The True Story of Clark Gable’s Romantic Temptations
True Story Magazine, August 1933
What chance has a famous lover of the screen to achieve a normal happy married life? Beset by a legion of idolatrous feminine fans, and brought by his work into daily intimate contact with the world’s most beautiful and desirable women, his romantic temptations are unique and tremendous. So True Story Magazine offers to its readers this biography of Clark Gable, written by one who knows both Hollywood and the screen’s greatest lover equally well, as a profound and thrilling study in human emotions.
There can be no question that the greatest temptation of Clark Gable’s life was Joan Crawford. The real fade-out of Joan’s marriage to young Douglas Fairbanks came when Joan surrendered to the charm that was to make Clark Gable the greatest matinee idol of his generation, though the actual separation did not come until much later, and by that time the flame which threatened to consume them both had died to ashes.
To a young man adored by millions of women who see him only on the screen, and admired by many of Hollywood’s most experienced beauties, temptations are inevitable.
Of the siren voices that assailed Clark Gable’s ears, many were as alluring as those which beguiled the great Ulysses on his homeward voyage. But Joan’s was the one that almost brought shipwreck.
For there was Clark Gable’s wife. And he loved her.
On March 15th, 1932, Mrs. Clark Gable, staying in a fashionable New York hotel, denied that she had come east, as many believed, to arrange a divorce from her actor husband. But the rumor persisted and it had, in fact, some foundation.
On March 17th, 1933, Joan Crawford announced her separation from Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and she said, “We Have discussed doing this for a year.” And on March 21st, 1933, young Doug said in public print, “Joan and I have been planning our separation for nearly a year.”
The dates this mentioned are not coincidental.
But today Clark and Ria Gable are living together in happiness and contentment, and Joan is the center of a group of suitors which includes her ex-husband and the favored Franchot Tome, but does not include Clark Gable.
How that came about is the true story of a great love; a great temptation, and a man’s final choice. Because in the end it was the man who chose between the exotic and gorgeous screen star and the devoted, loving wife.
And it is part of life’s weird drama that Clark Gable’s love life repeated itself, for when he was first married to Josephine Dillon, his greatest temptation was Pauline Frederick, whom Joan Crawford so startlingly resembles. Joan Crawford came into Clark Gable’s life when the avenue of sensational success was just opening before him. She was Hollywood, with its glitter and its glamour. She was the new and thrilling world which was being offered him after years of struggle, hard work and failure. She was youth, vibrant and modern, with all its enormous appeal to a man still very young, who had been twice married, to women much older than himself. And it was at a time when Joan herself, Joan with that great love of life and love which vibrates on the screen, had begun to grow heavy with disappointment in her marriage to a youth who was not her match in passion, strength or ability; had grown desperately weary of trying to fit her enormous vitality and realism into the minor role of Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.
Into the life of every matinee idol comes the temptation of one grand passion amid the many passing temptations that beset him. At least, so it seems. Valentino, who was never really besieged by the sirens of Hollywood, loved but one woman in all his life, Natacha Rambova. Even after she left him, it was his purpose to be true to what had been a great love. He fell before the temptation of Pola Negri. Wally Reid, deeply devoted to his wife, Dorothy, almost sacrificed his real happiness to the lure of a great opera star who flamed across his young horizon.
The average man can have no conception of the temptations thrown in the way of a man who becomes a matinee idol, whether he wants them or not.
To Clark Gable it all came as something new, something incredible and actually unwelcome. But he was human, and the time came when he found himself almost ready to go overboard in the country of sirens.
To understand him, to understand Joan Crawford, to understand his wife and the triangle that, for almost a year, kept the inner circle of Hollywood breathless with excitement and the newspapers on the verge of headlines, and studio executives worried out of their senses, it is necessary to go back through the love life of this young man who alone in picture history has approximated the position held by Rudolph Valentino.
