Clark Gable’s relationship with Jean Harlow was adorable. It wasn’t some great love affair like some people like to claim; it was a buddy-buddy, brother-sister relationship. He was always looking out after her, teasing her, and while everyone else called her “Baby,” he called her “Sis.” I like to point to his relationship with Jean when people say that he was some kind of predatory womanizer, like he bedded every co-star he had. Unfortunately, Jean was also one of the many women in Clark’s life who were special to him and then left him far too soon.
This article is an interview conducted on the set of Wife vs. Secretary. While there aren’t any grand revelations here, it is still sweet to hear Jean and Clark banter!
I said to Jean and Clark, “What I want to know is this—what dreams did you two dream when you were making your first picture together back in the Neolithic age? Did you dream that it would come to…this?”
And I indicated, comprehensively, the small deluxe dressing room. Jean’s maid hovering in readiness, Clark’s man proffering him a gold cigarette case, the stand-ins standing at attention—the whole luxurious frame of stardom…
And before the question was out of my mouth they answered in union, “We didn’t!”
“Nope,” said Clark, “I can answer for both of us and if I’m wrong Jean can stop me. We didn’t have a dream in our heads. We didn’t even think about a tomorrow but only of the day itself. We never thought about being stars. We knew that there were such animals and we admired them, respectfully, but at a distance. For never once did we think of ourselves as potential stars, or any kind of stars at all. Fact is, we didn’t think about it all. While as for dreaming…well, dreams don’t sit so well on an empty stomach.”
“I still can’t think of myself as a star,” said Jean, “sounds silly but it’s a fact that I never think of me as a star. I find myself thinking of Garbo and Dietrich and Colbert and Crawford and others as big stars, and then the thought comes, ‘but you’re a star, too’—and it doesn’t ring the bell. It doesn’t see, to be real!”
“Doesn’t sound silly to me,” Clark said, “because I feel the same way myself. Always have and always will.”
“Clark hasn’t changed one mite,” Jean said, with an affectionate smile and her fellow star, “since his almost unparalleled success came to him. He’s just the same today as he was that first day in The Secret Six. My chief recollection of him then is the way he threw hard rolls at me in one of the scenes—and then between the scenes, ‘just for fun’…FUN! He got realism into those rolls, believe me. He aimed ‘em with deadly precision. He gets realism into falling on the ice, too, as my fair limbs will doubtless bear witness tomorrow. What I mean is, we fall—and fall again…”
“And Jean hasn’t changed either,” Clark said. “In the beginning she wouldn’t have thought of allowing anyone to take the blows for her. She doesn’t think today of having anyone take the falls for her…
“No, you see in the days of The Secret Six we just thought, Jean and I, that we had jobs and were darned lucky to have ‘em. Our only hope was that there would be another job for us when the current one was finished. We never got beyond that point…”
“At the risk of being called an Elsie Dinsmore or something,” Jean broke in, “I was really thinking only of my mother then…of the sacrifices she had made, of the family opposition she faced when we came to Hollywood. I was just hoping, from hour to hour, that I would be allowed to keep on working, for her sake. Just as I would have felt if I’d been a stenographer or had any other kind of a job. I also had the hope that after a good many years and a lot of hard work I might develop into the kind of an actress I’d like to be. But of stardom, of great success, of all the glamour that went with the Garbos and the Loys I never had a thought or a dream. I just didn’t place myself in their category at all. I didn’t have time to dream…”
“I was thinking of my tummy,” grinned Clark, “and what steady jobs could mean to it!”
“But it was fun,” Jean said, blue eyes wistful, almost wishful for the departed days when she and her mother shared a modest home and a very modest hopes; when Clark used shoe leather instead of a new Dusenberg for transportation.
“Well,” I commented, “I have picked two honies! If you don’t dream of stardom for yourselves, individually, didn’t you think of it for each other?”
“Whad’d you mean?” asked Clark, blankly.
“I mean, didn’t you, Clark, gaze upon the platinum blonde glory that was Jean and say to yourself, ‘Here is the next big box office Glamour Girl! Here is a rising star! Here is the studio’s next gift to the fans?’”
“I did NOT,” retorted Clark, with the ruthless and unprettified honesty which characterizes everything he says, “I thought she was a nice kid but a rotten actress and that was as far as I went in thinking about her at all.”
“And you?” I turned to her, “did you think when you looked at Clark that he was to be the biggest star sensation since Valentino? Did you know…?”
“Imagine my embarrassment,” grinned Jean (they reminded me, the two of them, of high school kids playing Truth), “but honestly—NO! I didn’t think about him at all. I mean, I thought that he was just another actor, and not such a hot one at that, with a job. I thought he was a lot of fun and I took his advice only because I always take advice from everyone…”
“It wasn’t until we made Red Dust together,” Clark cut in, “that I realized Jean was an actress to be reckoned with, a comer, a star…she had improved so vastly by that time that even a blind man could get a glimmer of the glamour…a glamour of the glimmer…y’know.”
Clark and Jean were very similar in that the public’s perception of them, as they were in films, was way off. Jean was this painted-up floozy on the screen, while in real life she threw on sailor pants, a t-shirt and no makeup to go golfing. Clark appeared to be the epitome of the elegant man on the screen, while in real life he couldn’t wait to throw on khakis, hop in a station wagon and head out fishing.
You can read the article in its entirety in The Article Archive.
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