Will Clark Gable Last?
By Ruth Biery
Photoplay magazine, August 1932
Hollywood accuses him of being just one of those “personality” boys rather than a great and versatile actor
Clark Gable has photographic virility. Has he photographic versatility? Between these two words lies the answer to Hollywood’s burning question of the month.
Three months ago you weren’t popular in Hollywood unless you were raving about Clark.
Today, you’re not in he conversational running unless you can give a lot of good reasons why he won’t last.
Cruel? Heartless? Sure—but that’s Hollywood and certainly Clark Gable knows the town. He’s had plenty of experience with Hollywood’s cruelty both before and after his tremendous success.
Let’s consider the facts in the case.
Clark, like Garbo, introduced a new vogue in screen personality. He became the pattern from which screen idols who followed him were moulded. He is the epitome of the ruthless, handsome, knock-‘em-down, treat-‘em-rough he-man, the strong, virile, modern cave man. And not only women in Keokuk and Medicine Hat went crazy about Clark, but the actresses of Hollywood as well. Once he had become a sensation, Hollywood backed up the public’s preference.
Now, just as long as women remain interested in that type of man, he will last—provided the studios give him that type of role.
But when women change their minds?
When a new screen hero comes to replace the old—what then? Will Clark Gable be able to change his type of screen behavior? Why not be honest about it! Can he act—as Leslie Howard can, for example?
There were numerous protests from his vast public when he played the role of a minister in “Polly of the Circus.” Those who have seen “Strange Interlude” in which he has one of the greatest acting chances of the screen, say that Norma Shearer tucks the picture under her arm and leisurely walks away from it. This is not so much a discredit to Clark as it is a tribute to Norma’s superb acting.
Whether Clark wears the garb of a minister or changes, as he goes in “Strange Interlude”, from a young man to an old man, he remains Clark Gable, they say. Costume, make-up, characterization—all are submerged in his own personality. Leslie Howard, on the other hand, has already proved that he can play a variety of roles.
Hollywood will tell you all these things to bear out its argument that Gable can’t last, but I believe that Hollywood has overlooked one salient point.
Last October, Clark said that he wanted to remain in pictures just two years and it is my firm belief that he will last just as long as he wants to.
He is perfectly willing to retire when he has made enough money to be independent of public opinion. Clark has asked but one thing of life. And that’s independence, with enough money to live as he pleases thrown in for good measure.
By nature he is an “I will do as I please and say what I please” person.
Much to their bewilderment, his producers discovered this early in his career and that is why they encouraged him to avoid as many interviews as possible and insist that he leave town as soon as each picture is finished.
This determined, immovable trait in Gable’s character is what stops him from being versatile on the screen. He is what he is—and always will be. Versatility is the ability to change with each characterization a screen story demands—to feel as if one were a hundred different people. Of that Clark Gable is almost incapable.
Clark is not, by nature, a brilliant man. Determined, yes, and ambitious—but even his ambition takes a single path, the end of which is independence. What Clark wants is money—not, mind you, for its own sake, but merely so that he can have the sort of life he wants, while he is still young enough to enjoy it fully.
Naturally, even a person as determined as he, must make concessions to Hollywood. One of these concessions is, I believe, his marriage and we cannot blame him when the talk of divorce made him fearful at this time. Now he and Mrs. Gable are reunited.
Here’s another strange thing that gives you a tip-off on Gable’s character.
When he first came to Hollywood he was indifferent to all forms of so-called psychic phenomena.
And when the subject was mentioned—it is a very vital part of Hollywood conversation—his laconic answer was, “Rot!”
But accidently he met a psychic who gave him a reading, and since then he has sought out the psychics several times, always trying to discover “How long will this success of mine last?”
After conferring with Clark more than once, a certain psychic wrote a story about him, several paragraphs of which I should like to quote for you.
Here they are:
“Clark Gable believes that his fame was a freak of fate. He will tell you that his success is accidental. But this does not deceive a psychic, since Gable is what he has made himself.
“By hard study and diligence he has made himself over—changed the quality of his voice, learned his best points.
“The help he has received along the way has not been accidental either. If his romances have contributed to his success, that has not bothered Gable. And much credit must be given to this clear-minded young man who became tired of poverty and longed for some of the luxury that he knew could be his by dint of hard work.
“Clark, on the screen, plays the role of lover, but because he lacks the tenderness that is essential if a man be permanently fascinating to a woman, he would disappoint the average woman.
“He is fundamentally selfish. A well regulated home and children cannot appeal to him, since his nature demands travel, change, excitement—anything to appear the insatiable longing for the color of life that is so closely identified with his ego.
“If he doesn’t last on the screen as long a time as he has set for himself—his disappointment will be terrific.
“A more intellectual person would not have put everything into a career, but would have held something back in case the career did not pan out.
“But Clark in his eagerness to succeed and to acquire independence has burnt all his bridges behind him.
“He has wanted to ardently to prove himself to himself, that he has given all his vitality to his career. If the career lasts until he is sure of himself he will be content to retire with the tidy sum he has made by his screen work.”
You may or may not believe the psychic. But this analysis comes so close to Clark’s real character as I know it that I find much food for thought in it.
I doubt if he can change any more than he has—either as an actual person or a screen type.
Therefore I repeat that he will last just as long as women accept him as he is and just as long as the film companies give him typical Clark Gable roles.
When the powers that be try to make him versatile and allow him to step out of the character that he has created, his days will be over.
For, powerful as the camera is, it can’t give Clark qualities which he does not have!