Clark Reaches His Goal!
By J. Eugene Chrisman
Screen Book magazine, March 1933
Clark Gable has at least achieved the one great and consuming ambition of his life although he would be the last to realize it.
Was it to become a movie star, the idol of a million fans? Was it to acquire wealth and fame and glory? These were not the dreams which followed him, like a haunting will-o’-the-wisp through the rubber factories of Akron, the lumber camps of the Northwest and the one-night stands of the kerosene circuit. Clark Gable’s one great ambition, ever present in his sub-conscious mind, has been to become a gentleman, in all that the word implies, with proficiency in the accomplishments to which a gentleman aspires.
Being a gentleman to Clark does not mean the ability to wear a tail-coat without feeling like a stuffed toad. It does not mean the ability to use the proper fork or to be able to chatter familiarly about art, science and philosophy. To Clark, being a gentleman means an entirely different sort of thing.
Clark Gable is a throwback. His parents were humble Pennsylvania-Dutch but somewhere, mingling with the red blood of those simple people, ran a gentler strain, submerged through generations, to crop up in the person of the man the world knows as Clark Gable.
Clark’s idea of a gentleman is that of a man accomplished in the things in which an outdoor gentleman indulges. In the long years of struggle to the top, he dreamed of being proficient in these accomplishments. He dreamed of riding a spirited horse, sure of his seat; to be called a horseman. He dreamed of becoming an expert marksman, proficient in the chase, stalking the wary deer and bring home his antlered buck in triumph. He dreamed of being an expert golfer, a strong swimmer, an adept with the tennis racquet and skilled in all the things dear to the heart of an outdoor gentleman.
“I never had any time for those things,” Clark told me on the set of No Man of Her Own, “and if I did have the time I didn’t have the money. The boys in the lumber camps used to make fun of men in knickers knocking a little white ball around but it was just what I wanted to do. I’m no whiz at any of those things yet but I get more kick out of being able to shot or ride or golf as well as I do than I do out of being a movie star.”
Clark’s first movie break came when he was called for a part in The Painted Desert. Clark and his agent entered the casting director’s office.
“Can you ride a horse?” asked the casting man.
“Sure,” said Clark, “like a cowboy!”
When they left the office Clark turned
“You can’t ride a horse, Clark. Why did you tell him that?”
“Don’t worry,” Clark replied with a grin. “I’ll ride when the time comes.”
Art Wilson, an old time cowboy, took him in hand to make a rider out of him.
“At the end of two weeks,” grins Clark, “in spite of my sore muscles and an occasional loss of my stirrups, Art pronounced me a top hand.”
Clark rode and rode well in The Painted Desert but that didn’t satisfy him. When he returned he once again went to Wilson. He wanted to learn to ride and English saddle. Within two months he was an accomplished horseman, playing polo. Fearing for his neck in this dangerous game, the studio called a halt but Clark only smiled. He had climbed one step toward his goal.
“Golf looked so easy to me,” he admitted shaking his head, “so I just bought some clubs and started out. I found out different and so I decided that I would quit fooling and become a real golfer.”
Clark went to Tom Stevens, a noted pro. On his first round with Tom his score was 118. Ashamed, he buckled in. For eight months, devoting every possible minute, he took lessons. He did not go on a course to play until he was sure. His first appearance at Lakewood resulted in a score of eighty-one. Another of his ambitions fulfilled.
A group of studio officials invited Clark deer hunting. Never in his life had he shot a high-powered rifle. Deep in the high Sierras a deer sprang up before him, an easy shot for a marksman. Clark missed!
“Imagine how I felt? I came home and started to practice. I went out to a desert ranch and practiced shooting at running jack rabbits from a moving car with a rifle.”
This year Clark and his wife went into the wilds of Arizona after deer and Clark brought back his buck, killed with a single shot.
“A one-armed man taught me to play tennis,” Clark said, “but he is a professional teacher. I’m only fair at tennis, that’s all.”
Still, tennis, according to his code, is a gentleman’s game and if he is no Big Bill Tilden, Gable holds his own with the colony’s best racketeers.
In spite of the fact that Clark’s development as a gentleman has been along the line of outdoor sports, he has not neglected the cultural side of it. Ask anyone who knew Clark Gable when he was a slightly uncouth Dutch boy with broad shoulders, a wide-toothed grin and unable to decide what to do with those big hands of his. His speech, while virile and manly, indicates a deep study of diction and pronunciation. Although he detests parties and social affairs, he can be at ease in any drawing room. He is not a great reader but he has filled his brain with the better types of books until he can discuss them intelligently. He has, in short, become just what he has always wanted to be, a gentleman.
“I’m taking up the study of navigation next,” he told m. “It fascinates me and even though I may never use it in a practical way, I want to know all about it. When I master that I’ll tackle something else.”
No long do they laugh when Clark Gable picks up a golf club, a rifle, tennis racket or puts his foot in a stirrup. Clark is only mildly satisfied with the job he has done but there is something in the confident swing of his shoulders, in the lift of his chin and the timbre of his voice which was not there a year ago. The same grim determination, the same virile driving force with lifted the lumber-jack and the small-time actor to the heights of movie stardom has transformed the awkward, almost uncouth rough-neck into the ranks of gentleman.
It is said that it requires three generations to produce a gentleman but Clark Gable has accomplished it in one!