Clark Gable was born, as everyone knows by this time, on a farm in Ohio. The first woman who had his devotion was his stepmother, who understood the shy, restless boy and his unexplainable yearning for the theater. There had never been anything or anybody in the Gable family or in the Pennsylvania Dutch family of his mother Adeline Hershelmen, which could account for the boy’s passionate adoration for the land of make-believe.
His people for generations had tilled the land, had loved the soil. His mother, who died soon after his birth, had come of a family of Pennsylvania farmers, staid and respectable people who took the motherless little fellow and turned him loose upon the breast of Mother Earth, to absorb health and strength. His father, at times, turned from farming, but only in an attempt to gain from the land her richer treasures of oil.
But Clark turned always toward the footlights. Always he dreamed of the theater. Always he wanted to act. And his stepmother understood and helped him when she could.
No ladies’ man was young Clark Gable, as he grew up on the farm, in the small town of Cadiz, Ohio, in the smaller town of Hopewell and, later, when he went to Akron to work his way through college.
It was later than he learned about women—from women.
His childhood sweetheart was a girl named Treely. They went to school together, and he loved her with the inexpressible, inarticulate passion of childhood. They never even kissed each other. But to Clark she was the First Woman, and he dreamed in secret, as boys do, of touching the sweet cloud of her hair and of looking into her eyes and telling her the thought of which, even in secret, he had as yet no words.
The dreamer in him carried Treely out into the world with him. His hot young blood, which in time carried him into dangers, sent him headlong into the wild oats of youth mating. But Treely was somewhere imprisoned in his memory, and when he became a man he wondered if in her he might not find the answer to the hunger in his heart.
Neither Treely nor any other woman has ever quite satisfied that hunger, and perhaps that is one reason women thrill to Clark Gable.
Anyway, he went back; from the girl in Akron who wanted him to give up his spare hours to her, instead of to the theater; from the stage manager’s silly wife who had only been too willing to find excitement in the dull days of barnstorming with the handsome dark youth; from the wise young things who shared with him youth’s indiscretions.
He went back to see Treely. Around her he had woven romance, fairy tales, tales of the knight and the princess, and he saw an exquisite meeting in which the sweetness of innocent love would be distilled between a man and woman. His heart beat high as he planned that meeting and he surrounded it with all the drama of the theater which was now his mistress.
But Treely had forgotten that first love. She was married, the mother of two children. And young Clark Gable, laughing at little at himself, went away and forgot her, except in those moments when a man remembers the shy little girl with her long, soft cloud of hair and her eyes hidden under long lashes. For a man always remembers his first love.
It was not long after that disillusionment that he met for the first time the woman who was to be his first wife.
Perhaps Clark Gable’s whole life was molded, his future carved, his character directed, by that early marriage. It was an unusual one and led to much that has happened since, to his second marriage, his screen success and, in a measure, to his amazing romance with the girl who has so stirred masculine imagination everywhere, Joan Crawford.
This woman’s name was Josephine Dillon.
When they met he was only twenty-two or three and she was—a great deal older than that. In fact, it may seem strange that the hot-headed, dreaming, romantic youth ever married her. She was not really beautiful, though she had the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen, deep and sweet, and brown like a doe’s eyes, and with the loveliest expression which haunted him for days.
And she had two things which won and held him. She was a lady, and she knew and loved the theater in such fashion that it created a great bond between them.
It happened in Portland, Oregon, where Clark Gable arrived riding in a freight car, after being stranded in Montana with a small theatrical troupe. For five long months he had worked in lumber camps, chopping down great trees, and saving enough money so that he could return to the city. There he first found a job in the ad department of the Portland Oregonian, and eventually became a clerk for the telephone company.
He had enjoyed the work out under the stars, in the great, sweet-smelling forests. He liked the men, rough lumberjacks who at first looked down upon this young man from the theater; but in time were forced by his ready fists to respect him. But he hated office work with a deadly hatred and grew restless and miserable because he could find no work in the theater.
The small road companies had accepted him; but in a city he soon saw that he had neither the experience nor the training to gain a foothold.
