Getting Gay with Gable
By Elizabeth Wilson
Screenland magazine, January 1938
What happens when Clark cuts up
If it hadn’t been for East’s mild little diamond bid Clark Gable probably never would have hone duck hunting, Claudette Colbert wouldn’t have been invited to Walter Lang’s for dinner, and I would have gone serenely, well, not too serenely, through life without ever knowing what a duck press is. It certainly had unexpected repercussions. Up until then the game had been quite a nice little game, not brilliant, but nice, and South hadn’t yawned more than five times. But when East made that mild little bid in a weak voice it started a bidding duel between East and West which ended eventually in a fourteen hundred point gain for North and South. East, who in private life is Carole Lombard, said she was sorry. West, who is known to millions as Clark Gable, said that there was really no law that forced people to sit down at a bridge table for hours and glare at each other for making foolish bids and that personally he thought it would be more fun to go duck hunting. Fieldsie and Walter Lang (North and South to Mr. Culbertson, but best friends to Carole and Clark) said don’t forget to bring back some sucks. And Carole said no pumas this time please.
So the next morning Clark, who is a good shot, brought back a bevy of wild duck and because he lives at a big hotel in Beverly Hills and has no cook, no valet, no chauffeur, no second maid, no China boy (“I’m not helpless,” says Mr. Gable when someone suggests that a movie star ought to have servants), he dumped them on Walter Lang’s ping pong table and said it would be nice to have a couple of people in to help eat them. Walter didn’t want any people in because he had just bought a new house and the pictures and drapes weren’t up, and Walter, like all directors, wants to have his sets perfect before the actions tarts. “When you have duck you have duck,” said Clark with a grin and a shrug, which rather expresses his philosophy of life—if you have a treat tossed at you don’t grumble, enjoy it—“I’ll hang the pictures and I’ll make the sauce.”
Clark Gable with all his being Screen Lover Number 1 has never been known to make an “entrance,” and it’s a safe bet that if you invite him to dinner at seven-thirty he will be there at six-thirty, which is another reason why he and Missy Lombard get along so swell, Carole being the only glamour girl in Hollywood who keeps her appointments to the dot. So when Claudette and the doctor and I arrived the pictures were all hung and all kinds of little knick-knacks which would eventually be a Gable sauce were gathered about the chafing dish on Walter’s bar. Shouts of laughter from the game room announced that Carole and Clark were whipping up an extra edge to their appetite for pressed duck by an animated game of ping pong, not just the usual ping pong, but “match” ping pong, a little variation that Walter brought back from China. Clark is crazy about match ping pong and is the match ping pong champion of Benedict Canyon though Carole is no slug at the game herself. Walter’s match bill is terrific. The idea it seems is for each side, East and West again if you wish, to place an opened box of matches on the baseline and see who can upset the most matches in due course of a ping pong game. I’m better at rummy. Claudette is better at parches, and Walter promised her she could play after dinner. If anyone would play with her. Movie stars aren’t as coddled as you might think.
On a large silver platter the ducks, well roasted and with their meaty parts removed, were brought in from the kitchen and placed on the bar, and everybody stopped counting silly matches and with a “Woo Woo” (Mr. Hugh Herbert really started something in Hollywood) made a wild dash for duck legs and wings. Such picking of bones! How revolting! Claudette, like something starved out of a Dickens novel, snatched it away from me. Really, Miss Lombard and Miss Colbert, if the public could see you now with duck behind your ears! “Tut, tut,” said Mr. Gable whacking away at grasping fingers with a huge spoon, “you aren’t supposed to eat that, that’s for the sauce. Haven’t you been fed today? Hey, lay off, I want to show you how to make pressed duck sauce, the recipe for which kings have offered me their crowns.”
Well, I always know a chafing dish when I meet one out socially but there was some kind of an apparatus at the end of the bar that had me completely baffled. “What’s that funny looking thing?” I said pointing a greasy finger, “a cocoanut cracker? Dear me, what will the rich think of next?” “That funny looking thing,” said Carole scornfully, though it wasn’t very effective with a duck wing in her mouth, “is a duck press, and it is quite evident that you haven’t been out much. It is a duck press, isn’t it?” she said in an aside to Fieldsie. Clark said sh-sh-s-s-sh-h, and we all did. It was going to be a Ceremony.
And just so you, my little kiddies, will have something on the crowned heads of Europe I’m going to give you the famous Gable recipe for pressed duck here and now, and if it brings on a good case of indigestion don’t blame me. First of all, you clean and singe and wash wild ducks just as you do domestic ducks. Rub inside and outside with salt and pepper and brush with melted butter. Put a teaspoonful of butter inside of the ducks, onion and celery to help kill the wild taste, place them in a baking pan with a tablespoon of water, and roast in a hot oven for twenty-five minutes, the time depending on the size of the ducks. When done, carefully cut the breasts off the ducks and place in a warm dish; then pile the carcasses (if you can get them away from your guests—not a chance if Colbert and Lombard are there) into a platter and one by one drop them into the duck press. When sufficient pressure is put upon the press the juice pours out of a little spout into the container.
