At Last! Mrs. Clark Gable Talks
By Sara Hamilton
Photoplay magazine, December 1938
“Mrs. Gable will hie herself to Reno for a divorce so Clark Gable can marry Carole Lombard in a few weeks.”
“Mrs. Gable will not divorce Clark Gable so it looks as if the Gable-Lombard romance must wait.”
Over the air, in trade paper blurbs and in daily columns, these announcements have been appearing day after day. Whispers and rumors have also added to the case against Ria Gable, wife of Clark Gable.
Feeling there must be a misunderstanding on the public’s part, we sought out a friend of Mrs. Gable’s.
“Can these stories be true?” we asked. “Is it possible a charming woman like Ria Gable could be standing in the way of Clark’s happiness?”
“Come with me,” the friend said. “I want you to know Ria Gable and I think you’ll find the answer to your questions.”
And so, one September afternoon, we found ourselves in the charming Gable home and, in this exclusive story to Photoplay, the only one ever given to any writer, Mrs. Gable told us this story.
“The question of divorce has never arisen between us,” Mrs. Gable said. “Mr. Gable has never discussed the issue with me, but certainly I am willing to divorce Clark if he so desires.”
It was later I learned from a businessman that after the radio announcement mentioned above, it was Clark’s lawyer and not Mrs. Gable who objected strenuously to the remarks.
“These rumors, I feel sure, are as obnoxious and unwelcome to Clark as they are to me,” Mrs. Gable said. “For that reason, and because I’ve become tired of the role of a so-called meanie, I am ready to make this statement.”
Ria Gable, a quiet, understanding, gentle woman, with a dark vivacious beauty and youthful zest for living that keeps in her constant demand by Hollywood hostesses, is imbued with that rare quality that keeps her going on, growing despite heartaches; the quality of giving, of doing for others.
“If you spent an afternoon with Ria Gable,” a mutual friend told me after my interview, “you spent it in one of the most worthwhile ways I know, for Ria is a living example of the doctrine of doing for others. She has been my mainstay in time of trouble and I have watched her time and again go out of her way to help others.”
Such, then, is the woman Clark Gable, a rising, but far from famous young actor, met in New York some seven years ago. At that time Clark had secured his best role to date in “Machinal.” Mrs. Gable, a well-to-do member of a New York social group, met the forceful young actor one night at a party and the two fell instantly in love.
Ria Gable at that time was engaged to marry a wealthy banker, but broke her engagement to marry Clark, a poor but hopeful stage-struck lad.
Not from Mrs. Gable’s lips, but from others, we learned of the physical and spiritual reformation that this woman brought into the life of Gable. Of the belief in self, of the art of gracious living and triumph over defeat her philosophy brought him.
When the play, “The Last Mile” came to Los Angeles, Clark was given his first movie offer. Fearful of defeat and rebuff in pictures after he had gained a foothold on the stage, Clark was reluctant to accept. It was Mrs. Gable who insisted he take the chance—a chance that brought him undreamed of fame.
From the first, their temperaments clashed. Emotionally dynamic Clark, manlike, hoarded his outburst against his disappointments in work and people until his own front door shut behind him. It was then the storm broke.
“I handled the situation very badly,” Mrs. Gable said. “I can see that now. Had I to do it over, I should establish our life together on an entirely different basis.
“When Clark, who had every reason to furious over his disappointments, gave way to bitterness, I should have joined, loudly and vehemently, in his storming. Instead, I retreated. I didn’t know how to cope with the vigorous, lusty, gusty man-fury that would be his. Thoughts of the children or servants would enter, and, with a heart full to bursting, I could only retreat to my room, tears in my heart and voice.
“That was a mistake.”
In 1932 the Gables separated, each agreeing to go his own way.
Mrs. Gable and her son and daughter went on to New York. Clark remained in Hollywood to make “Strange Interlude.” Meanwhile, the world little dreamed of what had actually happened.
In six weeks time, Clark telephones, not once, but several times, for Ria to return.
“You are the only woman I love. Won’t you please come back?” he begged, and Ria, as anxious as Clark to make their marriage a permanent one, returned.
