What I Think About Jean Harlow
By Clark Gable
As told to Mark Dowling
Hollywood magazine, July 1935
To me, Jean always seems to have rather a man’s attitude toward life. I don’t know just how to explain this, but I always feel it when I’m with her. You can talk to her so naturally. She understands and appreciates the things men are interested in. Of course this appeals to any man.
Instead of the slinky evening gowns and bizarre costumes you might expect her to wear, after seeing her on the screen, she usually goes around in a pair of slacks, or a sports skirt, short socks, and sneakers. She seems utterly unconscious of her beauty.
She adores golf. She is an expert fisherman. She loves riding. And she makes no allowances for herself as a woman in these sports. She plays them on an equal basis with men—and discusses them more intelligently than one woman in a hundred.
She never uses her femininity in conversations—to win arguments, for instance, or to put over a point. So many woman suddenly “go feminine” when they think it will turn the tide their way, but I don’t think Jean even thinks of her sex in such circumstances.
She has, too, a complete sense of fairness. I don’t know anyone, man or woman, who is more of a straight shooter. She is fair in the things she does and the things she says. I have seen her, on one occasion, give a bit player an unusual break. The girl had a short line to speak, and then Jean was supposed to interrupt her. The girl had tried awfully hard, but as the scene was to be played she would be hardly noticed. Jean said, “I was an extra myself once, so I know what this means to her. Couldn’t we change the script a little so my line can be delayed—and I won’t have to walk in front of her?”
I’ve never known Jean to “go temperamental,” and when you consider the number of days we have worked together, this is a real tribute. I have seldom seen her out of spirits. Of course, she’s human, and she has occasional flare-ups. But they last only a short time and are always directed where they belong. Usually she is right.
She’s a swell sport. For instance, if I have to “sock” her in a picture—and believe me, it is done with the utmost reluctance!—she never asks me to take it easy. She doesn’t expect me to. When I “dunked” her in the barrel of water in Red Dust, she didn’t seem to mind at all. I’m always a bit embarrassed about such scenes, and her attitude helps. It’s just part of the business to her, and she goes through the retakes, if they’re necessary, like a trouper.
Again, during the making of China Seas, she had a bad cold, and right in the middle of it we had another scene where she had to be soaked. She didn’t complain once, though I’m sure it was anything but pleasant for her. And if she didn’t have such radiant health, it would take her weeks to break up the resulting cold.
One of the characteristics I have in mind when I say she has a man’s attitude is her amazing sincerity. She is always perfectly frank. There is no halfway about her, she treats everyone the same way—director, producer, or fellow actor. When we were making The Secret Six, Wallace Beery once criticized her for some minor detail of her performance. Without hesitation she flared right back at him. Remember, at the time, her position wasn’t nearly so important as his. But he admired her frankness—I believe their friendship dates from that day.
She never keeps things pent up inside herself. She doesn’t nourish a grudge. If she has anything to say, she brings it out into the open, and then forgets about it. I like that.
Looking back on our first picture together, the talks we had will always stand out in my mind. After her success in Hell’s Angels, she was a step ahead of me on the way to success, yet she never made me feel that it was her picture any more than mine.
Neither of us knew much about the business, and we tried to figure things out together so the rest wouldn’t realize how awfully green we really were. I remember Jean would ask me at the end of every scene—“How’m I doing?”
And I asked her the same.
We criticized each other, trying desperately to learn. Nobody else seemed to pay much attention to us. We were not among the chosen few who saw the daily rushes. Every good word Jean heard about me, she would rush to repeat to me. And things that weren’t so good, too, because she knew that is one way of progressing.
We used to plan, jokingly, what we wanted if we ever did get to the top. Jean never particularly wanted fame. The lights and the crowds and the glamour of being a star never seemed to mean much to her, even before she had them. She wanted, sincerely, the happiness of knowing she had done a job well.
If you talked to her directors and other fellow stars, I think you’ll find that she feels the same way today.
She was, I remember, terribly afraid of being typed in “vamp” roles. She was afraid that her part in Hell’s Angels would mark her forever in the eyes of the fans. Red Dust wasn’t much better. But she didn’t complain.
