The King and I
By Kay Gable as told to Liza Wilson
The America Weekly, February 10, 1957
Clark Gable’s wife reveals why she was “on pins and needles” before he proposed—and what life is like with the Great Lover
My life with Mr. G. began at six o’clock on a beautiful, sunny California morning. It was July 11th, a date I shall never forget, and the year was 1955. Mr. G. arrived at my home in Beverly Hills. We were on our way to be married that afternoon in Minden, Nevada.
I had been walking on clouds ever since the King proposed to me some weeks earlier in the rose garden of his ranch in Encino. He has told people, “I had it in mind to marry Kathleen for about a year.” He kept me on pins and needles for quite a few months out of that year. However, I had a feeling that a proposal was in the works when I overheard him say to a friend, “Old Kathleen has an awful lot of remarkable stuff in her. She can do anything. Even knows how to run a tractor.” That’s high praise from Mr. G. He likes independence in a woman.
Clark sent his pals of many years, the Al Menascos—Al is a retired automobile dealer—ahead of us on a dry run to Minden. Mr. G. is noted for his punctuality. Hot or cold he was going to meet his old chum in Minden by 5:15. I’ve had faster rides in my life, but not many. He slowed down once when my bottle of liquid hair net exploded right under his seat and spoiled my make-up case.
As we approached Minden, my sister, Elizabeth Williams Nesser, who made the trip with us, wanted to freshen up before facing the ordeal. And so did I. My dream man drove off the road a few feet and pointed to a stream and a clump of trees with the pleased gestures of a man presenting us with the Presidential suite at the Waldorf.
“Well,” said my sister in disgust, “I’m not going to scrub myself in a babbling brook. We’ll go to a motel.”
Mr. G. demurred. We’d be recognized. But my sister was adamant. So we decided that he and I could impersonate an elderly couple bent over with arthritis. My soon-to-be husband threw himself into the role with gusto of a Lon Chaney.
“My mother and father,” said my sister to the clerk, “wish two rooms in order to clean up before traveling further.” And then, pointing to Mr. G., she added in an aside to me, “It isn’t too late to change your mind, Kay.”
We met the Menascos right on schedule, obtained a license, and were on the steps of the justice of the peace’s yellow stucco cottage at five minutes to six. The cottage was covered with rambling roses, Mr. G’s favorite flower. I considered it a good omen. I don’t remember much about the ceremony and I don’t know who was shaking the most, the Great Man or myself.
Al had rented a small plane, and after the ceremony he flew us to a quaint old house in Jack London’s Valley of the Moon, near St. Helena. On the table was a beautiful wedding cake, a jeroboam of champagne, cold roast duck, everything Mr. G. likes, including pickles and potato salad. We had our wedding supper alone—after we phone my two children, Joan and Bunker, ages five and seven. Little Joan announced jubilantly to Clark, “Hi there, Mr. G. Bunker and I just heard over the television that Judge Fisher married Ma.”
Five days later my husband said to me, “Kathleen, where do want to go on your honeymoon? Europe? South America? Mexico?”
“Pa,” I said, “let’s go home.”
“Home” is a rolling ranch in the foothills of the San Fernando Valley. Mr. G. has lived here now for 17 years, and I know he loves it more than any place in the world. However, he is a wonderfully unselfish man. Several days after we returned home he said, “We can sell the ranch, Kathleen. We can buy a house in Bel-Air or Beverly Hills. I want you to be happy.” I was touched and said, “You love the ranch, Pa. I love the ranch. It’s an ideal place to bring up children. Let’s not think of moving.”
The house is white brick. It is furnished in Early American with exceptionally fine antiques which Clark and Carole Lombard bought in the East many years ago. It’s a man’s house, full of pewter mugs, bronze, coal-oil lamps, sporting prints and sturdy furniture. I added gay draperies and flowers.
Mr. G. says I put flowers into everything that will hold a few drops of water. I have even made vases out of our old 10-gallon milk cans. I painted them white and put them in the corners of our lazy rocking-chair porch, which is my favorite part of the house.
The three bedrooms are upstairs, and downstairs are the kitchen, dining room (a sumptuous room with a huge fireplace and bar), a living room, Mr. G.’s study, and his gun-room. It hasn’t been the gun room since Clark discovered my young son inspecting the guns that used to be kept there.
The den, as we call it now, is where we gather in the early evening to be with the children while they have dinner on their little desks with Patches and Pretty, their lovebirds, sneaking crumbs, and Rip, the hunting dog Clark gave them, standing by impatiently for a handout.
The house is tucked in the midst of 22 acres of pepper trees, citrus groves, peach orchards, gardenias, camellias and two miles of red roses growing on the white fences that circle the various alfalfa paddocks. Mr. G. has a green thumb. Anything he touches seems to bloom overnight.
The stables have been closed ever since he enlisted in the Air Force during World War II. His friend, Howard Strickling, publicity director at MGM, takes care of his horses on his nearby ranch. But we do have two burros, Silver Blacky and Baba. Grace Kelly gave Baba to Clark on his birthday after they finished Mogambo.
There are two guest cottages on the ranch, complete with their own kitchens. My two children and their nurse occupy one of these. They entertain their little friends in the afternoons and on weekends.
When I renewed my friendship with Mr. G. following my divorce from Adolph Spreckels, some of my friends warned me, “He’ll never propose, Kay. Your children will frighten him away.” They pointed out that Clark had never had any children of his own and at this adult stage of his life probably hated them. Nothing could be further from the truth. The kids worship him, and he loves them. They call him “Mr. G.” or “Pa.”
