Clark Gable – The King of Hollywood
Referred to as ‘The King of Hollywood’, Gable is best known for his role of Rhett Butler in classic Gone With The Wind. A consistent box office performer, Gable starred in a string of acclaimed hits including It Happened One Night, Mutiny On The Bounty and final screen appearance, The Misfits.
Clark Gable (February 1, 1901 – November 16, 1960) was an iconic American actor, voted King of Hollywood by an adoring public throughout the 1930s and 1940s – Hollywood’s Golden Age.
His most iconic role was that of Rhett Butler in the 1940 epic film, Gone With The Wind, in which he starred with Vivien Leigh. In 1934, he won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in It Happened One Night also starring Claudette Colbert (who won the Academy Award for Best Actress).
Gable was born in Cadiz, Ohio to William Henry (Bill) Gable, an oil well driller, and Adeline Hershelman, both of German descent.
His mother died of an undisclosed illness when he was only ten months old. For a period of time young Clark went to live with relatives before returning to his father’s home. The loss of his mother would be a traumatic event for Gable that shaped much of his adult life.
In April 1903, Gable’s father married Jennie Dunlap. Gable was described as a tall shy child with a loud voice. Jennie played the piano and gave her stepson lessons at home. She encouraged his love for literature and music, while his father strongly encouraged more masculine pursuits for his son. In fact, even after Clark’s rise to stardom his father never fully approved of his career choice.
In 1917, when Gable was in high school, his father experienced financial setbacks and decided to try his hand at farming. He moved the family to Ravenna, Ohio, just outside of Akron. Gable had trouble settling down in the very rural area and despite his father’s insistence that he tend the farm, Gable soon left to work in Akron’s tyre factories.
At seventeen, 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 money. By then, his stepmother Jennie had died and his father had returned to the oil business in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The young Gable toured in stock companies and worked the oil fields drifting from town to town. In Portland, Oregon, where he initially found work-piling logs, he met actress Laura Hope Crews, (who later immortalized the role of Miss Pittypat in Gone With the Wind) who encouraged him to go back to the stage. His acting coach in Oregon was theatre manager Josephine Dillon (17 years his senior) who quickly recognised Gable’s potential and his determination.
In 1924, with Dillon’s financial aid, the two went to Hollywood, where she became his manager and first wife. He found work as an extra in such silent films as The Plastic Age (1925), which starred Clara Bow. However, Gable was not offered any major roles so he returned to the stage where he formed a lifelong friendship with Lionel Barrymore. During the 1927-28 theatre season, Gable acted with the Laskin Brothers Stock Company in Houston, Texas, where he played many roles, gained considerable experience and became a local matinee idol. Gable then moved to New York City where Dillon sought work for him on Broadway, where he received good reviews in Machinal.
The start of the Great Depression caused a shift in American’s attention more towards the newly burgeoning film industry which promised entertainment relief for the hard times that most Americans were experiencing. Clark was drawn to the opportunities of Hollywood, but his first wife, for whom he had been both husband and protégé, was not to be a part of his new life. In 1930, Gable and Dillon were divorced. A few days later, he married Texas socialite Ria Franklin Prentiss Lucas Langham who was also several years his senior. Together, with her two children, they moved back to Hollywood and discovered that the timing for a film career, juxtaposed with the advent of talking pictures, was strongly in Gable’s favour.
In 1930, after his impressive appearance as the seething and desperate character Killer Mears in the play The Last Mile, Gable was offered a contract with MGM, who boasted to have “more stars than there are in heaven.” His first role in a sound picture was as the villain in a low-budget William Boyd western called The Painted Desert (1931).
Gable worked mainly in supporting roles, often as the villain. MGM’s publicity manager Howard Strickland developed Gable’s studio image, playing up his “lumberjack in evening clothes” persona. To bolster his rocketing 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 important movies as A Free Soul (1931), in which he played a gangster who slapped Norma Shearer. Gable made such an impression in the role of a gangster who pushes Shearer around that he was catapulted from supporting player to leading man, a position he held for the rest of his career.
