Clark Gable The King of Hollywood

The King of Hollywood

An Ape?

"His ears are too big and he looks like an ape." So said Warner Bros. executive Darryl F. Zanuck about Clark Gable after a screen test. Some ape. Clark Gable was to become an Academy Award-winning American film actor and one of the biggest Movie Stars in history.

Throughout the Hollywood and Movie industry, Gable, since the height of his career and, even today, has been called "The King of Hollywood." And with good reason.

Early Years

He was born William Clark Gable on February 1, 1901 in Cadiz, Ohio to Adeline and William H. Gable. When he was growing up, he was known as Billy Gable.

Clark at sixteen years old
Clark at sixteen years old

Against his father's wishes, Clark dropped out of High School in his third year, to work in a tire factory in Akron, Ohio. It was during this time that Clark fell in love with the theatre. He saw a production of "The Bird of Paradise" at the local playhouse and was so taken that he obtained an unsalaried position as a backstage call boy with the company.

His father came down hard on him because he despised the acting profession. He felt that he was wasting time and he took him to Oklahoma to work with him in the oil fields. Clark hated the work and when, on his twenty-first birthday he received a small inheritance from his grandfather, he took the money and struck out on his own in search of his acting dream. His father was so angry and disappointed that he didn't speak to Clark for nearly ten years.

Gable in the 20's
Gable in the 20's

Early Career

After three fruitless years drifting from job to job he joined a theatre company in Portland, organized by an established ex-Broadway actress, Josephine Dillon, who became his acting coach. Even though Clark was not considered dashing and good-looking back then, she saw something special in him and took it upon herself to groom him for stardom. Not long after, at theage of twenty-three he headed off to Hollywood with thirty-seven year old Josephine where on December 13, 1924 they were married. Gable later claimed it was a marriage of convenience and never consummated.

Gable made his first film appearance in 1924 as an extra in a silent film starring Pola Negri called "Forbidden Paradise." He changed his name to Clark Gable in 1925 and he continued to do extra work in silent films and well as stage roles.

Due to his size and ruggedness, Clark was constantly overlooked for leading roles. He became disenchanted with Hollywood, and Josephine, so he separated from her and in 1928 headed for the Broadway stages of New York.

Clark and Ria in 1930
Clark and Ria in 1930

His Career takes off

Soon Clark's luck began to turn. There became a demand for rugged leading men and Clark was there to answer the call. While on tour in Houston with a theatre company, he met wealthy socialite Mrs. Ria Langham. Although she was seventeen years his senior, the two became constant companions. She picked up where Josephine left off by smoothing out his rough edges and introducing him to influencial social crowds.

He and Ria married on March 30th just days after his divorce from Josephine was finalized. Clark ,also, got his first big break starring in the Los Angeles stage production of "The Last Mile" . In additon to gaining praise from the critics he also caught the eyes of many studio casting directors. Hollywood was looking and listening for new talent. Silent films were on their way out making way for the "talkies". Many Silent Screen matinee idols were cursed with deadly voices, thereby sealing their fate in cinema.

In December, 1930 he was signed a two-year contract with MGM at $350 a week. In his dozen films released in 1931, he went from being unknown to a star. That same year, he stole the show in "A Free Soul," by slapping and pushing the star, Norma Shearer. It was actually a sequence suggested by Shearer's husband, MGM boss Irving Thalberg, in order to turn the audience against him. It did exactly the opposite. As Shearer recalled, "It was Clark who made villains popular. Instead of the audience wanting the good guy to get the girl, they wanted the heavy to win her." The next year, he became MGM's most important star after he played opposite Jean Harlow in "Red Dust."

With the exceptions of some occasional loan outs to other studios, he remained under contract at MGM studios for the next twenty-three years.

Clip from It Happened One Night

Clark Gable - Puttin on the Ritz

An Oscar and Superstardom

In 1934, when he refused to play another 'heavy' role, he was "disciplined" by the studio and farmed out to Columbia for a Frank Capra comedy originally entitled, "Night Bus." The film became the classic "It Happened One Night" and much to MGM's surprise, and Clark's delight, the film was a box office hit and received the top five Academy Awards for 1934, including Best Actor for Gable and best actress for Claudette Colbert. The film was enormously popular. When Clark Gable took off his shirt, revealing his bare chest, undershirt sales plummeted.

