Clark Gable (February 1, 1901 – November 16, 1960) was an American film actor, often referred to as “The King of Hollywood” or just simply as “The King”. Gable began his career as a stage actor and appeared as an extra in silent films between 1924 and 1926, and progressed to supporting roles with a few films for MGM in 1931. The next year he landed his first leading Hollywood role and became a leading man in more than 60 motion pictures over the next three decades.
Gable was arguably best known for his role as Rhett Butler in the epic Gone with the Wind (1939), for which he received his third nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actor. He was also nominated for leading roles in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), and he won for It Happened One Night (1934). Gable found further success commercially and critically with films like Red Dust (1932), Manhattan Melodrama (1934), San Francisco (1936), Saratoga (1937) Boom Town (1940), The Hucksters (1947) Homecoming (1948) and The Misfits (1961) which was his final screen appearance.
Gable appeared opposite some of the most popular actresses of the time: Joan Crawford, who was his favorite actress to work with, was partnered with Gable in eight films; Myrna Loy worked with him seven times, and he was paired with Jean Harlow in six productions. He also starred with Lana Turner in four features, and with Norma Shearer and Ava Gardner in three each. Gable’s final film, The Misfits (1961), united him with Marilyn Monroe (also in her last screen appearance). Gable is considered one of the most consistent box-office performers in history, appearing on Quigley Publishing’s annual Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll sixteen times. He was named the seventh greatest male American screen legend by the American Film Institute.
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William Clark Gable was born in Cadiz, Ohio, to William Henry “Will” Gable (1870-1948), an oil-well driller, and his wife, Adeline (née Hershelman; 1869-1901). He was named William after his father, but even in childhood he was almost always called Clark. He was mistakenly listed as a female on his birth certificate. Among Gable’s ancestors were Pennsylvania Dutch (German), African-American, Native American, Rhinelanders and Bavarians, as well as possibly Ashkenazi Naftalites. When he was six months old, his mother had him baptized as a Catholic. She died when he was ten months old, possibly from a brain tumor. Gable’s father refused to raise him as a Catholic, provoking scorn and criticism from his mother’s side of the family. The dispute was resolved when his father’s family agreed to allow Gable to spend time with his uncle, Charles Hershelman, and his wife on their farm in Vernon Township, Pennsylvania.
In April 1903 Gable’s father married Jennie Dunlap (1874-1924), whose family came from the small neighboring town of Hopedale. Will’s marriage to Jennie produced no half brothers or sisters for Clark. Gable was a tall, shy child with a loud voice. After his father purchased some land and built a house, the new family settled in. Jennie played the piano and gave her stepson lessons at home; later he took up brass instruments. She raised Gable to be well-dressed and well-groomed; he stood out from the other kids. Gable was very mechanically inclined and loved to strip down and repair cars with his father. At thirteen he was the only boy in the men’s town band. Even though his father insisted on Gable doing “manly” things, like hunting and hard physical work, Gable loved language. Among trusted company, he would recite Shakespeare, particularly the sonnets. Will Gable did agree to buy a seventy-two volume set of The World’s Greatest Literature to improve his son’s education, but claimed he never saw his son use it. In 1917, when Gable was in high school, his father had financial difficulties. Will decided to settle his debts and try his hand at farming and the family moved to Ravenna, Ohio, near Akron. He had trouble settling down in the area. Despite his father’s insistence that he work the farm, Gable soon left to work in Akron’s B.F. Goodrich tire factory.
At seventeen, Clark Gable was inspired to be an actor after seeing the play The Bird of Paradise, but he was not able to make a real start until he turned 21 and inherited some money. By then his stepmother Jennie had died and his father moved to Tulsa to go back to the oil business. He toured in stock companies as well as working the oil fields and as a horse manager. Gable found work with several second-class theater companies and thus made his way across the Midwest to Seaside, Oregon, working as a logger and to Portland, Oregon, where he then took work as a necktie salesman in the Meier & Frank department store. While there he met Laura Hope Crews, a stage and film actress, who encouraged him to return to the stage and into another theater company. Many years later Crews would play Aunt Pittypat in Gone with the Wind (1939).
