Love Walked In
by Jack Wade
Modern Screen, June 1950
For the actor he is, Clark Gable put on a bad performance these past few years. Loneliness stood out on him like a neon sign. The evenings he spent at his Encino ranch home, he’d wander from room to room, pick up a book and drop it, pick up a phone and decide not to call, sink into a chair and stare at nothing.
The nights he went out the newshounds followed him to parties and theaters and nightclubs for hot gossip about this man of the world. They got the gossip. But anyone with half an eye could see that Gable wasn’t happy.
Then, at one of the parties, he met Sylvia. He’d known her before, but this was different. He’d never married her before…
Everyone knows the story of their elopement and honeymoon. Only his friends know that Clark has changed, that for the first time in many years he’s come out of his shell. They can trace the change back to the beginning of his marriage, to Hawaii…
There were ten thousand people mobbing the dock at Honolulu to greet Clark and his bride. Time was when he would have faced a crowd like this black-browed and scowling. He’d have stalked straight through them, or slammed himself into a stateroom. This time he loved it. They couldn’t drape him with enough leis, he couldn’t shake enough hands or joke with enough people whom he didn’t even know.
No sooner did he hit the Islands than he blossomed out in South Sea shirts that would have made Bing Crosby jealous. He went overboard for every dreamy Island tune. He bought himself a ukulele and crooned off-key to Sylvia. He padded in sandals around Honolulu’s streets, and sunned his chest at Waikiki for the Royal Hawaiian hotel guests to see.
Everywhere he went he yelled, “Aloha!” until his voice cracked. He waved from his open flivver so much he got a charley-horse.
New Year’s Eve, when all of Honolulu practically blows up with fireworks, Clark and Sylvia sent rockets and Roman candles whooshing into the sky from midnight to dawn. They stood there like a couple of awe-struck kids watching the sky light up. Like the newlyweds they were, with a whole life before them, exciting and new.
Nobody who knows Clark or Sylvia well was really surprised by the Gable who came back from Honolulu, the Gable who dropped ten years by saying, “I do,” the Gable with the frequent, boyish grin.
His friends knew that a guy like him is no good, rattling around alone and lonely as he’d been since Carole Lombard died. But he needed the sort of woman who would understand him, who would be able to interest him in life again.
The new Mrs. G. is not only social but sociable-plus. She liked people and people like her. She’s lived all her life in a world of conviviality, and one Hollywood prediction is practically unanimous: the old recluse Gable is a man of the past. If anyone can warm up his home and bring him back to the life of friends and fun that he really loves, it’s Sylvia. Already in the past two months she’s had more dinner parties at Encino that Clark himself bothered to stage in the past two years, including a surprise forty-ninth birthday party for Mr. G. himself.
When he came back from his honeymoon, Clark was given a special gift from MGM. They put off shooting his picture, To Please a Lady, for three months. But every day of those three months he worked overtime—to please a lady named Sylvia.
After Clark had shown his bride her new home in Encino, she came out onto the brick front porch and gazed across the lawn at the sun-spattered pepper trees.
“I love it,” she said. “It’s perfectly charming. Simply adorable. Only—“
“Wouldn’t sheep be lovely on that beautiful green lawn?”
“Sheep?” muttered Clark. “I dunno. I dunno about sheep.”
“And over there, in that patch of sun by the pool. Can’t you just see roses? Hundreds of roses?”
“Roses?” said Clark. “Oh yeah. Roses.”
“And just imagine a guest house down under that spreading walnut. The Tree House, we’d call it.”
“Guest house!” yelped Clark. “Hey—who wants guests?”
Just then Martin, the valet who’s been with Gable for fourteen years, walked out to say, “Lunch is ready, Mrs. Gable.”
“He knows who’s boss,” laughed Clark. “So do I. And I’m afraid I like it.”
Just the other morning as Clark waved goodbye, and rolled down the winding drive in his new imported Jaguar roadster, he passed a flock of sheep grazing on the lawn, not far from a hundred and eighty rose bushes, blowing pink petals into the pool. And just over the hill, down under the spreading walnut tree, painters were putting the finishing coat of paint on the new guest house. And pretty soon, Sylvia will be sending out invitations. But this is not what Hollywood expected.
