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Clark Gable. King of the Movies

Updated on July 13, 2013

King of the Movies

Source

Gable's First Wife,Josephine Dillon 1924-1930

Gable's Second Wife, Ria Langham

Clark Gable's Early Years

The beginning of the 30's saw the arrival of a new type of screen hero, sporting a distinctly tougher and more earthy image than the 20's Rudolph Valentino. Warner Bros., had Cagney and Robinson, but MGM had Clark Gable! He epitomized the American ideal of masculinity and virility for tree decades.

Born in 1901 in Cadiz Ohio, at 17 he was inspired to become an actor, but did not begin to make any serious moves toward his ambition until he was 21. He found a few theater companies and began taking several small parts across the Midwest and Portland where he temporarily took work as a salesman in a 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 Gable's most famous film, Gone With the Wind in 1939.

His acting coach was the theater manager in Portland named Josephine Dillon, who was 14 years his senior. She paid to have his teeth repaired and his hair styled. She also guided him in building up his somewhat slender body, and taught him how to carry himself. She spent considerable time trying to train his voice, and as his speech habits improved, Gable's facial expressions became more natural and convincing. Dillon eventually considered him ready to attempt a career in Hollywood.

In 1924, the couple went to Hollywood where she became his manager and wife. He changed his stage name from W. C. Gable to Clark Gable, and instantly found work as an extra working with Clara Bow, Carole Lombard, John Barrymore, and numerous other silent movie greats. Gable also appeared as a bit player in a series of shorts, and was dong quite well, however, he was not offered any major roles and at the urging of Lionel Barrymore, he returned to the stage.

During the 1927–28 theater season, Gable was very busy playing numerous roles and gaining considerable experience, while at the same time becoming a local matinee idol.

Gable moved to New York and Dillon sought work for him on the Broadway stage. He received good reviews for his performances and much praise for being "brutally masculine, strong and believable". The start of the Depression and the beginning of talking pictures caused many cancellations of plays and acting work became harder to get.

Gable's Third Wife, Carole Lombard

Virginia Grey

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Clark Gables Fourth Wife, Lady Sylvia Ashley

1949-1952
1949-1952

Fifth Wife, Kay Spreckles

1955-1960
1955-1960

Gone With The Wind

Gable was back in Hollywood playing a variety of roles in a large number of relatively poor quality films. He specialized in down-to-earth characters, especially gamblers and gangsters, but also played lawyers, reporters, and even a minister in Polly Of The Circus in 1932.

But he was at his best in roles which provided him with suitably snappy dialogue and required him to be hard boiled but likeable. As with Cagney, he often mistreated his on-screen girlfriends, but ended up paying a high price. In A Free Soul in 1931, for example, he slapped Norma Shearer, around but was himself bumped off by the male lead Leslie Howard. He and Dillon divorced in 1931 and married Ria who was 17 years his senior, shortly after.

Gable was on a role, being teamed with Joan Crawford twice and Jean Harlow three times in the early 30s. After It Happened One Night in 1934, Gable was a super star. His career was flying high, and his personal life was happy. The only event that caused any turmoil was the birth of his daughter Judy Lewis to Loretta Young that was concealed from the public for decades.

Gone With The Wind was the biggest best seller of all time, and there was talk about making it into a movie. Gable was the first choice as Rhett Butler, but he was not interested, he was also having an affair with Carole Lombard and in the middle of a major mess with his wife, Ria. Louis B. Mayer stepped in offering to pay off Ria Gable and help Clark move on to a comfortable life with Carole Lombard, if Gable would play Rhett Butler.

If anyone doubted Gable as a credible actor before GWTW, they never would again. He made the Rhett Butler, who Margaret Mitchell described in her book come alive. He displayed a wide range of emotion, and was hugely responsible for the movie becoming as big a success as the book was.

