When we last left Kay, she’d been awarded a divorce from her second husband, Argentine millionaire Macoco.
Before we get into 1944, I want to address some inconsistencies about when Clark Gable and Kay Williams first got together.
In her book, “Clark Gable: A Personal Portrait,” Kay details the following:
I turned down the initial invitation to meet [Clark]. It was in 1942, shortly after I arrived in Hollywood. I had a stock contract at MGM, the same studio where Gable was the reigning star.
I was living in a small apartment in Westwood when one day I received a call from Benny Thau, an MGM executive and technically, one of my bosses.
“We’re giving a little going away party tomorrow night for Clark Gable–he’s leaving for overseas service,” Mr. Thau explained. “I’d like to invite you as Clark’s dinner partner. It’s his last night in town and I know you two will get along well.”
The invitation sounded more in the nature of a command performance and I didn’t particularly like the idea. Also, I was still upset over my recent marital troubles and I was in no mood for attending a party, the glamorous Mr. Gable notwithstanding.
So I told Mr. Thau I was terribly sorry but I had another engagement which I couldn’t break. Shortly, after I hung up, the phone rang again. This time it was Eddie Mannix, another MGM executive. He repeated the invitation. Politely, I declined again. Then came a third call. Mr. Thau was back. He thought perhaps I might have changed my mind. I hadn’t.
Apparently they just couldn’t believe a young unknown contract player named Kathleen Gretchen Williams would turn down a chance for a date with Clark Gable. “I’m sorry,” I repeated firmly, “I’ll just have to wait and meet him some other time.”
That time came about six months later. I remember it was October. The phone rang. This time there were no intermediaries. And there was no mistaking that resonant voice.
“Miss Williams, this is Clark Gable. I’m home on leave,” he said. “I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you before I went overseas. I wonder if you’d have dinner with me tomorrow night.”
And then she tells the tale of their first date, dinner at the ranch. She then details that they went on many dates, including an Air Corps Officers’ dinner, and that Clark was also dating Anita Colby and Virginia Grey around this time.
This story of the MGM executives pleading with her to attend a party as Clark’s date has always seemed odd to me. Why on earth would they need to plead some no-name starlet to be Clark’s date? No one would have expected Clark to have a date at a party mere months after his wife passed away. And even if they were calling around for a date, why would they call her three times? She said no, onto another starlet. Like there wasn’t hundreds of girls at MGM’s disposal who would jump at the chance to go out with Clark.
Also, the timing of this doesn’t make sense. First of all, how could she be upset about her “recent marital troubles” in the fall of 1942? She didn’t marry Macoco until November 1942 and had been divorced from her first husband for years! And if Clark called her in October, which was six months after this party she was pleaded to attend, that would have been April. Clark enlisted on August 12, 1942. In April he was still deep in mourning and had not even began to contemplate what he was going to do next.
Warren Harris’ book “Clark Gable” states Clark returned home at the end of October 1942 after training camp and began reacquainted with Virginia Grey at a party at Jill Winkler’s house. He does not mention Kay Williams making an appearance on Clark’s arm until 1944, when Clark returned from service and was still seeing Virginia as well as Marilyn Maxwell.
Lyn Tornabene, in her book “Long Live the King,” details the same story Kay tells (probably using Kay’s book as the source), but dates it in December 1942, during his furlough.. Tornabene says “Miss Williams couldn’t attend the dinner because she was being watched by [Macoco]. Miss Williams had married Macoco the previous month.She divorced him the following August.”
If Tornabene is right and it was indeed December and Kay couldn’t attend because of her estranged relationship with Macoco, there is no way Clark called her six months later, as by then he was in Europe.
I’m inclined to believe that Clark and Kay got together AFTER his active duty, not before or while he was on furlough. There was a party for him before he left for Europe, and that would have been in early 1943. Perhaps that is the phone call she received and she’s mistaken by the year? If she remembers October then I suppose it was October 1943, not 1942.
This article also describes Kay declining a dinner invitation from Clark, but details that they started dating in November 1943.
Just about a year ago Kay Williams, one of the younger players on the Metro lot—blonde, pretty and gay—was having a serious debate with herself about an invitation to a party.
It had come from a high executive of the studio to which she belonged. It was the kind of invitation that should make a girl swoon, if it didn’t also cause her veritably to reel around in circles for hours after receiving it.
Kay Williams—an almost unknown recruit to motion pictures, an ex-model who originally had gone to New York from a farm—was bidden to a dinner at which she was to be the partner of Capt. Gable, none other than the stellarly famous Clark Gable, of the Air Corps, and on the verge of departing for overseas service in Europe.
