A Real Day with Clark Gable
By Ben Maddox
Screenland magazine, March 1937
Spend his day off with King Clark, who’s the most exciting masculine company in Hollywood!
It could happen only in Hollywood—a day like this! And only with Clark Gable himself.
Thrills—surprises—unorthodox behavior and unexpected laughs! No one else, and I’ve met the latest batch of screen heroes, could be quite such exciting company.
A real day with Clark in person, away from the studio and all strings, reveals Charm Guy Number One in action, as he wishes to be. It is the one sure tip to his character as it actually is today.
“When I don’t have to work, I play,” he asserts forcefully. “I don’t doll up and swank it Beverly Hills style. I don’t huddle with a business manager and clip coupons, either. When I can get away from it all I ‘git’ in my own peculiar fashion, and for once I do exactly what I want!”
So I discovered.
He is no longer the dutiful husband, master of a Brentwood home. Deep emotions have swept the slate of his private life clean once more, and he is living still another vivid chapter. How? That’s precisely what you’re going to learn here!
Has success given him a stiff neck from bowing to the right and left? I found him with a stiff neck—yes! But wait until you discover how he got it. Is the fascinating Gable glow any less potent? Has he jumped from the frying pan of marriage into the red-hot fire of a typical Hollywood love affair? Does he track Carole Lombard—lunching her at the Brown Derby, cocktailing her at the fashionable Seven Seas, and dining swankily before going truckin’ at the Troc? I know now!
“I’ll bet you a tip on the races that you don’t dare tell the precise truth!” he said to me. Clark always talks in virile exclamations.
“Just you wait and see,” I retorted.
I put Clark to the brand new test devised for film top-notchers. By spending an entire day with a Big Name you can learn all the little, actually important things you’ve been curious about. I don’t arrange a specifically planned day in which I’d be diplomatically entertained, mind you. On the contrary, I simply take “pot-luck.” A sudden vacation from work and I see what happens. I’m a tag-along pal for a day, and believe me I’m stumbling upon the most amazing, hitherto unmentioned facts.
Clark is the second in this scoop SCREENLAND series, Robert Taylor having led off. There’s a similarity between the Crown Prince of Hollywood and King Gable besides super-masculinity. When they got the chance to relax they both went for a ride—and I had to prove I could take it, as you’d have had to! Taylor has a racing strip-down and I survived his tempo of ninety miles an hour. Gable’s car is more of a shock and it’s merely a convenience. You’ll never guess what he keeps to go driving in when he is bent on escaping from it all.
My previous interviews with Clark, like everyone else’s, had been official occasions at the studio. There he was comparatively on guard. “Now why should I be?” he’d ask. But perhaps—just perhaps—he had always been turning on the million-dollar personality when we of the press hove into sight. Maybe he’s a dud on his time off from the glamour school at MGM?
Let’s rip right into all the details and you write me what you think!
He sent me a wire saying, “The Irish are fighting without me tomorrow. I will give you a ring when I wake up. I am going to sleep as late as possible.” Signed Clark. (He addresses you by your given name and likes to be called by his.)
It was 10 am when my telephone buzzed loudly.
“Man, have I been sleeping! That’s my idea of fun when I don’t have to roll out at dawn. But skip over!”
I speeded over. Clark resides at Beverly Hills’ best hotel, but although he is the most illustrious guest he is by no means the most elegant. In some ways I’ll bet he’s quite embarrassing! He could be the world’s most pampered collar-ad, but it seems he’s kind of stubborn about being Exhibit A. He behaves, in fact, in an astonishingly non-ritzy manner. As you shall learn.
Recently he moved into a four-room suite on the eighth floor back, to get away from the noise of street traffic. He isn’t cramped, but he certainly isn’t rattling around in regal style either. Since this seems to be a fairly permanent residence you might suppose he’d have ordered an expensive decorator to satisfy his whims. But aha—! Here is where I do get going on this devil-may-care gallant.
He whisked his door open. “There’s no stooge to do it,” he explained. “My morning clothes!” he exclaimed when he caught my wonder at his garb. He had on cowboy overalls, vintage boots, and a yellow turtleneck sweater that had seen better seasons. He hardly matched the background.
“What’s the gag?” I asked.
“Gag nothing! These are my riding clothes, and we’re off for a canter or two.”
I managed to gasp,” Do you venture forth on the Beverly bridle paths like that?”
Clark laughed in that irresistible, explosive manner of his. “Bridle path? Say, you’re in for a jolt!”
Meanwhile he showed me around. “The hotel has good taste, so why the heck should I try to improve on what’s already comfortable? I’ve got some books, these hunting prints, my guns, and this Capeheart.” No special stellar interior-decorating, no bending under a yoke to possessions. He patted his mahogany radio-phonograph and then admitted honestly, “Most of my records here are jazz. I hate to dance. Always have. But I enjoy listening to hot rhythms. I buy a lot of the new recordings. Go into some music store and get rash. Oh, and I’ve quite a few foreign gypsy records, too. Hungarian and Russian string effects—I go for them. I guess I started loving gypsy strains when I was wandering around the country myself, and this is the hangover!”