She is, in my opinion, one of Hollywood’s best comediennes, and I feel that she is right in wanting to do more comedy. Certainly few stars in Hollywood could have equaled her wonderful performance in Bombshell. I hope she is given the chance to do more pictures like that.
She is a thoughtful person, considerate of those around her. Every morning she has coffee and doughnuts on the set. Instead of ordering one cup of coffee and a couple of doughnuts sent to her dressing room, she orders a huge pot of coffee and a couple of dozen doughnuts for the entire company.
Because of little things like this, every extra I’ve ever talked with adores her. Sometimes they are critical of other stars, who may be, in their eyes, ritzy or up-stage. But Jean stands ace high with all of them.
Having grown out of the extra ranks herself, she has not forgotten her friends and acquaintances among them. Out of every crowd, on our pictures, she will find a familiar face or two. It’s always—“Hello, Eddie!—“Hi, there, Janet!”
She has boundless enthusiasm—a quality so many people outgrow. In many ways she is like a kid in her pleasure over little things. Just the other day a property boy who had worked with her on Bombshell brought her a live rabbit. She couldn’t have been more pleased if it had been an expensive gift.
Because they like her, everyone who works with her tries to make things easier for her—even though she isn’t a demanding person, and prefers to do things for herself. She has told me of making the dance scene in Reckless. She had never danced for the camera and was terribly nervous. She had to do her stuff in front of a hundred or so but players—all of them chosen for their expert dancing. If they had so much as whispered a word of criticism, she told me, she wouldn’t have been able to go through with it. Instead they applauded her, and kept crying out, “That’s the stuff, Jean! You’ve got it now!”
And their enthusiasm meant so much to her that by the third “take” she was dancing like a professional!
It has always been a bond between us that we started at about the same time, and our progress has been more or less parallel. Neither of us can remember “way back to the silent days.” We went to the same class in the same school, in other words, and we’ve been promoted in the same pictures. Of course, in between, we each went separate ways, she with other leading men and I with other leading ladies. After a picture, we make no effort to keep up our friendship. But when we see each other again, we seem to pick up where we left off, regardless of what has happened to us in the meantime. It’s marvelous and rare to have a friend like that. Most friendships are lost unless they are kept alive.
Probably this outburst puts me in the class of her fans. I am. And I think you’ll find that everyone who really knows Jean feels just the same way.
What I Think About Clark Gable
By Jean Harlow
I can’t imagine anyone I’d rather have for a friend than Clark Gable. He embodies all qualities which are necessary for true friendship.
Not more than half a dozen people in Hollywood, I believe, know Clark as he really is. He is so much deeper than people think. He won’t talk about himself—he doesn’t even seem to think much about himself. It’s not that he’s a Garbo. But he is always so interested in finding out about you that he never tells you much about Gable.
But I know him from the standpoint of one who has worked with him on many pictures. I believe that by working with a man you get to know him as well as anyone possibly can. If he stands well in the opinion of his fellow workers, he’ll be the same under any conditions.
We started our screen partnership several years ago in The Secret Six. It was my first picture after Hell’s Angels and it was, I think, Clark’s first important picture. Since then we have played together in Red Dust, Hold Your Man and now in China Seas. The most revealing comment I can make about Clark is that he is, today, the same human, natural, amusing chap he was in the beginning.
He has made a spectacular success. His rise to the top is breath-taking even in Hollywood, where overnight fame comes fairly often. He is probably ever woman’s ideal of a man, as a husband, friend or a lover. But Clark is no more conscious of this than he is conscious of the color of his eyes. Maybe even less so! Fame hasn’t changed him.
For instance, his stand-in now is a man who worked with him on the stage some ten years ago. Clark’s attitude toward this chap is that of a friend and a fellow worker. He doesn’t seem to have a trace of a feeling that would be, after all, quite natural in the circumstances—“I’m the star and you’re the stand-in!”
There’s one exception, one change that has come inevitably with success. When Clark and I made The Secret Six we had no particular incentive because it seemed too wildly improbable that we would become stars. We regarded each bit of success as a lucky “break” and made the most of it. Our attitude was happy-go-lucky. We enjoyed ourselves as we went along.
