Clark Gable: After 25 Years in Hollywood, He’s on His Own
By Lloyd Shearer, Parade West Coast Correspondent
Syndicated Newspaper Article, June 19,1955
After a quarter of a century in the movie business, William Clark Gable, the acknowledged king of the actors, has decided at the ripe age of 54 to go on his own.
“From here on in,” Gable confided recently in Durango, Mexico, where he was on location for The Tall Men, “I’m through working for salary. I’ve been on salary since 1930, and I’ve got less to show for that kind of security than most people think.
“The thing for an actor to do nowadays is to work for a share of the picture’s profits. You’ve gotta take a chance. Fellows like Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper—they had the right idea years ago. Today they’re well-fixed. Why? Because they were willing to gamble, willing the spread the risk.
“If a film’s no good, you wind up with little. You’ve invested your time and talent. If it goes over big, you’ve got a bundle spread over a period of years.
“Take Gone with the Wind,” Gable continued, “Know how much that picture has grossed since 1939? About $35 million. In order to get me for the Rhett Butler part, David Selznick had to give up 50 percent of the film to MGM. Know how much I got? Maybe 30 or 40 thousand in salary.
“Now, suppose I had 10 percent of the gross.” This is Gable’s current deal on Solider of Fortune and The Tall Men, both released via 20th Century Fox. “I’d be set!
“Yes sir, my salary days are over. From now on, it’s a percentage deal with me. Should’ve done it years ago. But I was tied up with a studio contract until last year.”
Oddly enough, MGM, which had Gable under contract from 1931 to 1954, offered “The Moose” a share-the-profits deal prior to his leaving, but he turned it down.
“Eddie Mannix [MGM’s general manager] came over to London a year or so ago,” Gable told me, “and offered me a unit of my own. ‘You can pick your own stories,’ he said. ‘Cast your own pictures. Make anything you want up to 2 ½ million. We’ll back you and we’ll work out the split.’
“It was a good offer, a fine offer, but I didn’t want a company of my own. That kind of thing can become a headache. You get charged with the studio overhead, and every actor in town comes up asking for a job.
“I said to Mannix in London, ‘Thanks for everything, Eddie, but as regards Metro, I think I’ve had it. No more long term studio deals for me.’ We shook hands, and that was really the end of my relationship with MGM. A few months later I came back to Culver City, did a little work, then checked off the lot.
What About Marriage?
Now, for Clark Gable to talk thus about any subject for publication is far from typical. For years his press relations have been affably close-mouthed. He is one actor not given in bright remarks. Ordinarily he limits himself to one-sentence answers—particularly where finances or women are concerned.
As we say on the veranda of his Durango hotel, I said as much to him. “Last time I saw you,” I added, “you were in Venice with that French model, Susan Dadolle.”
“I remember,” Gable nodded. “You wanted to know if I was going to marry the girl. I told you there was nothing to it, just friendship, but you didn’t want to believe it.”
“Every time you say you’re just friends with a girl,” I offered, “you wind you marrying her. That’s the trouble with you. I’ll bet you get married to Kay Spreckels within the next few months.”
Gable tossed back that handsome head of his and grinned widely. “Everyone knows more about me,” he said, “than I do myself. Right now I’m not getting married. After I finish this picture, I’m through working for a year. I’m heading for Alaska and some hunting. Don’t get me wrong, I think Kay Spreckels is a swell girl. But she’s had enough of marriage, too. She’s a three-time loser. Matter of fact, I think that’s what we have in common.”
As many movie-goer knows, Clark Gable has been married four times since 1924 and divorced thrice. Each of his marriages has been characterized by a certain notoriety not in accord with the truth.
The professional mud-slingers, for example, would have the public believe that in 1924 he married Josephine Dillon, wife No. 1 and a dramatics teacher 14 years his senior, largely because he wanted free drama coaching.
The fact is that when Gable was a 23-year-old telephone repairman in Portland, Ore., he fell in love with 37-year-old Miss Dillon because of her charm, her savoir-faire and her manner. A graduate of Stanford University, Josephine Dillon was a sophisticate who appeared to a small town (Hopedale, Ohio) boy both mentally and physically.
Gable always preferred a mature woman to a young, fatuous beauty. Years ago he told me: “To my way of thinking, the sophisticated woman is more interesting than the young girl who has only a pretty face and a shapely figure. The sophisticated woman has more to offer the average man. She’s had experience with life. She’s seen more, heard more, knows more and is, consequently, more amusing. As far as I’m concerned, the demure little girl is a very dull proposition. Give me the older woman every time.”
Certainly, Josephine Dillon knew much about acting. She taught Gable how to deliver a line and helped him land extra parts at $2.50 a day. Gable never was a top-notch actor—he still isn’t—but he was always a loyal, thoughtful and considerate husband.
“People will come to me,” Josephine Dillon once said, “and they will shake their heads and say, ‘You poor, poor dear. Isn’t it awful how that Man Gable treats his wives.’ Well, if there was anything wrong with a man, you wouldn’t stay seven years with him.”
Gable’s second wife, Maria Langham, a society matron from Houston, Tex., 11 years his senior, is credited in some circles with making his ruse to stardom an actuality. Here again, rumor is at variance with the truth.
