There is certainly a number of women who referred to Clark as “the love of her life.” No, these aren’t the laments of lovesick fans, but the wistful comments of his past girlfriends. Judy Lewis recalls her mother, Loretta Young, saying this and also stating that her biggest regret was “not getting your father to marry me.” Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford’s daughter, has mentioned that her mother called Clark the great lost love of her life as well. I have also seen the quote attributed to Elizabeth Allan, Suzanne Dadolle and even Grace Kelly.
To me, the saddest in the line-up is Virginia Grey.
Virginia was a pretty blonde starlet who never reached her full potential as an actress. Her father worked for Mack Sennett in the early days of filmdom and little Virginia made her screen debut at age nine. Her film resume lists over 140 credits, but most are not memorable. She was always the best friend or sister of the main actress, left to play second fiddle. One of her most memorable roles is that of Joan Crawford’s smart- alecky co-worker in one scene of 1939’s The Women (You can watch it here).
She had a very small role in the beginning of Test Pilot, fittingly as one of Clark’s jilted girlfriends. The following year she was cast as one of “Les Blondes”, Clark’s peppy blonde back-up dancers, in Idiot’s Delight. There is a well-circulated story that Mrs. Gable, aka Carole Lombard, caught one of the blondes flirting with Clark on the set an demanded, “Get that bitch off this picture or I’ll take Gable out of it!” I’ve kind of always doubted that story, as that doesn’t really seem like something Carole would do, even in a fit of jealousy. But if it is true, Carole should have had her eye on a different one of those blondes!
I am not sure how close Clark and Virginia were on the set, but she was one of his first dates after Carole died and before he left for the service. She wrote him letters (what would I give to get my hands on those!) while he was overseas and they were spotted out around town when he was home on leave.
Clark’s personal secretary Jean Garceau recalled that while Clark was overseas, Carole’s beloved little dachshund, Commissioner, died and Clark was very upset about it. Virginia bought him a dachshund puppy to cheer him up and he named him Rover.
Post-war Clark saw him frequenting nightclubs in both Los Angeles and New York, often in the company of socialites such as Iris Bynum, Millicent Rogers and Dolly O’Brien. But Virginia kept popping up with him and seemed to be the one constant. The press liked to make comparisons between her and Carole (“Both blonde! Both comediennes! Both excellent horsewomen!”) and decided for themselves that she would be the perfect Fourth Mrs. Gable. Their romance especially seemed to be heating up in 1948, when she was a frequent visitor to the set of Homecoming.
Nobody was more shocked than Virginia when Clark up and married Lady Sylvia Ashley in December of 1949. She was devastated. Clark attempted to contact her afterwards but she refused to speak with him. Her friends recalled her suffering and referring to Clark’s new bride as “Lady Ashcan.”
The marriage to Sylvia being short-lived, Clark soon came knocking around Virginia’s door again. But she was too heartbroken to forgive him.
She never married.
Post-Carole, Clark seemed to go for older women; women who were independent and wealthy; women whom he didn’t have to worry about running to the press. He seemed to have a soft spot for Virginia that remained for several years. I’ve often thought of what would have happened if he had married Virginia instead of Sylvia. Would it have worked out? Would they have had children that he would have lived to see? Interesting to ponder. Out of all of his post-Carole exploits, Virginia did the seem the most like Carole. Maybe that’s what scared him off?
Read more about Virginia here, including a 1941 interview with her, appropriately titled “The Girl Nobody Knows.”