He followed that success with Susan Lenox (1931) starring Greta Garbo, and Possessed (1931), again with Joan Crawford.
After the hit Hold Your Man (1933) with Jean Harlow. An enormously popular combination, on-screen and off-screen, Gable and Harlow made six films together for MGM, the most notable ones being Red Dust (1932) and Saratoga (1937). Harlow died of kidney failure during production of Saratoga. Ninety per cent completed, the remaining scenes were filmed with long shots or doubles; Gable would say that he felt as if he were “in the arms of a ghost.”
In the following years, he acted in a succession of enormously popular pictures, earning him the undisputed title of King of Hollywood in 1938, when Ed Sullivan polled more than 20 million fans in his newspaper column. (Myrna Loy earned the sobriquet Queen of Hollywood.) Throughout most of the 1930s and the early 1940s, he was arguably the world’s most important movie star, although he often felt insecure about his acting ability and instead was in awe of veteran actor Spencer Tracy.
Most famous roles
According to legendary director Frank Capra the story behind the making of It Happened One Night was more comical than the film itself. Based on the short story by Samuel Hopkins Adams called Night Bus its script was shelved for years and finally purchased by the struggling Columbia Pictures for $5,000. Gable, under contract to MGM was on reluctant loan for the picture. Colbert had to be lured from her vacation, but after an inauspicious start the stars went to work.
Gable won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his 1934 performance of the hapless journalist looking for a scoop. (Colbert won for her role as the runaway heiress.) It Happened One Night swept the Oscars in five categories: Best actor, actress, director, best writer, and best picture. It would be 35 years before another picture would garner so many top awards (In the Heat of the Night). Gable returned to MGM a bigger star than ever but his second marriage was over.
Gable also earned an Academy Award nomination when he portrayed Fletcher Christian in 1935’s Mutiny on the Bounty. Gable once said that this was his favourite film, despite the fact that he strongly resisted playing a part that required him to wear knickers, a pigtail, and a shaved face. He also had doubts about how his voice would sound next to the British accents of co-stars Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone.
Gone with the Wind
Despite his reluctance to play the role, Gable is best known for his performance in Gone with the Wind (1939), which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Carole Lombard may have been the first to suggest that he play Rhett (and she play Scarlett) when she bought him a copy of the bestseller, which he refused to read.
Gable was an almost immediate favourite for the role of Rhett Butler with both the public and producer David O. Selznick. But as 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, he was quoted as saying; “Gone With The Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history”.
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” The line is spoken by Rhett Butler (Gable), as his last words to Scarlett O’Hara (Leigh), in response to her tearful question: “Where shall I go? What shall I do?” Scarlett clings to the hope that she can win him back.
The line demonstrates that Rhett has finally given up on Scarlett and their tumultuous relationship. After more than a decade of fruitlessly seeking her love, he no longer cares what happens to her.
This quotation was voted the number one movie line of all time by the American Film Institute in 2005. His famous line caused an uproar since it was in violation of the Production Code in effect at the time.
Marriage to Carole Lombard
Gable’s marriage in 1939 to his third wife, successful actress Carole Lombard, was the happiest period of his personal life. She was particularly noted for her energetic, often off-beat roles in the screwball comedies of the 1930s. She was the highest-paid star in Hollywood in the late 1930s.
They purchased a ranch at Encino, California, where they settled into a domestic routine away from the limelight. Although he called her “ma” and she called him “pa,” their efforts to have a child were unsuccessful.