While he waited, living as cheaply as he could, terribly lonely, cut off from all contact with his real ambition, he heard of the Portland Little Theater, and of the dramatic school which was run in conjunction with it. His salary was very small, but perhaps it was sufficient to pay for some lessons; to allow him again to breathe the air he loved, to find someone who understood and could talk about the theater.
So, dressed in his one good suit of clothes, shy as always, awkward with his hands and feet, he went to the dramatic school and asked for the manager. Without thinking, he expected to see a man, perhaps some old-time Shakespearean actor who would tell him traditions of a bygone but glorious age.
As though its own glamour must surround them, all the women Clark Gable has loved he has met somewhere within the aura of the theater. Pauline Frederick on the stage at a rehearsal of “Madame X”; Ria Langham, the beautiful New York widow who was to become his second wife, in his own dressing room at the Plymouth Theater in New York; Joan Crawford on a studio set.
That day, as he waited in the small office of Portland’s Little Theater, he had no faintest idea that when the door opened his whole life would alter.
The woman came in with quiet dignity and grace and when she saw him, tall and young, and very shy, she smiled.
“I am Josephine Dillon,” she said. “Did you wish to see me?”
Something in him responded at once at that quiet ease and friendliness. He did not perhaps realize that here was a lady, whose knowledge of the theater had only served to emphasize her fine manners and the delicacy of a gentlewoman. He did not know that she was a member of an old family whose people had made history, but he felt it. He did know that she was gracious and sweet and that he felt immediately at home, felt a deep peace sweep over him after months of weariness and loneliness and restless discontent.
He said, “I wanted to know about the Little Theater and the dramatic school. I’m an actor—I mean—I have been an actor and I—“
The sweet voice, which spoke as Clark, in his Middle Western home and his small-time theatrical experience, had not known a voice could speak, which had a clear, delightful accent that was music to his ear, said, “Oh yes, I see! I am the manager of the theater and also of the school. Do sit down and let us talk it over, and see what we can do for you.”
His surprise was evident. This little woman with the beautiful eyes and the enchanting voice hadn’t somehow struck him as a manager. Later he was to comprehend the iron determination, the vast knowledge and long years of study that had gone to give her the experience to be manager of a theater and a school.
Seeing the hesitant surprise in his face, she laughed.
A beautiful laugh is one thing to which Clark Gable, and it may be all men, is utterly susceptible. Josephine Dillon’s laughter matched her voice. He sat down and soon he was telling her everything, talking as he had never talked before, pouring out a flood about the hard work in the lumber camp; about the little theater troupe that had paid him $10 a week when it paid him anything at all; about the character parts they had made him play and the number of beards he had worn. Never before had he talked to anyone like that, but this older woman sat and listened, her face as responsive to every word he said as though he had been a golden-tongued orator.
“I’ve been so lonely here,” he said. “It’s been awful. Nobody to talk to about the theater—and that’s really the only thing I care a darn about. Nobody understands that.”
“I understand,” said Josephine Dillon, and she laughed a little. “Because really that’s the only thing I give a darn about either.”
Yes, she was much older than Clark Gable, she was not famous, beautiful or well gowned. She lacked many things that one would expect in a woman who would attract a young man of his type.
But there seem always to have been two kinds of women who attracted Clark Gable. Older women, with great poise and sweetness, and a wealth of mother love and understanding. Both his wife, sweet dark women, possess those traits.
And then the dazzling, temperamental, gorgeous woman of the stage or screen, such women as Pauline Frederick and Joan Crawford.
So, ten years ago, ten years that have been so packed with adventure and life for Clark Gable that they seem almost unbelievable; he went daily to the dramatic school, to the Little Theater, and life grew bright and beautiful once more. The long slow hours of office work ceased to torture and torment him, for now he could look ahead to those hours when, with Josephine Dillon, he might enter the world of splendid drama, might read the words of great poets, when he could speak once more the lines of the stage and lose himself in the thrill of make-believe.
