Here is our final installment of the Kay Williams news clippings series.
The other installments:
We pick up in 1965.
April 19, 1965:
Los Angeles–On the flickering screen was the happiest marriage of casting and character, plot and player, in the long history of motion pictures. The handsome, muscular man who played the renegade Confederate blockage runner seemed less an actor than the real article. In short, it was hard to tell where Clark Gable left off and Rhett Butler began.
The screening of “Gone with the Wind,” a picture that may have been Hollywood’s finest hour all together, was in the living room of Gable’s widow in the home he lived in at Encino.
As reel followed reel, and the lovely Kay Gable watched with the absorption of a blonde teenager seeing it for the first time, it was impossible not to notice the tousled-headed little boy wandering among the viewers.
To Clark Gable’s posthumous son, Daddy will never be more real than that three-colored image on the living room screen. A pity, because Daddy was a man’s man–which means he would be a boy’s man, too. A man who loved to hunt and fish and ride and play games and had plenty of time for all.
A far cry from the normal dad who comes home and says, “Can’t you keep that kid quiet? Don’t you know I’ve had a hard day at the office?”
A dad in a two-dimensional projection is no substitute for a real one. Only in the funny papers is it any fun being an orphan.
Which may be why Kay Gable is as involved as she is in the Los Angeles Orphanage Guild and wants me to mention that the biggest fund-raising deal is kicked off Tuesday with dinner and the opening game of the Dodgers’ home season.
How is he an orphan when he has a mother?
June 4, 1965:
Clark Gable’s beautiful widow, Kay, has been dating Dr. Robert Helmer so consistently, the movieland romance-watchers wouldn’t be at all surprised if they announced wedding plans. And all Kay’s friends seem to approve the match; they find the doctor extremely attractive and suitable, and think it would be a fine thing for Kay and her child by “The King” to have a husband and father after the long and lonely period of mourning.
December 16, 1965:
Kay Gable, suffering from a miserable cold, plus a bad ankle injured on a cable car in San Francisco, hobbles up the mountain to spend Christmas with her three children at Big Bear.
March 25, 1966:
John Clark Gable, son of Kay Gable and of the late Clark Gable, just turned five years old.
Kay tells me that John Clark got a hold of her eyebrow pencil the other day and appeared wearing mustache. “I want to look like my dad,” he explained.
June 1, 1966:
Kay Gable, in from the “farm,” says she doesn’t know how much longer it can be called that, because “there’s a high rise building going up on the corner.”
In 1966, Kay hosted a fundraiser at the ranch for Ronald Reagan, who was running for Governor of California (spoiler alert: he won):
November 16, 1966:
Kay Gable’s Father Dies in Poor House
The widow of Clark Gable learned Tuesday on the eve of the anniversary of the film star’s death that her father died in a hospital for the poor in Pennsylvania.
Mrs. Kay Williams Gable had not heard from her father in 36 years.
Jackson Williams, 75, was reported lingering in grave condition in the Erie County Hospital at Fairview, a suburb of Erie. Hospital administrator Arthur O. Bruekman said the hospital admits only poor people. “If they could afford to place themselves in a nursing home, they wouldn’t be eligible (for admission),” Bruekman said.
He said Williams had been a patient in the hospital for six years and recently lost his sight.
Mrs. Gable, told earlier at her ranch in Encino that her father was dying, said the news was “quite a shock, although I have heard no word whether he was dead or alive in 36 years.”
Mrs. Gable, 48, was the actor’s last wife. She gave birth to his only son, John Clark, March 21, 1961. Gable died of a heart attack Nov. 16, 1960.
She said her parents were divorced in Pennsylvania in 1930, and neither she nor her brother and sister had heard from their father since. Mrs. Gable said that her father did not contact the family when her mother died in 1952.
The sister, Mrs. Gordon Nesser, 37, lives in Canoga Park, and the brother, Vincent Williams, 43, resides in Encino.
Mrs. Gable was married three times before she married Gable. Among her former husbands was sugar heir Adolph Spreckels.
Interesting! I had never heard before this what happened to her father. Her sister, Elizabeth, I believe is still alive at age 86. I’m not sure about her brother. The next day it was announced that Kay would be making funeral arrangements for her father.
