Will Clark Gable Ever Marry Carole Lombard?
by Ford Black
Motion Picture magazine, February 1939
One thing is sure, Clark and Carole are madly in love. But your guess is as good as Hollywood’s whether they’ll marry
The odds in Hollywood, where you can get a bet from the wise guys on practically anything at all, are about fifty-fifty that IF Jane Peters ever marries The Moose, it’ll be the beginning of the bust-up of the grandest, finest romance Hollywood has ever known—off or on screen!
You’ll notice I’ve got that IF in capitals.
Because the same wise guys will give you about ten to one that “IF” never becomes “when.”
You see, Jane Peters is Carole Lombard. That’s her real name; Carole Lombard is just something a numerologist gave her. And The Moose is her pet name for Clark Gable, the guy she’s in love with, and vice-versa. That is, she calls him “the moose” when she’s talking about him, to others. When she talks with him, she just calls him “Poppy.”
And he calls her “Ma.”
That’s how it is with Clark and the Lombard. That’s how it’s been for more months than cynical Hollywood ever believed it possible for two people to be as deliriously, insanely, happily head-over-heels in love with each other in movieland.
But before they can ever get married, there’s quite a bit of technicality in the way. The matter of Clark’s being divorced from or by Ria Gable, the lady to whom he’s still married.
A great number of people, in and out of Hollywood, have been wondering when Ria Gable will ever give a divorce. You’ve probably read innumerable items and rumors in the gossip columns about it. There’s probably been more baseless twaddle written about Clark’s marital status than about anybody else’s in Hollywood—even George Raft’s.
But recently, I learned, from one of those pretty accurate and trustworthy sources, that only the other day, Ria Gable, growing annoyed and consequently articulate about the constant reiteration of question marks about when she’d ever divorce Clark, replied:
“But he’s never even asked me to!”
And that quite effectually shut up the interrogation for the time being at least.
As a matter of fact, the real low-downers of Hollywood are convinced that there’ll never be a Ria-Clark divorce, they feel, although the principals never openly discuss the matter, that Clark and Carole both feel that the situation is quite all right where it stands. Hollywood has its own table of ethics about things like this—a set of rules and taboos that are governed to a large extent by such things as publicity and the so-called “hinterland reaction.” Hollywood fears, above all else, the wrath of millions of moviegoers whose moral sensibilities are assumed to be as fragile as gold-leaf, and as pure. There is justification, says that part of Hollywood which treads lightly, for an assumption that if Clark Gable should be divorced from Ria Gable, and then leap headlong into an immediate re-marriage with Carole Lombard, that the box-office status of both Gable and the Lombard would suffer a deep pain in the intake.
And what Hollywood can’t stand at all is a drop in box-office rating.
So, since the world of movie fans apparently takes it for granted, and quite all right, too, that Clark is not in love with his wife, but is in love with Carole, the two of them seem content to let it lie at that, and why change the situation?
There has, in the past, been terrific studio pressure to “kill” all publicity linking the Lombard and Gable names. It was a policy in line with that fear of the hinterland reaction. But of late, we in Hollywood who make our living by writing about it have noticed that from the two studios concerned—Carole’s Paramount and Clark’s MGM—there has been a gradual but definite lightening of the taboo.
Both studios may just as well be—because Clark and Carole themselves aren’t bothering with even a semblance of hide-up! You’ll see them go careening down Ventura Boulevard in that dusty station wagon of theirs, both of them togged in dirty old overalls and farm clothes, laughing like a couple of high school sophomores. They’re probably on their way back to town after an afternoon of bulldogging and steer-tossing on the San Fernando valley ranch of either of ‘em—both Carole and Clark have ranches out there, and are nuts about roping cattle.
Or you’ll see then at the niteries, as obviously and utterly in love with each other as a couple of newlyweds. Their birthday gag-gifts to each other are famous. As a matter of fact, Hollywood never thinks of either of them without the other. They’re as inseparable as ham and eggs. Many a married couple of Hollywood aren’t as irrevocably linked in Hollywood hostesses’ minds as are the Lombard and the Gable. In Hollywood, you wouldn’t think of inviting one without the other.
And that’s as it should be, if you skip Victorian conventions and get down to the real “savvy” of the situation. They ARE in love. They’re grand for each other. I believe that Carole Lombard has done more, in a material and spiritual way both, for Clark Gable than all the rest of his life added up. She has certainly done more to make life worth the living for him than any of his other associations. I mean, she’s brought him the real fun and joy of living—a thing that Clark, in all his previous striving and seeking, has never found before.
True, he was married twice—the first time to Josephine Dillon, some years older than himself, who taught him a lot about voice control and diction and stage deportment, because that’s her business. The second time (and still) to Ria Langham, the society woman, years older than himself, again. Ria dazzled him, and gave him a taste of how things are done in the upper tiers of social life. But she didn’t bring him sheer, downright fun. Neither of those women, admirable as they are in their spheres of life, brought him the fun that fun-loving Carole Lombard did. Carole is an ex-Mack Sennett girl. She has no social aspirations, yet she is one of Hollywood’s most sought-after guests. She has no exalted ideas about histrionics, yet she is one of Hollywood’s top box office stars. Carole, therefore, can and does give Clark the social status Ria gave, and the theatrical standing and help Josephine gave—but in addition, she also gives a whole-hearted comradeship and good-fellowship.
