By Lenore Samuels
Silver Screen magazine, January 1936
Clark Escaped the Senoritas of the Argentine Only to Be Captured by a Broadcasting Station
For some weeks past scripts of information concerning Clark Gable—who was once quoted as saying he was very, very grateful for his success—had been peeping up at me from newspapers and various motion picture trade journals.
Clark, you see, had suddenly taken it into his head to hop off to South America by plane, and his journey, started in Hollywood with so much secrecy at the ungodly hour of four-thirty one cold morning, by degrees took on the semblance of a romantic good-will tour.
Everywhere he stopped he was mobbed by adoring fans. Beautiful Argentine flappers and matrons, some of whom should have long since reached the age of discretion, followed him along the main thoroughfares of Buenos Aires and other cities and hamlets which he visited. They tore off bits of his clothing for souvenirs until he had to seek shelter in his hotel room for common decency’s sake. While he registered at the desk of a certain hotel two avid admirers opened up his two small suitcases and carried away portions of his under-clothing and pajamas leaving the rest of his extremely personal belongings strewn over the floor for amused onlookers to gape at.
One evening—after replenishing his wardrobe through dire necessity—he left two pairs of shoes, one brown, one black, outside his bedroom door to be polished. The next morning only one shoe of each pair remained—and they weren’t mates.
After reading all these astonishing news items of Clark’s reception by the hospitable South Americans—and I mustn’t neglect to mention that he was the guest of many of the wealthiest inhabitants on their extremely well-appointed ranchos out in the great open spaces of that vast continent—I wondered, just a little bit, if Clark still could be quoted as saying he was very, very grateful for his success.
And, during the business of finding out, I discovered that Clark Gable “is no fool,” to quote Eddie Cantor. He had such a terrifically hard time crashing the gates of fame and popularity and success that he would be the last person in the world to go high-hat or temperamental on those loyal fans who show, in the only manner they find expedient, their tremendous liking for him.
Of course, when he was quizzed by hard-boiled newspapermen in New York about his amazing reception by the South American senoritas, he must be forgiven for his embarrassed grin and his “Oh, I guess women are crazy.” After all, as one man to another, it is a bit thick to have to admit you’re such a hero. But he didn’t say he disliked the fuss that was made about him everywhere he went. He didn’t say it because he’s an honest soul, and if he had to come out with a definite statement he’d have to admit that he liked it. Who wouldn’t? The only thing is could you and you and you—and even I—remain as poised and collected and keep our feet on the ground with such amazing nonchalance if we had half the female population of the world doing obeisance to those feet, just to mention an old Japanese custom.
Did I say half the female population? Well, just add to that a goodly portion of the male population, too. For Clark is equally as popular with the men who like their movies as he is with the women. And the newspapermen tell me “He’s a great guy. Regular.” In addition to this I had a motion picture executive sitting beside my desk the other day telling me anecdotes and gossip about Clark with such hero-worship in his eyes and in his voice and in his heart that I exclaimed quite sincerely: “Now, what’s the matter with me? I’ve never walked around the corner to see a Clark Gable picture?”
To which this horrified young man had but one reply: “Wait until you see him in person. I’ll bet you a double martini that you’ll come away raving about him too.”
But to see Clark Gable in person was not such an easy matter to arrange. Not because Clark was walking out on interviews or anything like that. It was simply that he was rehearsing for a broadcast of the play, “His Misleading Lady,” practically from the moment he stepped off the boat from South America and, actually, I believe it is easier to get an audience with the pope or the King of England or the President of the United States than it is to get within the sacred precincts of a rehearsal room of a prominent broadcasting station.
While I was patiently waiting to get even a two minutes’ audience with the king of the present crop of movie heroes, I took time out to delve a bit into his past. A past that doesn’t go back so far considering that Clark was born, in Cadiz, Ohio, in February 1901, of Pennsylvania Dutch parents. The Pennsylvania Dutch are noted for their rugged persistency, which trait may account for Clark’s ability to get what he’s after on the screen and off.
There were no actors in the Gable family until Clark came along. And even he began his career in considerably more hectic fashion than as an actor, for he doesn’t hesitate to mention that he was once a factory worker, an oil worker, a lumberjack, and held sundry other occupations of a like nature. There’s certainly no bunk about this Clark Gable, for all that he has become the Screen’s Idol No. 1.
Finally he drifted into the acting profession with a Little Theatre Movement. This eventually led him to work in various stock companies throughout the States, which was marvelous experience. And, finally, he landed in New York where he appeared in several prominent plays, among the most important of which was “Machinal.”
In the meantime he had played on the stage for a year in Los Angeles, and in that period had appeared in a few films in which he received little attention from the producers or the critics. Eventually, after another session in stock, he reached Los Angeles once again and overnight made a tremendous personal success as “Killer Mears” in the highly dramatic play, “The Last Mile.” The movie moguls, always on the lookout for spectacular “finds” of that kind, immediately singed him on the dotted line and he has remained in Hollywood ever since, and from the looks of things today will remain there for a long while to come.