May 12, 1967:
Actor Clark Gable’s widow has suffered a mild heart attack, her attorney said last night. A hospital spokesman said her condition was “excellent.”
Eugene Landau, attorney and business manager for Mrs. Kay Gable, 48, who was hospitalized Tuesday, said doctors at Mt. Sinai Hospital report “no cause for alarm.”
May 16, 1967:
Kay Gable, 48-year-old widow of Clark Gable, was reported improving today from a mild heart attack she suffered a week ago.
Her attorney, Eugene Landau, said it was still too early to tell when Mrs. Gable will be able to leave Mt. Sinai Hospital.
Ongoing heart problems plagued Kay for many years. And if that’s not enough:
August 28, 1967:
Gable’s Widow Hurt On Boat
Katherine [sic] Gable, widow of film star Clark Gable, suffered a wrenched back after her rented 10-foot paddle boat was struck by an outboard motorboat on Mission Bay.
With her Saturday near the Vacation Village dock were her children from her marriage to sugar heir Adolph Spreckels, 18 year-old Anthony and 16 year-old Joan.
They have been vacationing from their home in Encino for a week.
Hurt on a boat now? Geez. Bunker’s real name was Adolph III. I don’t know why his name is written as Anthony is some places. And Kay’s full name is Kathleen, not Katherine.
October 6, 1967:
Kay Gable is Enjoying Life
She’s recovering from a May coronary and an August collision with a runaway boat.
And every Monday morning Kay Gable gets a call from her doctor: “All right, let’s hear your calendar.”
She dutifully ticks it off: “a meeting for the Los Angeles Orphanage Guild, a speech at the Encino chapter of B’nai B’rith, gather up some glamour clothes for the Colleagues’ Glamour Sale, the PTA meeting, commentating the Five Acres fashion show, a meeting for the big premiere of “Gone with the Wind” for Good Samaritan’s Hospital Auxiliary. He scolds her, and off she goes.
“Selfish. I just feel a lot better when I’m doing things for other people. I’m a lot happier when I’m involved.” She tries to slow down. “But my mind whizzes past my body.”
She has taken up crewel work, making headboards for the beds in the guest room of the home Clark Gable bought 30 years ago, and where she now lives with her three children, Anthony, 18, Joan, 16, and 6-year-old John Clark, the son Clark Gable never saw.
She tries not to think about her serious heart attack. “I have a job to do. Give my children a good education, send them out in the world with their feet on the ground, knowing how to live, learning to enjoy what they do, and to be something. To ‘walk smartly,’ as we say around the house.”
To do this, she knows she has to stay optimistic. And that, to her, means busy.
The children are a large part of her life and much of her delight. John Clark is always into something, like running home with a bruised face because he laughed to hard while sitting in the tangerine tree and fell out. “He’s like his father. Into everything. He looks at you with that same quizzical expression, as if he’s trying to read you, trying to find out if you’re really mad that he spilled his spaghetti all over the floor.”
She spends a lot of time with them. She was riding a pedicycle with Anthony and Joan when the boat knocked her into the hospital and “out” for three days.
She’s honorary chairman of the auxiliary’s premiere of the new, wide-screen version of “Gone with the Wind” because the money is going to build an extensive coronary unit.She has been in one twice, at Cedars of Lebanon, and, after the boat accident, in Mercy Hospital in San Diego.
“Fantastic,” she describes the room. “We’re all in there, wired up for everything but outer space, and nurses with us all the time. Those machines know it before you even have a pain, and a doctor is right there. Maybe, if…” She’s thinking, of course, of her husband, who was taken from her almost eight years ago, after a too-brief marriage that were the happiest years of their tumultuous lives.
She had left him for a few moments because she felt an angina attack coming on, and did not want to disturb him. A few minutes later he left her forever.
“Almost eight years ago,” she muses, her eyes darkening under her black mink hat. “Sometimes it feels like 80, sometimes it feels like eight minutes.”
She hasn’t seen the new picture–she was in bed with her heart attack when Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer previewed it. But she does have her own print of the original, on permanent loan. Often she invites friends Sunday after church, and serves brunch during intermission.
