Can the Gable-Lombard Romance Last?
By Caroline S. Hoyt
Modern Screen magazine, May 1939
By the time you read this, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard may very well be Mister and Missus. Hollywood is betting right now that by March these two will be married. Already, Mrs. Gable has established residence in Las Vegas, Nevada, and everyone knows that no one goes to Las Vegas for quail shooting.
Yet, in spite of all that, in the past few months Hollywood has been asking a lot of questions about the Gable-Lombard romance. Did Clark really want a divorce, or was he forced to ask for one by public opinion? If he did want a divorce, why didn’t he get it long ago?
And the cause of all these questions? The following events which happened in breathlessly quick succession: Mrs. Gable gave a magazine interview saying that she was perfectly willing to give Clark a divorce, but he had never asked for one! Clark’s reply was a newspaper statement saying he wanted a divorce, and would marry Carole as soon as he got one. Then came a newspaper interview with Mrs. Gable headlined, “Mrs. Gable Not Planning Divorce”. “It came to me as a complete surprise,” she said. “I knew nothing about it until I read it in the papers.” That was on December 15th. One month later the headlines read, “Mrs. Gable Ready to Free Film Star.” The newspaper story went on to say that Mrs. Gable had reiterated her statement that she had never refused to divorce Clark.
It’s an amazing story that those headlines tell, but not half as amazing as the story behind the headlines. The true story of the Gable-Lombard romance has never generally been known, but now it can be told.
Did you know, for instance, that Carole Lombard fell in love with Gable three years before he left Mrs. Gable, when she met him at one of the studios? They were appearing together in “No Man of Her Own”. But Carole had a man of her own then, being married to Bill Powell, and though the marriage wasn’t a happy one, she was struggling to keep up appearances. Clark, too, was trying to make a go of his marriage to Rhea.
So Carole, being a square shooter, did nothing to indicate she was mad about Clark, and he knew nothing about it until many years afterwards. In fact, it was only recently that Carole confessed to Clark!
Clark didn’t think so much of Carole in those days. When Clark was asked to describe his ideal woman, he said, “I certainly don’t like ultra-spectacular women, the ones who go in for startling make-ups and clothes. And I think a beautiful voice is one of the most arresting and really rare attributes to be found. To me, a woman is automatically interesting if she speaks in a beautiful well modulated voice.”
At the time, the last person in the world who could possibly have fitted that description was Carole. She was a raucous, high-voiced, high-spirited girl, Hollywood’s champion party giver. Even at sixteen Carole, born Jane Peters, had been sophisticated and spectacular. At the time, she was a regular patron of the Cocoanut Grove, and dressed and behaved in so ultra-ultra a fashion that the men who met her thought she must be a smart young divorcee. This is the way she dressed, according to a writer who met her at the time. Black, clinging, daring gown, showing hint of knees. Long jade earrings. Twice as much lipstick as any other woman present. String of large pearls reaching to her waist.
Clark had to learn to know the real Carole before he could fall in love with her. And that he didn’t learn until he’d gone through many heartaches and parted finally and irrevocably from his wife. Carole had to go through a tragic divorce and through an even more tragic romance with Russ Colombo. For in spite of her crush on Clark, Carole did fall in love again. That love ended with Russ Colombo’s death. When he died, she wore black. But she wasn’t the type of person to mourn forever. So she began going to parties again, escorted by such men about town as Cesar Romero and Bob Riskin, the scenario writer. At every party Carole’s laugh was the loudest, her wit the gayest, her clothes the most spectacular.
“I’d like never to do anything in my whole life but laugh,” she said once.
It was at a party—the all-white Mayfair party, at which every woman present was supposed to wear nothing but white, that she won Clark’s interest. Cesar was Carole’s escort, but from the moment Clark entered the room, Carole had eyes for no one else. She knew that Clark had separated from his wife, and so she felt no compunctions about winning his attention. They danced again and again. From then on they started going together.
“It’s just for laughs,” Carole might have told her friends, if she’d been interested in lying. But she knew that wasn’t true. This romance was serious. As the months went on, it got more serious.
