This article is one of a common theme: trying to determine why Clark Gable was so popular. At this point, Clark had been a major star for nine years. While that doesn’t seem like such a long time nowadays, to the fickle 1930′s audiences, it really was.
“This won’t last, so I’m going to make my pile quick and get out!” Clark Gable told me, nearly eight years ago.
The other day he smilingly admitted he had been a pretty poor prophet. Instead of getting out quickly, he has broken all records for year-after-year leadership at the box office. Throw in his Academy Award, his Rhett Butler triumph, his new contract at $7,500 weekly, and you have what makes Gable the most successful movie actor of all time.
“But if I had it to do over again, I’d still make the same prophecy,” he declared, “I know more about pictures now, but not enough to understand my good luck.”
Clark had no intention of inferring here, that his success was due to luck rather than ability. He is modest by nature, but too honest to be that modest! Actually, he has had his full share of unlucky breaks. Weak pictures, miscasting, divorce, unwelcome headlines in the press, occasional ill-advised ballyhoo such as that “mobbed by women” stuff.
I must admit that one of the things I find so refreshing about Clark is that when interviewers asked him the same questions year after year, he tended to always answer them the same. Secret to his success? Luck. How long will he be a star? Til the people don’t want him anymore.
With all his sensible qualities, Clark has quick intelligence, a keen sense of logic and reason, excellent judgment. You can slip anything over on him. But his humor is double-acting; if the joke is on him, it’s just as funny to him as though it were on someone else.
The humanness and unspoiled “realness” is revealed increasingly, the longer and better you know him. It is not too much to say that his earthiness, in the Hollywood glamour whirl, remains as unaffected as was Lincoln’s in the White House.
Many a time, his huge and lusty enjoyment of simple things has annoyed the film-town show-offs, just as Lincoln’s simple tastes annoyed the pretenders at Washington.
“You’re the oddest chap, Clark!” one noted actor exclaimed in my hearing as he watched Clark blissfully peeling and eating bananas, and gulping down milk directly from the quart bottle.
“How come?” the star asked.
“Instead of that stuff, you could lunch on champagne and caviar…”
“Sure, if I liked ‘em,” replied Gable. Then he added with a chuckle, “Maybe it’s wrong to eat what I like instead of what’s expensive, but I can’t help it—I’m so nuts about bananas!”
His zest for farm life is another enigma to many, including even some stars who pose as “gentlemen farmers.”
“What’s the good of having a farm if you don’t work on it?” Clark asks them. “I’ll admit I didn’t like farm work when I was a kid, because I had to do it then. Now I get fun out of it. The exercise, change and quiet seem to recharge my batteries. I come back to the studio, after a spell out at my place, with a lot more pep.”
That may be true, but I have never seen Clark when he seemed to nee battery recharging, or more abundant energy. His vitality and interest in life are revealed; even during those deadly dull waiting periods between scenes, on some movie sets.
Every time I see Clark on a set, except when he is working or in rehearsal, he’s in the middle of a lively group—most often a group of husky studio electricians, “grips,” and so on. He is not a famous star among them, but by his unaffected geniality and enjoyment, becomes literally one of them. His hand smacks resoundingly on the shoulder of a burly stage carpenter. His guffaw, at someone else’s quip, rings out loud and unrestrained. He gets out of his canvas chair with a spring that is almost feline; sits down again to flow back into easy, tensionless relaxation.
This made me think of how Clark and Carole Lombard were similar in many ways: appreciating life and everything it had to offer–the big and the small, liking to hang out with the simple folk and eat the simple food rather than be in pretentious circles eating caviar.
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