The sad scenes in the picture sometimes are hard for her. Her life, before she met Clark, made for headlines and pain as Kay Williams, Hollywood star; Kay Spreckles, wife of the trouble-starred sugar millionaire; Kay de Alzaga Unzue, wife of a Brazilian playboy. Her brief marriage with “pa” were her happiest years, and, as she puts it, she sometimes goes into her office for a while and has a “mood.”
To other women who suffer loss, she suggests: “It’s difficult, but there are things you have to do. If you are blessed with children, they need you, too. If you are blessed with friends, make an effort to see them.”
The kids were often at boarding schools and away camps, and she always had full-time nannies but yet there is always this picture painted as her being a constant hands-on mom. And she was never a “Hollywood star”– minor starlet at best. She had more success as a model in New York then she ever did acting. I do have no doubt her years with Clark were her happiest, as we have seen her life before that was crazy to say the least.
Her mentioning her personal print of “Gone with the Wind” is constant. In this day and age of being able to watch pretty much anything any time you want on a phone in the palm of your hand, it seems ridiculous that it’s constantly brought up that she has her own copy of GWTW, but remember this was when in order to see a film you had to go to the movie theater or just hope one day they’d show it on television. I wonder what happened to that print? Be worth a lot of money these days.
Picture from October 12, 1967:
March 16, 1969:
Son Clark Gable Never Saw Now 8
The son Clark Gable never lived to see will be 8 years old this week and as shielded from the public eye as his mother can manage.
Though Gable dies of a heart attack in November, 1960, millions of persons across the country have seen him this year as Rhett Butler in the re-re-release of MGM’s “Gone with the Wind.”
But young John Clark Gable, born four months after his father’s death, watches his dad’s films at home.
“I run some of Clark’s old pictures often on the weekends,” said Kay Gable, the actor’s widow. “John’s face shines with pride and he’ll say, ‘That’s my father.'”
Kay, blonde and youthful in appearance, has never remarried. Her children by a previous marriage–Joan and Bunker–are off at college. John Clark is a good student at a private school and spends his afternoons tearing around the 22-acre estate in the San Fernando Valley his father loved so well.
Fortunately, Mrs. Gable has a live-in servant who is the mother of a seven-year-old. He and John are great pals.
Until recently John Clark has received a 25-cent-a-week allowance. Now he wants a raise to $1 a week.
“He has his heart set on buying a minibike by the time he’s 10 years old,” Kay explained. “I told him he would have to earn the money. So now he does odd jobs, hoping to earn $1 a week for 100 weeks, enough to buy a $100 minibike.
“But I have news for him, he’s not getting a minibike until he’s 15. When I told him that John said he would buy the bike for his friend here at the house, Mark.”
Kay laughed. “You know who would be doing all the riding.”
When news reached John Clark, who is the image of his dashing father, that the motorized mini had been reduced to $99, he decided he would work only 99 weeks instead of the originally scheduled 100.
John’s chores consist of sweeping and cleaning up around the property and, recently, shoveling mud from the heavy downpours.
“Every once n a while John will tell me he wishes he could see his father,” Kay said sadly. “But I tell him to keep saying his prayers every night.”
Kay will take John Clark and eight youngsters to Disneyland to celebrate his birthday. Kay will go along but plans to take it easy. She suffered a coronary herself two years ago.
The house and grounds remain very much the same as they were when Gable was alive and “king” of Hollywood. There’s a masculine feeling to the estate and home, almost as if Gable might walk in the door at any time.
It is in this atmosphere that John Clark is being reared. He is 100 percent all boy, charging in and out of the house, climbing on the roof, shimmying up the tress and engaging in loud arguments with his buddy, Mark.
At the same time Kay has seen to his manners. He shakes hands manfully and responds to questions with a directness that reminds one of his father.
Kay is at pains not to talk show business with her son, nor does she attempt to guide him into the acting business.
John Clark Gable could not be more removed from the glamour and tinsel of Hollywood than if he were being reared in Danville, Ill.
“I don’t want John to grow up with the wrong values,” his mother said. “I’m asked all the time by various publications for stories about John and for picture layouts. I refuse them all. I want him to enjoy a normal childhood and grow up to be a healthy well-adjusted young man.”
