At Home with the Gables

By Ida Zeitlin

Modern Screen, August 1940

This story is for you Gable maniacs who brood, chin in hand, that it isn’t fair. Look at Carole Lombard, for instance. It’s a pleasure. That’s the point, you mutter darkly. There’s a girl who has everything. So what happens? So for good measure she cops Screen Hero No.1 as a husband. There ain’t no justice.

That’s where you’re wrong, girls. Carole didn’t marry Rhett Butler. With her eyes wide open, she married a farmer. Clark likes the movies. Nobody forced him into his profession. He wanted to be an actor. But his first and deepest passion is for the soil. He could talk all day about fertilizer and tractors. It’s like pulling teeth to get a couple of words from him on his next picture. Without the movies, he could still be happy. Without a piece of land to plow, he couldn’t. Some day the king may abdicate, but Carole will always be a farmer’s wife.

She was aware of this before she married him. You must admit that the gal’s smart. When Clark and Rhea Gable separated, the papers broke out in a rash of speculation. Could any woman hold him? The answers were mostly no. Clark was a lone wolf. He couldn’t pull in harness. Carole knew better. In any successful marriage, it’s the woman who does most of the adjusting. So, wholeheartedly, she adapted herself to his way of life.

True, she doesn’t go out in a sunbonnet to milk the cows, and her hands haven’t grown horny. But she’s assumed responsibilities about the place, and she’s learning all she can about crop rotation and the care of cattle, so that Clark will have an intelligent listener in the home. She thinks a woman’s a fool who doesn’t make her husband’s interests her own. Before she met Gable, a cow was something you passed in a car, and grass was what it stood in. Now she’s on speaking terms with both. Agricultural pamphlets have become exciting literature and the latest in mowing machines is more important than the latest in roadsters. It’s not the kind of life you’d associate with a silken lady of the screen, but it’s the kind that Carole lives for love of her husband.

As for him, a friend put it into words one afternoon. He had stopped in to see Clark and was directed to the west field. Under a blazing sun, two men shoveled steadily. They wore khaki pants, and their brown backs glistened with perspiration. A tractor stood nearby. Clark lifted an arm to brush the sweat from his forehead. Fred, the farmer who works for him, dropped his spade, “Guess we’re about ready to hook her on,” he said.

Clark turned to meet the glazed eyes of his visitor. “Heat got you, sissy?” he grinned. “Be with you in a second. Just got to get this tractor hitched.”

His friend, moved to a rhyme, murmured:

“There goes a gent

Supremely content.”

Carole is largely responsible. Clark had money and movie fame for many years, but neither could bring to his eye that serenity which his friend noted. It didn’t arrive till he was living the kind of life he’d always wanted, with the woman who wanted to live it with him.

Three years ago he described the place of his dreams. Now he’s got it. It was no fantasy, but an actual piece of land in Encino, California, that belonged to Raoul Walsh. Gable had found nothing to approach it. Trees were what he wanted, and California property is poor in trees. Walsh’s trees made Gable’s mouth water.

Walsh used the place as a horse ranch and wasn’t selling. It got so he ducked every time he saw Clark. But about two years ago the phone rang. Walsh had decided to take a larger place. Did Clark still want to buy? “I’m on my way,” yelled Gable.

Walsh had built a two-story early-American house whose unpretentiousness suited the new owner to a hair. It stood well back from the road, sheltered and shaded by trees. The living room and fireplace were large enough to satisfy even Clark’s outsize taste in such things.

Not till he and Carole were free to marry was any renovating done. They put in a new furnace and a cooling system. They enlarged the kitchen—request of the missus. They added an enclosed back porch—request of the mister—its chief ornament a huge butcher’s icebox. “The kind you can walk right into and hang game on the walls,” he says with the satisfaction of a five-year-old in his first fire engine. Not given to sentimental display in public, they drove up after their marriage and were about to walk in. But Goldie, the cook, standing at the door to welcome them, would have none of it.

“You pick her up, Mr. Gable, and carry her over the doorstep, like it says in the happy-marriage books. Come on, now. Do like I say.” So he did like she said.

Clark is given to understatement. He says Carole seems to like the life, adding, “She’s in an awful spot if she doesn’t.” She has a devious way of fishing for information lest she betray the fact that she was a greenhorn not so long ago. Her game is to create the impression that she was born to the soil. Clark plays it with her and snickers up his sleeve when he hears her regale a guest at night with some tidbit she wormed out of him that morning.

He gets less and less chance to snicker, though, she’s learning so fast. The chickens are her domain, and they’re flourishing, all four hundred of them.

They now have a separator and churn. Clark figures their milk costs them anywhere between four and five dollars a quart. He thinks Carole tells the cows bedtime stories before tucking them in at night. “I don’t know what else keeps her out there that long. She likes fussing with animals even more than I do,” he says, pride oozing from every pore. “Must be the maternal instinct.”

They built and furnished a little cottage for Fred, the farmer, and his wife.