And here’s where the famous pressed duck sauce makes its entrance. Have a slow flame under the chafing dish and into it put a tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon of very hot dry mustard, a tablespoon of currant jelly and a glass of port wine. Cook it about three minutes but never let it come to a boil. Then pour in the juice from the duck press container and cook about three more minutes, stirring constantly, and then add the sliced breasts of the ducks and baste with the sauce until they are seasoned through. Then serve with wild rice.
It was a great success and Clark took bows none too modestly and ladled out second helpings from the chafing dish and we all practically ate ourselves into a coma.
After dinner there was a definite lull as everybody seemed to be in the mood for a bit of relaxing (the effect of the sauce, no doubt) but it soon wore off and by the time Walter had attached his recording machine, with Fieldsie at the “mixer,” the guests revived one by one. A recording machine, in case you don’t know actors, is in the nature of a postman’s holiday. All day movie stars sing or talk into a mike at the studio, so home they come at night and sing and talk into a mike again. Then it’s called fun. If Fieldsie is operating the “mixer” correctly you can “play back” on the machine and hear a recording of what you said or sang. You heard Clark sing “The Horse with the Lonely Eyes” in “Saratoga” but you haven’t heard anything until you hear him sing “Arizona Cowboy Joe,” which he sings gustily to its lusty end, and then with a little encouragement will start over again.
Carole then favored with a recording of “Swing High, Swing Low” with “Arizona Cowboy Joe” coming in as a refrain, and the blending, or rather the non-blending of those two songs as rendered by Lombard and Gable would drive a music lover to drink. And in my quiet way I am a music lover. As a request number our host, Walter Lang, contributed “All I Want Is To Be Called Baby Doll” which is the first song he ever sang in amateur theatricals when he was a kid in knee pants with a voice that was changing. Then of course everybody had to follow with a couple of verses of “On the Good Ship Lollypop,” though it wasn’t nearly so good as Joan Blondell’s impersonation of Shirley Temple in “Stand-In.” Under pressure Claudette came through with a recording of the little Russian number she sings in “Tovarich” with Clark strumming away on a tennis racquet and I am sure that it would have been quite lovely and thrown us into a Russian mood and we’d have jumped off the cliff in the back of the house except that the record showed a none too faint trace of “Arizona Cowboy Joe.”
With six years in Hollywood chalked up against me I have seen actors come and go. I have seen them come into the studios sweet, gentle, big-eyed creatures, so eager to do what’s right and please everybody, including me. Perfect little gentlemen. Then one tiny bit of success, one good picture, and they suddenly become conceited, insolent, arrogant lords of creation. But no amount of success—and he has had the most of any male star—has ever affected Clark in the least. Hollywood swank means nothing to him. He has a big movie star-ish car but it sits in the garage until the battery goes dead because he prefers to drive about in the remodeled fliver that Carole gave him for a birthday present, or his station wagon—he loves his station wagon (with a big PRESS on the windshield) because he can dump all sizes of guns and things in it and hitch on his horse trailer. He and Carole drove down to the Pomona Fair one day recently in the station wagon, stopped on the side of the road and spread a basket lunch, and then took in the Fair, everything from the jelly booth to the livestock.
Rather than attend a smart cocktail party where he is sure to be lionized and oh-ed and ah-ed over by the most beautiful females in Hollywood, Clark had rather pile things into the station wagon, including Carole, and drive out to the Valley where they can go skeet shooting—and boy, when Gable pops a clay pigeon the pigeon is popped. Carole doesn’t exactly knick theme either—though the first time she started shooting at them the gun fairly knocked her chin off. Carole fusses over that gun now more than most women do over their hair.
Instead of a dinner at the Trocadero Clark much prefers a good juicy hamburger at a drive-in—or a hearty he-man meal at the Brown Derby. He had a great habit of ordering two eggs “one of them good” which always gets a surprised look and then a giggle from the waitress. When the eggs arrive he will ask, “Which is the good one?” and the waitress will be a little shocked and then break up completely in laughter. On nights when the movie colony is dressed to its teeth in ermine and white tie for a formal opening at the Carthay Circle, you can be sure that Carole and Clark, in old sweaters and slacks, will be catching up on their back movies at the Drive-In Theatre on Pico Boulevard. He usually avoids all social affairs but every now and then one catches up with him. At a recent dinner party in Beverly Hills he was suddenly missed by his hostess who found him sometime later in the backyard lassoing pots and pans from the kitchen with the clothesline. Carole was seated on the back fence keeping score for him on the side of the garage. If you want to make him deliriously happy, give him a paint brush and let him paint your house—or let him sing “Arizona Cowboy Joe.”