For eight years Kay Gable has been highly successful. But she has her own emotions to deal with too, and her eyes become a little misty at times.
“It’s startling how much John looks more and more like his father,” she said. Then Kay stopped talking and looked away.
I have always thought John Clark looked like Kay more than anybody else. I’m not sure how successful she was in having him have a well-adjusted childhood after they moved to Beverly Hills.
January 31, 1971:
Book Beat: Rosemary Wilson (columnist Earl Wilson’s wife) and Ruth Tool have a fun cookbook out, called “the Beautiful Wives’ Cookbook.” It’s a collection of celebrity recipes plus related anecdotes, and it features things like Cary Grant’s fish n’ chips, Grace Kelly’s favorite recipe from the royal kitchen in Monaco, and Kay Gable’s egg dish–the only way she could get Clark to eat eggs.
Clark always ate eggs. At any rate, if you are interested in this silly sounding cookbook, you can buy it pretty cheap on Amazon. If you do, let me know what’s in the egg dish!
August 20, 1971:
All those balloons floating around Kay Gable’s luncheon at the Bistro the other noontime were delayed greetings for her birthday by her host, Chicago publisher Bailey K. Howard. among the guests was Kay’s daughter, Joan Spreckles. After picking up John Clark at summer camp, the family is off to Honolulu for two weeks.
August 28, 1971:
Kay Gable, Clark’s widow, has several $1,000,000 offers for her Encino ranch.
Picture from January 30, 1973:
July 1, 1973:
Gable ranch in Subdivision move
Sale of the late screen star Clark Gable’s ranch in San Fernando Valley for $800,000 has been completed according to a joint announcement by Jane Craig, manager of a George Elkins Company regional office, and Pat Porter, sales representative of RSVP Realtors, who handled the transaction.
The ranch and both realty offices are located in Encino.
Tiger Properties and Rogoff & Son Development Company purchased the 19-acre ranch and will subdivide the property into 37 sites for luxury homes as a joint venture.
The development will be names the Clark Gable Ranch Estates. The Gable main ranchhouse occupying two acres also will be sold for $200,000.
The owner-developers were represented in the sale by Mrs. Porter of RSVP Realtors.
The sellers are Mrs. Kay Gable, widow of the actor, and the trust estate of the couple’s young son, John Gable. Both were represented by Mrs. Craig of the Elkins realty firm in the sale. Mrs. Gable and the boy will continue to reside at the ranch on a temporary basis.
The lots will be priced from $36,950 up to $49,950. The homes to be built will cost upwards from $100,000. The total value of the development upon completion next year will be approximately $5 million.
The first home to be built on the ranch property is scheduled for this October.
Reading that physically hurts, doesn’t it? Carole Lombard’s chicken houses, the horse stables, the rows and rows of citrus trees Clark cared for, the roses he and Carole planted together—bulldozed. One can’t really blame Kay I suppose, at this point she is in her mid fifties with a 12 year old son and two adult kids–a 22 acre ranch is a bit much to handle. I’m sure developers were chomping at the bit for that property, as the whole area was becoming more and more developed. We can at least be thankful that the original house is still standing.
You could have bought the ranch house for $200,000! Can you imagine. Adjusted for inflation though, the ranch house sold for $1,074,945 and those empty lots were $198,596 each.
November 23, 1973 (letter to columnist):
Q: Practically every movie star has a book written about him, so why hasn’t anyone done the love of my life, Clark Gable?
A: There is one book, not strictly a biography, entitled “Clark Gable.” There are, however, two more books in the works for possible publication next year. Kay Spreckels Gable, his widow and the mother of his son, has finally decided to do one herself and has asked all her Hollywood pals not to talk for publication to anyone but her, and has also refused to allow other writers to poke through the late actor’s files or the boxes and boxes of Gable memorabilia she inherited.
In other words nobody should make money off of him but her. Lyn Tornabene’s fantastic biography “Long Live the King” came out three years later, and a lot of Hollywood folks granted Lyn interviews. She also had access to all kinds of information. Kay never did write her own biography, other than the 1961 “picture book.”
March 7, 1974:
Clark Gable’s seven-bedroom, seven-bath house is up for sale for $199,500.