He’s too thoroughly he-man to fret about particular period pieces or special star color-scheming. He’s virile instead of arty, discriminating without being spoiled into demanding modes for moods.
He has no secretary in attendance, no servants. The Park Avenue boys may have their staffs, but Clark with every excuse to be grand employs neither valet nor butler. “I’m not helpless,” he states succinctly. The man who cares for his dressing-room at the studio drops up several times a week to see that the dry cleaners and laundry lads are playing ball properly.
He had shaved and bathed and had been reading the morning newspapers.
“What did you read first?”
“Oh, that item about David Windsor and Mrs. Simpson,” he replied. Demonstrating that Clark’s as human as the rest of us! “Then Louella Parsons’ column. After that the sports pages.” Of course he’s intrigued with the racing reports at the moment.
When I started this “pot-luck” approach on the stars I didn’t suspect I’d practically starve to death to begin with! Taylor only had orange juice and toast and coffee for breakfast, but Clark beat that. “Breakfast?” he queried. I insisted I’d have what he did. A bell-boy brought up two cups of delicious coffee for us and—as you used to phrase it when you were tops, Ethel Barrymore, “That’s all there is, there isn’t any more”—for Gable. No, he isn’t dieting; he isn’t hungry until he’s swung through a lot of action.
We were off then for the promised horseback ride. A Los Angeles attorney, whom Clark has known ever since he broke into pictures, has a barn out in the San Fernando Valley, and Clark stables Southern Son, his sorrel horse, there.
The elevator shot us down to the basement garage, where gleaming limousines vied with streamlined roadsters. I was led, however, to a 1928 Ford!
“Yeh,” Clark nodded, “this is the one Carole gave me last Valentine’s Day.” He had it painted black, has purchased a new motor, a new top, new tires, and fenders. Consequently, it runs like a top and it’s his regular runabout.
I climbed in and he headed toward Metro.
“You aren’t doing to visit sets, are you?”
“No, sir! But we have to pick up feed at Palms.” He maneuvered in to the curb in front of a grain store. “I had a struggle spotting this; in Beverly they only have pet shops.” The first buying of horse fodder here by Gable is the favorite tale of the old proprietor. Clark, like today, had been dressed up in anything but star get-up. He had picked out a couple of sacks each of barley and bran and oats. When he went to pay the fellow said, “Name, please!” Our hero answered modestly, “Gable.” The instant snap was, “First name!” And Clark gave it. At that the store-keeper really looked at him. He reddened. He stuttered. “Not—?” He apologized profusely. So whenever anyone tells Clark he’s world famous he grins. “They even don’t know me a quarter-of-a-mile from Culver City!”
When we went in we were welcomed mighty heartily. Clark wanted alfalfa molasses. We loaded so many sacks into the rear that the back of his car wouldn’t close. Each fender held a sack of barley. And then we were off again, over Beverly Glen pass into the valley.
“How’s it happen you haven’t the back-to-the-farm bug like the rest of the stars who are settling out here?” I probed.
“Because I’m not built to settle down,” Clark replied pithily. “The peace that comes from rocking by your own fireplace, from the knowledge that you are anchored there, isn’t for me. I know, fellow. I’ve tried to squelch my impudent craving for freedom. But whenever I’ve endeavored to settle down it—well, it hasn’t clicked.”
He stopped to dicker with a roadside Japanese fruit grower. “A box of carrots—the ninety-cent size!” The Japanese didn’t recognize him as a personage, but he greeted him as a steady customer.
Clark intended the carrots for the horse, but he ate one himself and handed me one. I wasn’t proud—especially since I’d had no breakfast!
At the stable Clark told the groom to saddle a horse for me; he wanted to attend to his own horse. Smokey, his dog, dashed out affectionately and raced us as we aimed towards the foothills.
Silence swamped him. A girl who is fond of dancing can understand. She wants to sway with the melody. When Clark is on his horse he suddenly has no chatter in him.
In twenty minutes we were in cattle-grazing land, Smoky was searching for gophers and snakes, and Clark was apparently completely happy. It was winter, but the California sun was warm and the rim of purple mountains was a marvelous sight.