Although Mrs. Gable in a recent magazine interview indicated that Clark had never asked her for a divorce, a close friend of Clark Gable’s and Carole Lombard’s told me, “When Clark and Mrs. Gable arranged a property settlement three years ago, Clark wanted a divorce very badly because Carole wished to give up her screen career and settle down as Mrs. Gable and raise a family. Clark asked for a divorce, but found Mrs. Gable’s terms almost impossible to meet. They did agree, you know, in a three year settlement, during which Gable has been paying Mrs. Gable half his salary. But more than that Clark wouldn’t pay, because he felt that his agreement with Mrs. Gable was perfectly fair.”
Clark has always been very generous toward Rhea and her family. It’s a well-known fact that the Gables first separated in 1932, that Clark regretted the separation and asked Rhea to come back to him. But it isn’t at all well-known that at the time of their reconciliation, Gable had just made a personal appearance, for which he got $10,000. The money went for two coats for Mrs. Gable, a mink coat at $7,500 and a “cheap” coat to knock around in for $2,500. During his marriage to Mrs. Gable, he sent her son by a previous marriage through military school, helped support her father for three years, and gave her daughter a big wedding, after buying a complete trousseau for her.
For three years, a property settlement between Rhea and Clark was pending in the courts, and now that their original three-year agreement is over, it is believed that they have finally reached a financial settlement. If they have, that explains why Mrs. Gable is now ready to go ahead with the divorce.
It’s a strange road these two young people—Clark and Carole—have traveled before they fell so madly in love with each other. For when he and Rhea parted, all Clark wanted was freedom. He said in a published interview, “The only possession I have ever craved, the only goddess I can serve faithfully for all my life is Freedom. I’m a tramp at heart.”
Clark was freedom-mad, and Carole was career-mad. She didn’t know what it meant turn your whole life inside out to suit a man’s convenience. Before she married Bill Powell, he’d asked her to give up her career, and she’d refused. In the end, he had to give in. But their marriage hadn’t worked, because she’d wanted one kind of life and he’d wanted another. Her life was mad, disorganized, hectic. Before she married Bill, Carole wailed, “We’ll never get on! Bill will strangle me—or at least, he will want to. I can’t have meals at certain times and be punctual for appointments and keep engagements that I have made a week before. Bill wants to marry and settle down. I couldn’t settle down. It would kill me!”
She didn’t settle down, and though she loved Bill, she refused to cater to him. In the end she divorced him, telling friends he was too possessive and too temperamental.
Carole hadn’t learned then the kind of love that makes you willing to sacrifice yourself to please the person you love. She says now to her close friends, “I thought I was in love before, but I never knew what love really meant till I met Clark.”
Carole had been interested in other men before she met Clark. But when she knew she was in love with Clark, she gave every other man she’d known his walking papers.
One secret of Carole’s hold on Clark is that she has completely changed her life to make Clark happy. What Clark wants to do she does, whereas Rhea Gable tried to get Clark to do the things that made her happy.
It’s no secret that Clark hated the social whirl, and Mrs. Gable adored it. A former Park Avenue socialite, she was invited to the most important parties in Hollywood. It never occurred to her that Clark hated those parties, that he hated dressing formally, and that there were times when he was so tired that he considered [ignoring] demands that he go to this or that affair.
It is true that through her he met some of the most cultured and brilliant people on the West Coast. At first, that may have amused him. But as time went on and he found that he was expected to keep dozens of social engagements when he didn’t feel like doing so, he rebelled.
He told an interviewer once, “I like the kind of girl who has a grasp of masculine feelings. The girl who, when a man comes home tired on a Friday night and says, ‘Listen, honey, I don’t feel up to going to the Jones’ shindig. Let’s grab a few old clothes and dig out for the weekend.’ Will say, ‘It’s okay with me.’ And mean it. Carole is that sort of girl. Though she used to be Hollywood’s most amusing hostess, Carole rarely gives or goes to parties anymore. She knows Clark doesn’t care for them.
