How Clark Gable and Carole Lombard Live
By Adele Whitley-Fletcher
Photoplay magazine, June 1940
You are invited in with Photoplay. All your questions about their colorful way of life are answered here
It’s out in the Valley, the Gable ranch, about a forty-minute drive from Beverly Hills. You turn off the Boulevard on a narrow dirt road and travel until you come to a white hanging gate. The brown earth is turned up to the sun. A tractor stands idle while a farmer eats his lunch. Farther along, the whitewashed tree trunks of a citrus orchard are luminous in the sunshine. And finally you come to the old stables, now a garage, where the driveway turns around a big tree that has flowers growing at its base.
A station wagon is parked here usually. Carole gave it to Clark on his last birthday. It carries a hydraulic jack that will pull it out of anything, including Mexican mud during the rainy season. Fastened inside are two stout cases of maroon leather, hand-sewn. One holds a first-aid kit. The other carries thermos bottles. Carole found a man to make these cases just the way she wanted them. Before they were finished she had learned how to stitch leather and she was working on the bench beside him.
“She has to know how things are done,” her friends say. “It’s an obsession with her!”
The house, of shingles and whitewashed brick, with white geraniums growing on its window sills, is up a few steps, a few feet away. There’s a stretch of lawn before it. Beyond are fields and little green hills. A dog barks…a rooster crows…
“I’ll never forget the day the real estate man called to tell me this place was for sale!” Carole screamed, pulling her slacked legs up under her chin, locking her arms around them. “It was just before we were married. I called Pa at the studios right away—even though we’d bought another place.”
“’How would you like the Raoul Walsh ranch?’ I asked. He got choky. I could scarcely understand him. ‘How would I like it?’ he said. We closed the deal the same day—traded in the other property as part payment. It’s wonderful living here!” (All Carole’s conversation should be under-scored for emphasis, with some words and sentences doubly under-scored. Only the presses won’t work that way!)
She flung her long legs out in front of her. “And the taxes here! They’re nothing! We pay no more for these twenty acres than we’d pay for one elegant acre in town!”
Seven years ago Clark and Carole meet…
At that time it would have been reasonable enough to believe Clark would live on a ranch, ride a tractor, work in a citrus grove and raise cattle. He had always been gaited that way.
But it wouldn’t have been reasonable at that time to believe Carole would live on a ranch, get up at three o’clock in the morning when there was a new calf, measure chickens for a three-finger breadth before deciding whether they should be kept for eggs or killed for market.
Madeleine Fields, now married to Walter Lang, the director, and Carole’s secretary and closest friend for years, says, “I wish you could have seen Lombard the day she and Clark went to look over the ranch. I thought ‘Now! Now she’s met her Waterloo! She can’t possibly be up to this!’ But she was up to it. She didn’t stand in the middle of the living room and go into rhapsodies over a cute window. Not her! She investigated the plumbing. She found out all about the furnace. She instituted a thorough examination of all beams for signs of termites. And when they went into the kitchen she took a folding rule out of her bag, if you please, to measure the wall space for an ice box!”
“’If we’re going to raise chickens, Mr. G.,’ she said, ‘we’ve got to have a box big enough to store them until they go to market!’”
Fieldsie groaned. “She’s the most efficient and self-sufficient dame in the world. She knows when the curtains should come down. She knows when the tulips should go in. And as sure as St. Patrick’s Day come round you’ll find little shamrock candies on her table.”
“You have to be careful what you say to her. Because if on May tenth you say, ‘Oh Carole! That quilt’s divine!’ you’re likely to get a quilt like it on December twenty-fifth. Unless you have a birthday in the meantime!”
“She keeps a complete file of birthdays and anniversaries all predated a month ahead. And nine-tenths of her waking hours she goes around with a pad fastened on a clip board. Every night of her life she uses that pad to make notes of the things she wants to do the next day and to outline her menus. And at Christmas time she takes the darn thing shopping with her.”
Fieldsie grinned. “Only she writes so fast and in such a scrawl that I usually have to read her notes for her. She’s also congenitally unable to hold on to a pencil. I’ve given her a dozen, nicely sharpened, in the morning and heard her yelling for one by afternoon!”
The front door of the Gable home opens into the living room. The stairs are in the living room, too. In spite of the Gables’ combined income of five hundred thousand dollars a year—sixty percent of which goes to pay state and federal taxes—their living room is far from elegant. It’s better than elegant…gay and comfortable and friendly. The furniture is maple. There are chintzes at the windows. The sofa is covered in bright yellow.
