By Alyce Canfield
Screenland magazine, December 1945
Proudly we present the first, exclusive screen magazine interview with the one and only Clark Gable since his return to pictures. A scoop by the brilliant girl reporter Alyce Canfield, pictured on the set at MGM with Gable
Clark Gable didn’t want to be interviewed, I was told, so I was getting the scoop to end all scoops sneaking on the “Adventure” set like this. Of course, it didn’t improve my disposition any to be the unwanted guest. To be blunt, I was miffed. Who did he think he was—Clark Gable? I didn’t just race out to MGM, you understand, when the great news came through. I took my time getting ready. I took five minutes. I was irked with Mr. Gable, I was. I could take him or I could leave him alone. Being the conservative type, I’d only seen “Gone with the Wind” five times.
Emily Torchia, cute unit girl for the Gable-Garson picture, met me on the set. It was supposed to be a seaport town with water, ships, and everything. In the scene, a lush little creature by the name of Lina Romay was hanging on Clark’s arm. Thomas Mitchell was playing a drunk very convincingly. Director Victor Fleming was eagle-eyeing every bit of action. It was fast company. Even so, one thing was strongly apparent: Clark Gable was the focal point of interest.
Well, says I, here’s the great Gable. Take a good look. Yep, he’s heavier. Betcha he weighs 200 if he weighs a pound. He’s taller than I thought he’d be. He barks when he talks before the camera, but his voice is soft when he’s just talking to his co-workers. He has presence. Even if it wasn’t Clark Gable, I’d know he was somebody important. And mama was right, he’s sure handsome, there is no doubt about that. Tall, dark, and mmmm! He can come over and say hello just any time now.
Not that I thought he would. An actor who has been on top of the top for fifteen years, who has so much money he’s forgotten what a plain little old dollar bill looks like, a guy everyone has spoiled rotten probably would think he was pretty special. He wouldn’t be going around saying hello to the hoi polloi.
That’s where I was wrong. The scene finished, Clark came over to where I was sitting. Emily introduced us. He turned on the Gable smile, gave with the Rhett Butler look and said: “hello, honey, are you getting everything you want?” I was miffed, remember. So what did I do? I beamed like a Chessy cat confronted with a bowl of cream. Hard to get, that’s me.
The first thing I discovered about Clark Gable was his honesty. He’s been riding that golden chariot reserved for THE top star for a long time, so he isn’t afraid to speak the truth. At this stage of the game it’s a pretty good gamble that his house won’t come tumbling down if he’s honest rather that politic. For instance, I had heard that the fabulous Mr. Gable was a great farm hand; that—in addition to working all day at the studio—he got up at 4:30 every morning to milk the cows. Honestly! So I asked him.
“What’ve they been telling you, honey?” he said. “I never milked a cow in my life! I never get up until I have to. I’m a lazy man, and the only reason I’m painting the fence on my place now is because I can’t find anyone else to do it. On weekends I sleep half the day, sometimes until three o’clock. Acting, in case you didn’t know, is hard work.”
It is hard work, layman’s opinion to the contrary. It involves great concentration, great perfectionism. There is also a nervous tension about “carrying” a million dollar picture, for a n actor has a certain obligation both to his studio and to movie-goers; he must give a good performance. If he flops, a lot of other people flop right along with him. Therefore, it doesn’t matter that he may feel like the very devil—with a headache to end all headaches or a cold or just a case of nerves, he has to give a good performance just the same. Although Gable is the least emotionally complicated of all of Hollywood’s stars and wouldn’t know a fit of temperament if he saw it face to face, he is still heir to this nervous tension. Most actors, particularly those of the he-man variety, are afraid to say that what they are doing is hard work. They are afraid some farm hand in Kansas or some oil driller in Texas might give out with a horse laugh.
These people can’t laugh at Gable, however, because he has basis for comparison. When he was eighteen, he was making $12 a day as a tool dresser at Bigheart, Oklahoma. He has been farmer, oil worker, lumberman, salesman, hop picker, rubber worker as well as actor, so he knows what he is talking about. If he says acting is hard work, it’s hard work. Still, the average Hollywood star would preface such a remark with a deprecatory smile. Gable makes no apologies.
At forty-four, he’s honest about his age. “I’ve been in pictures fifteen years,” he grinned. “Hell, I’m an old man, honey!”
“On you, it looks good,” I said.
And it does. He’s no frail wisp of a man. He isn’t carefully prettied up with makeup, adhesive tape and a toupee. He wears no makeup at all. He’s six feet, one inch tall, weighs 200 pounds, is slightly tanned. He’s just as terrific, masculine and heart-throbby as he was in “Gone with the Wind.” And that ain’t bad.
I noticed, too, that there is a certain aura surrounding a Gable set. There isn’t quite the same atmosphere anywhere else. Perhaps it’s because there is no other masculine or feminine star of equal caliber. He’s so far up on top that he has no competitors. His hold on the feminine, as well as masculine admirers has lasted well over a decade. During all this time he has been among the top ten box office favorites. With that record, he can now afford to relax and enjoy himself and this is very apparent between scenes. A Gable set is friendly, natural, easy-going. It’s different.
Take the instance of Greer Garson. She and Gable are in “Adventure.” An Academy Award winner, a star of the first magnitude, she gives a sensitive, fine performance. It may even be that she out-acts Gable. But to the grips, the electricians, the director, it is Gable who is the star of the picture. Therefore, although the “blacks” are often up for Garson on a picture in order for her to have privacy when she acts, it is hard to keep the same artistic atmosphere with Gable around. Somehow the idea of Garbo-like privacy, “blacks,” and such-like just don’t go with Clark Gable. Despite the fact that he is a great star, he has no illusions about his ability. “I have no desire to go back to the theatah,” he grins. “The theatah is a good place to be from!”
