A Date with Clark Gable
By May Mann
Screenland magazine, May 1937
Here’s one girl’s thrilling experience of an actual “date” with gallant and much sought-after Gable himself
Of course there isn’t a girl who would need the slightest urging or a second bid to accept a date with Clark Gable. If Clark suggested horse-back riding, the girl would agree and rustle riding pants and boots, even if she’d never been closer to a horse than on the grandstand at Santa Anita. Or if Clark were at Sun Valley or Yosemite in winter, and he said: “Let’s go skiing!” a girl would brace herself for a dozen spills and a probable broken neck rather than admit she wasn’t athletic, and lose out on “a date with Clark Gable!” Should such an opportunity present itself, she would most likely give her arm a good pinch to see if she were awake or just delirious in the middle of a dream. And that girl might be one of Hollywood’s top-flight stars, a secretary at the studio, or a girl behind the counter in a department store. And the date might be a ride around the bloc in Clark’s sixteen-cylinder Packard roadster, or dinner and dancing at the Trocadero. Even though the Gable dates are pretty well written down on Carole Lombard’s calendar, Clark is still eligible enough. And though the chances of any mere Miss being dated by Gable when there’s the glamorous Lombard in the offing, one never can tell when the circumstances might just be right, and such an opportunity might come to some lucky girl.
Once in the not so distant past, I was sent by an enterprising editor to write a newspaper feature on “How It Would Be to Have a Date With Gable.” When I was introduced to Mr. Gable on a movie set at his studio. And got a first-hand close-up for that boyish grin, the Gable dimples and his engaging personality, I stepped right out of my classification of Hollywood news correspondent into the Clark Gable Movie Fan class. I was not a little confused as I tried to explain the nature of the interview, and kept thinking how faultless were his gray tweeds, the dull green shirt and matching tie of soft wool, and how remarkably well the coat fit on his broad shoulders. Clark wears clothes with a careless grace, seemingly unaware of his sartorial elegance.
“Please understand, Mr. Gable, I don’t want a date personally, I just want to write how it would be—“ and then I hastened to add: “Of course I don’t mean it wouldn’t be nice to have a date, but I assure you I don’t expect one, and this is all business.” (And I felt myself blushing, actually.)
Clark just grinned at me, having a lot of fun at my expense, and suggested we go over to a quiet corner and talk. He soon placed me at ease by relating some commonplace events of the day, and making some friendly inquiries about this rather beflustered and suddenly movie-struck reporter. Prop-men were breaking up the set and so we walked over to his dressing-room. The only photograph there was a large one of Carole Lombard in a beautiful silver frame standing on a small table by an easy chair. A small vase of salmon rosebuds stood by the picture, which showed Miss Lombard in riding habit, without make-up—and looking very natural and lovely.
Clark said he really thought perhaps a story based on reality would be better than one on fancy, and that we should write it after we’d had a date. However, he told about the places he’d like to go, the things he liked to do; what he said when he telephoned a girl, how he always asked her where she would like to go. If she suggested the Trocadero, he would ask her what she was wearing and send a corsage of flowers in harmonizing colors from his florist. For the occasion he would rent one of the long black limousines from the studio, as he only owns two sport roadsters and a hunting station wagon of his own. And of course he would wear white tie and tails and a top hat. But he said if given his preference, he would rather dress comfortably and call the girl and go for a ride. If the circus was in town he would certainly take her there, and they’d munch hamburgers and drink pink lemonade. But if the racing season were on, he’d suggest they go to Santa Anita. And then he always likes the tennis matches. Too, he likes small dinner parties at the homes of friends. Sometimes six months pass before he dons a dinner jacket—and then he will have to drive over to his studio, and take one out of his dressing-room for a formal occasion. And so we wrote an entertaining story, though Clark said at the time that someday he would give me a firsthand story on a date with him.
Several months later, my telephone rang one afternoon, and a rather boyish, but low modulated voice spoke from the receiver: “Hello, this is Clark Gable.” And when in stunned silence, I failed to answer, the voice repeated: “Can you hear me, this is Clark Gable speaking. How are you?” And then concluding that of course it was some boy friend trying to play a joke on me I blandly replied: “You don’t fool me one bit. Now next time you call just say you’re the King of Siam and I’ll believe you just as much.” There was a laugh at the other end of the wire and the voice persisted: “But truly, this is Clark, and I happen to be just a short distance from your house, and I thought you might have lunch with me.”
I didn’t even bother to powder my nose, or change my dress, because of course I expected no one. Five minutes later a car drove up my front gate, and I glanced out the window to see Clark Gable in person coming up the walk!