His acting coach was a theater manager in Portland named Josephine Dillon, who was 17 years his senior. She paid to have his teeth repaired and his hair styled. She guided him in building up his chronically undernourished body, and taught him better body control and posture. She spent considerable time training his naturally high-pitched voice, which Gable slowly managed to lower, and to gain better resonance and tone. As his speech habits improved, Gable’s facial expressions became more natural and convincing. After the long period of rigorous training, Dillon eventually considered him ready to attempt a film career.
Stage and silent films
In 1924, with Dillon’s financial aid, the two went to Hollywood, where she became his manager–and first wife. He changed his stage name from W. C. Gable to Clark Gable. He found work as an extra in such silent films as Erich von Stroheim’s The Merry Widow (1925), The Plastic Age (1925), which starred Clara Bow, Forbidden Paradise (1924) starring Pola Negri, plus a series of two-reel comedies called The Pacemakers. By coincidence he appeared as an extra in Fox’s The Johnstown Flood (1926) and also appearing as an extra in the film was 17 year old Carole Lombard, but they were not in the same scene. Gable also appeared as a bit player in a series of shorts.
However, he was not offered any major roles in Hollywood and so he returned to the stage. He became lifelong friends with Lionel Barrymore, who in spite of his bawling Gable out for amateurish acting initially, urged Gable to pursue a career on stage. During the 1927-28 theater season, Gable acted with the Laskin Brothers Stock Company in Houston, where he played many roles, gained considerable experience and became a local matinee idol. Gable then moved to New York and Dillon sought work for him on Broadway. He received good reviews in Machinal; “He’s young, vigorous and brutally masculine”, wrote the critic at the Morning Telegraph. The start of the Great Depression and the beginning of talking pictures caused a cancellation of many plays in the 1929-30 season and acting work became harder to gain.
Early success and rising star
In 1930, after his impressive appearance as the seething and desperate character Killer Mears in the Los Angeles stage production of The Last Mile, Gable was offered a contract with MGM. His first role in a sound picture was as the unshaven villain in a low-budget William Boyd western called The Painted Desert (1931). He received a lot of fan mail as a result of his powerful voice and appearance; the studio took notice.
In 1930, Gable and Josephine Dillon were divorced. A few days later, he married Texas socialite Maria Franklin Prentiss Lucas Langham, nicknamed “Ria”. After moving to California, they were married again in 1931, possibly due to differences in state legal requirements. “His ears are too big and he looks like an ape”, said executive Darryl F. Zanuck, then at Warner Bros., about Clark Gable after testing him for the lead in the studio’s gangster drama Little Caesar (1931). The same year, in Night Nurse, Gable played a villainous chauffeur who was gradually starving two adorable little girls to death, then knocked Barbara Stanwyck’s character unconscious with his fist, a supporting role originally slated for James Cagney until the release of The Public Enemy abruptly made Cagney a leading man. After several failed screen tests for Barrymore and Zanuck, Gable was signed in 1930 by MGM’s Irving Thalberg. He became a client of well-connected agent Minna Wallis, sister of producer Hal Wallis and a very close friend of Norma Shearer. Gable’s timing in arriving in Hollywood was excellent, as MGM was looking to expand its stable of male stars and he fitted the bill. Gable first worked mainly in supporting roles, often as the villain. He made two pictures in 1931 with Wallace Beery, a supporting role in The Secret Six, then with his part increasing in size to almost match Beery’s in the naval aviation film Hell Divers. MGM’s publicity manager Howard Strickling developed Gable’s studio image, playing up his he-man experiences and his ‘lumberjack in evening clothes’ persona.
