clark gable

“No one, not even Brando, has ever approached Gable. He’s the king–and he always will be.” ~Joan Crawford

Clark Gable died of a heart attack 51 years ago today, at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital.

Clark Gable, All-Time King of Movie Stars, Dies of Heart Attack

by James Bacon

HOLLYWOOD–Clark Gable, the greatest movie star of them all, dropped his head back on a pillow late Wednesday and died of a heart attack.

The end came so fast that his doctor said there was no pain–just a few gasps. A few seconds before he had been asleep. A nurse in his room heard the gasps and shouted across the hall to Mrs. Gable who had moved into Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital when Gable, 59, was taken there after his first heart attack Nov.6.

Ironically, death came after his best day since that first attack. he had eaten heartily at dinner, then chatted happily with his wife.

When Kay, his fifth wife, noticed him dozing again, she retired to her room across the hall. She was barely settled when she heard the nurse cry: “Come quick!”

Thus ended the 30 year reign of the king of Hollywood. Sadly, he will never see his first child due in March.

His impending fatherhood was the topic of his last conversation with his wife–and many earlier talks with her and others.

“He was more concerned about the effect of his illness on me and the baby than he was about himself,” Kay related.

“I feel terrible doing this to you and the baby,” he told her soon after he entered the hospital.

Gable had no previous history of heart trouble when the coronary thrombosis hit him at his 20-acre Encino ranch that Sunday morning 11 days ago.

“He was the healthiest man alive until that came,” his wife said. “He hadn’t even had a cold in the five years we’ve been married.”

The blonde widow, under heavy sedation, was bearing up as well as could be expected under the shock.

I was the last newspaperman to talk to him. It was Friday, Nov. 4. He had just one more scene to shoot in a station wagon with Marilyn Monroe for “The Misfits.”

“How ya, grandpa?” he grinned at me. I kidded him back:

“What’s this. I used to be a fan of yours when I went to high school. Here I’m a new grandpa and you’re about to become a papa for the first time.”

“I always was a late starter,” he laughed. Then he became serious.

“This is a dividend that has come to me late in life. When I wind up this picture, I’m taking off until the baby is born in March. I want to be there when it happens–and I want to be there a good many months afterward.

“This is my 90th picture–and it’s been a tough one. I’m not doing any more for a while. I want to enjoy my son.”

All through the conversation, he referred to the baby only as he–and it was hard to conceive any Gable first-born as being anything else but a husky boy.

For Gable was all man–admired and envied my men and adored by women. He once said he had received 5,000 marriage proposals from women fans.

And that was years ago. His popularity never diminished despite a series of bad pictures after World War II–pictures that would have killed off any other star in the business.

….Gable, a better actor than most screen heroes, never took himself seriously. A few years ago, I asked him if he intended to take up directing as had some of his fellow stars.

“Direct? Hell! I haven’t even learned how to act yet.”

In a way, that quote summed up Gable–a big star who never got the big head–even though he had the ears for it.

Unlike many big stars, Gable was as beloved by fellow workers as by fans. When news of his first heart attack broke, a flock of MGM people from gatemen to publicity men flocked to the hospital to help–although Gable hadn’t worked at MGM for 10 years.

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Clark’s funeral was held on November 19 at the Church of the Recessional.

The Church of the Recessional

Clark's funeral

Kay, in black veil, leaving the service

Associated Press:

Gable’s Funeral Simple, Dignified

GLENDALE, Calif.–The last rites for Clark Gable were held yesterday with all the dignity and respect that Hollywood’s king commanded during his 30 year reign.

Unlike the near riotous behavior that has marred rites for Hollywood heroes of the past–Rudolph Valentino and Tyrone Power, to name two–a saddened crowd of 300 fans stood reverently a good distance from Forest Lawn’s Church of the Recessional.

Inside to hear the Episcopal rites conducted by an Air Force chaplain was a virtual Who’s Who of the Gable era of movie history.

There was Mervyn LeRoy, the director who spotted Gable in a Los Angeles play and took him to Darryl Zanuck, then boss at Warner Bros., only to have Zanuck reject him because of those famous big ears.

And crying unashamedly during the rites was Norma Shearer, the MGM star who got slapped by an unknown Gable in “A Free Soul.”¬† That was 1931 and the king, in effect, ascended his throne with that display of he-man love making.

Among the pallbearers was Spencer Tracy who, with Gable, gave MGM such great hits as “Test Pilot” and “Boom Town.”

Robert Taylor and James Stewart, other MGM stalwarts in the movies’ golden age, were pallbearers, too.

And crying as though her heart were breaking was actress Virginia Grey, a long ago Gable girlfriend. She had been invited by Mrs. Kay Gable, the blonde widow who had tolerantly ordered that her husband’s body be entombed beside that of another great love of Gable’s life–actress Carole Lombard, his third wife who perished in an air crash.

Actress Marion Davies, in a rare public appearance, was there, recalling “Cain and Mabel,” the last movie she ever made. Gable was her co-star in that mid-thirties hit.

Comedian Jack Oakie, an old pal of Gable’s, was serious faced throughout the rites but when the rites were over and most of the mourners were gone, he wisecracked with the straggling fans.

Earlier some of the fans had tried to get past the barricades for a closer look at the weeping widow but a huge security force of MGM police and studio people had no trouble keeping things orderly.

Slipping by, almost unnoticed, was playright Arthur Miller who scripted “The Misfits,” the last picture Gable made. His co-star was Marilyn Monroe, Miller’s recently estranged wife. With him was Director John Huston.

Others there were Van Johnson, Robert Stack, George Murphy, Adolph Menjou, Mr. and Mrs. Roy Rogers and Mike Romanoff.

There was no eulogy delivered by the Rev. Johnson E. West. He read the simple Episcopal service before a huge bower of flowers. The coffin was closed during the rites.

Mrs. Gable, an expectant mother, took her last look Friday at the face of her 59 year-old husband, a face that looked virile even in death.

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You can see more pictures from Forest Lawn Glendale here.

Read more about his death and funeral and see his will here.

See pictures from his funeral in the gallery.

Rest in peace, Clark. You are remembered.