When news of their marriage first broke out, Hollywood set up a wall. “We’ll never see the guy again,” everyone moaned. “The International Set’s got him. First thing Sylvia’ll do is take him off to Europe. Anybody want to buy a ranch?”
Well, just try and buy it—Mr. and Mrs. Gable’s ranch, that is. Even if you get by the electric gate, you’ll be climbing a pepper tree the minute you say, “How much?” And Bob, Rover and Ricky, Clark’s three watchdogs, reinforced by Minnie, Sylvia’s toy Manchester, will keep you up there for years.
It’s private property, and the way things look, it’s going to stay that way.
Matter of fact, Clark and Sylvia never considered making their home anywhere else. Everything they loved about their honeymoon house in Kahala—the flowered chair covers, the Chinese screens, the lanai lounge—they wanted to take back to the ranch. They’d have moved the big hibiscus to their front lawn if they could, and possibly the view of the bay.
About all they actually packed was ukulele and a cate full of Hawaiian records. But most important they brought themselves, and their dreams for the future they’ve vowed to share.
Sylvia fell in love with Clark’s ranch at first sight, the way she fell for Clark. His home is as much a part of the guy she married as his rugged face, jug ears and disarming grin. In his whole rambling life no place has tied him to it as long or as strong before.
House of Memories
For the past twelve years—a big hunk out of any man’s life—all of the intimate memories of his sad and glad times have fastened right to those twenty acres of sloping soil in the San Fernando Valley.
It was to this same homestead that Clark brought his last bride, Carole Lombard, and it was from here that he bolted, grim and red-eyed, to search the Nevada gorges day and night until he found her crushed body. It was here that he flew from Paris two years ago when the sad news reached him that his beloved dad, “Billy,” was dead. (Often Billy Gable lived at the ranch with his son.) It was here that Clark greased his guns and oiled his tackle before setting forth on the mountain hunts and blue-water marlin cruises he loved; here where he returned whiskered and sweaty with his bag of catch to phone Jack Conway, the late Vic Fleming, Al Menasco or Walter and Fieldsie Lang, some pal or collection of pals, and beg them to “come and get it.”
In that time, Clark’s ploughed up almost every foot of the citrus-alfalfa land in person. Bob, his twelve-year-old German pointer, used to pant along beside him as Clark drove the tractor. And out in the pasture today stands Sunny, his riding horse. Now sixteen, Sunny’s carried Clark over every square foot of the place.
Gable’s personally sweated with construction gangs building the six-stall stable, the sheds, the garage and the outhouses. He planned and put in the small oval swimming pool. And he’s personal acquainted with every shrub, flower and tree inside his white rail fence.
If you are hunting for elegance, the elegance of town houses and English country manors, for instance, you won’t find it here in the small, clapboard, slant-roofed house. “It’s not grand or gorgeous,” Clark says, “but it’s for me.” And it’s for Sylvia, too. Certainly she wasn’t looking here for the things she had tasted and found tasteless elsewhere.
The only time Clark ever considered leaving his home for good was when he went off to war. Mixed up and shaken then, he wanted to wipe the slate clean to sell his place and his memories of it. His friends talked him out of that, and Clark’s been glad ever since. Especially now.
“Inside my house,” Clark has explained time and again to a curious press, “is the only place in the world I have any privacy at all. It’s my refuge, and it’s not going to be invaded.” It never has been thrown open for the world to see. It never will be photographed.
But what Sylvia Gable saw when Clark kissed her and set her down past his doorway was a bachelor hall that could some a few feminine frills.
Inside the English provincial house with its hint of Cape Cod is a large living room with a massive fireplace. Over the fireplace are mounted Clark’s collection of antique fowling pieces. Two huge sofas stand on either side of the hearth, flanked by over-stuffed chairs. The tables are sturdy and simple, the walls almost bare of pictures, and a beige carpet stretches across the room.
A book-lined den near the living room houses Clark’s fine gun collection, a radio, a record collection and a movie projector. Next to the den there’s a small office for his secretary, Jean Garceau.