The adjoining dining room is like the taproom of a fine old inn. It has a large white brick fireplace. There’s a red braided rung on the wide-board beamed floor. Both the long trestle table, accommodated with armed Windsor chairs, and the small round table in the bay window, which Carole and Clark use when they’re alone, have oil lamps on them and baskets of fruit. There are old-fashioned lamp chimneys, too, over the electric bulbs in the chandelier that is fitted with a big brass hood.
“We tried candles and silver sticks first,” Carole says, “but they didn’t belong here. Good old kerosene lamps seemed what were needed. And now the light they shed is so soft we wouldn’t use anything else!”
The ranch isn’t like any house Carole has ever lived in. Yet it has the same ease and charm her houses always have had. Her feeling for decoration is famous, as it should be. Fieldsie says, “When Carole does a room she doesn’t have to feel her way, color by color, piece by piece. She’s able to visualize it completely. Many of the ranch rooms she planned and ordered in a day!”
Carole knows her energy comes from glands. “They keep me going full speed all the time,” she says. “Which uses up too much energy. So every now and then I go to bed and stay there for several days!”
In Carole’s room, also done in maple and chintzes, the bedside table always indicates when one of these rest periods is due. It disappears under the magazines, books and scripts she saves to read at such times. Consequently, while most stars in Hollywood are in a dither about stories, Carole has five pictures ahead that she can’t wait to do.
A strange thing about that Jane Peters of Fort Wayne, Indiana, should come to the movie studios. For, schooling over, the Peters were accustomed to placing their sons in a family firm and keeping their daughters at home until they married. But Elizabeth Peters, short of funds, came to California one day with Frederick Jr., Stuart and Carole, who was seven.
A strange thing that William Clark Gable of Cadiz, Ohio, would come to the movie studios. His family had tilled the land and asked no honors save prizes at county faird and credit in their rural communities. There wasn’t even a lawyer or a preacher in his family to hand down a dramatic seed. But one day after Clark left the farm and was moulding treads for tires he found his way into a theater. Whereupon he knew, for the first time, what he wanted to do with his life.
During Carole’s youth she occasionally worked in pictures. Most of the time she went to school. She would have preferred it the other way. But her mother was adamant. So all she could do was wait and plan how one day the movies would be her whole life.
It was at the Sennett studios that Carole and Fieldsie became friends. They drove to the studios in Fieldsie’s car and shared the cost of gas. But, like the rest of the young crowd, Fieldsie had known Carole for a long time. If you went to the Charleston contests held at the Ambassador on Friday nights you couldn’t miss her. For these contests almost always ended as a private contest between Jane Peters (Carole) and Lucille Le Sueur (Joan Crawford).
At the time Carole was at Sennett’s, Clark was working in a lumber mill in Oregon. He’d made his way there—by freight—after a traveling repertoire company had left him stranded in the Middle West. However, eager to return to the theater, he was saving every cent possible against a trip to Portland.
In 1933 Carole and Clark played together in “No Man of Her Own,” had fun during the weeks they worked together, then went different ways. Carole was married to Bill Powell then. Clark was married to Ria Langham.
They met again, several years later, at a White Mayfair Ball. Carole was the hostess. Cesar Romero was her escort. Clark—and they probably had to hog-tie him to get him there at all—arrived late and planned to leave almost immediately.
But he and Carole danced…
Then, finally, came the March day in 1939 when Carole, Clark and Otto Winkler, Clark’s friend and a member of the MGM publicity department, drove to Kingman, Arizona.
The minister of the little church where the stopped before the ink on their license was dry was out making sick calls. They waited in the parsonage for him to come home, sitting upright, side by side, on the sofa.
He came in at last, his arms full of groceries.
“Kenneth,” his wife said. “I want you to meet Miss Lombard and Mr. Gable. They’ve come to be married.”
Surprising how little time Carole and Clark have spent away from the ranch since that day…
“We die,” Carole says, “if we have to go out for an evening. When there’s something important going on—like an Academy dinner—we have scouts who call us up and tell us what is happening.”
All of which is all right with their friends. They adore going to the ranch to see Carole and Clark. Clark has an easy way of making people feel at home. And Carole can make things go.
On Sunday only one maid is kept on. Carole and Clark like to be alone, with no set time for anything. In the afternoon, however, they’re likely to ask the family and a few friends over.
“Then it’s something to see Carole go into action,” says Alice Marble, the tennis champion and frequent guest. “If someone particularly likes a Rum Collins that’s what is served. If he makes a Rum Collins especially well he’ll be put behind the bar.”