Gable was under contract to MGM at $350 a week when he married Mrs. Langham in 1931. She had fallen in love with the actor while he was working in a stock company on Houston. She asked her husband, an attorney in Washington DC, for a divorce, and when it was granted she became the second Mrs. Clark Gable.
Known as “Ria,” she presided over Gable’s seven-room, Spanish-type house equipped with swimming pool in Benedict Canyon, introduced him to society (he was listed in the 1933 Blue Book, the Los Angeles equivalent of the Social Register) and made him a step-grandfather when her daughter, Mrs. Thomas Burke, gave birth to a son in 1936.
Although Gable’s second marriage dragged on for eight long years before it ended in divorce, the actor and his wife called it quits in the summer of 1935. Gable accepted the blame for the marital failure. “I’m not the easiest person in the world to live with,” he explained, “and I admit it. Sometimes I wonder how I get along with myself.”
34 Months of Happiness
Gable settled $286,000 on Maria Langham before he acquired the legal freedom to marry Carole Lombard in 1939. Miss Lombard was one of the most pretty, profane and witty actresses to grace Hollywood. Gable was never more happy or more successful than in the 34 months he was married to her. His was the great love of his life, and in its tragic end he revealed a strength of character that his jealous detractors gloss over.
On January 16, 1942, Carole Lombard—along with her mother, her press agent Otto Winkler, and 15 soldiers—was instantly killed when their plane crashed into a Nevada mountaintop. At the time of the accident, Gable was at home on his 22-acre ranch in the San Fernando Valley. He, his butler and Jean Garceau, his wife’s secretary, were putting the finishing touches on a homecoming party for Carole. Then came the telephone call: “Miss Lombard’s plane is down.”
The plane was west-bound from Indianapolis, where Carole had sold more than $2,000,000 worth of War Bonds. Otto Winkler had wanted to take the train home, but Carole had preferred the plane. They’d flipped a coin, and the actress had won.
On receiving word of the accident, Gable raced to the Burbank airport, chartered a plane and flew to Las Vegas. There he learned for the first time that the airliner actually had crashed. A search party was formed to go into the mountains to bring down the remains of the passengers.
Gable insisted upon going along. He fought like a madman, but the posse chief wouldn’t hear of it. To the men who came down from the mountains the following morning, scarred remnants of human beings loaded on their pack animals, Gable distributed hot meals and $100 bills.
When the airline asked him to sign a release, he said he wouldn’t sign a single document until $100,000 had been settled on Otto Winkler’s widow. Prior to that he himself paid off the mortgage on the Winkler home.
In some quarters Gable has earned the reputation of being “a man who’s tight with a buck.” This is only because he refuses to publicize his benevolence.
In 1949, for example, when he married Sylvia Ashley in a moment of admitted weakness, Lady Sylvia soon let it be known that she would like Jean Garceau moved from their ranch. Gable refused. He ordered a separate house built for Miss Garceau and still employs her as his secretary. As for the continental and sophisticated Lady Ashley, she is no longer Gable’s wife. “Three weeks after we were married,” he said, “I knew that it was a mistake.” The mistake cost Gable $150,000. “Freedom,” he has said on many occasions, “come high.”
A few years ago an actor friend of Gable’s down on his luck, expressed the hope of one day returning to his hometown, Indianapolis. Gable happened to overhear the remark. He gave the actor a thousand dollars in cash and sent him off to have a fine time at the Memorial Day speed races. When a press agent learned of the good deed and planted the item in a gossip column, Gable was furious.
“If you ever again pull a stunt like that,” he warned the publicist, “I’ll have you canned.”
As a man Clark Gable is restrained, friendly and easy—which is pretty much what he is as an actor. He belongs to the naturalistic school of histrionics, underplaying rather than over-emoting his parts. One role which called for him “to ham it up” was Parnell, a prewar epic in which he played the Irish patriot. The film was terrible, “and so,” Gable says, “was I.”
Although he won an Oscar in 1934 for It Happened One Night, he prefers his performances in Gone with the Wind and Mutiny on the Bounty.
He has always loved the outdoors and is a crack hunter and fisherman. His thirst for adventure and travel remains unquenched although in the past two years he has made films in Africa (Mogambo), Europe (Betrayed), Hong Kong (Soldier of Fortune) and Mexico (The Tall Men).
From Garbo to Kelly
Diplomatic and tactful, he shies away from practically all questions concerning his leading women. Over the years he has played opposite virtually every top-flight actress from Greta Garbo to Grace Kelly. Joan Crawford starred opposite Gable in eight movies from 1931 to 1940 and once told me, “I was very much in love with him but was afraid to admit it. I always had the feeling that he was the kind of lover who cared more for the chase than the prize.”
Since the end of World War II, in which he served as an aerial gunner, Gable had made 15 films, 14 of which have been released. To date, the most successful of these has been Mogambo. Gable holds high hopes, however, for Solider of Fortune and The Tall Men, in which he stars opposite Susan Hayward and Jane Russell respectively.
Gable is particularly fond of Jane. “I like the gal so much,” he told me, “that my first picture next year is going to be for her own independent company, and she’s not even going to be in it.”