer's "lesson" backfired; Columbia assigned Gable to star in the 1934 Frank Capra film "It Happened One Night" and Gable won an Oscar for his role as Peter Warne.
"The King of Hollywood" – Frankly Scarlett, He Really Didn't Give a @%#&
The 1931 film "Red Dust" featured Gable as the handsome, red-blooded leading man. His love scene opposite actress Jean Harlow cemented his image as a sex symbol and he became MGM's most important star. A testimony to Gable's star power was the fact that he was still extremely popular, physically attractive, and robust enough to play the same character from Red Dust twenty-one years later in 1953 in the movie "Mogambo."
In 1938, Gable was overwhelmingly chosen as "The King of Hollywood" in an entertainment reader's poll. Years later, he said "This 'King' stuff is pure [B.S.] I eat and sleep and go the bathroom just like everybody else. There's no special light that shines inside me and makes me a star. I'm just a lucky slob from Ohio. I happened to be in the right place at the right time, and I had a lot of smart guys helping me – that’s all."
He was considered for the role of Tarzan in the 1932 movie Tarzan the Ape Man, but was not chosen because he was an unknown actor at the time. He was also said to be the inspiration for the character of "Clark Kent" in the Superman series.
His most famous role is that of Rhett Butler in "Gone with the Wind," and thus it is interesting to note that this was the film that Gable disliked the most. Of his most famous character, he said "The public interest in my playing Rhett puzzled me. I was the only one, apparently, who didn't take it for granted that I would [play Rhett Butler]. I found myself trapped by a series of circumstances over which I had no control…I think I know how a fly must react after being caught in a spider’s web…" He also admitted that he was scared when he found out he had been cast as Butler because he felt that each person who had read the book would have a different opinion as to how the character should be played and he didn’t see any way he could please everyone.
In 1990, he was pictured as Rhett Butler along with his co-star Vivien Leigh as Scarlett on one of four commemorative postage stamps honoring classic films released in 1939. In addition to Gone with the Wind, the other three movies honored were Beau Geste, Stagecoach, and The Wizard of Oz.
A Star's Life
William Clark Gable was born in 1901 and married five times. His most famous and tragic matrimony was to actress Carole Lombard. They wed on March 29, 1939 and three years later she was killed in a plane crash in 1942. After Lombard's death Gable enlisted as a private in the Army Air Corps, he served as a combat cameraman in Britain and rose to the rank of Major.
Gable had two children. A daughter born in 1935; conceived out of wedlock with actress Loretta Young. She hid her pregnancy and had the child in Europe, when she returned to the United States, Young said the child was adopted. Neither she nor Gable ever publicly acknowledged their daughter, Judith Young Lewis and Gable only met her on one occasion. Gable also had a son but unfortunately he would never meet him, John Clark Gable was born four months after his famous father's death.
Clark Gable died on November 16, 1960 of a heart attack; he had just completed filming on the movie "The Misfits" with Marilyn Monroe. Sadly, it was the last picture for both these American icons. Gable once joked that the phrases "Back to silents" or "He was lucky aCredit: MGM Studiosnd he knew it" should be engraved on his tombstone, however, it simply reads "Clark Gable: February 1, 1901 – November 16, 1960."
Who's that Man? He's an American Icon!
Say what you will about the celebrities of today, for me none of them can hold a candle to Clark Gable! While his life wasn't perfect (whose life is), he was the personification of an American hero who never disappointed his fans and regardless of anything in his personal life, his image has never been tarnished. Clark Gabel was more than a leading man!
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Credit: Tyler Perry Productions