We had the big accident then. If I had only had a 16 mm camera! We were riding up a creek, or rather on the bank of a wash. I was on a trail horse, and Southern Son isn’t that type. The rains must have undermined the path, for there was a crumbling of the path and Southern Son slipped. Clark instinctively realized the danger; he whirled the horse’s head around, but Southern Son’s hind feet skidded and Clark flew one way while the horse fell on its stomach. Clark wasn’t hurt. He quickly sprang up and to the horse, which had only its front knees on solid ground and was sweating with fear. But Clark quieted him. It was a full twenty-five feet to the bottom of the gully, but his soothing words stopped the animal’s panic. Gently, with all the tenderness of a strong but understanding man, Clark held the horse’s head and put his shoulder against Southern Son’s. He scrambled him about and they both plunged down into the creek bed. And emerged without a single scratch—both of them! This was the most tense five minutes I ever experienced, and out there in God’s outdoors Gable in the flesh was keener than he’s ever been on the screen!
Out of breath, but still able to grin, Clark continued the pace he’d set. It was 1 pm when we sighted the barn.
“Southern Son’s calmed now so I’ll let him do what he prefers.” Whereupon the groom wheeled out a brand new two-wheel cart—a Christmas present from Miss Lombard! “They don’t make many of these any more—this came all the way from the East.” Clark asserted, his eyes shining with joy. He changed Southern Son’s harness, I got up on the narrow seat beside him, and away we went. Well, until you’ve whizzed down a country lane with Clark Gable in his feather-weight cart you haven’t lived—Mr. Taylor, park that mechanical gadget and get yourself a whiff of a buggy like Gable and grandpa chose!
I popped the question about what he prefers in women then. He swerved the cart. “I’ve always wanted to have you birds in a spot like this when I’ve been asked that!’” he cried. We lurched from side to side. “I don’t care!” I shouted. So he slowed down. “I notice first is a woman is well-groomed and secondly if she’s dumb,” he stated, chuckling at my sigh of relief. I was going to live to tell this tale! “Heaven preserve me from one-track ladies who never read or observe or gather a little idea of what life’s all about.”
Now I was the one who was all out of breath. When we returned to the barn Clark cooled the horse and rubbed him down himself. This was the groom’s job, but he was determined to do it.
At 2:30 we headed for the city. Coming in by Ventura Boulevard, Clark drew into a drive-in hamburger stand. “I favor this simple system for refreshments. After the movies at nights, too. I haven’t the Trocadero habit; I just come into one of these convenient places where they hang a tray on your door-sill” a hamburger was our luncheon.
He didn’t go directly to the hotel, but to his father’s house in Hollywood. There I met Mr. Gable, senior, a middle-aged oil man who now is interested in desert mines. Clark’s step-mother wasn’t in; but he evidently thinks she is pretty grand. The conversation between Clark and his father was all about the latter’s trip to Death Valley. Although Clark is a self-made success, and though he struck out on his own, he remembers to visit here frequently.
Leisurely we returned to the hotel, and to the front. The chauffeurs of the luxury automobiles gaped. But the doorman nonchalantly snapped his fingers for an attendant, who promptly departed with the conveyance. We walked through the lobby. People did a “double-take” upon glimpsing The Great Gable in costume—no doubt! Of course Parnell, champion of Irish freedom, never had to wear cowboy overalls, but obviously the greatest male box-office magnet in America was in character for something. No women made a rush attack, because Clark kept striding.
“You know, I like people, and I’m not bothered when I stumble upon the good news that they like me. Only you feel darned embarrassed when a crowd begins gathering, or in a lobby like that.”
Upstairs he changed into veteran slacks and dug out a leather jacket. He got his rifle, a 30.6 Springfield which he had made to order in Philadelphia in 1932, and polished the telescope sight with loving hands. Love? Oh, yes—love and Lombard!
I’m sure you’ve been anxious for me to get to this. Carole won’t utter one word for publication as to how she regards Clark, but everyone can tell you that he’s the apple of her eye. They send each other great bouquets of red roses practically every other day, and when a guy like Gable will have a vase of red roses in his studio dressing-suite, then is he sunk? Or is he? You won’t be knowing by asking his directly.
Hadn’t he even telephoned her yet? Not since I’d been on hand. I wouldn’t put it past him to have called her before I arrived because, after all, she was working that day.
The rifle range at Burbank was next. I held unto his gun, the same one he’s used when he’s gone after big game, as we jounced back and forth in the Ford again. A minute after we had emerged from the hotel the attendant had produced it. “The service is so excellent,” muttered Clark, “that I’ll bet he stores it in the alley. That’s what I’d do with it if I were he!”
It was a half hour’s jaunt to Burbank and Clark’s mind was on the car he is going to make. I don’t doubt for a moment that he’s a great lover—you’ll have to question the women who should know about that!—but he’s also a fool for fussing with cars. Reviving this gillopy that Carole gave him isn’t enough. He plans to be the modern counterpart of the man who constructed the immortal one-horse shay!