To bolster his increasing popularity, MGM frequently paired him with well-established female stars. Joan Crawford asked for him as her co-star in Dance, Fools, Dance (1931). He built his fame and public visibility in such movies as A Free Soul (1931), in which he played a gangster who shoved the character played by Norma Shearer (Gable never played a supporting role again). The Hollywood Reporter wrote “A star in the making has been made, one that, to our reckoning, will outdraw every other star… Never have we seen audiences work themselves into such enthusiasm as when Clark Gable walks on the screen”. He followed that with Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise) (1931) with Greta Garbo, and Possessed (1931), in which he and Crawford (then married to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) steamed up the screen. Adela Rogers St. Johns later dubbed Gable and Crawford’s real-life relationship as “the affair that nearly burned Hollywood down”. Louis B. Mayer threatened to terminate both their contracts, and for a while they kept apart. Gable shifted his attentions to Marion Davies. On the other hand, Gable and Garbo disliked each other. She thought he was a wooden actor while he considered her a snob.
Gable was considered for the role of Tarzan the Ape Man but lost out to Johnny Weissmuller’s more imposing physique and superior swimming prowess. However, Gable’s unshaven lovemaking with braless Jean Harlow in Red Dust (1932) soon made him MGM’s most important male star. After the hit Hold Your Man (1933), MGM recognized the goldmine of the Gable-Harlow pairing, putting them in two more films, China Seas (1935; with Gable and Harlow billed above Wallace Beery) and Wife vs. Secretary (1936) with Myrna Loy and James Stewart. An enormously popular combination, on-screen and off-screen, Gable and Jean Harlow made six films together, the most notable being Red Dust (1932) and Saratoga (1937). Harlow died during production of Saratoga. Ninety percent completed, the remaining scenes were filmed with long shots or the use of doubles like Mary Dees; Gable would say that he felt as if he was “in the arms of a ghost”.
According to legend, Gable was lent to Columbia Pictures, then considered a second-rate operation, as punishment for refusing roles; however, this has been refuted by more recent biographies. MGM did not have a project ready for Gable and was paying him $2,000 per week, under his contract, to do nothing. Studio head Louis B. Mayer lent him to Columbia for $2,500 per week, making a $500 per week profit.
Gable was not the first choice to play the lead role of Peter Warne in It Happened One Night (1934). Robert Montgomery was originally offered the role, but he felt that the script was poor. Filming began in a tense atmosphere, but both Gable and Frank Capra enjoyed making the movie, although Colbert reportedly did not. Gable and Colbert won the Academy Award for Best Actor and Best Actress for their performances in the film, and the movie itself won the Academy Award for Best Picture. He returned to MGM a bigger star than ever.
Gable received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935).
Spencer Tracy collaborations
Gable made three pictures with Spencer Tracy which boosted Tracy’s career and cemented them in the public mind as a team. San Francisco (1936) featured Tracy in a brief but Oscar-nominated role in which he played a priest who knocks Gable, by then the studio’s foremost leading man, down in a boxing ring. Despite being onscreen for only seventeen minutes, the appearance immediately catapulted Tracy, whose career had floundered for years despite delivering superb performances in quality films, into major stardom in the wake of the picture becoming the year’s biggest box office attraction. Test Pilot (1938) gave Tracy a larger supporting part as the agonizing friend of Gable’s glamorous pilot while Boom Town (1940) depicted an epic rivalry between Gable and Tracy’s characters over Claudette Colbert and their oil businesses. Each pairing was a box office phenomenon. MGM had teamed Tracy with Gable every two years until Tracy finally insisted upon a star billing clause in his contract, ending any further Gable-Tracy collaborations.
Gone with the Wind
Despite his reluctance to play the role, Gable is best known for his performance in Gone with the Wind (1939), for which he gained a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Carole Lombard may have been the first to suggest that he play Rhett Butler (and she play Scarlett) when she bought him a copy of the bestseller, which he refused to read.
Butler’s last line in Gone with the Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” is one of the most famous lines in movie history. Gable was an almost immediate favorite for the role of Rhett with both the public and producer David O. Selznick. But since Selznick had no male stars under long-term contract, he needed to go through the process of negotiating to borrow an actor from another studio. Gary Cooper was Selznick’s first choice. When Cooper turned down the role of Butler, he was quoted as saying, ” Gone with the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history. I’m glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling flat on his nose, not me.” By then, Selznick had become determined to hire Gable, and set about finding a way to borrow him from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Gable was wary of potentially disappointing an audience that had decided that no one else could play the part. He later conceded, “I think I know now how a fly must react after being caught in a spider’s web.”
