Two Happy People Part 3
By James Street
Movie and Radio Guide, May 1940
House of Two Gables, in which Mr. Street visits the famous couple in their native habitat
In the first part of “Two Happy People,” Mr. Street told of Carole Lombard. In the second part, he dealt with Clark Gable, her husband. Here, in the third part, Mr. Street goes to visit the Gables on their ranch in the San Fernando Valley.
There is no swimming pool at the House of Two Gables.
And that means something in flamboyant Hollywood, where, to snatch a bit Peglerese, may folks have yachts so big that their lifeboats have lifeboats.
But Clark Gable, the crown prince of Graustark, and his wife, Carole Lombard, court jester of the realm, are trying to make a good job of earnest, simple living on a twenty-acre farm in Encino, far enough from Hollywood to miss the smells but close enough to get to work when the whistle blows.
I was rather surprised to learn that the Gables had no swimming pool. A private swimming pool is as much a part of Hollywood existence as ballyhoo, bread and bourgeois. In the South, to judge your social status, they might ask you who your grandfather was. In the East, they might check you in Dun and Bradstreet. But in Hollywood, they’ll ask about your swimming pool. And if you expect to be a big frog, you’ve got to have a big pool.
And here two of the biggest names in the movie industry didn’t even have a footbath! It didn’t make sense. Mr. Gable explained it. He was sitting over there in the corner of his living room; sort of half sprawled in a big chair. On a maple table near him were two good books, Phil Stong’s “Horses and Americans” and “How Green Was My Valley.” Mr. Gable was wearing his house-slippers. The big mule, mutt and musket man has tender feet. That doesn’t mean he’s a tenderfoot, but the bottoms of his feet are very sensitive and tight shoes are agony to him, I like that. There’s something homey about a man whose dogs hurt him. After all, the Kid from Cadiz is a country boy. And when he gets home it is his prerogative to take off his shoes and wiggle his toes in his slippers.
“Tell you about that swimming pool business,” he said. “Mrs. G. and I are going to put one in this summer, maybe. I’ll show you where in a few minutes. If a couple moves into a place where everything is made to order, then they might soon get bored with it. Nothing to look forward to, you know. To enjoy a home a fellow has got to keep adding to it. So we are going to build our own pool; that is, supervise the building of it. And next year we’re going to put in a tennis court.”
“Isn’t it MAR-ve-lous!” Mrs. G., the firecracker girl, jumped from her chair as though she had been sitting on a tack. She sort of flitted across the room and bummed a match from her husband, then went back to her chair and sat on her feet and gave her husband a chance to do the talking, which, after all, is something that any wife should do every now and then.
The Gable farm—some call it a ranch, but it seems sort of silly to call a twenty-acre farm a ranch—is near Highway No. 101. There’s a wall around the place, and when you drive up to the big gate you have to get out of your car and press a button then whoop into a telephone. If you are admitted, a buzzer buzzes on the gate. It swings open. And lo! You are within the bounds of the House of Two Gables. The lane wanders up to the side of the house. There are beds of sweet peas and white pansies. Mrs. Gable often gets down on her glamorous knees and works her flowers.
A Buick station wagon is parked near a live oak, hard by the side of the house. Mr. Gable’s pet gun and his hunting clothes are in the station wagon. A dog runs out and barks at you. A black cat races across the lawn. You get out and stretch and drink the heady air, which smells of oranges, sweet peas, black earth and good wood.
The size of the house surprises you. It is not a mansion. The house itself looks like a cross between New England and Tennessee. In New England they would call it a cottage, and in Tennessee they would call it just a house. It is made of stones and clapboard, primly white with gay yellow awnings.
Mrs. G. selected the awnings and somehow they remind one of Carole Lombard—fresh, gay and flapping. Mrs. G. is a humdinger at decorating a house. She’s one of those rare persons who can take two bits’ worth of chintz and a pair of scissors and make something that looks pretty.
She decorated the interior of their home and the appointments are correct—simple and soothing. There is no clash of colors. Mrs. Gable realizes that colors play an important part in a person’s life and that raucous colors can whip a man’s emotions into an omelet. She is not the kind of lady who will have an orchid bathroom, or even a gaudy bathroom. If Clark Gable had to shave in an orchid bathroom he probably would cut his own throat, or maybe hers, and any jury of men in the world would call it justifiable homicide.
The small rock porch of the house is bare, and Martin, the butler, answers the door. Martin is an institution there. He is colored and grinny, and he calls his employers “Mis’ah an’ Mis’ Gable.” All of the Gables’ servants are colored. They have only three—Martin, a cook and a houseman.
Once inside the house, I forgot that I was in California. Gaudy, gooey Hollywood couldn’t be just over yonder a bit. This was Connecticut! The beautiful old rubbed wood, that fat old fireplace, the blackened andirons, the poker, Cape Cod lighter, the brass vessels, well rubbed; and the smell of good books—yes, it was Connecticut, a bit of New England that strayed away and came to rest ‘way out here where there are no snows.
Mrs. Gable has an airy, fuzzy rug on her living room floor. It’s a tannish, grayish color and the walls are simple and unburdened with knick-knacks. The chairs are big and comfortable, sturdy; strong enough for a big man to plop in and big enough for anybody to curl up in. A few books are scattered here and there. They have been read, too, and are thumb-worn. A hall connects the living room with Mr. Gable’s den, and a bathroom is just off the hall.
Mr. Gable’s guns are in a case in his den. He goes in for shotguns, mostly, but he also has some good rifles and pistols. His fans send him many firearms, including some of those funny old things that are good for nothing except to collect dust. Many of these he gives to museums. There are several fine old prints in the room. In one corner is his backgammon table. He and his wife often battle for hours at the game and sometimes as much as thirty cents changes hands. They both are fair bridge players.
