Clark Gable has been linked to a lot of women. Pretty much every co-star he ever had in the 1930’s was labeled as his off-screen romance too. Sometimes, in the case of Joan Crawford or Elizabeth Allan, it was true. Other times, in the case of Myrna Loy or Jean Harlow, it was not. But there’s one costar of his that seems to be a point of contention: Lana Turner.
Lana, Clark’s pretty blonde co-star in Honky Tonk, Somewhere I’ll Find You, Homecoming and Betrayed, was known for dating her co-stars. Married seven times, she also reportedly had a flirtation with Robert Taylor, had an affair with Tyrone Power, hit the nightclubs with Tony Martin and was doted on by Howard Hughes, to name a few of her male companions. But was Clark on that list?
The rumors are that they had a torrid love affair during the filming of Honky Tonk, all behind Carole Lombard’s back. The affair continued while they began filming Somewhere I’ll Find You and supposedly that Carole found out about it before she left on her ill-fated bond tour and they fought about Lana the night before she left. The rumor even goes so far as to say that Carole took that plane to rush home to catch Clark with Lana and that Clark was in bed with Lana when he found out Carole’s plane had gone down. This all seems very melodramatic and rather ridiculous. How do these rumors get started? By trashy authors out to make a buck.
There are several things wrong with this report of an affair with Lana. Lana was twenty years younger than Clark—he was older than her mother. I know that’s hardly going to stand in the way but also she was hardly his type; rather prim and not very confident, she was in awe of him more than anything else. This becomes quite apparent if you read Lana’s autobiography.While some stars’ autobiographies seem fluffy and self-indulgent, I personally thought that Lana’s, Lana: The Lady, the Legend, the Truth, seemed very honest and down to earth. She cops to an affair with the married Tyrone Power and even admits aborting his child. Why would she completely deny an affair with Clark? I’ve heard many a Gable-detractor sqawk that she would deny it because she felt guilty that she was sleeping with Clark when his wife died. I just don’t buy that she would admit to sleeping with several married men and go into excruciating detail about back alley abortions but then leave out sleeping with Clark out of some sort of guilt. Lana says this about working on Honky Tonk:
I revered Gable, who by then could almost write his own ticket at the studio.He could even choose his directors. Luckily we developed a close working relationship, though not a close friendship. He had married Carole Lombard not many months before, after a long love affair and a divorce from his previous wife. I doubt that Carole believed the rampant press speculations about “fireworks” on the set between the two “powerful sex symbols” Gable and I were supposed to be. But one day I was playing a scene with Clark, and when I turned to look toward Jack Conway, the director, what I saw instead was the beautiful face of Mrs. Gable. Why, I’m not sure, but my knees went watery and I became so flustered that I excused myself and fled to my dressing trailer. I stayed there, trying to collect myself, until a knock came on the door.
“They’re ready to shoot, Miss Turner,” a voice said. When I peeked out, there was no sign of Carole Lombard. I assume that Gable must have asked her to leave, saying that the kid was nervous. When I apologized to him, pretending that I’d forgotten something and had to run to the trailer for it, that famous smile lit up his face. He said simply,”I understand.”
MGM had made much of Clark and Lana being paired together, calling them “the team that makes steam” but were careful with their publicity, knowing that if they hinted that there was some off screen affair (which MGM liked to do to boost ticket sales sometimes, even if it wasn’t true), there would be serious backlash as Clark and Carole were such a beloved Hollywood twosome.
As for Clark being in bed with Lana when he found out Carole’s plane went down, that is a complete and utter fabriction and there were several witnesses to the fact that he was at his home in Encino when he got the call that something happened to Carole’s plane. Jean Garceau recalled it in her book and also for example, see this article.
Lana spoke of that troubling period on the set of Somewhere I’ll Find You in her book as well:
We had been working for only a few weeks when production was suddenly halted. Carole Lombard, Gable’s wife, was dead.
She was on her way home from a war-bond selling tour and her plane had crashed outside Las Vegas. Afterward I heard a dreadful rumor that she had been scheduled to take the train, but decided to fly instead–the reason, the story had it, was her uneasiness over my working with Clark.
Clark was devastated by her death. The whole studio was in a state of shock. A pall settled over everyone connected with the picture. For all we knew, the filming had been shut down for good; we hardly expected him to come back at all.
At the studio I found a message that Mr. Mayer wished to see me. When I went to his office he told me that things were going to be very trying for Clark and for everyone else. “Now, Lana,” he said, “here’s where you come in. You’re going to be very patient with him. If his mind should wander, don’t be upset, you just be ready at all times. If he wants to come in earlier, you come in before him. If he wants to work through lunch, do it. A lot of the pressure of this picture will be riding on your shoulders. We’re trying to arrange for people to go home with him for dinner. If he should ask you, go. Agreed?”
“But I don’t know him that well,” I said.
“Never mind. Just do as I say.”
“I’ll try with all my heart,” I promised him.
One night Clark did invite me for dinner. A studio limousine delivered me to the house he had shared with Carole. His male servant served the meal. As we ate I chattered brightly, trying to ease the sorrow that lined his handsome face. But he never mentioned it. He was courtly, and cordial, and far too private for that.
After dinner Clark showed me his gun collection. He had been polishing some of the pieces–a cherished hobby, I thought, that gave him comfort now. Then the studio limousine arrived to take me home.
After that evening my esteem for him grew even greater. That was the first and only social occaison I ever shared with him, though we made two more pictures together and got along well. His willingness to finish the film at all showed his decency. And although some say they could see a difference in the way he performed before and after the tragedy, I for one was not able to detect it. He was the consummate professional. No wonder they called him the King.
That description of the dinner is just heartbreaking. I find it hard to believe she made that whole tale up. Why would she? And it sounds exactly how he would have handled the situation. Privately grieving, but still cordial.
Another point is if Lana and Clark were having some big affair, how come they never dated when both were single in the 1940’s or 1950’s? I have never come across an account of them out socializing other than on a movie set. They were both single during the making of Homecoming, but yet no rumors of an affair? Maybe because they were both single then and it wouldn’t be a salicious tale?
Was Clark completely faithful to Carole Lombard? I don’t know. But I just can’t see him having some love affair behind Carole’s back with a co-star like that. He was very much in love with Carole, as anyone around them could attest. If he was carrying on behind Carole’s back with Lana, that would be horribly embarrassing for Carole and of course word would be get back to her. Joan Crawford, whom he did have an affair with in the early 1930’s, even admitted that she was surprised that he wasn’t flirty with her while he was married to Carole. Carole might have been jealous of Lana, might have thought something was going on, but I really don’t think it fits. I haven’t found real evidence to support it.