I am asked often, “Why Clark Gable? Why a site for him?”
First of all, Clark is an excellent place to start if one wants to get into classic films. He is where my love for classic films began. After being awestruck by “Gone with the Wind”, I saw his Oscar-winning performance in “It Happened One Night”, which introduced me to the lovely Claudette Colbert and to investigate more Frank Capra films, and so on. From Clark’s films alone one can be introduced to Joan Crawford, Vivien Leigh, Ava Gardner, Jeanette MacDonald, Marion Davies, Helen Hayes, Grace Kelly, Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, Marilyn Monroe, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Norma Shearer, Doris Day, Lana Turner, Victor Mature, Loretta Young, Frank Morgan, Greer Garson….and that is just the tip of the iceberg. A literal treasure trove of classic film royalty.
Second of all, his life was interesting. He wasn’t classically trained; he didn’t come from wealth and society. He was, as he liked to put it, “just a lucky slob from Ohio”, a lanky, big-eared kid with rotting teeth and thick eyebrows who had a hankerin’ to be an actor. He had five wives: two of them rather peculiar, one tragic, one tumultuous and one comforting. Carole Lombard fans often grumble when she is dismissed as “Clark Gable’s actress wife who died in a plane crash” and I agree, she deserves better than that. Her dying, though, is an important chapter in the Gable history, as his path from then on was severely altered and he was, in many ways, a broken man who never really healed. There’s a lot to be said for a man who enlists for a world war at 42 years of age, grieving for his wife and expecting never to come back. I almost think he was a little disappointed that he did come back–back to an empty ranch house void of his wife’s laughter, back to a movie-going public who had moved on to younger and more jovial screen idols. The 1950’s were filled with failed romances and film flops. When he finally found happiness with Kay Williams and was playing happy husband and devoted stepfather, his life suddenly ended—before he could meet his unborn son.
He would be the first to tell you he wasn’t the greatest actor in the world. It is often said that he and Spencer Tracy, while friends, were jealous of each other: Clark envied Spencer’s acting ability and Spencer envied Clark’s popularity. Clark was certainly not a fantastic, mind-blowing actor. He couldn’t stand toe-to-toe with Laurence Olivier as an expert of the craft. But millions adored him and went to see him because he was engaging, he was charismatic, he wasn’t some grand actor on a pedestal—he was one of them. When you went to see a Gable film, you knew what to expect. You knew he would sweep the woman off her feet to carry her to safety, punch the bad guy in the face while dismissing him with a clever quip and arch those eyebrows up quizzically at anyone who questioned him. He is often accused of having a big ego. Actually, he was extremely insecure. He knew his limitations and he feared stepping out of them. After his historical drama “Parnell” flopped, he was happy to go back to his role as romantic action hero and wanted to remain in that niche. He didn’t want to play Rhett Butler because he was afraid. He said at the time, “There will be six million eyes on me daring me to fail.”
Clark was crowned the King of Hollywood in 1938; Myrna Loy was named his Queen. In the years that followed, Robert Taylor, Mickey Rooney and others were given the very same crown after movie-goers were polled. But the name only stuck to Clark.(Sadly, the “Queen” title did not stick to Myrna Loy, and most people I mention her to nowadays have no idea who she is.)
Even when some of his films flopped in the late ‘40’s and 1950’s, Clark remained popular with fans of all ages. He would probably say that is only due to the re-releases of “Gone with the Wind”. “If it wasn’t for that damned picture, nobody would know who I was,” he would lament late in his life. Would that be true? If it wasn’t for “Gone with the Wind” would Clark be forgotten?
Since we’re celebrating his 110th birthday today, fifty years after his death, I am inclined to say no.
As promised, there will be something new every day this month on this site! I will post daily on the Facebook page what’s new for the day and will do a re-cap every Friday on the “Gossip Friday” posts.
As a birthday present to Clark, the site has had a makeover, as you can see. New pictures all over the site, and several pages are redesigned. It was time for an update! Also, it is with pride that I announce that The Painted Desert, Clark’s first credited role, is the final page added to the Films section. After a year and a half, there is now a page devoted to every one of Clark’s credited roles. I did re-watch every film before I constructed the page, which mostly was a joy—sometimes not (There’s a reason Band of Angels and The Painted Desert were last….).
So Happy Birthday, Clark! Your filmography is complete!