The Gags of the Gables…Like Crazy!
By Gladys Hall
Photoplay magazine, April 1941
You never knew such fun as goes on with Mammy and Pappy. You wonder how they keep their minds on their work, thinking up crazy gags to spring on each other
They are the ones, are Mammy Lombard and Pappy Gable…
That’s what they call one another, you know, “Mammy” and “Pappy.”
One wonders how they keep their minds on their work, what with thinking up lunacies to spring on each other. Costly lunacies, too, most of them. Ingenious idiocies. No mere hot seats, water-squirters, plate-raisers, rubber mice or such-like stuff. Uh uh. They Big Production value into their hoddy-doddies, do Mammy and Pappy Gable.
Why, Lombard never knows, when she goes to sleep at night, whether she will awake to behold her lawful, wedded Rhett, or an old gentleman with a long, white beard under the crazy quilt by her side! And stop me if you’ve heard this one…but there was the time Lombard had poison ivy, had to wear a medicinal face mask and Pappy came home one evening to find a gutta-percha facsimile of Joan Crawford’s face on the pillow where Carole’s face should have been!
Then there is the wildcat. Let’s start with the wildcat, why not? Clark, in sportive mood, as always, had a wildcat imported from the wilds of Arizona as a gift for Carole. So, one bright sunny morning when Mammy went down to the barnyard to feed the rabbits and guinea pigs and other domestic pets as is her daily wont, there was a wildcat a-snarling at her!
But Pappy’s little jest proved a boomerang this time. Because when he tried to place the creature in a good home, an old zoo or something, no one would take it. After several sleepless nights, during which Pappy had to mount guard over the beast with his old gat; after hawking it around, practically from door to door like a Fuller Brush man, he finally got it quartered, albeit temporarily, on the back lot at MGM, along with Leo, the Lion. And is still paying for its board and keep out of income!
It all began, this frenzied funning, on the night Mammy and Pappy had their first date. They went to the Mayfair Ball on this history-making occasion. Clark, at that time, was living at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. Carole had her home in Brentwood. At the Ball, they had their first fight. Carole went home with friends. Clark, presumably, went home alone. Came the Dawn and Mr. G. was awakened by a loud and furry cooing. He opened his big, still-dreaming eyes and there were seven white doves flying around his room. Carole had sent them—Doves of Peace!
It is not generally known but I have found out that, ever since that morning, the dove industry in Hollywood and environs has done a thriving business. For let a single disputatious word be spoken by Mammy to Pappy or vice versa and the next morning a dove appears, an olive branch clenched between its “teeth.”
It was also during the Before Marriage era that a fan sent What-A-Man a 300-pound statue of himself as Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty. A day or so later, Carole awoke one morning to find 300 pounds of stone Gable on her front lawn, a garland of forget-me-nots twined around its throat, a red rose behind each ear. Mammy got on the hot wire and, an hour later, five men and a truck appeared to tote Pappy’s effigy to the City Dump Heap.
Not that marriage has sobered this Jack Pudding and his spouse. For not long ago, when the twain took a trip to Mexico, in their station-wagon (equipped for light housekeeping against heavy odds), Clark had a birthday. In the midst of a driving rainstorm, with silt and wind and pieces of ‘dobe sloshing around the car, Carole insisted upon baking her pappy a cake. Furthermore, she insisted upon his eating it. Pappy ate it. And returned to town. And went through a series of fluoroscopes and X-rays. Chickens can eat gravel, as Pappy, not unreasonably, pointed out, but men…
And just after they were married, just as they were crossing the state line on their return from the parson, a patrolman stopped them at the border, as per routine. He inquired, “Any fruits in there?” Carole looked thoughtfully at her Mister. Then, sweetly reassuring, she turned to the officer and said, “No sir, just hams.”
On their first wedding anniversary, Pappy was booming it up in Boom Town with Hedy Lamarr and Spencer Tracy. Mammy came over to lunch with her one-year bridegroom in his portable dressing room. She fixed his dressing room all pretty, with yards and yards of white satin ribbon, tulle and flowers. In one corner she arranged a huge nest. In the center of the nest she deposited one enormous egg with the word “PARNELL” painted across it, in big, red letters.
Out at the farm, Gable proudly and by hand, raised some special, blue-blooded chicks in hopes of winning a Blue Ribbon at the Pomona Fair. Every husband has a right to keep a few chickens to himself, so Pappy didn’t tell Mammy about his blooded babies.
One fine day, Pappy went off to work with his lunch-pail and Mammy was left alone with Satan finding mischief for her idle hands to do. She fixed up the house a little, then wandered out to the chicken-runs where it was borne in upon her sense of thrift that they were getting an awful lot of chicks. Too many chicks, she decided, for one family, with a world in need.