Technically speaking, it was a blind date with the bells bonging. Socially, in the film town, it was an event to compare with a “command performance.”
Kay’s life was in turmoil at the time. She was hopelessly involved in her turbulent marriage with the rich Argentinian playboy, Martin de Alzaga Unzue, popularly known in New York and Hollywood café society as Macoco. It was a distressing on-again-off-again affair and Kay’s life was wildly unsettled.
She never knew from day to day what she wanted to do, and so she was turning down everything of a social nature, because she didn’t want to inflict the disturbed, depressed mood of her domestic perplexities upon anybody—least of all, she said to herself, a brilliant star and fine, purposeful officer such as Gable. Above all, she certainly didn’t want their first meeting to have that sort of aura.
Though she felt she all but took her studio life in her hands when she did this, she actually summoned the courage to beg off from the party and because the executive seemed understanding of her problems, she was granted a deferment, as it were, and her apology for not attending was accepted at its full face value.
Kay was consoled, if not altogether happy. While she did not know Gable, she admired him, and she was anxious, indeed, to make his acquaintance—but, under more favorable auspices. She hoped such auspices would arise in the not-too-distant future.
It was thus negatively, and on the downbeat, that the romance between Clark and Kay Williams was precluded.
Fate played its part in a peculiar, reiterant way. Whereas Kay begged out of the first invitation to become the dinner partner of Clark, she accepted with enthusiasm a second of almost similar character about six months later. This was after she secured her interlocutory decree of divorce, and felt free and calm again after the tempestuous days of her marriage. Fate was thus emphatically insistent that she and Gable should meet and what’s happened since then has had the gossipers of Hollywood doing nip-ups.
Yes, there is a romance between the two. Kay and Clark have been an item ever since last November, and conjecture runs so rampant as to forecast that they may someday arrive at the altar. Yet with Clark’s uncertain status in the war picture—there have been rumors that he may be leaving active duty which in turn have been hotly denied—it may turn out to be one of those fleeting things which are so often typical of Hollywood.
At any rate, in the newspapers, Kay first makes an appearance on Clark’s arm in print in January 1944.
January 25, 1944:
Capt. Clark Gable gave the paying customers at the Vine Street Brown Derby a happy moment when he walked in with Kay Williams. They had a date to lunch with Bob Cobb. Clark is so popular he is always mobbed whenever he makes an appearance.
February 22, 1944:
Captain Clark Gable, who cannot buy a gal a cocktail without having the news telephoned in, took Kay Williams out the other eve.
May 31, 1944:
Major Clark Gable has another trip to make to Washington the first of July. He has to take his picture back once again and show it to the powers that be. One thing is certain, with all the rumors that pretty, blond Kay Williams will be the next Mrs. Gable, it cannot possibly be until after September 1st because she doesn’t get her final divorce decree until then. They may marry then, although neither has said anything to lead me to believe they have such plans. But they are very congenial and Clark was extremely lonely until he met Kay.
August 10, 1944:
Kay Williams says Clark Gable is the most thoughtful person in the whole word. On her birthday he planned a dinner for her with flowers and a cake with 19 candles. At her place at the table was a watch and an alligator bag, his gifts to her. both Clark and Kay steadfastly deny any engagement or any plans to marry, but she is the only girl in whom he appears in the slightest bit interested right now. And, certainly, with Clark Gable around, what girl would look at any other man? Certainly not Kay.
September 6, 1944:
Gable Will Marry Kay Williams Soon
London star columnist predicted today that Clark Gable soon will wed Kay Williams, whose marriage to the Argentine millionaire Macoco De Alzaga will be ended Monday when the interlocutory decree becomes final. The columnist said this was one of the secrets Gable succeeded in keeping during his recent trip to England but that now he has returned to Hollywood, “the secret is out.”
September 6, 1944:
Says She and Gable Just Friends
Hollywood–Blonde Kay Williams repeated the oft-spoken Hollywood phrase “we’re just friends–we have no plans for marriage” today when asked to confirm reports she would wed Clark Gable.
September 8, 1944:
Williams Says Gable is Only Her Friend
Hollywood–Kay Williams, blond MGM contract player whose name has been linked romantically with Clark Gable’s, said today they were “just friends.”
“We have no plans for marriage,” Miss Williams said when asked to confirm London reports that she would wed the actor.
Her divorce from wealthy “Macoco” De Alzaga Unzue becomes final Monday.