On January 16, 1942, Lombard, who had just finished her 57th film, To Be or Not to Be, was on a tour to sell war bonds when the twin-engine DC-3 she was traveling in crashed into a mountain near Las Vegas, Nevada, killing all aboard including Lombard’s mother. Gable flew to the site and saw the forest fire ignited by the burning plane. Lombard was declared the first war-related female casualty the U.S. suffered in World War II and Gable received a personal condolence note from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In 1976 a biographical film Gable and Lombard was produced. Based on the romance and consequent marriage of the screenstars, the original music score was composed by Michel Legrand.
World War II
In 1942, following Lombard’s death, Gable joined the U.S. Army Air Forces. Earning the rank of Captain, Gable trained with and accompanied the 351st Heavy Bomb Group as head of a 6-man motion picture unit making a gunnery training film. Gable spent most of the war in the UK at Wetherby and Polebrook. While at RAF Polebrook, England, 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.
Gable’s first movie after World War II was the 1945 production of Adventure, with his co-star Greer Garson. It was a critical and commercial failure despite the famous teaser tagline, “Gable’s back and Garson’s got him.”
He was soon back on top again with Mogambo (1953), directed by John Ford. It was a Technicolor remake of his earlier film Red Dust, in which he co-starred with Grace Kelly and Ava Gardner. It went on to become an even greater success and massive hit.
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 revenues, due primarily to the rising popularity of television. Studio chiefs struggling to cut costs fired many MGM stars, including Greer Garson and Judy Garland. In 1953, Gable refused to renew his contract, and began to work independently. His first two films were Soldier of Fortune and The Tall Men, both profitable though only modest successes. In 1955, Gable married his fifth wife, Kay Spreckels (née Kathleen Williams), a thrice-married former fashion model and actress.
In 1955, he paired with Doris Day in Teacher’s Pet; shot in black in white to better hide his aging face and overweight physique. The film was good enough to bring Gable more film offers, including Run Silent, Run Deep, 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, which he refused. His next two films were for Paramount Pictures: But Not for Me with Carroll Baker and It Started in Naples with Sophia Loren. At 58, Gable finally acknowledged, “Now it’s time I act my age.”
The Misfits is a 1961 American drama film written by Arthur Miller, directed by John Huston, and starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. It marked the last completed film of both Gable and Monroe. For Gable, the film was posthumously released, while Monroe died the following year. The plot centres on a recently divorced woman (Monroe) and her time spent with a cowboy (Gable), his tow truck-driving friend (Wallach) and his rodeo-riding friend (Clift) in the Western Nevada desert in the 1960s. The film was a commercial failure at the time of its release, but received positive critical comments for its script and performances, and is highly regarded today.
Despite on-set difficulties, Gable, Monroe, Clift and Wallach delivered performances that modern critics consider superb. Many critics regard Gable’s performance as his finest, and Gable, after seeing the rough cuts, agreed. Monroe received the 1961 Golden Globe Award as “World Film Favourite” in March 1962, five months before her death. Directors Guild of America nominated Huston as best director.
Gable died in Los Angeles, California, on November 16, 1960, the result of a fourth heart attack. There was much speculation that Gable’s physically demanding Misfits role, which required yanking on and being dragged by horses, contributed to his sudden death soon after filming was completed.
Others have blamed Gable’s crash dieting before filming began. Additionally, Gable was a lifelong smoker.
On March 20, 1961, Kay Gable gave birth to Gable’s son, John Clark Gable, born four months after Gable’s death.
Clark Gable is interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in = Glendale, California, beside Carole Lombard.
Decades after the making of Gone With The Wind, Gable said that whenever his career would start to fade, a re-release of the film would instantly revive it; he continued as a top leading man for the rest of his life.
Gable’s Oscar recently drew a top bid of $607,500 from Steven Spielberg, who promptly donated the statuette to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
In 1999, the American Film Institute named Gable seventh among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time.
Top 5 Films:
The Misfits (1961)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
It Happened One Night (1934)
Teachers Pet (1958)
Red Dust (1932)
Source: Wikipedia, www.legendaryclarkgable.com & www.telegraph.co.uk