People sure did look at me funny when I said that one of the things I was most looking forward to on my Los Angeles trip was a visit to the library. Sounds strange, but this is not just any library, it’s the Margaret Herrick Library, the library for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (the Oscars). If you’ve read a bio on a classic star (a reputable one, anyway) bet your bottom dollar they did their research here. They house thousands of original scripts, screenplays, correspondence, you name it. Many, many people have left their personal papers to the library, including Katharine Hepburn, Steve McQueen, Billy Wilder, Esther Williams, Edith Head, John Huston, George Arliss, Marjorie Main, Joseph Mankiewicz and many more. The amount of information here is endless. I could go here every day for a year and not go through everything I would want to!
My itinerary being jam packed as it was, I didn’t have the time to go through everything I wanted to, but I set three goals for myself to achieve in the afternoon I spent there.
- Go through Clark’s core bio file and see what I could find.
- Find a picture of Clark and Carole with William Powell and Jean Harlow at the Academy Awards in 1937. It has been written time and time again that they attended together (Carole and Bill were both nominated for My Man Godfrey) and sat at the same table, but the only pictures I have ever seen are of Bill & Jean, none of the foursome and none of Clark & Carole.
- Find some sort of evidence that Clark and Carole attended the 1940 awards—when Clark was nominated for Gone with the Wind. Again, no pictures have ever surfaced of them there, but every book you read describes them as being there.
#1 was easy enough. Most of his file was on microfilm and I found several things I had never seen before that I was able to print and take home with me. So look for those updates in the forthcoming months.
#2 was a flop. I found no pictures at all of the foursome or of Clark and Carole. But I did find that in the trade papers the next day there were quotes from Carole about the awards and accounts of the four of them. So they did attend together but for some reason there are no pictures. That boggles my mind but it appears to be true. Maybe one day some random candid will appear.
#3. This one has bothered me for many years. Gone with the Wind was the biggest film of that year, nearly swept the awards, and Clark was the male star of the picture. Him and Carole were the top celebrity couple at that time, the #1 attraction, the fan favorite. It has been reported in biographies that Clark and Carole attended and that when they left, Clark was very disappointed about losing. On the way home, Carole tried to cheer him up and said, “Don’t worry, Pappy, we’ll get one next year.” He glumly replied, “No, I won’t. That was my last shot.” To which Carole replied, “No not you, you selfish bastard, I meant me!” This story has been repeated over and over. Yet, they supposedly attended these awards and there are no pictures—not a single one? And no description of Carole’s gown or details of who they sat with? I have scored over countless photos of that event. They were certainly not seated at the table with Vivien Leigh and David Selznick and the other Wind stars; there are numerous photos of that table and they are nowhere to be seen. There is newsreel footage of star arrivals at the Awards. I have freeze-framed it and scoured the room. Nope, no Clark and no Carole.
Well I have found out why.
They didn’t attend.
I had long suspected this but it has now been confirmed. (Here and now I want to give a shout out to my buddy Kurt whom I chatted with this about months ago–Kurt, you were right!) The library had no pictures of them there, no quotes from them, no eyewitness accounts of them and they are not listed on the seating chart. The newspapers the next day helped clear up the mystery.
The Associated Press article, which was circulated to numerous news outlets throughout the country:
Clark Gable, wherever he may be, is Hollywood’s “forgotten man” of the moment.
But for Mr. Gable, who sets feminine hearts fluttering whenever his handsome face and fine physique appear on a theater screen, “Gone with the Wind” would have swept the field last night in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ eleventh annual selection of premier film accomplishments.
“GWTW” did all right, anyway. To the surprise of no one, it walked off with eight of 16 possible awards, including those for best production, best actress, best supporting actress and best director. Not since “It Happened One Night” grabbed all the top honors in 1934 has a picture done as well.
But “Gone with the Wind” were the hopes of many another producer, actress, director and photographer for fleeting fame and the cheers of an ermined, evening-coated audience of filmdom’s famous, which crowded the banquet room of the Ambassador Hotel for the season’s swankiest affair.
Only Robert Donat, among the principal contestants, survived the big gale. It was he who edged out Gable as the outstanding actor. The industry—from mighty producer to obscure electrician—named him for his masterful portrayal of 50 years in an English schoolteacher’s life in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips.”
Neither Donat nor Gable were among those present. Donat is in England and Gable left Hollywood yesterday for a short vacation.
The Los Angeles Times, despite agreeing with the Academy not to release the names of the winners until after the ceremony had ended, printed them in their evening edition. So perhaps Mr. and Mrs. Gable were going to go to the awards and, upon finding out that Clark lost, opted out. That sounds just like Clark, who wouldn’t want to get all dressed up and go out on the town just to lose out. I can’t say I blame him as the majority of the newspaper headlines from the next day pointed out his loss: “Gable is Hollywood’s Forgotten Man,” “Only Clark Gable Keeps Wind From Making Clean Sweep of Awards,” “Wind Sweeps Except for Gable’s Failure to Take Top Prize.” Geez, that’s enough to hurt anyone’s self esteem.
It’s also possible that Clark and Carole decided to take off for the mountains before that too, as newspapers from the days leading up to the awards predict Gone with the Wind’s domination but say that Clark’s winning for Rhett Butler would be an upset. They rightfully predict Robert Donat but also say that James Stewart could take the Oscar home for Mr. Smith Went to Washington. So, again, Clark wouldn’t want to attend if he thought there was no chance of him winning.
Well, there you have it. As far as the 1940 Academy Awards are concerned, Mr. and Mrs. Gable were a no-show. I’m closing the book on this mystery!