Studio officials, who reported Gable gave Miss Williams a wrist watch on her birthday, said they were going out together before the actor left for the army.
Again it says they were together before he left? That just doesn’t fit.
September 15, 1944:
No Plans to Wed Gable, Avers Actress
Los Angeles–Actress Kay Williams whose name has recently been linked romantically with screen star Clark Gable, applied today for her final divorce from Martin de Alzaga Unzue, Argentine millionaire sportsman, better known around Hollywood and New York night spots as “Macoco.”
Miss Williams told CNS today that she was not planning to marry Clark Gable.
“There has been no talk of marriage between us,” she said. “He is one of my favorite people but I want to concentrate on my career.”
The actress divorced her husband one year go on the charge his “jealous temper” was more than she could take.
Macoco had sought an annulment 10 days after their marriage at Santa Monica, November 25, 1942, asserting his glamorous wife was a wife in name only.
Miss Williams countered with a demand for $750 a month separate maintenance. They reconciled before the squabble reached trial and did not come to a final parting of the ways until August 11, last year.
Macoco, who was reported to be toting a blazing torch, filed countersuit to his wife’s divorce plea, stating the “cruelty” was all on her part. He dropped the suit, however, when an undisclosed property settlement agreement effected out of court disposed of their financial interests.
At the trial, Miss Williams testified he twisted her arm, knocked her down, clouted her on the head, inflicting such injuries she had to seek medical attention.
October 13, 1944:
The widely publicized Clark Gable-Kay Williams romance is ended and Clark hasn’t seen her since he returned from Washington D.C. So much was printed about the possibility of a forthcoming marriage that they mutually decided it was far better not to see each other and to stop the gossip.
The romance cooled off as soon as those wedding rumors starting swirling. In her book, Kay said: “Though Clark was also seeing a number of other girls during this period–Virginia Grey and Anita Colby, to name two–still, the Hollywood chroniclers insisted I was the most likely successor to Miss Lombard. They also hinted broadly that i wouldn’t have it any other way. I recall one story which stated I fell madly in love with Clark at first sight and desperately wanted to marry him, but that he was executing a characteristic Gable defensive maneuver. When we stopped seeing each other, about a year after we first met, it was duly reported that I had over-played my hand, had frightened Gable off and as a result was wearing my heart on my sleeve. I remember that particular cliche because it amused me so at the time I read it. However, the stories and rumors didn’t particularly upset me. As a matter of fact, I paid very little attention to them, as I have never nursed much of a desire to see my name in print. Besides, I knew the true story. It’s very simple–Clark and I were not deeply in love that first year. Neither of us was then ready for the strong, beautiful relationship we were to discover and share some ten years later. Somehow, without ever discussing it, we both sensed this.”
Ok, so that may all be true, but you are telling me if Clark had proposed to Kay instead of breaking up with her that she would have said “No, thanks, I’m not deeply in love with you.” I have a hard time believing that.
December 26, 1944:
Kay Williams receives a daily telephone call from Macoco asking her to remarry him.
Macoco back in the picture! After all that mudslinging in the divorce!
January 25, 1945:
Cannot say this surprises me: Kay Williams has asked for her release from MGM and received it. The reason I say I am not surprised is that the very pretty, blond Kay really has not had a chance on this lot where there are so many femme stars and she thinks she could do better free lancing. While her romance still flourished with Clark Gable, Kay’s publicity almost made up for the lack of good parts. But two years is enough for a gal to wait for a screen break, so now Kay heads on to greener pastures.
March 21, 1945:
Macoco, the Argentine millionaire who recently was divorced by Kay Williams, the model and screen actress, insists that he was not particularly distressed when he read reports linking her name with Clark Gable’s. Macoco recited to her some of the advantages he believes he has, when measured against the screen star, but for some curious reason Miss Williams was not convinced.
Macoco finally clutched his upper teeth, shook them vigorously, and said: “See? They’re my own. They stay in. Can Gable do that?”
“I don’t know if Gable can do that,” replied Miss Williams, indignantly, “but I can’t. Some of mine are false.”
August 26, 1945 (Louella Parsons):
When Kay Williams and I had lunch on our birthdays (we are a day apart) I told her, “It is a year for Leos. We are going places this year.” I was only kidding about being a fortune teller but sure enough things are breaking high and wide for my girl friend. She and her mother no more than returned from Mexico than she was handed a long term RKO contract, and that studio is planning to build her into a light comedienne star spot. She is one of the most amusing and witty girls in Hollywood–and so pretty with her deep blue eyes and blond hair.
Up next: Kay finds husband #3…