So, in a sunburst of humanitarianism, radiant with Sweet Charity, Girl-Scout Lombard called the substitute hired-man, who was temporarily replacing the regular Fred, who would have known better, told him to kill “the bunch in the little, separate pen,” fix up some boxes them and deliver them for a radius of twenty miles among the poor children in the valley.
When Pappy came home that night, he found a few feathers where his White Hopes had been. Mammy told him, shining-eyed, of her Good Deed for the day. Pappy was extraordinarily apathetic. The next morning, there were FIFTY doves circling the Gable-Lombard ranch!
When Carole was in the hospital, following her appendectomy, Clark went over to pay her his noon-day visit. He walked into her room, bent lover-like over the bed, only to behold a strange woman with dilated brown eyes, signs of blood pressure mounting dangerously, staring at him!
Her expression was that of one who believes she has died and, all undeservedly, gone to heaven! Clark scuttled, went to the desk and asked where the hell his wife had gone. A few seconds later a floor nurse came along, laughing fit to kill, and explained that the brown-eyed woman’s husband had waylaid her in the hall, white-faced and shaking…”Nurse,” he gasped, “Nurse, my wife is delirious—guess what? When I went in there a minute ago, she told me ‘I just saw Clark Gable! He was standing right over my bed and—he almost kissed me!’”
When Carole was tracked down, in the room right next to that of the woman with the brown eyes, she had nothing to say concerning the matter except that the nurses must have made a mistake and wheeled the wrong patients into the wrong rooms. Hospital efficiency being what it is, no such error had ever occurred before, as the Superintendent carefully explained. Pappy didn’t express his thoughts. After all, you have to be quiet in a hospital!
When Carole started to work in RKO’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith the company used the studio in Culver City for several days work. A Little Bird apprised Pappy of this fact. A Little Bird has to apprise Pappy of what Mammy is doing in the movies, and vice versa, on account of how the Gableses have stuck to their pre-matrimonial resolve to never “talk shop” at home. They never do. Mammy didn’t even know that Pappy had signed his new MGM contract until she read about it in the papers. Pappy swears he doesn’t know whether Mammy has got a contract or not.
Be that as it may, on the day Carole arrived in Culver City for her first day’s work there, she was greeted, as she crossed the city line, by a huge sound-truck, the sides and top and back of which were pasted over with twenty-four sheets announcing, “CULVER CITY WELCOMES MRS. RHETT BUTLER!” Mounted on the sound-truck, dressed in a cutaway coat, tall silk hat, Smith Bros. beard, a cauliflower in his button-hole, as “Mayor” of Culver City, sat Lew Smith, Clark’s stand-in and good friend. As Carole’s car started to cross the city line, the “Mayor” halted her car and, with a flourishing bow, presented her with a huge bouquet of onions, leeks, parsley, with a very old artichoke as the corsage’s centerpiece. Carole took one good look at the “Mayor”, yanked off his beard and said, “You’ve got more ham in you than Pappy!”
I don’t know what went on in the mind of Mr. Smith (Bob Montgomery) during the making of this picture but I can vouch for it that Mrs. Smith was not exactly concentrating on her work. She was overheard muttering lines not in the script, such as “You tell my old man I’ll pay him off for this!” and “Pappy, you’ll rue the day!”
In due course of time, she worked out a beautiful, balmy plan. She would charter a plane o fly over the Comrade X company when it was working on MGM’s back lot. The pilot would be equipped with thousands of leaflets upon which would be printed the words “REMEMBER PARNELL!” The leaflets would snow down upon the set and upon Pappy and, in spite of the fact that Hedy was kissing him, a kiss per every foot of film, would his face be red!
But Mammy was stopped in her “tricksy” tracks this time, For the Bureau of Air Commerce forbade the dropping of pamphlets as against regulations. Brooding, because she had already had the leaflets printed, but unbowed because she thought she saw a way, Mammy gave employment to dozens of unemployed urchins by hiring them to stand at the front entrance of the studio and pass the “REMEMBER PARNELL” pamphlets to all who came in and went out. That tied it.
At this writing, Mr. G. is trying to have Mrs. G. arrested for causing pamphlets to be distributed without a Chamber of Commerce permit! But you know men…when it comes to beautiful, willowy Lombardy blondes…Mammy is still at large. And now it’s Pappy who is talking to himself.
On Carole’s last birthday, Gable had a mammoth cake made for her. On top was iced the words, “TO MAMMY ON HER 75TH BIRTHDAY!” At the bottom of the cake was a record which, when the cake was cut, was released and began to play. Here is what it played:
Woman’s Voice (very chi-chi, parody of Lombard’s voice): “Will you sing Happy Birthday to me, Pappy?”