The Gables use the same office at their home and the same secretary.
Just off the living room and down two steps is the dining room, with a long table, old high-back chairs and low-hanging lights. The fireplace is in this room. There are two small tables in the room and the Gables often eat breakfast at one of them. They eat their dinners at the big table. The bar is to one side of the dining room and there is an ample supply of brandies. Gable is not a drinker, but he likes a cocktail once in a while. He keeps Mexican beer and serves it in German mugs. The walls of the dining room and bar are decorated with prints of horses.
I didn’t go upstairs. I wasn’t asked up, and I am glad. The Gables are too well mannered to show their bedrooms to strangers. Their house is not a museum and they refuse to have it treated as such. However, there are only two bedrooms in the house—a bald hint that there’s no room for guests.
They bought the place from Raoul Walsh and did it over. They worked on the place before they were married and have just about got it like they want it. Amazingly enough, their investment is only about fifty thousand dollars. They are two of the best money-makers in the movies, but they live on a fifty-thousand dollar farm.
One of their prize possessions is a grandfather’s clock, and it’s Mr. Gable’s job to keep it wound. He vows he could fix it if it broke. He is very proud of the fact that he’s good with his hands and his workshop is one of his favorite hangouts. It is off to the side of the house and is equipped with good tools. You can tell the way the man grips a hammer and the way he fondles a saw that he appreciates good tools. The barn is near the workshop, and yellow hay pokes out of the loft. The stables are hard by the barn, and there is the palace of Judy the mule, one of my favorite characters in Hollywood. Old Judy just stands there, flapping his ears to keep flies away and not at all impressed that he is in the service of the crown prince of Graustark. Mr. Gable understands his mule and the mule understands him, which, to my mind is the best compliment I can pay the crown prince. You can’t fool a mule. Mr. Gable can loop a collar around Judy, hook the traces to a harrow and get down a furrow. It was quite a sight to see Clark Gable—alias Rhett Butler, Mr. Christian, et al.—following the north end of a south-bound mule, sweat pouring down his face, his muscles rippling under his shirt and cussing old Judy as only a mule-skinner can—tender, crooning cusses, the only kind of language that any good mule understands.
Squire Gable does three-fourths of his own plowing. He uses a tractor most of the time, but when he’s got some downright serious plowing to do he uses old Judy. He and his wife both have saddle-horses, but old Judy snoots them.
They work only one hand on the farm, a fellow named Fred, whose wife, incidentally, has a new baby. The Gables often go to see Fred and play with the baby.
They raise truck on their farm, and some hay.
Mr. Gable does most of his work on his place over weekends, but he usually knocks off at the studio in time to get in a few licks of work at his house. They have two cows and a calf.
There are eight hundred trees on the place, including some magnificent old oaks and pepper trees. They have fifty orange trees. He recently joined a marketing agency, and one day the co-op sent out its men to harvest Mr. Gable’s orange crop. They picked, graded and packed the fruit and Mr. Gable realized a dollar and twenty cents on his crop!
The chicken yard belongs to Mrs. Gable. She has a flock of one hundred New Hampshire Reds, and chicken-runs are all nicely wired and partitioned. Mrs. Gable knows her chickens. She keeps them separated and gets a maximum production of eggs. Early every morning while the crown prince and jester are sleeping, a light goes on in the henhouse and the Reds go to work. She often gathers the eggs herself, sells them for top prices and keeps her own records. Just for the information of those who love chickens, she uses a laying-mash and a scratch feed. Each flock has a little fountain of bubbling water. The farmer’s wife believes that good water is the secret of healthy chickens.
She will talk your ears off about chickens and she knows her stuff. In fact, she’d rather talk about chickens than movies. She also has ducks and geese and pheasants.
“I like game birds to eat,” she said. “Even game chickens are good to eat.”
She is quite proud of her selection of a gift for Margaret Mitchell, who did “Gone with the Wind”—unquestionably her husband’s greatest picture. She knew Miss Mitchell (Mrs. John Marsh) is not the kind of person to whom you send an ordinary gift. So when she and her husband returned from Atlanta, where they met Mr. and Mrs. Marsh, Mrs. Gable sent four fat chickens to Mrs. Marsh. Of course, sending chickens from California to Georgia is something like sending coal to Newcastle. But anyway, it was an original idea. Mrs. Gable is full of them.
The Gables raise most of their food, excepting their meat, of course, But all of their fruits, vegetables, fowl and milk comes from their place. They roast their fowls and seldom fry them, for they believe it is a waste to fry chickens. After all, if you’ll feed a fryer a little longer you can get a good roasting chicken—and more meat.
That’s a good insight into the Gables. They are thrifty folks. They are not stingy, but they watch their finances. Gable has a seven-year contract calling for two million dollars and Miss Lombard, a free-lance, gets plenty when she works. But the government bites out a hunk of their income.
Mr. Gable stands all household expenses and they operate on a small budget.
“As a matter of fact, we have no budget at all,” said Mrs. Gable. “I can’t make them work. We don’t spend any more than we have to, and that’s that.”
They are soaking their profits away in annuities and bonds.
“The day I have enough money to assure me an annual income of ten thousand dollars for life, I’m going to knock off,” said Mr. Gable.
He pointed to beyond an old live oak where his land leveled off to a spot flanked by orange trees and a vegetable patch. “That’s where we’re going to build the pool.”
“Isn’t it MAR-ve-lous!” echoed Mrs. Gable.
Next week, in the concluding installment of “Two Happy People,” Mr. Street will give you an intimate and personal insight into how the Gable-Lombard marriage is working out in Hollywood.