When Bunker sees a picture of Clark with Jane Russell, with whom he starred in The Tall Men, with Susan Hayward, who was with him in Soldier of Fortune, or with Eleanor Parker who plays with him in his newest film, The King and Four Queens, he cuts it out and proudly exhibits it to his schoolmates. “Pa has so many girls,” he says, pleased as Punch.
Mr. G. and I do not believe in large parties, and seldom invite more than eight guests for dinner.
Life on the ranch is leisurely. When Clark is working he gets up around five-thirty. When he isn’t working he’ll stay in bed until six thirty or seven. His breakfast varies little month in and month out: coffee and grapefruit. He limits himself to one cup of coffee a day and has that cup for breakfast.
After breakfast he reads the newspapers and confers with his executive secretary and friend, Jean Garceau, who has been with him 20 years. The children drop in to say good-by on their way to the school bus. Mr. G. then checks with his two gardeners and spends the rest of the morning with them, plowing, planting, pruning, watering, and painting fences, I gave him a new tractor the Christmas after we were married and you would have thought I had presented him with Fort Knox.
We lunch on trays around two o’clock, by the pool, or on the lazy rocking-chair porch. The afternoons, while I am arranging flowers or working on my scrapbooks, he spends in his study making business phone calls, discussing films with his writers and directors, or reading scripts.
At five thirty we gather with the kids in the den. And while they have their dinner we have our cocktails and nibble on cheese and crackers. While I work on petit point slippers for Clark and the kids (they’re loaded with them) they watch television. Usually we have a game of bingo with Joan and Bunker and the nurse before they leave for their cottage. Before we have dinner we walk over to their cottage and listen to their prayers. After dinner we look at fights or special programs on our color TV set. Sometimes, but not often, I can persuade Mr. G. to run one of his old pictures on his projection machine.
After the picture I always try to tease him into telling me some tasty morsels about his former leading ladies, but I might as well bang my head against a stone wall. He simply refuses to gossip. He’ll break into that schoolboy grin that I (and 50 million other women) find irresistible and say, “She’s a fine girl. A fine girl.” That’s the only thing I don’t like about my remarkable husband, for I’m a gal who likes a bit of gossip, now and then. One of these days I’ll break him down.
He has absolutely no conceit about his acting. “Make like a great lover,” I’ll say, and he’ll give me a nauseating smirk. I’ll never forget the time a magazine writer asked him, “How does it feel, Mr. Gable, to be the screen’s Great Lover?” Clark gave her a quizzical look to see if she was kidding, and answered, “It’s a living.”
Although Mr. G. is a friendly person he isn’t very social-minded. He went through that phase some years ago and didn’t like it. But to please me we’ll occasionally go to a party or a premiere.
Not long ago we went to the premiere of Giant at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Pa looked elegant in his dinner jacket and liked the picture tremendously. But the best part of the evening to me was when we got home and he began reminiscing about the premieres of other days. He told me about the exciting world premiere of Gone with the Wind in Atlanta when an estimated 10,000 people waited fours for Carole Lombard, Vivien Leigh and him at the airport. They had to have a motorcycle escort to get them through the mob.
At the hotel the fans were packed solid. A policeman said to Clark, “Mr. Gable, don’t get out. There aren’t enough cops in Atlanta to get you through that crowd.” But Clark stood up in the car, grinned that irresistible grin, and shouted, “How about letting a tired guy through for a cup of coffee?” The crowds parted like the waters of the Red Sea in Mr. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.
We celebrated New Years of 1956 on the ranch with a champagne toast. I looked forward to a wonderful year with the man that I love. But after several months of pregnancy I lost my baby. I was heartbroken. Clark had been such a proud prospective father, and I had so wanted to give him a child of his own.
Then, last May, I awakened one morning with a horrifying pain in my chest and arm. My jaw was paralyzed. I thought it was a case of indigestion so I took a dose of soda, and the pain went away. We were leaving for St. George, Utah, that evening for the location of The King and Four Queens. Mr. G. was busy packing the station wagon so I said nothing about it. We had arranged for a bungalow in St. George.
After a month on Utah locations we were both glad to get back to the ranch again. The pains in my chest were coming more often, and lasting longer. One morning I couldn’t move. I said, “Something’s wrong with me, Pa.” And began to cry. “It’s the hospital for you,” he said.
Soon after we reached the hospital I had a 20-minute attack and the doctor found that I had angina pectoris. Clark moved into the hospital to stay with me. I was in the hospital for three weeks.
My first wedding anniversary was a dismal affair. I was back at the ranch, but in bed, and still having attacks. Mr. G. fussed around like an old mother hen, and one day he said, “Kathleen, I have a hunch you aren’t taking all your medicine. I suggest you follow your doctor’s advice.” He was right. If it wasn’t for Clark I wouldn’t be alive today.
My birthday, on August 7th, was a gala affair. I was much better by then, and the doctor had decided it would be all right for me to have a few guests and dine for the first time in the dining room.
I was so much better by September that I urged Clark to resume his hunting trips and persuaded him to go dove hunting in Yuma with a group of his pals over Labor Day. He called me nine times. When he returned I met him at the airport. Since then he has been going someplace almost every week end—but now I am with him. The doctor gave his approval and tells me that all I have to do is avoid stairs, take my pills, and rest—and everything will be all right. The King is happy again. And so am I.