By all accounts, Gable got along well with his co-stars during filming. Gable was great friends with actress Hattie McDaniel, and he even slipped her a real alcoholic drink during the scene in which they were supposed to be celebrating the birth of Scarlett and Rhett’s daughter. Gable tried to boycott the premiere of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta, Georgia, because the African-American McDaniel was not permitted to attend. He reportedly only went after she pleaded with him to go. Gable remained friends with McDaniel, and he always attended her Hollywood parties, especially when she was raising funds during World War II.
Gable did not want to shed tears for the scene after Rhett inadvertently causes Scarlett to miscarry their second child. Olivia de Havilland made him cry, later commenting, “…Oh, he would not do it. He would not! Victor (Fleming) tried everything with him. He tried to attack him on a professional level. We had done it without him weeping several times and then we had one last try. I said, ‘You can do it, I know you can do it and you will be wonderful…’ Well, by heaven, just before the cameras rolled, you could see the tears come up at his eyes and he played the scene unforgettably well. He put his whole heart into it.”
Decades later, Gable said that whenever his career would start to fade, a re-release of Gone with the Wind would soon revive his popularity, and he continued as a top leading actor for the rest of his life.
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Marriage to Carole Lombard
Gable’s marriage in 1939 to his third wife, actress Carole Lombard (1908-1942), was the happiest period of his personal life. They met while filming 1932’s No Man of Her Own, when Lombard was still married to actor William Powell, but their romance did not take off until 1936. They became reacquainted at a party and soon were inseparable, cited in fan magazines and tabloids as an official couple. Gable thrived being around Lombard’s youthful, charming, and frank personality, once stating, “You can trust that little screwball with your life or your hopes or your weaknesses, and she wouldn’t even know how to think about letting you down.” Lombard, for her part, seemed to gain personal stability and a contented home life that she had previously lacked. She taught herself how to hunt and fish and accompanied Gable on trips with his hunting companions.
But Gable, who was still legally married, prolonged a lengthy and expensive divorce from his second wife Ria Langham. His salary from Gone with the Wind enabled him to reach a divorce settlement with Langham, however, on March 7, 1939. On March 29, during a production break on Gone with the Wind, Gable and Lombard were married in Kingman, Arizona. They purchased a ranch previously owned by director Raoul Walsh in Encino, California and made it their home. They raised chickens, horses, and had a menagerie of cats and dogs.
On January 16, 1942, Lombard was a passenger on Trans-World Airlines Flight 3 with her mother and press agent Otto Winkler. She had just finished her 57th movie, To Be or Not to Be, and was on her way home from a successful war bond selling tour when the flight’s DC-3 airliner crashed into a mountain near Las Vegas, Nevada, killing all 22 passengers aboard, including 15 servicemen en route to training in California. Gable flew to the crash site to claim the bodies of his wife, mother-in-law, and Winkler, who had been the best man at Gable’s and Lombard’s wedding. Lombard was declared to be the first war-related American female casualty of World War II, and Gable received a personal condolence note from President Roosevelt. The Civil Aeronautics Board investigation into the crash concluded that pilot error was its cause.
Gable returned to his and Lombard’s Encino ranch and carried out her funeral wishes as she had requested in her will. A month later he returned to the studio to work with Lana Turner in the movie Somewhere I’ll Find You. Having lost twenty pounds since the tragedy, it was evident that Gable was emotionally and physically devastated by it. But Turner stated that Gable remained a professional for the duration of filming. He would act in 27 more films and remarry twice more. “But he was never the same,” said Esther Williams. “He had been devastated by Carole’s death.”
World War II
- For details of Gable’s combat missions, see RAF Polebrook
In 1942, following Lombard’s death, Gable joined the U.S. Army Air Forces. Lombard had suggested that Gable enlist as part of the war effort, but MGM was reluctant to let him go, and he resisted the suggestion. Gable made a public statement after Lombard’s death that prompted the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces Henry H. “Hap” Arnold to offer Gable a “special assignment” in aerial gunnery. Gable had earlier expressed an interest in officer candidate school (OCS), but he enlisted on August 12, 1942, with the intention of becoming an enlisted aerial gunner on a bomber. MGM arranged for his studio friend, the cinematographer Andrew McIntyre, to enlist with him and accompany him through training.