Thus it was that Josephine Dillon came to fill his thoughts in every waking moment, and to go with him into his dreams at night.
Probably, had they met in ordinary circumstances, there would have been no love story, no sad and unhappy marriage for them both. The difference in years would have warned them of disaster, a difference which might make no difference later but was bound to work ill for a boy in his early twenties. The fact that he did not really love her would have been plain to Josephine, and she was a wise and even a noble woman. It might also have been vitally plain to Clark who, even then, knew something of passion and its hold.
But day by day for months, they met in the enchanted circle of their mutual love—their mutual dreams. They did not meet as a young man and a middle-aged woman, depending only upon themselves for something to awaken love and promise it a future. Their common Muse, the goddess of the art of acting, their common temple of worship, the theater, ruled their lives; not the little blind Cupid and his playground.
They did not know how little they had in common because that one great bond filled their lives.
Many dramatic pupils had passed through Josephine Dillon’s capable hands. There was no finer dramatic teacher in the West; and even in New York her name was known and her ability respected. She had the real art of teaching, and she was tireless because she was inspired. In this big, awkward, intense boy she found what she had long been seeking, not actually a lover, not a husband, though was to become both, but a pupil who could be made into a great actor.
Long before the world ever heard of Clark Gable, long before his name flared across the sky above Broadway, long before he drew thousands of dollars a week as a screen star and was sought even by the great Garbo as a leading man, Josephine Dillon saw for him for the very future which was to come to pass.
And so, against her better judgment, wrapped up in that spark which she saw within him, she lost her heart to him.
It is not strange that this woman, who had never loved before, forgot everything in her devotion to her young pupil.
As for Clark, he was mesmerized by the lure that often throughout history has been greater than beauty or sex appeal. Common interest, great sympathy, the flattery of her belief in him and her amazing confidence in him.
“I know what you can do,” she told him. “I know what the spark of dramatic genius is. You have it. We can have the greatest ambition for you. I believe in what you are going to do and you must believe, too.”
They worked together on speeches, on parts, on many different plays. There was much to be done, The material was very raw. The boy’s background gave him very little aid in the profession he had chosen for himself. But, so far as she could, Josephine Dillon gave him aid. And always he was a little in awe of her, looked up to her because she was older and knew so much more than he did, and he was immeasurably grateful for her belief and her help.
So thrilled was this neophyte to be once more on is way to the footlights that forgot everything else. In fact, he turned over his life to her for the time being, to do with as she would.
Naturally, the woman saw herself as his guide, his mentor, his companion. So much she had to offer him as a teacher that she forgot the things a man’s heart must crave beyond that.
At last she felt that he was ready; that he must now begin his real experience. He must go to Los Angeles, the dramatic center of the West, and get work in the theater to prepare for his final attack upon the citadel of Broadway. Thus it will be seen how she had crystallized those vague and youthful plans and ambitions which had torn Clark Gable from the farm, from his father’s oil fields, and sent him to starve and struggle on the hard road to theatrical success.
Josephine Dillon realized that she had done all she could; that he must now have actual stage work to do him any good, and she sent him on his way, wondering perhaps when she would see him again, parting from him with a very heavy heart.
But Clark missed her terribly. He knew no one in Los Angeles. No one in the theater there. For so long he had been used to her daily companionship, to the spur of her ambition and confidence. He missed the enchanting—and enchanted—voice, telling him how great he was going to be one day.
He got a very small job in one of the Los Angeles companies, but no one paid any attention to him except to bawl him out occasionally.
And so, in absence, his affection for the woman who had been his best friend grew, and he wrote and told her all about it, in a boyish, funny, hurt and rather bewildered letter. It seems difficult now to connect that lonely, bewildered young man with the dynamic, poised and charming screen star of today, but those things he gained later.
When she received that letter, Josephine Dillon closed her dramatic school, rang down the final curtain on the Little Theater, and followed Clark Gable to Los Angeles.