Here I had a date with Clark Gable, and didn’t know just what to do about it. Any girl can imagine herself in the same predicament, mentally visioning the perfectly groomed Carole, whom Clark dates. A quick little pinch hard enough to leave a mark on my arm to prove that me was me, and awake, not dreaming, I greeted the famous star, standing at my front door. Ten minutes later found us seated in his sixteen-cylinder-open-top roadster, driving down the street.
Clark talked about his new ranch house out at San Fernando Valley, and his cocker spaniel Smokey as we drove along. “I like bring a country squire, and lazing around out there in the sunshine and country air,” he said. “I have a wonderful cook—too good, in fact. Afraid she’s trying to make me fat. You know I was partially raised on a farm in Pennsylvania with my grandparents. I used to swim in the lake, hide in the hay loft, and ride a horse—and swipe Grandmother’s cookies.
“Smokey and I go for long rides through the brush of the Santa Monica mountains. The brush is full of game and Smokey gets all keyed up,” and as Clark talked his eyes sparkled with enjoyment. Smokey runs beside my horse, chasing a rabbit, losing it, barking frantically. He makes about twenty-five miles to the horse’s ten. Once he tried to follow a deer, but he soon found out that wasn’t his speed at all. Bob Taylor joins us for a ride now and then. He’s another farm boy, raised on a Nebraska farm. Some of the folks who write us fan letters wouldn’t find our lives very glamorous or exciting, I’m afraid.
By this time we had reached a popular section of the city, where we selected a restaurant. Clark parked his car at the curb, then noticing he had parked partly on a red zone, he turned on the ignition and backed out again, and we found another place up the street. A girl who dates with Clark need never have fear of landing in a traffic court. He is very thoughtful and considerate of the law and observes parking rules.
By this time several side-walkers who had recognized Clark when he attempted to park the first time had spread the word, and he was greeted by a dozen or more people who came running up the sidewalk, in full speed, shouting, “It’s Clark Gable! It’s Clark Gable!” Clark smiled good-naturedly and came over to my side of the car to help me alight, but before he could open the door he was besieged from all sides by autograph hunters, who popped up from nowhere, so it seemed, and girls and women who frantically rushed to reach him. He tried to make room to open the car door to help me out and I took mental note, that this was how it was to have a date with Clark Gable, and that I was in the shoes of Lombard—for the time being!
Finally Clark was able to get me out of the car into the swirling mob, which seemed to be increasing by the minute. Traffic was in a decided snarl, and extra policemen appeared from several directions. Two of them secured our arms and helped us to reach the sidewalk. All of which was so different than I had ever imagined a date with Gable would be like. But this was only the beginning.
Clark doesn’t like to turn down autograph hunters, so we’d hardly gone ten feet, with me hanging on his arm, and a dozen women frantically clutching at me, endeavoring to get to him, when Clark stopped and started signing autographs. People stepped all over my toes in the general rush, but their faces were smiling and eager—so I could only try to tuck my toes still further back and hope I’d be able to walk out alive. No one grabbed roughly at Clark, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a screen star shown more genuine respect and admiration. Though he was surrounded by three hundred people who firmly pushed their way up for autographs, they were courteous.
“That isn’t Carole Lombard,” was among the whispers floating around my ears—and I think the most ignored, and lease carefully handled person on the crowd on the sidewalk was the girl who was finding out what it was to have a date with Clark Gable!
Clark signed and signed while at frequent times I could hear little rips in my fur coat, as tugging hands sought to gain closer position to Gable. While Clark autographed he talked to me and said he hoped I didn’t mind, that this was all in a day’s work and that just the minute he signed another fifty we would continue our way to lunch. Thirty minutes later he announced in a most attractive way with his famous smile, and who would refuse those dimples, that he was “really very hungry and if you don’t mind I’d really like to go to lunch, and perhaps later I can sign some more autographs—“ whereupon a mighty cheer went up from the crowd and a path automatically opened down the sidewalk. People grabbed his hand and said: “It’s such a thrill seeing you, Mr. Gable” and “We like your pictures, Clark Gable” and boys yelled: “Hiya Clark!” to which Clark kept right on grinning. As for me, several women reached to squeeze my hand and said: “You lucky girl,” while one pretty young thing, with her heart in her eyes, and her eyes for Gable, came right out and said: “I wish I were you!” Others openly commented on “who’s the girl with Gable—“ and “Wait until Lombard hears about this”—and “Oh, he takes out lots of girls” and “That Lombard romance is just publicity” and even from the outer edges of the crowd: “What’s the girl like with Gable—what’s she wearing?”
Clark took my arm and guided me through the crowd into the little restaurant we had selected, because it was close and we believed would be quiet, and we had heard the food was excellent. As we opened the door, Clark gave my hand a little reassuring squeeze. He seemed to sense the feelings of a girl who had been an exhibition before a public mob, for the first time.