“There is no one in the world as charming, as sweet and tender as Clark when he chooses to be,” Mrs. Gable said. “I can look back over the stormy sessions to some of the happiest days of my life. These, and not the bitter ones, are the memories I choose to carry with me.”
Their life for some time, then, was a happy one. Clark was the idol of his stepson’s heart. The two would spend hours on the floor over the intricate marvels of an electric train or some mechanical toy. The boy actually built his life and dreams around the man.
“But Hollywood is no place for marital happiness,” Mrs. Gable said. “There are too many angles against it. Too much grief in work, too startling a transition from obscurity to fame, too many women and false friends to flatter and tear down. It’s almost impossible to survive its devastating influence.”
In view of all this, it really wasn’t much of a surprise when Clark returned from location on “Call of the Wild” and met Ria at the door with, “I want my freedom.”
Perhaps Mrs. Gable should have then and there put up a battle for their future happiness together. But too many tears had been shed; too much heartache, despite the intervals of happiness, had worn away the hopes. So she quietly agreed.
The night they parted she told him quietly, “Clark, you’re looking for peace and happiness, aren’t you? And I want you to find them. But, Clark, you’re looking in the wrong places. It can only come to you from within. And only by sitting down quietly and knowing your great restlessness cannot be appeased by new faces, new places, new thrills, but can only come from you, Clark Gable, looking into the heart of Clark Gable, can you find the thing you’re searching for. Remember, while you’re an idol to a million fans you’re still just a man who has to spend the rest of his days with Clark Gable, so get that inner man right, Clark.”
Their marriage then was over, definitely and finally. Shortly after, Clark left for South America.
I remember at the time how reporters swarmed the Gable home in Brentwood and how graciously they were received by Mrs. Gable.
‘She answered their most pertinent questions,” a friend from the studio told me, “as only a great lady could, and still she told nothing.”
For several months after their parting, Clark kept returning to the Brentwood home for long chats with the boy, for friendly settlements with Ria; there was no bitterness, no harsh quarrels at that time. All such ideas have since been built up in the minds of people who seem determined to place on this woman undeserved criticism.
“Why can’t Ria Gable be as kind as her husband was,” a Hollywoodite commented recently. “When Ria was married to a prominent Washington attorney and lived in Washington, her husband consented to a divorce. Why doesn’t she do the same by Clark?”
“In the first place,” Mrs. Gable told me, “I have never been in Washington in my life or been married to a Washington man. So you can see to what lengths gossip will go in this town.
“I am preparing to visit New York where I have so many friends and, with all this publicity and talk about my unwillingness to divorce Clark, I once again made the offer to Clark’s attorney and was told Clark did not want a divorce.
“Yet who believes me? Who believes I am not the meanie of all time standing behind Clark and freedom? I have no reason to take action against Clark unless it is his wish. I am happy this way and if it seems to be his wish to let matters rest as they are, I feel I should agree.
“I have no regrets. I can close my front door now and find peace and solace and contentment.
“At first I was burdened with an unbearable heartache, then I sat down very quietly and mentally went over our lives together. Had I failed Clark when he needed me? Had I been selfish or self-centered?
“I knew Clark had never been forced into social functions unless he chose to go. No friends were invited to our house unless Clark was consulted. Our meals were eaten together at no matter what hour Clark came in from his work. All these things I turned over in my mind and knew that self-condemnation was unfair to myself and to Clark. The heartache disappeared with this realization. I find my life full and happy. My many friends are loyal and kind. There is much to do toward making one’s life a rich full one.”
It could be so easy for Mrs. Gable to cherish bitterness or resentment, when one has been married to a famous screen idol who continues on and on in popularity. So easy to denounce, and yet such thoughts are far from the mind of this woman. She speaks tenderly of Clark’s generosity toward her daughter, who was recently married. Proudly she displays the beautiful ring he gave her a month before their final parting.
No, there is no malice, no pettiness in Ria Gable’s heart. Her life stands for as great a service as does Clark’s.
We feel, with this exclusive story to Photoplay, a newer understanding will come to Hollywood who, in misjudging Ria Gable has cruelly wronged Clark Gable as well.
And Photoplay wishes only the best to a fine actor and sportsman, Clark Gable, and an understanding gentlewoman, his wife, Ria Gable.