Clark was glad to see her; gladder than he had ever been to see any one in his life. They had little or no money—dramatic schools are seldom gold mines. They were always together.
Just how it came about perhaps they, themselves, hardly knew, but suddenly it seemed natural for Clark to ask her to marry him, and for her to say she would.
Clark had a job then, was playing a walk-on part in Jane Cowl’s company of “Romeo and Juliet.” And so one day in June, 1924, before a matinee, he and Josephine Dillon were quietly married. The newspapers, not being able to see into the future, did not comment upon the event.
From the beginning it was a mistake. They did not belong together as husband and wife. He admired her, he respected her, he was grateful to her. But he did not lover her as a man must love his wife.
For a year they maintained a beautiful and delicate relationship, full of poetry, full of work and dreams and ambition. She had been his Egeria, inspiring him and leading him. But the brutal reality of marriage, which either culminates or destroys love, soon taught them that they did not love each other. It had, in some ways, been an artificial relationship and the vital reality of married life destroyed it instantly.
Nightly Clark Gable, then just twenty-four years old, came from the almost unearthly beauty of the greatest performance of Juliet our generation has seen; nightly he left the theater where in the soft lights he had seen the exquisite Jane Cowl leaning down from Juliet’s immortal balcony, and had heard her speaking the greatest love words ever written; nightly he came from the romantic magic of a love drama that has survived centuries to thrill modern lovers; a drama, moreover, that was woven of the fires and throbs of youth. And he came to the cheap little apartment where he lived with his middle-aged wife. And he knew that between them there was no magic to gild the drabness; that there had never been the kind of magic which Jane Cowl’s art had made him long to possess.
If she had not been his wife, if he might have poured out to her as he had done in the past, all his yearnings, his romantic dreams, all his feelings about the great star who was showing him at last what great art was, all might have been well. But that he could no longer do. Something had happened to them that stemmed the flow of his confidences. He was never in love with Jane Cowl, the woman; scarcely ever spoke one word to her during the engagement. But the ambitious, idealistic young actor was beglamored almost out of his senses by Jane Cowl, the actress, the immortal Juliet.
But this he could not and did not tell his wife.
There had been no one to tell him that the relationship of teacher and pupil is almost impossible for man and wife if the role of teacher falls to the woman. Over and over Hollywood has seen the break-ups which follow when a woman has “done everything for a man”; when she has given him too much help and “taught him everything he knows.” The balance cannot remain true. It has often been said that one of the things which brought disaster to the marriage of John Gilbert and Ina Claire was that she knew so much more than he did, about the art of spoken drama, and attempted to teach him.
And of all men in the world, Clark Gable, who is a primitive man for all he lives in the twentieth century, was least able to bear such a relationship. A man may listen, may bow before the superior knowledge of any woman but his wife. There every instinct he has inherited, every masculine emotion, insists that he must be master, must be king.
Since there was between these two married people none of the passion which softens and reconciles such modern troubles, none of the great love that adjusts new problems, the end was written.
They went on for a time. There was, of course, some happiness. Josephine Dillon had a large following in Los Angeles, and she began her work of teaching which she has continued there ever since. Pupils flocked to her. And later—much later—she taught many of the new screen actresses how to handle their diction. Clark was very good to her. His gratitude to her, and his respect for her have lasted through the years. He always speaks of her with appreciation, with concern for her happiness, and he has shared with her his financial success.
For a time he still went to her new school. But it was impossible. He was in the real theater now. For the first time he was in a theater which ranked second only to New York itself. His part, as yet, was very small, but it was to pay big dividends later on. In coast touring and stock companies he managed to keep going, and to keep the wolf from the door, though sometimes it was a very long time between paychecks.
He did not then, and does not now, discount all his first wife did and tried to do for him. But to come from real rehearsals, from the real “boards,” from such actors as Lionel Barrymore, from playing opposite such actresses as Nancy Carroll, in such real plays as “What Price Glory,” to come from all that back to the little dramatic school was impossible.