MGM never loaned him out to another studio again. The typecasting was broken and he was now being offered a wider range of parts. He was nominated for another Oscar for his role as "Fletcher Christian" in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935). Prior to the release of this film, the Gables went on a cross-country personal appearance tour. Women rioted in every city in which he appeared. Clark lost handkerchiefs, ties, cuff links, even his watch, when fans mobbed him. Surprised by this reaction, he stated, "This power over women that I'm supposed to have was never noticed when I was on Broadway. I don't know when I got it. And by God, I can't explain it."

In November 1935, Clark and his wife, Ria, announced an "amicable separation" and he permanently moved into the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. During this time he had an affair with actress Loretta Young while filming "Call Of The Wild". Their affair produced a daughter that both he and Young never publicly recognized as their own.

On January 25, 1936, he met his former co-star, Carole Lombard, at a formal Hollywood society party. They started to date and they soon fell in love with each other. They became the most popular couple in Hollywood.

Clark's own popularity was not only expressed by his fans, but also by the popular catch-phrase, "Who do you think you are, Clark Gable?" In a poll of entertainment readers, he was overwhelming selected "King of Hollywood" and was officially crowned by columnist Ed Sullivan in 1938.

Clark Gable Factfile

  • Real Name: William Clark Gable
  • Date of birth: February 1, 1901
  • Place of birth: Cadiz, Ohio
  • Date of death: November 16, 1960
  • Place of death: Los Angeles, California
  • Cause of death: Heart attack
  • Spouses:
  • Kay Spreckels (11 July 1955 - 16 November 1960) (his death)
  • Sylvia Ashley (20 December 1949 - 21 April 1952) (divorced)
  • Carole Lombard (29 March 1939 - 16 January 1942) (her death)
  • Ria Langham (19 June 1931 - 4 March 1939) (divorced)
  • Josephine Dillon (13 December 1924 - 1 April 1930) (divorced)
  • Children:
  • John Clark Gable born after his father's death on March 20, 1961.
  • Judy Lewis is Gable's illegitimate daughter by actress Loretta Young. She was born November 6, 1935.
  • Notable roles Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind (1939)

  • Nicknames: Gabe, The King
  • Salary for Gone With the Wind: $120,000
  • Height: 6'1"
  • Quotes:
  • On his acting ability: "I worked like a son of a bitch to learn a few tricks and I fight like a steer to avoid getting stuck with parts I can't play."
  • "The only reason they come to see me is that I know that life is great -- and they know I know it."
  • David O. Selznick: "Oh, Gable has enemies all right, but they all like him!"
  • A former girlfriend: "Of course, Clark never really married anyone. A number of women married him; he just went along for the gag."

More Reading on Clark Gable

Clark Gable: A Biography
Clark Gable: A Biography

By the early 1920s, Clark Gable had found his road to the big time: women. The author pulls no punches in describing how the man who would become the "King" used rich women, including his first two wives, to reach his celebrity status.

 
Clark Gable, in Pictures: Candid Images of the Actor's Life
Clark Gable, in Pictures: Candid Images of the Actor's Life

From the very beginning of Clark Gable's screen career, the life of the glamorous film star came under the scrutiny of the camera. While audiences are familiar with the public Gable as seen through the studio lens, the private Gable as seen in candid photos taken by members of the public, friends, and family is much less well known.

 

Gone With the Wind Clip - Frankly, My Dear

As Rhett Butler
As Rhett Butler
Happy with Carole
Happy with Carole

Gone With the Wind and a Happy Marriage

The film version of Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" was eagerly awaited and Gable was the public's first and only choice for the lead role of Rhett Butler. Clark was initially reluctant but eventually accepted the part and went on to give one of the most memorable performances of his career. When he spoke his closing line, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," he introduced swearing to the screen. His performance earned him another Oscar nomination. With each subsequent re-release of the film, Gable gained more fans (and the film earned more at the box office, with a recent total at nearly $200,000,000).