The dining room is a step below the dining room. It has its own big fireplace and a plain plank table big enough for ten. Old oil-burning lamps on the table give the room much of its salty atmosphere. Chairs line one wall and Clark’s built-in bar is against the other.
A straight staircase rises out of a living room corner to the bedrooms above.
Clark’s room has an over-sized bed in it with a small couch at its foot. His wardrobe racks and chests of drawers are built into a dressing room which has floor length mirrors on all aides.
Sylvia’s room is across the hall. This was Carole Lombard’s room, and somehow the sentimental fiction persists that Clark refused to alter a thing in it since she died. But two years ago, he had it completely done over for a guest room.
Of course Sylvia has changed things at her new home. Clark expected her to, and he’s delighted with the results.
Already there are flowers and plants inside where nobody ever thought of putting them. The few prize pieces Sylvia had at the ocean-front house Doug Fairbanks left her are on their way from England and New York. The guest house—two rooms and a bath—is fully furnished to her taste. Sylvia’s bedroom was done over again in the soft greens and yellows she loves. The living room furniture’s been shifted around, and recovered. And the unfamiliar scent of lavender drifts out of the wardrobe closets, packed now with the beautiful clothes which were back in New York when Sylvia needed them most—for her trousseau.
“You know something?” Sylvia confessed recently to a friend. “The week before we were married I amused myself by thinking what I’d wear if Clark should propose. I had a wonderful dress in mind, a whole outfit, in fact. And what happened? I got married in a plain navy blue with a white color!”
Nobody would have enjoyed dolling herself up for an event like that as much as Sylvia. She loves clothes and carries them well. Her collection of jewelry is dazzling. Her perfumes are super-feminine and exquisitely French. She’s been on the international “best-dressed” lists many times.
Her most flattering lines are tailored and trim, and no one can put a hat on her head or French heels on her feet. She’s decided what her type is long ago and she sticks to it with confidence.
But even in that navy blue dress with the white collar, Sylvia was up in the clouds on her wedding day. And neither Clark nor Hollywood has let her down.
The first time Clark and Sylvia came out of Encino together they went to the premiere of Key to the City. This was a lucky break for Clark, because in that movie, for the first time since the war, he was unmistakably the old Gable, virile and fascinating. That was the kind of role that made him famous. Sylvia, who hadn’t seen Clark on the screen since It Happened One Night (in 1935) told him later, “Darling, you haven’t changed a bit!”
Right now Sylvia’s catching up to the other Gable fans by seeing all of Clark’s movies at home. She’s extremely interested in his career, although she hasn’t the smallest desire to act. The first day Clark worked on To Please a Lady Sylvia inspected the set with all the curiosity of a bobby-soxer. In May, she’s going with him to the Memorial Day auto races in Indianapolis where footage will be shot for his next race-driver role.
After that, Clark has four more months of freedom for a second honeymoon, and he’s planned it already. He wants to take a motor trip all over the USA to show Sylvia a close-up of the country that was so good to him.
They want to see Europe together, too, and then, South America. But no matter how far away they go, they’ll always come racing back to Hollywood, to their home. “Brother,” said Clark to a friend the other day, “if there’s a dull minute from now on, it’s my own fault.”
Clark’s grateful for this second chance at happiness, and he wants to enjoy every moment to the full. Both he and Sylvia are seasoned enough to know that there’s give and take to married happiness, and the more you give the more you take. Both have a striking parallel in their romantic pasts. They’ve tried marriage before, and failed twice. They’ve known brief, intense loves that ended tragically by death—Clark with Carole Lombard and Sylvia with Doug Fairbanks.
And they know that, fate willing, they’ll get the wish they made that Hawaiian night in December 1949. With the Pacific surf in the background, and the moon glistening on the sand, Clark and Sylvia sipped champagne on the lanai, and Clark made a toast: “To us,” he said, “and to our new life in the days and nights ahead. May they all be as swell as this.”
So far they’ve got their wish, and it looks as if it will keep, for on that night when love walked in and claimed Clark Gable’s life, loneliness took one lingering, frightened look and drowned itself off the shores of gay Hawaii.