The estate where the actor lived from 1936 until his death in 1960 was opened to the media Wednesday before the house is sold and the surrounding 19 acres cut up into building lots. The star’s widow, Kay Gable, 55, and her son, William Clark, 13, moved out a month ago after selling the house and property for $800,000.
John Clark, not William Clark. And Clark moved into the Encino home in 1939, not 1936. The house was bought by Michael Milken, who still resides there.
January 12, 1975:
Q: I read about a new film being made about Gable and Lombard. He was my favorite. Do you think it will be accurate?
A: It’s possible but don’t count on it. Well-known free lance writer Lyn Tornabene has been working for two years on a Gable book and Kay Gable (the last Mrs.G) quietly forbids all their friends from discussing him. Ms. Tornabene will get her book anyway. We can’t make any guarantees about the film.
As mentioned above, Tornabene did publish her book, despite Kay’s objections. And anyone who’s seen Gable and Lombard ,which was released in 1976, knows it is FAR from accurate.
There’s a lot of coverage of the casting of the movie around this time and I won’t get into that. They did ask Kay what she thought of the casting of James Brolin as Clark and she said, “Does he look anything like Pa? People keep asking me what I think about the casting and I can’t say because I’ve never seen Mr. Brolin on screen or TV even though I know he’s popular in the ‘Marcus Welby M.D.’ series. It isn’t going to be the easiest job for any actor to carry on in the Gable image. I still get hundreds of fan letters about Clark because his old pictures show up on the tube and even the kids know about him. Besides, ‘Gone with the Wind’ is seldom out of release. In fact, I have access to a print, which I show frequently at the house. There’s just one thing I would like, that is that the studio would give this print to our son, John Clark, to keep. It keeps his father so alive and fresh in his life. I certainly have no feeling against Jim Brolin’s playing Clark–it’s just that I can’t see any actor stepping into Pa’s shoes. There’s just no one like him.” Again with the GWTW print!
After the film came out, Dorothy Manners column, February 27, 1976:
“I have not seen ‘Gable and Lombard’ and I may not. I just hope it gives the right impression of Pa (her name for Clark Gable) because of our son John Clark,” said Kay Gable, widow of the King, at a party the other night.
The Universal picture starring James Brolin and Jill Clayburgh as Gable and Carole Lombard is naturally confined to their great and passionate love story, which ended tragically in her death in an airplane crash. Theirs was a glamorous and exciting love story.
I can tell you one thing–and it came straight from Clark to me–“My marriage to Kay has given me the greatest happiness of my life. She is a wonderful and giving woman, And our marriage has been crowned by the greatest blessing of all, a baby.”–the son Clark did not live to see.
Kay had been in Clark’s life years before they married. They had met first on the MGM lot where he reigned as the top male star and she, Kathleen Williams, was a young actress under contract. They fell in love and everyone expected they would marry.
Instead, out of the blue, Clark married Lady Sylvia Ashley–a union that started and ended unfortunately for all concerned. When he and Kay resumed their closeness following the Ashley divorce, Clark was a wiser and far more mature person. He knew what he had lost–and finally found again in Kay–and he loved her devotedly.
Kay learned to live with Carole’s ghost and I can imagine that a new film that promoted his and Carole’s relationship as a great love affair did not sit well with her at all.
August 18, 1976:
Kay Gable has ok’ed a deal to market a variety of men’s products bearing the name of the late, great Clark.
Wow, really? That never came to fruition, far as I know.
And then, on January 7, 1977, Kay lost her oldest child.
January 12, 1977:
Anthony Spreckels rites tomorrow
Funeral services were announced for Anthony (Bunker) Spreckels, step-son of the late actor Clark Gable.
Mr. Spreckels died in his sleep Friday at a friend’s home in Oahu, Hawaii. He was 27.
A rosary will be recited at 7:30pm tomorrow at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills. A funeral Mass will be held at the church on Friday at 10am.
The medical cause of death has not been ascertained by authorities there, according to a spokesman.
Involved in an attempt at film production at the time of his death, Mr. Spreckels was an avid surfer who was going to try to market sports films.
He received his nickname “Bunker” from his mother, Kay Spreckels, at birth. Mrs. Spreckels married Gable in 1955 until his death in 1960. She lives in Beverly Hills.