That is the Gable America remembers; the guy who laughs a lot, kids himself, and takes life—the good with the bad—in his stride. It hasn’t been so very long ago that the world was sobered by the tragic death of his lovely, gay Carole Lombard. For although Clark had been married before to older women, Hollywood had always felt that he and Carole found a love that doesn’t often come to Movieland’s beautiful people. Their marriage was so right. Before Clark came along, Carole had been one of Hollywood’s most glittering hostesses. She loved night clubs and parties. After Clark, she changed her whole way of life to share his. They went camping and duck hunting, they worked like stevedores on their ranch, or loafed in dingy dungarees and counted their fruit trees. Carole, the glamour girl, became Clark Gable’s kind of girl. They were very happy together.
Then came the first great bond drive and Carole was off to sell millions of dollars’ worth of war bonds. After ten days, her job well done, it was time to return home. The story goes that she tossed a coin; heads she would travel by plane; tails she would go by train. It came up heads, and she was glad because that she could be with Clark that much sooner. She and her publicity agent and her mother boarded the ill-fated plane. All three died in the crash,
Clark first heard the news from Eddie Mannix, MGM executive. Together they went to Las Vegas. They were told there had been an accident, but that no details were yet available. When the details came, they were soul-shattering. The tragedy numbed all Hollywood, for it was filmdom’s first gold star. A shocked world waited to see what Clark Gable would do.
He carried on. First, he had a job to do. The picture he was working on had to be finished or his studio would lose millions. He went back to work and it must have seemed ironical to him that the title of his picture was, “Somewhere I’ll Find You.” How he managed to work with curious eyes focused sympathetically on him is a measure of Gable, the man.
The picture finished, he quietly enlisted in the United States Army. Youngsters were doing the same thing all around him, but Gable was no youngster. He needn’t have gone. He could have stayed safely at home. Nevertheless, he left his $250,000 a year MGM salary and the ranch where he and Carole had been so happy. Perhaps he was thinking of the many gallant soldiers who had gone down doing their part and that among them was a fair-haired girl called Carole Lombard.
He went to Officers’ Training in Florida. He received his commission as a lieutenant and won his wings as a gunner. Later he formed a photographic unit and was sent to England. While there he was made a captain and awarded the Air Medal for “exceptionally meritorious achievement” in five bomber combat missions. In October, 1943, he returned to the States and worked with the First Motion Picture Unit on the task of editing a motion picture taken during forays over Europe for use as Army training films.
His first visit back to Hollywood, in 1943, revealed a slightly changed Gable. He didn’t go out much; his name was linked with no glamour girls. He was more sober in manner, less inclined to laughter. There was a wall of reserve around him. He didn’t want people to ask questions, either about his experiences overseas or his life before the war. Because his life before the war was held together by Carole and the memory of this still hurt. During May 1944 while in Washington, Captain Gable became Major Gable. Upon completion of the Army picture, he returned to civilian life. He had served three years.
Like other Americans who had lost loved ones in the war, he found he had to build a completely new life. For the first time since Carole’s death, his name was linked romantically with the loveliest girls in Hollywood: Kay Williams, Anita Colby; and in New York, socialite Dolly O’Brien. Today, you often see Gable with a beautiful girl on his arm. But it is strangely significant that his choice has not narrowed down to one. He’s having fun, that’s all. To Clark Gable, Carole never really left home.
Remembering this, Hollywood does not try to pry into the past. As a matter of fact, people don’t pry with Gable. He is friendly, warm, a great conversationalist, but questions like, “What does it feel like to go on a bombing mission?” get a definite brush-off. He speaks of his adventures over there with great reticence, and even then he generally twists it around so that he’s talking about “his boys” rather than about himself.
“I used to go on a mission about once a week,” he told me, “but it would take me a couple of days to get over it. I’m no kid. You leave at 4:30 in the morning and don’t get back until around 3:00 the next morning, and you are under tension all that time, and under fire part of the time. I’d come back mentally and physically exhausted. But those kids, those twenty-year-olds, they went out every day. The way those kids become men in a few brief weeks is something that kind of gets you.”
The afternoon shadows had lengthened. It was time to go. I gathered up my impressions and dusted them off neatly, trying to figure out just what makes Clark Gable different. First, it is his amazing lack of ego, despite his unchallenged success. This is discernible in little things: the fact that he is honestly interested in the other person, that he actually listens when you talk, and that he would rather listen to you than talk about himself. He has a manner that comes from rubbing shoulders with all types of people in all walks of life. And he has a terrific, sizzling sense of humor. Being with him is fun. He’s modest, too, in a screwy kind of way. For instance, he said: “Gary Cooper could have played a wonderful Rhett Butler. A half a dozen actors in Hollywood could have played Rhett Butler.”
Mr. Gable, are you kidding?
Evidently, he just doesn’t realize what it is he has. It’s sex appeal, mister, and if your mother didn’t tell you, you’re a big boy now and somebody oughta! The plain truth is that Clark Gable makes a woman conscious of being a woman, and this reaction is as definite when you meet him in person as it is when see him up there on the screen.
As a matter of fact, I got home in a pleasant little daze, smitten like all fury with one Mr. Gable, and doing the neatest swoon act around the house a bobbysoxer ever saw. The girl next door greeted me with the uncomfortable honesty of ten-year-olds: “Is it true he has big ears?”
It’s a funny thing, but, you know, I never noticed!