However, shortly after his enlistment, he and McIntyre were sent to Miami Beach, Florida, where they entered USAAF OCS Class 42-E on August 17, 1942. Both completed training on October 28, 1942, commissioned as second lieutenant. His class of about 2,600 fellow students (of which he ranked about 700th in class standing) selected Gable as its graduation speaker, at which General Arnold presented the cadets with their commissions. Arnold then informed Gable of his special assignment: to make a recruiting film in combat with the Eighth Air Force to recruit aerial gunners. Gable and McIntyre were immediately sent to Flexible Gunnery School at Tyndall Field, Florida, followed by a photography course at Fort George Wright, Washington State and promoted to first lieutenants upon his completion.
Gable reported to Biggs Army Air Base on January 27, 1943, to train with and accompany the 351st Bomb Group to England as head of a six-man motion picture unit. In addition to McIntyre, he recruited the screenwriter John Lee Mahin; camera operators Sgts. Mario Toti and Robert Boles; and the sound man Lt. Howard Voss to complete his crew. Gable was promoted to captain while he was with the 351st Bomb Group at Pueblo Army Air Base, Colorado, a rank commensurate with his position as a unit commander. (As first lieutenants, he and McIntyre had equal seniority.)
Gable spent most of 1943 in England at RAF Polebrook with the 351st Bomb Group. Gable flew five combat missions, including one to Germany, as an observer-gunner in B-17 Flying Fortresses between May 4 and September 23, 1943, earning the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts. During one of the missions, Gable’s aircraft was damaged by flak and attacked by fighters, which knocked out one of the engines and shot up the stabilizer. In the raid on Germany, one crewman was killed and two others were wounded, and flak went through Gable’s boot and narrowly missed his head. When word of this reached MGM, studio executives began to badger the Army Air Forces to reassign its most valuable screen actor to noncombat duty. In November 1943, Gable returned to the United States to edit his film, only to find that the personnel shortage of aerial gunners had already been rectified. He was allowed to complete the film anyway, joining the First Motion Picture Unit in Hollywood, California.
In May 1944, Gable was promoted to major. He hoped for another combat assignment but, when the invasion of Normandy came and went in June without any further orders, Gable was relieved from active duty as a major on June 12, 1944 at his request, since he was over-age for combat. His discharge papers were signed by Captain (later U.S. President) Ronald Reagan. Gable completed editing of the film Combat America in September 1944, giving the narration himself and making use of numerous interviews with enlisted gunners as focus of the film. Because his motion picture production schedule made it impossible for him to fulfill Reserve officer duties, he resigned his commission on September 26, 1947, a week after the Air Force became an independent service branch.
Adolf Hitler favored Gable above all other actors. During World War II, Hitler offered a sizable reward to anyone who could capture and bring Gable to him unscathed.
Gable’s military awards were the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal. He also qualified for and received aerial gunner wings.
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After World War II
Immediately after his discharge from the service, Gable returned to his ranch and rested. He resumed a pre-war relationship with Virginia Grey and dated other starlets. He introduced his golf caddie Robert Wagner to MGM casting. Gable’s first movie after World War II was Adventure (1945), with his ill-matched co-star Greer Garson. It was a critical and commercial failure despite the famous teaser tagline “Gable’s back and Garson’s got him”.
After Joan Crawford’s third divorce, she and Gable resumed their affair and lived together for a brief time. Gable was acclaimed for his performance in The Hucksters (1947), a satire of post-war Madison Avenue corruption and immorality. A very public and brief romance with Paulette Goddard occurred after that. In 1949, Gable married Sylvia Ashley, a British divorcée and the widow of Douglas Fairbanks. The relationship was profoundly unsuccessful; they divorced in 1952. Soon followed Never Let Me Go (1953), opposite Gene Tierney. Tierney was a favorite of Gable and he was very disappointed when she was replaced in Mogambo (because of her mental health problems) by Grace Kelly. Mogambo (1953), directed by John Ford, was a somewhat sanitized remake of his earlier Pre-Code film Red Dust (1932), with Jean Harlow and Mary Astor, which had been a greater success. Gable’s on-location affair with Grace Kelly (1929-1982), who was young enough to be his daughter, gradually ended after filming was completed.