Gable’s Voice: “I can’t. I’m in a tank with Lamarr. I have to think of my vitality…”
Woman’s Voice: “Won’t you please play and sing just a little something?”
Gable’s Voice: “I can’t, I tell you. If the studio should hear me, they would give me Nelson Eddy’s roles.”
Woman’s Voice: “You could do worse—remember PARNELL!”
Out at the homestead of Mammy and Pappy Gable, there is a newly decorated room. It is Carole’s creation. She turned the guestroom (they never have guests) into a picture gallery. Over the lintel hangs a sign which reads, “WORLD’S WORST PHOTOGRAPHS!” You enter and there is a collection the like of which no living mad man has ever visualized. They were ALL made by Gable, with his little Speed Graphic of which he is fond, like crazy. Carole, always a one to encourage hubby’s hobbies, took them all, had them enlarged, and framed and hung them.
The collection contains, among others, a picture of Carole with half her head off; the Gable-Lombard living room, so underexposed it looks like the concentration camp in Escape. Clark explains that these were his first films and that he was merely “experimenting.”
It’s something of an experiment, come to think of it, for a guest to raise the knocker at the Gableses. Like recently, Mammy and Pappy got sore because they didn’t have a “jive” orchestra like Mickey Rooney’s and Jackie Cooper’s and some of the other kids. So one night they had a party. The guests were met at the front door by their host and hostess and each was given a musical instrument. Before the end of the evening, if there was any music in the souls of the guests gathered there, it came out. If there wasn’t, it came out anyway. It was a sight, folks, to see Pappy at the drums, Mammy playing a “hot” trumpet, Spence Tracy tangled up in a bass fiddle, Bob Taylor bold as brass among the brasses, Fred MacMurray copping the honors with a “sweet” saxophone, et cetera.
As you know, no doubt, Carole is the Little Woman cut in the duck marshes, out in the veldt with her lord, as well as in the chicken-runs at home. She always accompanies her Bring-em-back-alive when he goes a-hunting. When she was first married, a honeymoon being a honeymoon among the Hottentots as well as in Hollywood or Honolulu, Bride Gable got herself a slick, modish Abercrombie-and-fitch-ish hunting outfit. The like of which would have sent Osa Johnson back to Kansas for keeps. Pappy didn’t bat an eyelash.
The door, dolled up with all the accoutrements for a jungle safari, including two Negro boys with rings in their noses and ears, javelins in their hands and elephant tusks slung over their shoulders. They greeted Mammy as “Memsahib.” “They are,” announced Papy, gravely, “our runners.”On the Mack truck was printed, in mammoth letters, “LOMBARD SAFARI, LTD.!”
One of Clark’s monomanias is buying gadgets for his car. He has every super-extra ever invented, super-bumpers, fog lights, chrome searchlights that you can operate inside the car, chrome cigarette holders, radio, television, everything but hot and cold running water. Carole always maintained that it was a lot of nonsense, that she would have no part in such gadgeteering.
But one day, when the last super-super had been superimposed, Pappy lured Mammy into the driveway as they were both starting off for work, showed her his handiwork and said, “Well, Baby, how do you like it?” Baby gave it a thorough once-over, glints in her eyes. “I like it fine,” she said, “I think I’ll drive it to the studio this morning.” That was the last Pappy saw of his motor from Mars for many a long day. He had to go out and buy himself a little, old Ford.
But it’s a poor gag that has no turning. After a certain length of time, the routine settled down like this: whoever got up first got the big car to drive to work. One day Mammy drew the small job. Which, she might have known, had gone the way of all Clark’s cars. For it was dolled up with spotlight, special rims, no running-board, pants on the back fenders, collegiate, like crazy. And—there was also a cut-out in back! Somewhere near Hollywood and Vine, a policeman stopped Mrs. G. “The City of Ordinances,” he said sternly, “forbid cut-outs.” Mammy rolled those big, blue eyes at the officer and said, “Don’t blame me, Officer, it’s my old man!”
Clark’s first anniversary gift to his bride, or one of many gifts, was a beautiful gown which he had Adrian design especially for her. Although the material was rich and sheer and shimmering, the design was all done in newspaper headlines…such headlines as: “PARSONS PANS LOMBARD! LOMBARD FLOPS AGAIN! LOMBARD LIMITED—AND HOW! CRITICS CAUTERIZE CAROLE!” et cetera. But she got back at Pappy for this one, did Mammy…for when her old pal, Fieldsie, now Mrs. Walter Lang, gave a swank anniversary party for the Gableses, Mrs. G. wore the gown to the party!
That’s life with Mammy and Pappy Gable for you…could you take it?