“A friend of mine runs a little garage. He helped me get this thing together in ripe shape. I go down to his place—he’s the entire force—and fiddle around. We’re inspired with the notion of building a car ourselves; he’s saving prospective pieces. Of course, we’re not going to go at it in the logical way—we want novel improvements. And it may not run a hundred years to a day like Oliver Wendell Holmes’ shay. But wait till Carole has to rude down the Boulevard in it!”
“Somebody gave me a tip,” I said when he’d been silently grinning over this prospect for two blocks. “they told me to ask you about the pies the firechief’s daughter has been baking for you. What’s that about?”
“I am not in love with the firechief’s daughter!” he rallied and leaned on the horn to emphasize the remark. “The daughter of the Metro firechief is fourteen and cooks me pies and do I relish carting them home and eating whole one before going to bed!”
“But how are you going to end up, Clark?” With his mind still on the automobile he’s concocting I thought his subconscious might be lured into a startling confession. But you can’t trap him that easily. He brushed the dream of his creation away and took me seriously.
“I don’t know, Ben, and probably this is the criminal thing—I’m not worrying! I’m investing my money as cannily as I can, because I think I’d be an awful sap to wind up busted after having this swell chance to feather my nest. But as to what I’ll do when I’m washed up in pictures—your guess equals mine. I know I’ll get a kick out of travelling, for I’ve been curious about what’s around the corner ever since I was a kid. I’ve covered most of the United States—recently by quick airplane trios, formerly by any means I could promote transportation, including hopping trains when I wasn’t a paying customer. I haven’t been to all the national parks yet, and I look forward to seeing all of them because I love the outdoors and mountains. Naturally I’m keen to see Europe and Asia. But I know this, besides, I’m going to hate to have to quit pictures. I’m tickled silly at the opportunity to be in ‘em!”
The private rifle range loomed before us just then. The men who hailed Clark familiarly turned out to be Los Angeles business men. He doesn’t, as you’re perceiving, parade with actors in his spare time.
“The theory of this range,” Clark said, “is to teach one to judge distances. So when you’re hunting you can gauge your shots correctly.” The targets were from two hundred to a thousand yards distant, and shortly Mr. Gable was gaily indulging in a veritable gamut of shooting. He lay prone and sniped; he stood up and peered imposingly through his telescope. He expressed regret at forgetting to bring his revolver. Considering his accuracy it’s too bad Metro doesn’t whip up a first-class Western for him; he could give Gary Cooper plenty of competition.
There was just half an hour of light left for all this. At dusk we piled into the Ford and it was then, heading for home, that Clark finally confessed he had a stiff neck. “I was hunting last weekend and I couldn’t find my own cap, so I borrowed someone’s. It wouldn’t fit, but I let it sit on my head anyway. And then on my way in the weather became cold and I got mad at the darned thing. I have a tremendous jerk, trying to stretch it—and pulled a muscle in my neck! Next day I had a sore neck and back and had to go the nurse at the studio for hot applications. It’s still on the sore side.” All day he’d neglected to mention this!
At the hotel he mixed me a whiskey and soda and turned on a radio for the first time—Bob Taylor has his radio going from dawn on. Clark reminisced then, recalling various amusing spots he’d been in. They had seemed serious jams, unsolvable dilemmas at the time. But everything had eventually smoothed out. He didn’t moralize that it was because he’d had the nerve to battle through defeat, but that’s the honest truth.
I noticed a lot of travel advertisements on a couch. “Where are you going now?”
“I wish I could discover when I’m going,” he retorted, “I’ve been working steadily for a year, except for occasional brief spells off, and I’m anxious to fly to Japan and China for a personal look-see. Europe after this. I had my passage booked on the very first flight of the China Clipper, and then I was square in the middle of a picture when it went.”
The telephone, which had not been ringing every other second because the hotel protects him from pests, rang then.
“I’m glad you can make it,” I overheard him say. He seemed interested in whoever was accepting an invitation he’d undoubtedly proffered for dinner. I needed but one guess as to who she was—do you need more than one?
“Are you transforming yourself into dinner clothes?” I ventured.
Clark shook his head vigorously. “I haven’t been in a night club for more than a year, and I haven’t struggled into a dinner jacket for six whole months!”
So Carole Lombard, who is feminine fashion incarnate, hasn’t made Gable over. He remains magnificently untamed.
It was pure coincidence that I went to the Drive-In Theatre on Pico Boulevard that evening. It’s one of Hollywood’s unique features; you sit in your machine and watch a picture unreel on a large outdoor screen. You can put your arm around your sweetheart and nobody’ll be peeking.
But poor Clark Gable! There he was, in that perfectly plain black Ford which was the height of inconspicuousness. Neither he nor Carole were recognized by anyone else. But me! Several hundred cars were parked in that field and Fate guided him within reach of these reportorial orbs.
He even takes his movies drive-in style.
He seemed—if I may say so—to have his arm around his lady fair. I won’t swear to it; after all, I had my arm around someone pretty fascinating too!