It had all been different in the days when he closed his long hours at the dull telephone company, and dashed to the Little Theater and the woman who knew so much more than he did. Now, she was someone he had seen that morning at the breakfast table, now he had to compare her with his new stage director, Lillian Albertson, who had once been a New York star, and was a figure in the New York theater. He had the real thing, and the imitation meant less than nothing.
Then, too, Josephine Dillon reacted as most women do under such circumstances. She fought desperately to keep her hold. She made the fatal mistake of trying to tighten her hold as a teacher, to keep him as a husband. She pointed out all his errors, even of appearance, in a pathetic attempt to prove to him his need of her. And where he had once accepted it gratefully, could accept it gratefully, now every ounce of his manhood rebelled and her admonitions became nagging. She followed him to the theater, in a final effort to keep and continue her rule over his destiny. And his fellow actors, knowing little or nothing of the circumstances and with the brutal humor of men, kidded him about “apron strings.”
Even the wisest women lose their common sense when they find themselves fighting a losing battle to hold their husbands.
Josephine Dillon Gable was not a worldly-wise woman, nor had she had much experience with men. She was an idealist and when she had to come down to the stern circumstances of reality she lost much that had made her lovely. In her heart was the bitter knowledge that her young husband did not love her as she had hoped he might. Undoubtedly, though she loved him madly, she, herself, was suffering agonies of disappointment.
The years between their ages which, in the days he had her on Egeria’s pedestal, had seemed so unimportant; which she had, in fact, convinced herself were unimportant, became constant sources of irritation and made her self-conscious. Thus her natural graciousness and charm were destroyed.
Naturally, too, she was jealous. Not of other women. At that time Clark was too busy, too excited over his work, to think much of other women. They let him alone, and he let them alone. He was having great fun, getting to know the value of men’s companionship, enjoying the gang that met after the show. He was not playing romantic parts, in fact his early experience was almost entirely with characters, and no one seems to have paid any attention to him as a lover. He was still young and his awkwardness persisted, and he had not yet learned to display his charm.
But Josephine was jealous of his career which was going ahead now without her; she was jealous of everyone who could help him while she now could not.
The situation became one of wretched misery for them both.
Clark Gable said this woman had not been to him like a wife, as he had thought, but more like a mother. But now that she was his wife, that was gone. Had she been younger, she might have been willing to keep that hold of half mother love, which so many wives give to their husbands. But, being older than he was, she resented it and tried to get away from it. They quarreled. There were bitter scenes of reproach, there were small humiliating scenes at the theater, unkind things were said both to Clark, and sometimes to his friends. The little apartment, bad enough in itself, lost all semblance of a home.
But though they had lost that friendship which led them into marriage, though in their false relationship they had both been led to do silly, stupid and unkind things, they did at bottom respect each other.
The first Mrs. Clark Gable was by heredity and training a woman of big character and fine thoughts. So it was she who made the break.
He was going to San Francisco to appear with Pauline Frederick in “Madame X.” Before he left she told, him, quietly and with great dignity, that they had made a mistake. In this crisis she had regained her poise, and she spoke with words that freed them both of blame and saved each other’s self-respect.
Without recrimination, with a gentle poise that hid her sore heart, she offered him his freedom—and he took it.
Not many years later that scene was to be repeated, with another woman and with a very different ending.
So they parted, though it was not until March 1929, that Josephine Gable sued for divorce in a California court and not until April, 1930, only a short time before he began his screen career that their marriage was finally dissolved.
But they parted then and the boy’s heart was very sore. In his way he had once cared a great deal for Josephine. She had been his first wife, had borne his name. True, their marriage had been nothing like the marriage of which he had once dreamed. He realized now that Josephine had taken the place of that stepmother he had loved, who had died when he was still in his teens, rather than the place he had in visions seen as filled by Treely. But there was something in him that wept for the death of an ideal, for the mistake that had made his marriage something less than beautiful and sweet. And because, under his crude youthfulness, he had the sensitiveness of an artist, he was sad for the woman who was no longer very young and who had loved him.