Gable became increasingly unhappy with what he considered mediocre roles offered him by MGM, while the studio regarded his salary as excessive. Studio head Louis B. Mayer was fired in 1951 amid slumping Hollywood production and revenue, due primarily to the rising popularity of television. Studio chiefs struggled to cut costs. Many MGM stars were fired or their contracts were not renewed, including Greer Garson and Judy Garland. In 1953, Gable refused to renew his contract, and began to work independently. His first two films in this new situation were Soldier of Fortune and The Tall Men (both 1955), which were profitable, although only modest successes. In 1955, Gable married his fifth wife, Kay Spreckels (née Kathleen Williams), a thrice-married former fashion model and actress who had previously been married to sugar-refining heir Adolph B. Spreckels Jr. Gable became stepfather to her son Bunker Spreckels who went on to live a notorious celebrity lifestyle in the late 1960s and early 1970s surfing scene, ultimately leading to his early death in 1977.
In 1955, Gable formed a production company with Jane Russell and her husband Bob Waterfield, and they produced The King and Four Queens (1956), Gable’s only production. He found producing and acting to be too taxing on his health, and he was beginning to manifest a noticeable tremor, particularly in long takes. His next project was Band of Angels (1957), with relative newcomer Sidney Poitier and Yvonne De Carlo; it was a total disaster. Newsweek said, “Here is a movie so bad that it must be seen to be disbelieved.” Next he paired with Doris Day in Teacher’s Pet (1958), shot in black and white to better hide his aging face and overweight body. The film was good enough to bring Gable more movie offers, including Run Silent, Run Deep (also 1958), with co-star and producer Burt Lancaster, which featured his first on-screen death since 1937, and which garnered good reviews. Gable started to receive television offers but rejected them outright. At 57, Gable finally acknowledged, “Now it’s time I acted my age”. His next two films were light comedies for Paramount: But Not for Me (1959) with Carroll Baker and It Started in Naples (1960) with Sophia Loren. The last one, despite an icy critical reception, was a good box office success and was nominated for an Academy award and two Golden Globes. Filmed mostly on location in Italy, it was Gable’s last film released in color.
Gable’s last film was The Misfits (1961), with a script by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston. Co-starring with Gable were Marilyn Monroe, her last completed film; Montgomery Clift; Eli Wallach; and Thelma Ritter. Many critics regard Gable’s performance to be his finest, and Gable, after seeing the rough cuts, agreed.
Portraitist Al Hirschfeld created a drawing, and then a lithograph, portraying the film’s stars Clift, Monroe, and Gable with screenwriter Miller, in what is suggested as a typical “on-the-set” scene during the troubled production. Throughout his life, Gable was fond of the work of artist Reinhold Palenske, and they were close friends.
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Gable was politically conservative, though he never publicly spoke about politics. His third wife, Carole Lombard, was an activist liberal Democrat, and she cajoled him into supporting Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. In 1944, he became an early member of the conservative Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, alongside Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, and other conservative actors and filmmakers. In February 1952, he attended a televised rally in New York where he enthusiastically urged General Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for President. This was when Eisenhower was still being sought by both parties as their candidate. Despite having suffered a severe coronary thrombosis, Gable still managed to vote by mail in the 1960 presidential election.
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Two children and other family members
Clark Gable had a daughter, Judy, the result of his affair with the actress Loretta Young that began on the set of The Call of the Wild (1935) in 1934. In an elaborate scheme, Young took an extended vacation and went to Europe to hide the fact that she was pregnant. After several months, she came back to the United States, and she gave birth to their daughter in Venice, California. Gable had spent much of the pregnancy out of the country, but was in New York City when he received an unsigned telegram that said, “The baby was born, she is beautiful, and has blonde hair.” Young and her mother both denied sending the telegram, but Loretta believed that Carter Hermann (her sister Polly’s husband, who was also Judy’s godfather) had sent it.