Now a girl having lunch with Clark would picture a small table in a remote corner replete with white linen and gleaming crystal and silver, with perhaps soft music, and Clark sitting there talking to her. But do the girls who have luncheon with Clark enjoy such intimacy, such privacy, such a romantic picture? Decidedly not! With his entrance, came business with a rush. The place was crowded with patrons old and new. The proprietor stood at the door warning his new customers that Mr. Gable was not to be disturbed at his table. Small children came in on the pretext of buying ice cream cones, and stood looking so wistfully sown at Clark’s table, with their pieces of paper and pencils in hand, that Clark melted and beckoned them to come down and he would sign an autograph. Others soon took advantage—and another autographing spree was on. Two cooks from the kitchen joined the fracas, and waitresses hurriedly gathered up menu cards to be autographed, and which are now displayed with the day’s menu so guests will know Gable ate there, if only once.
I sat there pondering if this could last forever—the autographing, I mean, when Clark suddenly said, “Now, no more. After all, I have a guest, and we would like lunch.” And so we were permitted to order.
By this time the afternoon was well advanced, and we discussed the fact that we were actually very hungry. Clark ordered a chicken sandwich and a glass of buttermilk and no dessert. He remarked that he had taken off twenty-five ponds last fall, and was being careful not to replace them. He looked over at me and asked me what I thought of having a date with him, and I managed to murmur, “It was very nice, but would be lots better if people would leave us alone for a bit.” Clark reached across the table and patted my hand and said that it was always this way, and that he really appreciated his fans, but sometimes the people who were with him didn’t—especially, and he referred to a girl whim he’d taken to the Troc one night, who wore a shimmering white gown with a long train, and they had been surrounded by fans, who in their eagerness for autographs had stood on the lady’s train ripping it from her gown, and they’d had to go home, and Clark chuckled in remembrance.
Then as the food was placed before us, and I decided that it was very thrilling to be able to sit there and become acquainted with the screen’s most popular star, a deluge of newspaper men poured down on us. Three of them, without being invited, sat right down at our table and started asking questions all at once. They asked Mr. Gable if it were true that he was going to be divorced this year from his wife, and if he planned on marrying Carole Lombard, and was he going to play Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind.” Clark from past experience handled these questions cleverly, and the reporters weren’t sure whether they were being answered or turned down. I or any girl who might have been his luncheon companion couldn’t help but feel very third-personish. The newspapermen stayed on and on—and so we started to eat—and thought they would leave, which they didn’t. Just when I had a nice juicy fork full of tomato up to my mouth, a flashlight bulb flashed, and then another and another one, and I could appreciate how and why stars dislike candid cameras clicking with their meals.
When we decided to leave and arose from the table, Gable was once more hand-shaked all around by the management, and the waitresses. The cashier didn’t want to take his money, said it was on the house, but Clark paid the check nevertheless.
Soon we were out on the sidewalk once more, where we found that the crowd had doubled in size, and traffic was almost at a standstill. Everyone who owned a camera had fished one out, or sent home for one, and invited all their family and relatives to rush down too, to glimpse Gable. We wound our way through the crowd up to Clark’s car, and kodaks were clicking from every angle.
Clark had to ask the people to make way again to get me into the car, and finally climbed in himself. By this time the sun was low in the west, and with excuses that he had to hurry to keep a dinner engagement, (and we’d just finished lunch, such as it was), he was able to avoid further autographs without offending the crowd.
I suggested that we return to my home, where perhaps we could find a moment to visit. And there was where I was due for the surprise of my life. The word had somehow spread ahead of us, and when we turned the corner into my street, there were cars by the dozens lined up for a block. Evidently the word had spread somewhere of my identity, and people had just put two and two together and came right down, figuring that Clark would bring me home sooner or later.
Clark stopped his car and looked back—as though searching for an escape, and looked back to see a steady stream of cars had been following us. And so there we were! There was space left by the front gate, and we drove up and went right into the house, where I found the telephone was ringing continually. By this time, my sense of humor had revived a bit and I turned to Clark helplessly and said: “So this is how it is to have a date with Mr. Gable!” And we both laughed. With constant interruptions he stayed for a few moments, until people, becoming bolder, came right up to the door and started knocking, asking to see Gable. And friends who hadn’t called for years came calling.
So Clark finally had to leave, and again he was met by a couple of dozen camera fans who snapped his picture at my front gate.
There’s an aftermath after you’ve had a date with Gable. Your friends set you apart and you are given a certain distinction. You are forever asked how romantic and exciting the date was. You see the candid pictures of it popping out from amateur candid photo magazines, and people pass your house, and remark that Gable was once there. As for yourself, you know what it is like to have had a date with the most famous actor on the screen. And with all of the mobbing, crowding, pushing and constant interruptions at the hands of the great American movie public, if your phone should ring a second time for a Gable date you’d say breathlessly: “Yes, of course!”