As the train sped north through the night, carrying him away from her, his thoughts went back as a man’s thoughts do at such a time to all she had once meant to him. He remembered how lovely and gracious she had seemed the first time he met her. He remembered all those long days of close comradeship and unselfish devotion. The many things she had tried to do for him flooded back upon the stream of memory and as the separation of a man and wife is like death itself, all his memories were of the good and the last years of unhappiness were wiped out.
She, herself, had made the parting, had called it a mistake and had sent him away. But he knew how her heart must ache tonight; and because of the shared past that ache of a heart that had once beat against his own caught him by the throat.
Clark Gable had been born and reared in a sound American home, and had been taught a wholesome respect for marriage and marriage vows. As yet his theatrical experience had been only in small towns, he had never come in contact with either a professional or a business world that took marriage and divorce lightly. The breaking of that first marriage was a shock and a tragedy to him.
Should he go back? Should they try it once more?
He thought about it all night, to the roar of the train that seemed to keep time to his thoughts.
Probably Josephine, herself, would not have taken him back. Her chief characteristic is the quiet and womanly dignity that comes of sound thinking and fine breeding. The break had been made, and made because wisdom told her that there was no chance of success, and it was not fair to either of them to go on. Forces over which she had no more control than he had, had robbed them of any chance of happiness. To go back would be undignified, would be useless, would mean only deferring the day and repeating that parting scene again. But it might have comforted her greatly had she known how his thoughts reached out to her, and that the questions was large in his mind.
Doubtless it was best for them both that he did not go back; but he might have done so, except for the fact that in San Francisco he met his first great temptation.
No woman of the American stage has ever possessed more attraction than Pauline Frederick. In the theater she had always great artistry. Outside it, she, as the modern phrase goes, “had everything.” Her beauty was a legend. Her wit part of theatrical history. Moreover, as all who ever knew her testify, she had simplicity and sweetness and the most delightful joy in living.
Of course she was the star, and Clark Gable was only a very minor member of her company, playing small bits that didn’t matter. She was also an experienced woman of the world, who had been several times married, who had been adored by famous and brilliant men, men of vast fortune, men of the theater and men of the social registers. And up to that time Clark Gable’s experience with women hadn’t been very great.
But after all, Clark Gable was Clark Gable, the same Clark Gable who, only a few years later, was to follow in the footsteps of Rudolph Valentino. Undiscovered as yet by woman fans, by audiences or producers, he was nevertheless Clark Gable.
Naturally enough, he went crazy over Pauline Frederick.
He was sore disillusioned, terribly unhappy. The glamour had faded from life. He had just gone through a domestic tragedy and he was sick at heart, sick of domesticity, sick of the sordidness that must leave its sediment after almost every unsuccessful marriage. He wanted to forget, he wanted to reach out once more and touch the glittering garment of romance.
There, where he could see her and talk to her every day, was the most attractive woman he had ever met. Pauline Frederick was free of all those things which had lately dragged him into reality—free of hurt, of heartache, of distress and failure. She was a glamorous, successful, brilliant figure, and a beautiful woman.
Not that he wanted to fall in love just then—not seriously. He just wanted to be free—to live, to enjoy. As many people are after a separation or divorce, he was sure he never wanted to marry again. Marriage was what had destroyed all the loveliness and happiness which he and Josephine had once known. Neither he nor Josephine was really to blame—it was the institution of marriage, with its chains, that destroyed romance.
But he did need to convince himself that there was still romance in the world. And so he fell in love with Pauline Frederick. Not deeply, not violently, but lightly and glamorously, as a delightful and joyous interlude.