Now Clark regards his work with an increased seriousness. He takes each part more intensely. The best way of putting it is to say that he has an increased application to his roles.
He is essentially a man’s man. His attitude toward me is that of a pal or a brother. With some men, you are made awfully conscious of being a woman. You think, “Maybe my nose is shiny,” or “Does my hair look right?” or “What if my lips aren’t on straight?”
With Clark you don’t care if your nose is powdered or not, or whether you have on an old pair of slippers. You feel that he likes you because you’re a human being. You can be at ease with him, comfortable. This may seem a small point but it’s awfully important to me. Or to any woman—I’ve noticed the same reaction in others. I think it’s an important part of Clark’s charm.
He’s a completely natural person. He does all the little things for a woman that other men do—offers me a light for my cigarette, pulls out a chair for me, and so forth. But so many men have rather an air of preening themselves when they’re being gallant. Clark, quite naturally, wants to help you. And his unobtrusive way of offering the small courtesies represents true gallantry. Women must sense this through his screen performances. I believe it’s another explanation of his success.
He is highly considerate. He always seems, for instance, as vitally interested in my problems as his own. Sometimes when we rehearse I have difficulty with a bit of dialogue. A line won’t read in a way that sounds natural to me. Or perhaps it is out of character with the role I’m playing. Nine times out of ten Clark will say, “How would it be if Jean read the line like this?” Then he makes a suggestion that solves the problem.
I have the feeling that he is just as anxious for me to give a good performance as to give one himself. For instance, if we’re doing a scene which is more important to my role than his, he still gives of his best to help me. Even if it’s just a business of “feeding” me a line.
He is amusing, humorous. It is difficult to write of jokes and casual conversations—they always sound a bit flat when repeated. Between scenes we often talk of horses. I’m crazy about riding and of course polo is one of Clark’s min loves.
He is interested in all sorts of things, and all sorts of people. I believe this is another explanation of his charm. He loves talking to all kinds of men, learning their hopes and ambitions, the way they live. Often he goes over to the extras and chats with them. In our present picture China Seas, we have a lot of Oriental extras and Clark enjoys talking to them.
Of course they all think him a “velly nice man!” One of them spent hours whittling away on a bit of wood, making a curiously complicated puzzle which he presented to Clark.
Our sets always have this nice feeling of friendliness between the extras, the bit players, and all the others. It would be difficult to work under any other condition. With everybody Clark is kindly and understanding. And if he can be so considerate toward these people–who really mean nothing to him—how much more would he be toward a friend!
He is dependable, too—another important quality in friendship. I feel that he would be big enough to handle any situation with complete ease. He never fusses or frets. He looks clearly at a problem and sees the right thing to do. He seldom argues. Quietly, he thinks things out, and then what he says always has real meaning.
He is, of course, an excellent actor. (And I believe it is an important indication of character when a man excels at his trade, whatever it is.) As a working partner, I couldn’t ask for more/ Je gives up so much to each part that I have to keep up with him. He constantly keys me up.
Today, for instance, we did a scene in China Seas in which the suspense is terrific. It was a difficult and dramatic bit. Yet Clark was so vibrantly master of the scene that he gave me something to shoot at.
Personally, he has more stability than many men I have known. You feel this when you talk with him. He seems to know where he stands, and where he is going. He won’t change.
Even more important, he has the ability to follow-through. I admire that tremendously. He has made a success and stuck with it, even though there have been times when it wasn’t easy.
I have seen him, for instance, work twice as hard for a role in which he didn’t quite believe as he would have worked for a role he really liked. He never quits on the job for any reason. He wouldn’t be a fair-weather friend.
There! When your editor suggested that I do this story telling “what I think of Clark Gable,” I warned him that it might sound like a Pollyanna yarn. Perhaps I’ve been too darned complimentary. But anyone who knows me will realize that I couldn’t say such things unless I wholeheartedly meant them. And sincerely I think Clark Gable is the grandest guy in the world.