Gable and Lombard were planning to have a family and had desperately been trying to have children for two years when Carole went out on a liberty bond drive for the war effort. She went did so very hastily due to the fact that Gable was making a movie with Lana Turner, the notorious playgirl, and rumors had been circulating that the King of Hollywood and the Queen Sex Goddess were instantly attracted to each other. Carole did all she could to be present on the set when Gable was working with a beautiful woman. She had loved Gable so much that she was learning how to hunt and fish and do all the things that were important to him, and she was not about to let another starlet snag him from her. On her flight back to Los Angeles her plane crashed into a mountain and she died instantly. Gable was never the same, and he promptly joined the US Air Force for the duration of the war.

When he returned home, he began dating the drop dead gorgeous model and actress, Virginia Grey. Grey was the daughter of director Ray Grey and was often babysat by Gloria Swanson as a child. By the 1930s she was stunning young lady with absolutely no physical flaws. Her relationship with Gable appeared to be a solid and devoted one and despite her extreme beauty Virginia was ignoring all of her other male admirers in favor of a marriage with Gable. The couple were photographed on a regular basis at all the Hollywood night clubs and events. All including Virginia herself expected Gable to propose when he hastily married Sylvia Ashley.

He continued to make movies and draw audiences. His peculiar marriage to Sylvia Ashley who had previously been married to Douglas Fairbanks, took place in 1949 and they divorced in 1952. He began an on again off again romance with Virginia Grey again, but the tension of his marriage and then divorce to Ashley was always a source of bitter arguments made their relationship unstable. The beautiful Virginia never married and those close to her believed it was due to her deep love of Gable and her hope that he would some day come back to her. Virginia's heart belonged to Clark Gable and there was no way that any other man could measure up after being with him.

He even did a remake of Red Dust in 1951 with Eva Gardner and Grace Kelly in one of her first major parts. (the original parts were Jean Harlow and Mary Astor)

In 1955 Gable married Kay Williams and in 1960 she became pregnant. Gable was 59 years old and about to become a father for the first time. (officially) He was filming The Misfits also starring Marilyn Monroe. Gable suddenly died of a heart attack, and four months later his only son, John Clark Gable was born.



Clark Gable as a Child

Judy Lewis/Gable's Daughter

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    • Vieenrose profile image

      Vieenrose 5 years ago

      Great writing! I absolutely love Clark Gable..he had a remarkable smile- part roguish yet so endearing..seeing him in It Happened One Night with Claudette Colbert made me realize how well he was able to portray tension onscreen..thanks for the hub!

    • Angela Blair profile image

      Angela Blair 5 years ago from Central Texas

      Excellent choice of subject and great writing. The loss of Carole Lombard seemed to have put a glitch in Gable's life he never conquered -- from what I've read they had a hugely good time! Best/Sis

    • brittvan22 profile image

      brittvan22 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      It truly was, I left feeling inspired and I bought the double dvd for 20 bucks there and you get to do a private screening of the behind the scenes footage after you tour the apartment. To see the bed she slept in with her six foot tall husband was funny, because Margaret was petite and small in stature and the bed was in between the size of a twin and a full, very small, but it was where she created her masterpiece.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I have always loved his talented acting, especially in Gone With The Wind. He had such charm and dark dashing looks. I didn't know he died so young and without seeing his child born. Interesting read and well done.

    • Skarlet profile image
      Author

      Skarlet 5 years ago from California

      @ brittvan22- thank you. Yes Gable was a classic and often underrated. GWTW was truly a masterpiece, in which intense detail went into every scene.

      That must have been a thrill to visit Margaret Mitchel's place in Atlanta. I would love to do that some time.

    • brittvan22 profile image

      brittvan22 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Nice hub, I actually visited the apartment of the writer of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta, I was so inspired. We saw the behind the scene work and special effects. I had no idea how much long work went into the making of such as wonderful movie and Clark Gable's role a classic, he was that gentleman with just enough bad boy to keep you interested and wanting more.