Mrs. Gable loved beautiful possessions. The home she created for Clark was perfect. But it was all wrong for him. It was in Beverly Hills, had gold mirrors, satinwood cabinets, and taffeta bedspreads.
Carole lives in a rambling house, partly stone and partly wood, with chintz curtains at the windows, a dining room which she never uses because she prefers eating in a little nook, a huge fireplace with natural stone and real logs in the living room, and long haired white rugs on the floor. But if Clark throws his boots all over those white rugs, Carole smiles and loves it!
Occasionally they give dinner parties for six or eight people. When they’re with their friends, they make no secret of their feeling for each other. Clark calls her Baby or Mummy. She calls him Pappy. She crawls right into his lap and sits there, and he looks perfectly blissful.
When he was married to Mrs. Gable, Clark craved a hunting dog, but Rhea, who hated outdoor life, didn’t like the idea. So Clark never got one. Carole gave him a beautiful setter. He’s crazy about horses, and Mrs. Gable couldn’t understand that either. Even when a friend of his gave Clark a horse, she said it seemed silly to her, because just feeding and boarding the horse would cost fifty dollars a month, and she didn’t think it was worth that. But Carole? Of course, you guessed it. She gave Clark a horse. And when Clark got ready for a hunting trip recently, Carole presented him with a hunting wagon completely equipped.
Of course, you’ve read some of the typical Gable-Lombard gags, but here are some you probably have never heard about.
One time, when Clark was going hunting for baby mountain lions, Carole said, “Bring me one home alive.”
She grinned and Clark knew she was kidding. But he caught two mountain lions, put dog collars on their necks and started to bring them home alive. One broke his leash and got away. Clark put the other in the back of the station wagon on a leash and chain. When he brought it to the studio where Carole was working, she was amazed! It was much too dangerous for her to keep at home, so Clark finally have the mountain lion to a zoo.
Then there was the time Clark got hold of a fire engine of the vintage of 1900—straight out of a junk shop it came. The men at the fire station taught him how to run it. When it was all fired up with all its whistles blowing and its horns honking and its fire gongs ringing, Clark drive it up in front of Carole’s residence. Then he took her for ride through the exclusive Bel-Air section. And all the inhabitants of that quiet and swanky neighborhood poked their heads out of the windows to find out what in the world was going on!
Once Clark was asked what kind of a home he’d like. “Any place,” he said, “where
I can wear a lumber jacket instead of a dinner jacket.” If he wears that at Carole’s home, no one kicks. Chances are Carole herself will come down to an intimate dinner in shorts, bobby socks, sneakers and a sweater that looks like a sweatshirt.
When Carole wants to get her own way, she appeals to Clark’s sense of humor. When Clark was cast for “Parnell”, the studio originally planned to have him wear a long beard and flowing whiskers. Carole thought that was horrible. But instead of insisting to Clark that he fight the studio, she thought of another plan.
That week when they went to the Brown Derby, Clark noticed that as they sat down, six guys with long black beards sat down at the table next to theirs. He wondered who they could possibly be—maybe a vaudeville team. The next day he visited a barber shop. In came the six guys with long black beards. For about a week, wherever Clark went, there went the men with the beards. By the end of the week, Clark had guessed that Carole had hired the men to follow him. He went to the studio and told his bosses he wouldn’t consider wearing a beard—it was ridiculous. Though “Parnell” was a terrible picture, it might have been worse if it wasn’t for Carole’s gag.
When Clark and Carole quarrel, their sense of humor generally brings them together again. There was the time they’d had a fight over something or other, and Carole felt that she was in the wrong. Her method of apologizing was to send a cage with two white doves to Clark’s home. Clark’s discovered that while, on the surface, Carole is Hollywood’s glamour girl, underneath she’s a whole lot more. Carole’s one of the kindest-hearted girls in Hollywood—and he knows it.
There are those who say that if Clark married Carole, it will be because circumstances have railroaded him into doing so—that he loves his freedom more than he loves any woman. But his intimate friends know how wrong they are; for Carole has been so tolerant and understanding that she has made it possible for him to have her and freedom, too. It is dispositions like this that make for a happy marriage.