He will buried at Forest Lawn in Glendale. Funeral arrangements are being made by Cunningham & O’Connor Mortuary in Hollywood.
January 17, 1977 (Dorothy Manners):
The second tragedy within three days struck close to home when Anthony Spreckels, the 28-year-old son of Kay Gable by her marriage to the late Adolph Spreckels, was found dead in his sleep in his Honolulu home.
What was unbearably hard for Kay is that Bunker (the family’s nickname for Anthony) was to arrive here in a few days for one of his numerous visits to her and his sister, Joan.
“We were making such plans for his coming; just small affairs where he could enjoy his friends. Now they will be going to his funeral,” Kay said softly, her voice breaking. “No parent should live to see the death of a child.”
Rosary services were held at the Church of The Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills with funeral services the following day.
Adolph Spreckels, heir to the sugar fortune, preceded his son in death 10 years ago when he fell and struck his dead at a hotel entrance in Arizona. He and Kay had been divorced many years and her marriage to Clark Gable followed. The sympathy of friend, and stranger, goes out to her.
Bunker, (whose first name, again, was Adolph, not Anthony–how shameful to get it wrong in his obituary), died of a heart attack brought on by a drug overdose. I won’t divert on a tangent about Bunker and the path to his early death, but in a nutshell he became a well-regarded surfer, on his 21st birthday received a $50 million inheritance from his paternal grandmother (that’s $192 million today, adjusted for inflation) and lived a life of excess, traveling and surfing, getting into drugs. According to him he started selling drugs at age 15.
April 2, 1977:
According to series star John Beradino (Dr. Steve Hardy) many famous personalities are among “General Hospital” fans, including Ladybird Johnson and Ida Lupino. Kay Gable, widow of Clark Gable, rarely misses an episode and once hosted a party for the entire cast.
Soap opera fan, huh?
Picture from August 21, 1977 (Kay second from left if you can’t read it):
And then that is it until…
May 27, 1983:
Clark Gable’s Widow Succumbs to Recurring Heart Problems
Houston–Kay Gable, the widow of Clark Gable, had suffered from heart problems for years before dying in a Houston hospital where she was undergoing cardiac tests, a friend says.
The fifth wife of the late matinee idol died about 5pm Wednesday after a “lengthy illness,” a spokeswoman at Houston’s Methodist Hospital said Thursday. She was 66.
“She’s had a long history of heart problems,” said Eugene Landau, a Los Angeles attorney who has represented the Gables for more than 25 years. “She’s had a couple of heart attacks in the last 13 years and she was there (at Methodist) trying to take tests and figure out what could be done and I guess she just expired.”
Mrs. Gable, a Los Angeles area resident, was admitted to Methodist about three weeks ago for tests.
Born Kathleen Williams, she married Gable in 1955 when she was 37 and he was 54. It was her fourth marriage and the fifth for Gable.
She had two children from a previous marriage to sugar heir Adolph Spreckels, and a son by Gable, born after his death. Gable died of a heart attack Nov. 16, 1960. His widow never remarried.
Gable perhaps was known best for his performance as Rhett Butler in the 1939 movie, “Gone With The Wind.” He won an Academy Award as best actor for his role in the 1934 movie, “It Happened One Night.”
Mrs. Gable is survived by John Gable, 22, the son by Gable, and daughter Joan Spreckels, 34. Another son, Anthony Spreckels, died of a heart attack in January 1977 at age 20, Landau said.
After Gable’s death, Mrs. Gable lived at the couple’s 19-acre ranch in the Encino area of Los Angeles until 1973, when the ranch was sold. She then moved to Beverly Hills, Landau said.
Mrs. Gable was involved in a number of charities for children and unwed mothers, Landau said. She continued to answer fan mail addressed to her late husband.
I had read elsewhere that Kay had actually moved to Houston–that is incorrect. She was still living in Beverly Hills but went to Houston’s Methodist Hospital for a heart procedure; the hospital was well known for its advances in cardiac care. In fact, Clark Gable co-star Jeanette MacDonald died at the same hospital in 1966, after going there for heart surgery.
Well that wraps up our Kay Williams coverage!