There are twelve acres under cultivation. Under Clark’s supervision and help, Fred takes care of the place. Gable made his position clear at the start.

“I want a place,” he said, “that belongs to me, and not just on the bill of sale. If I’ve got to give it to a bunch of experts to run, while I sit on the fence, I’d as lief stay in town. I want to do this myself. I’ll get government men in to analyze the soil. I’ll buy a tractor and every conceivable implement and labor-saving device on the market. I’ll give you all the time I can spare from my work, and I’ll never ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. What do you say?”

Fred said that was fine. When Gable’s on a picture, they go over the next day’s plans at night. They thresh out all planting and plowing problems together, with Carole an absorbed audience of one. She’s reached the point now where she ventures a suggestion now and then. He manages to get home from the studio early enough for a visit to the barns. At least once a week he inspects the orchard for blight, and other evils that trees are heir to. Back-breaking jobs like the uprooting of stumps are saved till he has a free day. He cleans the stables as often as Fred does.

A day when he’s not on call at the studio is to Clark a day off. He gets up at eight, doesn’t bother to shave, dons khaki pants, boots and open shirt and has his breakfast of orange juice and coffee. If Carole is down, she breakfasts with him. Sometimes she’s off to the studio before he’s up. Sometimes she has breakfast in bed—“setting up an example to other farm women,” she calls it.

After breakfast he heads for the stables, the dogs at his heels. Bobby and Fritz, the hounds, follow a little way, then start chasing squirrels. Toughie, the bulldog, watches for a while, then curls himself up and goes to sleep. Toughie’s well named as far as appearances go. His jowls hang, “and he’s got a head on him,” brags his master, “bigger than mine.” He scares visitors unacquainted with his personality. Actually, he’s too good-natured to bite a steak. His chief business in life is to provide the boss with laughs. Despite persistent discouragement, Toughie still yearns to be a lapdog.

There are three horses in the stables, two for Clark, one for Carole. They were a little head-shy when he got them, but patience and soothing talk have won them over. He wouldn’t have a whip around the place. Business permitting, he and Carole ride in the cool of the day. He’s perfectly willing to have his friends use the animals, provided they know how a horse should be handled.

“When they get back they’ve got to sponge the horse off, rub him, blanket him and walk him around till he’s dried out.” (That’s one thing he wouldn’t let Carole do, though. He does it for her.) “Suppose you’d been out working in the sun and didn’t wash your sticky face and neck. A horse can’t do it for himself, but he feels the same way. Besides, how’s he going to get to know you if you don’t take care of him? You might as well hire a stranger from a riding academy.”

His first job of the day is to turn the horses loose in the paddock and, in hot weather, to spray them for flies. Then he cleans the stalls and the barn. After that there are weeds to be cut, and the citrus to be mowed. The alfalfa bed has to mowed for a month or so, because the livestock doesn’t eat it all down. So he’ll hitch the mule to the mowing machine and take a snooze while she paddles along. The horses are always pushing the fences around. Or, in good repair, they may need painting. In which case he hikes his portable painting machine to the tractor and with a high-pressure hose restores the fences to their pristine whiteness. You may find these agricultural details dull. Carole doesn’t. She appears at intervals with water, beer or milk for Clark and Fred. To hear her tell it, she spends more energy running after Clark than he spends working.

The early part of the afternoon may be given to a general check-up, in the course of which a hundred notes will be made. If they have time to prop a tree, they prop it. If not, they make a note. Milking time comes along before you know it, and while Fred does that chore, Clark waters and feeds the stock, gets the barn into shape. After dinner he returns to blanket the horses and, for all know, to tell them their bedtime story.

Dinner is at seven. No, they don’t dress. Carole doesn’t even insist on Clark’s shaving, and there’s a test of love. She’s doing well if she can get her toil-worn husband to wash his hands. That’s her story.

Maybe once a week they’ll drive to town for a movie. They don’t go to parties. The nightclubs where Carole Lombard danced never see Carole Gable. Most of their evenings are spent in the huge living room, with its bleached pine walls. The only photographs, framed and facing each other on the piano, are of Carole and Clark as babies. The floors are laid with solid-toned rugs, easily cleaned, so it’s no tragedy if the master and dogs track in dirt. “I want a place where my dogs can feel at home,” Clark used to say, a plaint Carole bore in mind when she decorated. Sofas and chairs are easily twice the accepted size for such things. “I got so tired,” says Carole, “of seeing him try to fit himself into furniture, I had the furniture built to fit him.”

Three dogs and two cats are variously disposed about the room. Two tan Siamese beauties with brown noses, a birthday gift from Clark, sit in Carole’s lap, while Toughie, the frustrated lapdog lies between Clark’s boots.

And if you think that the glamour of the movies rests over all, let me add that the Gables have one unbreakable rule. Shop-talk is barred from the home. Anyone who tries it gets the lift of a warning eyebrow from his host. “Listen, brother,” he says, “remember Parnell?”