Clark and Ria Gable were divorced in March 1939. Clark married Carole in a private ceremony in Kingman, Arizona on March 29, 1939, while he had a few days off during the filming of "Gone With the Wind." Powerful newspaper columnist, Louella Parsons, hailed the marriage as "a match made in Heaven." It was the first time that he married for love. He had met his match with Carole and was truly happy.

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. Her death, declared the first war-related female casualty the U.S. suffered during World War II, was the worst loss her husband ever endured. Gable lived out his life at the couple's Encino home, made 27 more movies, and married twice more. "But he was never the same

Clark Gable with 8th AF in Britain 1943
Clark Gable with 8th AF in Britain 1943

Two marriages and a Death

In 1942, following Lombard's death, Gable joined the U.S. Army Air Forces. As Captain Clark Gable, he trained with and accompanied the 351st Heavy Bomb Group as head of a 6-man motion picture unit making a gunnery training film. 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. Adolf Hitler esteemed Gable above all other actors, and during the Second World War, offered a sizable reward to anyone who could capture and bring Gable unscathed to him. He left the Army Air Forces with the rank of major.

Gable became increasingly unhappy with what he considered mediocre roles offered him by MGM, while the studio regarded his salary as excessive. In 1953, he refused to renew his contract, and began to work independently. But his subsequent films did not do well at the box office.

Gable's last film was The Misfits, written by Arthur Miller, directed by John Huston, and co-starring Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. This was also the final film completed by Monroe. Many critics regard Gable's performance to be his finest.

In 1949, Clark married Sylvia Ashley, a British divorcée and the widow of Douglas Fairbanks. The relationship was profoundly unsuccessful; they divorced in 1952.

Gable's fifth wife, whom he married in 1955 after an on-again, off-again affair spanning thirteen years, was Kay Spreckels (full name Kathleen Williams Capps de Alzaga Spreckels), a thrice-married former fashion model and stock actress.

He died in Los Angeles, California in November 1960, the result of a fourth heart attack. He had been in poor health from years of heavy smoking (three packs a day over thirty years) and drinking (he liked whiskey), and in the previous decade, had suffered two seizures which may have been heart attacks.

With Carole Lombard and After

The Incomparable Clark Gable
The Incomparable Clark Gable | Source

Summary

Clark Gable had an amazing career that spanned thirty years in which he made a total of sixty-seven films. He was the true King of Hollywood, a magnificent actor, and a true charismatic presence. Even today, almost half a century after his death, his name lives on. Truly one of the Hollywood Greats.

The Signature Collection

Clark Gable - The Signature Collection (Dancing Lady / China Seas / San Francisco / Wife vs. Secretary / Boom Town / Mogambo)
Clark Gable - The Signature Collection (Dancing Lady / China Seas / San Francisco / Wife vs. Secretary / Boom Town / Mogambo)

Except for late entry Mogambo from 1953, these titles are from Gable's magnificent peak - from 1933 to 1940.

So the Signature Collection is a topnotch collection of "The King" in all his glory. It's also a look at just how good the Hollywood studio system (in this case, MGM) was in its great years.

 

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Comments 3 comments

Princessa profile image

Princessa 8 years ago from France

Loved the hub. Despite "Gone with the wind" being one of my favorite movies ever, I didn't know much about Clark. I enjoyed reading this!


km6ln profile image

km6ln 6 years ago from Los Angeles

No question, along with Humphrey Bogart, one of my favorite actors. I would have loved meeting him, alas, he died a few hours before I was born.


hugheshhrs profile image

hugheshhrs 5 years ago from originally the USA, now Malaysia

Like you, I am an old movies fiend, with a gigantic collection of old and not-so-old movies. You have written a lot of hubs, all on movies, I assume. I intend to do the same, but much shorter ones than yours. I wonder, after all of those hubs, are you making any significant money from them and how long did it take to start coming?

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