It so happened that MGM had purchased a story around that time (this was in 1931) written by Adela Rogers St. Johns called “A Free Soul.” And there was a role in this story that seemed written to order to the measurement of the stalwart, vitally alive young actor, Clark Gable, whom MGM had under contract. One day Adela saw Clark—then really an unknown so far as the screen was concerned—striding across the MGM lot. To her he was the very epitome of Ace Wilfong, the pivotal character of her story, and she went to Irving Thalberg and begged him to assign this part to Gable. Well, very little need be added to this, for the rest is history.
The fans of the country went mad about Gable as Ace Wilfong. And every feminine star in Hollywood envied Norma Shearer who had had the good fortune to play opposite him in “A Free Soul.” Soon they were all clamoring to play in a Gable picture. Overnight this young man’s stock went up so high that the producers could not cast him in enough films to satisfy either his adoring fans or the glamorous stars who wished to play with him. Helen Hayes, Carole Lombard, Constance Bennett, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Marion Davies—each of them, and many others, had her day with Gable, and the producers, in order to satisfy them all, overworked their gold mine. They put him in too many pictures—and they typed him in the same kind of role time and time again. The result was that Gable lost his health and the fickle public lost its interest. But…only temporarily.
After Gable had been given a long vacation in which to recoup his strength and his looks, MGM loaned him to Columbia to play opposite Claudette Colbert in “It Happened One Night.” This was a comedy role, the first he had ever played on the screen, and he came through so brilliantly it was just as if an entirely new star had been discovered in the cinema world. The picture brought the same success to Claudette, whose career in pictures almost paralleled Clark’s up to this point.
…Well, now that I’ve delved into Mr. Gable’s past. I’m sure you’d like to learn a little something about his future. Well, so did I, so off I went again to that broadcasting station to see if the flinty press agent who had barred my admission on several previous occasions would relent now that I had given him a few days’ uninterrupted peace. But orders were orders! And his orders were to keep everyone out of that room who had no business there. Which meant me in no uncertain terms.
After this impasse was reached, a page boy who had listened to this little altercation suddenly took pity upon me and whispered: “This is against the rules…I have never done it for anyone before. But if you want to peak through that little glass window into the rehearsal room you can see Mr. Gable rehearse. You can have just one minute by my watch.” So I trotted up two or three steps and pasted my face against the little window and saw Clark rehearsing. Only, just to rile me a little more, while everyone else in the cast did their rehearsing with their faces turned toward me, Clark spoke his lines with his back toward me. So, if any of you fans would like to know how Mr. Gable looks when he is at work and not facing a firing squad of fans, all I can tell you is that he stands most nonchalantly while delivering his lines and that he keeps one hand in—yes, his right hand trousers’ pocket.
When I stepped down from my perch it was to gaze into the amused eyes of several dozen actors who were resting between rehearsals, and to say that I felt like the silliest of the South American senoritas is putting it mildly…
Even a movie hero has to eat, and I finally caught up with Mr. Gable on his way to the commissary on the last day of rehearsals and, in between mouthfuls of an enormous ham sandwich and generous gulpings of hot coffee, he pleasantly informed me that he was planning to return to Hollywood immediately after his broadcast—which, by the way, he was enjoying immensely. And he was particularly tickled about the nice big lump of money he was getting for it—even as you and I. That he was going to do a picture called “San Francisco,” woven around the earthquake of 1906, with Jeanette MacDonald, and another with Jean Harlow and Myrna Loy called “Wife vs. Secretary,” (you can figure out this story yourself!) but that he didn’t know which was to be done first.
And while he talked, I suddenly understood why women all over the world fall for the Gable charm and personality. Why, he’s just like the boy you first fell in love with. He has the same amused chuckle, the same earnest way of looking straight into your eyes with that same earnest expression while he talks, and he makes you feel, for the moment at least, that you are the only person in the world that matters. And that’s an achievement which all women enjoy alike. Besides which, he really had a grand sense of humor, and women love that, too.
As ten minutes with the Clark Gable personality is really just a teaser, I naturally wanted more of it. And so, when I reluctantly saw him off to the rehearsal room I immediately made for the nearest telephone booth and dialed the young executive with whom I had so recklessly wagered a double martini just a few short days ago.
“Well, you win!” I murmured. “I’m on my way to the Capitol Theatre to see what Clark Gable does with the character of Fletcher Christian in ‘Mutiny on the Bounty.’ You know, I was simply crazy about that book…” And before he could utter one “I told you so” I gently hung up the receiver and walked towards the first corner I had ever turned in search of a Clark Gable film.