Nineteen months after the birth, Young claimed to have adopted Judy. The girl grew up resembling Gable very much, including having large ears that stuck out. She went by the name Judy Lewis after Ms. Young married Tom Lewis when Judy was four years old. According to Lewis, Gable visited her home once, when she was fifteen, asked about her life, and kissed her on her forehead upon leaving. He did not tell her that he was her biological father. Neither Gable nor Young would ever publicly acknowledge their daughter’s real parentage, but many people in Hollywood and in the general public believed that Gable was her father because of their very strong resemblance and the timing of her birth.
Lewis finally confronted her mother about her true parentage when she was thirty-one years old and Gable had been dead for five years. Loretta promptly threw up and confirmed that she was her biological mother and Gable was her father. Young never publicly acknowledged the fact while she was alive, which she said would be admitting to a “venial sin”. However, she finally gave her biographer permission to include it, on the condition that the book not be published until after her death. She died on August 12, 2000, at the age of 87 of ovarian cancer. Judy Lewis, Gable’s only child born while he was alive, died on November 25, 2011, of cancer.
In 1955 Gable married Kay Williams, who had a son by him on March 20, 1961, after Gable’s death.
In September 2012, Clark James Gable (born September 20, 1988, Gable’s grandson and the son of John Clark Gable) became the host of the nationally syndicated reality show Cheaters. Actress Kayley Gable (born in 1986), is the granddaughter of Clark Gable. Her son, Ocean Clark Gable, was born January 1, 2015.
Gable died at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital on November 16, 1960, from a coronary thrombosis, ten days after suffering a severe heart attack at age 59. There was speculation that Gable’s physically demanding role in The Misfits contributed to his sudden death soon after filming was completed. In an interview with Louella Parsons, published soon after Gable’s death, Kay Gable said, “It wasn’t the physical exertion that killed him. It was the horrible tension, the eternal waiting, waiting, waiting. He waited around forever, for everybody. He’d get so angry that he’d just go ahead and do anything to keep occupied.” Monroe said that she and Kay had become close during the filming and would refer to Clark as “Our Man”, while Arthur Miller, observing Gable on location, noted that “no hint of affront ever showed on his face”. Others have blamed Gable’s crash diet before filming began. The 6 ft 1 in (185 cm) Gable weighed about 190 pounds (86 kg) at the time of Gone with the Wind, but by his late 50s, he weighed 230 pounds (104 kg). To get in shape for The Misfits, he dropped to 195 pounds (88 kg).
On March 20, 1961, Kay Williams (Gable) gave birth to Gable’s only son, John Clark Gable, at the same hospital in which Gable had died four months earlier. Marilyn Monroe attended his son’s Christening.
Gable is interred in The Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California beside his third wife, Carole Lombard.
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Style and reception
In a photo essay of Hollywood film stars, Life magazine called Gable, “All man… and then some.”
Doris Day summed up Gable’s unique personality: “He was as masculine as any man I’ve ever known, and as much a little boy as a grown man could be – it was this combination that had such a devastating effect on women.”
Longtime friend, eight time co-star and on-again, off-again romance Joan Crawford concurred, stating on David Frost’s TV show in 1970 that “he was a king wherever he went. He walked like one, he behaved like one, and he was the most masculine man that I have ever met in my life.”
Robert Taylor said Gable “was a great, great guy and certainly one of the great stars of all times, if not the greatest. I think that I sincerely doubt that there will ever be another like Clark Gable; he was one of a kind.”
In his memoir Bring on the Empty Horses David Niven states that Gable, a close friend, was extremely supportive after the sudden, accidental death of Niven’s first wife, Primula (Primmie) in 1946. Primmie had supported Gable emotionally after Carole Lombard’s death four years earlier: Niven recounts Gable kneeling at Primmie’s feet and sobbing while she held and consoled him. Niven also states that Arthur Miller, the author of The Misfits, had described Gable as “the man who did not know how to hate”.