Pauline happened to be heart whole and fancy free at the time. She was working hard, for “Madame X” has always been one of her great roles, and San Francisco, that cosmopolitan city of the Golden Gate, was a favorite of hers and she, in turn, was one of San Francisco’s great favorites. So while Pauline was not looking for love, for she had known what it was to love and suffer greatly, she was looking for amusement and entertainment, and what could be better than a well-conducted flirtation?
In the company was this big, dark, handsome boy, with the flashing dimples that contrasted so amazingly with the intense masculinity of his face. Perhaps she saw, as Estelle Taylor was to see later, his astounding resemblance to Jack Dempsey, then the idol of the prize ring. And yet he was so sweet and young, and rather naïve and inexperienced, and quite obviously adoring her.
So they formed a habit of meeting after the theater, sometimes at her apartment with friends, sometimes alone. They had gay little suppers and long, long talks before the tiny fire, and they enjoyed to the fullest an altogether delightful episode.
San Francisco lends itself to that sort of romance, and sometimes they drove through the most beautiful park in the world and out along the ocean front, or they walked up the hills and stood looking out through the Golden Gate or they went to dine together in one of San Francisco’s famous restaurants, or they walked through the color and strangeness of San Francisco’s Chinatown.
It was the first time Clark Gable had ever known such a woman or such a friendship. Here was a woman who talked gaily, wittily and impersonally, and soon taught him to do the same; who knew all the delicate and amusing moves in a lighthearted game and expected him to understand them and obey the rules. There was a polish about her and, for all her naturalness, a real sophistication that were entirely new to him. He had read of such women, heard of them, seen them across the footlights now and then but he had never known one, and he was completely fascinated.
So he did not go back to ask Josephine if they should try it again and it was a deciding moment in his life. And Josephine was learning, with the philosophy of a strong woman, to rebuild her life around her work, and to wish only happiness and success to the man who had been her husband.
Clark Gable learned a great deal from Pauline Frederick as any young man must who has been fortunate enough to know her at all.
“An’ I learned about women from ‘er.”
In a measure that is the story of Clark Gable’s career.
There was Treely, his first love, from whom he learned the white poetry of young love; and its fragrance lingered on his life and made him know purity when he saw it and glad when it came his way.
“And I wouldn’t do such, cause I liked ‘er too much, but—learned about women from ‘er!”
From Josephine Dillon, who was his wife, he learned the leaning and the worth of sympathy and companionship, and that knowledge was in the end to influence him in a moment of great temptation. And he learned what it meant to hurt someone who loved him, and that, too, he never forgot. And she had taught him much, very much, in his profession that was to make possible his astounding success.
“Older than me, but my first ‘un—
More like a mother she were—
Showed me the way to promotion an’ pay—
An’ I learned about women from ‘er!”
And from Pauline Frederick he learned gayety and the light touch, he learned how to play, how to enjoy breathless moments together under the flowing laughter, how to take the gifts the gods provide as a gentleman, should, how to appreciate beauty and wit in a woman.
Yet perhaps it taught him, too, that: “The Colonel’s Lady and Judy O’Grady are sisters under their skins!”
“You must go to New York,” she told him. “That’s the only place to start if you want to succeed on the stage. Go there. You have something. You’ll be a great success some day. But don’t take life too seriously. Work hard; but—take your fun where you find it, too, and be grateful. Good-by and lots of luck.”
And she went her own way, leaving him a memory of pure delight.
Perhaps, when he met in New York the stately, dark woman who was to become the second Mrs. Clark Gable he thought of Josephine Dillon. Probably not. There was no likeness, except in a certain deep strength and fineness of character, a certain helpfulness and graciousness. But that likeness was strong.
Yet, surely, when he came face to face with Joan Crawford, the modern maiden, the dancing daughter of our generation, the impulsive emotional, vibrant girl who was to carry him to the highest thrill of his life, he must have thought of Pauline Frederick.
This amazing human document, revealing the deep emotional conflicts in the life of the screen’s greatest lover, is continued in the September TRUE STORY Magazine—On Sale Everywhere August 4th!