“However, even when Jessie, the cook, is in the kitchen Carole takes nothing before dinner. She’s too busy looking after things, talking to people. ‘Come on in and help,’ she said to me one Sunday, on her way to the kitchen. I went. But I didn’t help. She had the broilers under fire and two salads made before I could turn around. She didn’t have to ask where things were, either. She knows her kitchen as intimately as any woman who does her own housework!”
Evenings when Carole and Clark are alone they play backgammon, with stakes that result in one owing the other thirty or forty cents by bedtime. Or they read. Carole likes biographies. Clark goes for mysteries. If they’re working they have lines to study. Clark has a photographic mind and gets things at a glance. Carole, in spite of her mental versatility, has to figure things out. Then there’s ranch business to go over, for weekends find them occupied outside. The house, the flower gardens and the chickens are Carole’s departments. Clark looks after everything else.
Beyond the house are the stables, the workshop, the barns, the kennels, the chicken houses, the alfalfa field, the vineyard and more citrus groves. Ten of the twenty acres are now planted. The alfalfa they use for feed. The grapes they send to the hospital. The Farmers Association markets their citrus crop for them and the MGM commissary buys their fowl.
It’s not impossible that the ranch will be self-supporting one day, in spite of the fact that it’s stocked, equipped and run in a way to comprise a dream world for most women and men who farm as an avocation. For both Carole and Clark are practical.
“They’re quick to help anyone they know who is in trouble,” Fieldsie says, “but heaven help the parasites!”
Talk to a dozen people who know Carole and you’ll get as many different, exciting stories. Essentially, however, all the stories will be the same—proving she’s a champion!
Eleanor Tennant, the famous tennis coach, known throughout the tennis world as “Teach,” which is the nickname Carole gave her, says: “Carole has natural good form. And I’ve never known anyone who wasn’t up in tournament play, who didn’t have tennis in their blood, who got tennis-drunk the way she does. ‘Now I have it!’ she’ll yell when we’re having a lesson. ‘Keep shooting them at me!’”
Harry Fleischmann, who taught Carole to shoot, says: “She instinctively knows what to do. She wanted a gun that fit her. And she took it home and played around with it, got used to it, before she came for her first lesson. Now she uses a 41-gauge gun, the smallest gauge made, the hardest to shoot, and when we were in Mexico she got her limit of fifteen doves every day.”
“On a hunting trip she carries her own equipment. She retrieves her own birds. She lies down in the mud. She fights her way through cactus and brush. She’s patient in a duck blind, if need be, from seven in the morning until four in the afternoon. There’s never a beef out of her.”
“At the moment—because we talked a lot about it when we were in Mexico—she’s excited about fishing in Oregon for salmon. She’s getting equipment and flies ready. And she’s practicing casting all over the lawn!”
Next to the Gable living room there’s the gun room. It’s done in knotty pine with built-in cases. In these cases there are a few antiques, but most of the guns—eight of which are Carole’s—are oiled and ready for immediate use. There are guns for big game and fowl, target pistols and rifles. There are big chairs in this room, too. And smoking tables. It represents complete country comfort and it might as well be the living room because Carole and Clark spend so much time in it.
Fieldsie, forever being asked what she thinks attracted Clark to Carole, always answers the same way: “When other girls around town were saying, ‘Tomorrow’s the big premiere at Grauman’s Chinese’—unaware tomorrow had any other importance—Carole was saying, ‘Tomorrow’s May Day!’”
Which is very apt indeed. Carole’s never forgotten there’s a world outside Hollywood. Clark would like that. And even when Carole was being elegant you only had to scratch her silken surface slightly to find her simple and salty underneath. And Clark would like that, too.
“Carole still can surprise me,” Fieldsie says. “But Clark always seems to anticipate what she’s going to do.”
“She stood by while my baby was being born, completely adequate except that she turned pretty white. And when I asked Clark if this hadn’t amazed him—as it had me—he shook his head and grinned. It was the same when the floods came. While Clark was throwing chains and blankets into the station wagon, Carole was loading it with food and thermos jugs of milk and coffee. When he started off to pull out neighbors who were in trouble, there she was sitting up beside him. And he was grinning again—the same way.”
Hollywood perpetually wonders if Carole and Clark are happy and if they’ll make a success of this marriage. Carole and Clark haven’t stopped to think about it. They’re pretty busy.
They have to decide if they’ll put in walnuts…they worry over the condition of the coat of one of their short-haired German retrievers…they give any picture they’re making all they have…after backgammon—it’s almost a ritual with them—they drive over to a stand in the valley for chili and beans…they have to get ready for a hunting or fishing trip when autumn comes around, for they both have clauses in their contracts which give them freedom during October, November and December, the time for such things.
“She’s quite a girl!” Clark says of Carole.
And Carole says, “Pappy’s such a swell guy!”