Gable has been criticized for altering critical aspects of a script when he felt that the script would not fit in with his image. Screenwriter Larry Gelbart, as quoted by James Garner once stated that Gable, “…would not go down with the submarine, (referring to Run Silent, Run Deep, where the movie ended differently from the book on which it was based) because Gable doesn’t sink.”
Eli Wallach, in his autobiography, also states that Wallach’s most dramatic scene in The Misfits was cut from the movie after it had been filmed over several takes. This scene depicts Wallach’s character (who secretly loves the character played by Marilyn Monroe), being emotionally crushed when he visits her, hoping to propose to her, and instead sees her with Gable’s character. Both Gable and Monroe are offscreen, and Wallach’s heartbreak is indicated by his dropping the rose bouquet he had brought for her. Gable ordered the scene removed because he felt that his character would never steal a woman from another man. Wallach, however, refrains from criticizing Gable, noting that he was professional and considerate in his behavior.
In popular culture
Warner Bros. cartoons sometimes caricatured Gable. Examples include Have You Got Any Castles? (in which his face appears seven times from inside the novel The House of the Seven Gables), The Coo-Coo Nut Grove (in which his ears flap on their own), Hollywood Steps Out (in which he follows an enigmatic woman), and Cats Don’t Dance in which he appears on a billboard promotion for Gone with the Wind.
In 2003 on the album: Give Up, The Postal Service released a song titled “Clark Gable”. The song mentions he wants love like something in the movies, and uses the line “I kissed you in a style Clark Gable would have admired, I thought it classic” and describes a Gable-like romance.
In the film Broadway Melody of 1938, Judy Garland (aged 15) sings “You Made Me Love You” while looking at a composite picture of Gable. The opening lines are: “Dear Mr. Gable, I am writing this to you, and I hope that you will read it so you’ll know, my heart beats like a hammer, and I stutter and I stammer, every time I see you at the picture show, I guess I’m just another fan of yours, and I thought I’d write and tell you so. You made me love you, I didn’t want to do it, I didn’t want to do it…”
In the film Captain Ron, the Harvey boat was said to be owned by Clark Gable.
Bugs Bunny’s nonchalant carrot-chewing standing position, as explained by Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng, and Bob Clampett, originated in a scene in the film It Happened One Night, in which Clark Gable’s character leans against a fence, eating carrots rapidly and talking with his mouth full to Claudette Colbert’s character. This scene was well known while the film was popular, and viewers at the time likely recognized Bugs Bunny’s behavior as satire.
Gable was mentioned along with Cary Grant and Tyrone Power by Etta Candy in a 1977 Hollywood-themed episode of Wonder Woman.
Gable is mentioned in the lyrics, “Between our quests we sequin vests/And impersonate Clark Gable,” in the musical number, “Knights of the Round Table,” from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Gable has been portrayed in films by James Brolin in Gable and Lombard (1976), Larry Pennell in Marilyn: The Untold Story (1980), Edward Winter in Moviola: The Scarlett O’Hara War (1980), Boyd Holister in Grace Kelly (1983), Gary Wayne in Malice in Wonderland (1985), Gene Daily in The Rocketeer (1991), Bruce Hughes and Shayne Greenman in Blonde (2001), Charles Unwin in Lucy (2003), and Kyle MacLahlan in “Touch of Pink” (2004).
Gable, along with Ava Gardner appeared on the cover of Robin Gibb’s second album How Old Are You? (1983).
In the classic Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever, Edith Keeler suggests that she and Kirk see the latest Clark Gable movie. This is unlikely, as Gable had not yet become a big star in 1930 (when the episode is set).
- Essoe, Gabe (1970). The Films of Clark Gable. Secaucus: The Cidadel Press. ISBN 978-0806500119.
- Harris, Warren G. (2002). Clark Gable: A Biography. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 978-0609604953.
- Lewis, Judy (1994). Uncommon Knowledge. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0671700195.
- Spicer, Chrystopher J. (2002). Clark Gable: Biography, Filmography, Bibliography. Jefferson: McFarland & Company. ISBN 978-0786411245.
- Tornabene, Lyn (1976). Long Live The King: A Biography of Clark Gable. New York: Putnam. ISBN 978-0399118630.