Carole is a man’s girl. Clark is a man’s man. He’s no society butterfly; he’d rather wear dungarees or a hunting khaki than tails and an opera hat. He’d rather engage in some utterly, hilarious and often unmentionable bits of clowning, on the Rabelaisian side, than take part in a la-de-da cocktail fight at Mme. de la Ritz’s society soiree. And when it comes to joining him in the low-down gaggin’, Carole’s his girl. Just the other day, you maybe read about how she ribbed him because of the dance steps he’s having to learn for his newest picture…
So shamefaced is Clark about having to learn to do pretty dance steps that he has kept the stage barred to all visitors. He’s as embarrassed as a man in a lingerie shop. So what does Carole do? She gives a box to a friend of hers in the MGM publicity department, knowing that said friend can crash the closed doors on the Gable set.
“Give this to Clark,” she says.
The friend enters the strictly closed set. Clark sees him coming and smells the gag.
“You blanket-blank-blank,” he yells; “it’s a RIB!”
It is! Clark opens the box, and finds that Carole has sent him a ballet skirt, embroidered with his own initials; and a pair of ballet slippers, pink, size 11. AND—a dozen pansies!
I could tell you a lot of gags Clark played on her, too. But I won’t. Because they’re the downright lowdown humor kind that good fellows play on each other, and they don’t take repeating. They’re always clowning; always playing. Clark taught her how to shoot, and now they go skeet-shooting together, and now and then on hunting trips. She gave him two of the finest guns that could be bought—and that sort of shooting-ware costs in the high hundreds. She gives him other things. When she isn’t working herself she spends much of her time on the sidelines, as Clark works. She gives him help, coaches him from her own innate sense of stagecraft. She rehearses his lines with him.
She is believed responsible, too, for a growing carefulness about the roles he plays; the pictures he works in. Clark used to play anything, do any “business” and speak any lines the studio gave him. That was all right, when he was on the upgrade and had laid his future in MGM’s hands. But now he’s a star, now it’s his own care and lookout to protect the position he has attained as the No.1 male star of the screen.
And recently, he has been decidedly careful and critical about his roles. He won’t go ahead on a picture any more until he is completely satisfied with story, script, role, lines, business. He’s held up production on both Test Pilot and Too Hot to Handle until the scripts were revised to suit his ideas. And, insiders believe, to suit Carole’s ideas of what her man should play. In fact, it’s pretty generally accepted that Carole is Clark’s professional mentor far and away beyond what appears on the surface.
She’s doing fine for him, too. Clark is still at the top. He’s drawing some $7,000 a week. He has developed a sense of humor and likability that wasn’t his before Carole. True, he was always a pleasant, personable chap. But there was a hard-to-knowness about him; a shell of reserve, a lack of warmness in his contacts. Since Carole, that shell has vanished.
Nobody calls him “Mister Gable” anymore. He’s just “Hey, Clark!” to everybody, from the lowliest messenger-boy on the lot to Louis B. himself.
There was a time when the wise ones feared he would go Hollywood; that was at the beginning of his meteoric rise. Maybe he would have; it’s tough to escape it. Hollywood thanks Carole for steering him around the menace.
True, he has his shoes made, specially, in London. True, he has the finest tailors in America cut his clothes. But that is business, isn’t it? Outside of business, he puts on no “big” act. With Carole, he goes to neighborhood movies rather than snooty operas or symphonies. That ranch of his, that you read so much—why, it’s only a two-acre spot in San Fernando Valley; much smaller than many a lesser movie name boasts. And don’t get excited about the screwy stories you may read of how magnificent it is. He doesn’t even own it!—he leases it from Rex Ingram.
He has no valet. I know a lot of $300-a-week hams in Hollywood who have ‘em, but not Clark. He has only two servants—a cook and a housekeeper.
Reason he doesn’t own his place is because (he says this himself) he wants no ties to hold him in case he ever decided to cut loose and move.
He has no illusions about himself, nowadays. I remember there was a time, in the dim past, when he imagined he was a pretty fine actor. But something—probably Carole, again—has knocked that out of him. Like Carole’s own opinion of herself as an actress, Clark now admits he’s “just lucky.”
That goes not alone for his screen success, but for his offscreen life’s livability as well. Clark knows that it’s given to few individuals to achieve the all-around happiness that is his today—an assured place in his chosen profession; a steady and big income; freedom from worries and entanglements; and a beautiful woman to love him.
He knows he’s lucky; it isn’t just a bit of phony modesty with him when he says “I’m just a lucky stuff!”
He knows it won’t always last. He’s looking forward to the time when there won’t be seven grand a week in the pay envelope. He’s being frugal, without being miserly. He doesn’t put on any costly “dog”. He lives economically; doesn’t throw his money around. Banks what he can of it, after the government takes his share. When the time comes, as it inevitably will, for him abdicate his screen throne, he’ll have a nice sockful of living-money.
He thinks he’ll maybe do directing, or script writing, when that time comes. Or he may just retire. His idea of heaven on earth would be to have enough money to live comfortably and quietly—go hunting often—travel a bit—and have fun.
Preferably with Jane Peters.
Which, for the time, is perfectly okay with Jane Peters, too.