clark gable carole lombard
Back in the days before internet, before the “IT” couple of the moment is photographed everywhere from airports to grocery stores and gas stations,  it wasn’t exactly easy to pinpoint the when, why and where of celebrity romances. Gable and Lombard were no different. As any Clark Gable and Carole Lombard fan knows, the much-publicized place of their first romantic spark was the Mayfair Ball in February 1936.
 
But is that true? Were there romantic sparks before then?
clark gable carole lombard no man of her own
 
I have come across some people who claim that Clark and Carole had something going on during the filming of No Man of Her Own and off and on since that time. I don’t believe that. When No Man of Her Own was filmed, Carole was seemingly happily married to William Powell and Clark, while not exactly happily married to second wife Ria Langham, was carrying on a dalliance with British actress Elizabeth Allan, as well as his ongoing affair with Joan Crawford. It seems Clark and Carole were friendly on set and there existed neither hostility nor romance.
 
In the ensuing years, Clark had an infamous fling with Loretta Young on the set of Call of the Wild, which we know now resulted in the birth of Clark’s only daughter, Judy Lewis. While still juggling Joan and Elizabeth, he was quite the man about town. Meanwhile, Carole divorced William Powell (though they maintained good terms) and counted Cesar Romero, George Raft, and screenwriter Robert Riskin among her suitors. She was in  a relationship with Russ Colombo until he was killed in a freak gun accident in 1934.
 
So it seems these two were occupied elsewhere before 1936.  Or were they? Well at the very least they did see each other socially in between No Man and 1936:
Carole Lombard, Clark Gable 1933

Carole Lombard and Clark Gable hanging out in 1933.

Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Ricardo Cortez and Carole Lombard at a party, May 26, 1935

Cary Grant, Clark Gable, Ricardo Cortez and Carole Lombard at a party, May 26, 1935

 

At a party on February 24, 1936, Clark and Carole amongst stars--but not standing together

At a party on February 24, 1936, Clark and Carole amongst stars–but not standing together

One thing that always raised eyebrows over the years were these candid pictures, of Clark and Claudette Colbert, dressed in It Happened One Night costumes and pictured with IHON director Frank Capra, and none other than Carole Lombard. Carole visiting the set of IHON in 1934! Why else would she but a secret romance!
clark gable carole lombard frank capra claudette colbertclark gable carole lombard claudette colbert frank capra
Well, no, in actuality the pictures were taken backstage at an Actors Fund Benefit in January 1937. More on that here.
The one item that still raises the questions is this bracelet.
clark gable carole lombard bracelet Carole gave it to Clark and it is inscribed with his initials on the front and “I love you, CL” on the back. It was auctioned off by Christie’s New York in 2006 (for $7,800) and in the auction description it says “Clark Gable and Carole Lombard began their love affair in the mid-1930s but their relationship was kept a secret as Gable was still married to his second wife, Ria. Gable was finally divorced from Ria on March 7, 1939, and on March 29, 1939, Gable and Lombard were married. Photographs of Gable wearing this bracelet engraved from Lombard bear witness to the length of their love affair as he is seen wearing this bracelet as early as 1934″. Hmmm.
 The picture that accompanies the auction is one of Clark on the set of Love on the Run, wearing the bracelet as he goes over the script with a script girl (who I always see mis-credited as Myrna Loy).
clark gable love on the run bracelet
You can also spot it in promotional stills for the film:
clark gable joan crawford love on the run
I have this photo marked as being from 1936 and there’s the bracelet:
clark gable
 Love on the Run began production in the spring of 1936, and while that seems like a short period of time to be dating before you give someone engraved gold jewelry, Clark and Carole were at least dating by this time. 
Adding fuel to the fire is a comment Carole made once after they were married, saying that they had been together for five years before they said their vows. Five?? Maybe just a mistake?
Maybe we’ll never know definitively, but the evidence does point to 1936 being the starting point.

An incredibly sweet, yet sad, footnote to this is that Clark continued to wear the bracelet for years after Carole died.

In 1943:

clark gable

In 1946:

margaret o'brien clark gable