Clark Gable’s Rules for Living
By Mary Sharon
Screenland magazine, May 1935
Straight from the shoulder, never side-stepping or sermonzing, Hollywood’s Actor of the Hour tells you here how he solved his every-day problems on the long climb to success. Thanks, Clark—an inspiration!
When I walked on the Gable set I half expected to get thrown out on my ear, because it had been a “closed set” for weeks and this was the last day of shooting. But I wanted to talk to Clark Gable before he left on location and I knew this was my last opportunity.
When I went in, he was rushing from one scene right into another. And every scene was made over and over again. The one where he rushes up to the ticket agent in the little railroad station and demands a ticket to Kansas City won’t look very long on the screen. But Clark must have run fully two miles in and out of that scene before they were through. It was a “mad” finishing day for the Gable film, “After Office Hours,” because he was leaving for location in the morning to make “Call of the Wild” and retakes would be out of the question. So, even when a scene seemed all right, the director shot it over and over again “just in case.” I have never seen so much work turned out in such short order.
By the time they had finished shooting the station scenes, Clark was completely out of breath from running and pounding. So they gave him a chance to rest a minute. He came across the set with a cheery ‘hello!” and flung himself into the chair beside me. Beads of sweat were standing out all over his forehead.
“Why on earth are you working yourself half to death like this?” I wanted to know. “I can’t understand how any picture is important enough to risk a heart attack or fallen arches as you certainly are doing today.”
Clark grinned. He had recovered his breath by now. “Don’t worry about me,” he said. “I’m doing fine! Like it, in fact. Now, what do you want to know today?”
“I’m afraid I’m wasting your time,” I confessed. “Somebody told me you were a fatalist. One of those easy-going fellows, you know, who believe that what is to be will be. But I guess you’re not the type.”
“Whoa!” he shouted and motioned me back into my chair. “What makes you think I’m not the type? I’m a fatalist, all right, but not exactly a dyed-in-the-wool one. I’m a straddle-the-fence fatalist.”
I had to grin back at him. Clark’s good humor is always infectious. He makes everything seem so exactly right. Even supervisors. One strolled on the set right then, and he just waved his hand and kept on talking.
“Everybody, who lives long enough, figures out what it is all about in his own terms. I have. I believe in a lot of things that may sound a bit foolish down in black and white. But they are a result of the things that have happened to me.
“I believe that our destiny is more or less chartered out for all of us. We are born in a certain environment and turned in a certain direction. Things happen to us frequently over which we have no control. Sometimes we want t turn in a certain way and we are forced by circumstances to take another path.
“But, whenever we are forced to change our way, we don’t need to quit or turn back. We can always manage somehow to keep going on, if we try hard enough.
“If you map out a goal for yourself and say, ‘That’s where I’m going’ and keep plodding on, you’ll get there. Things happen that may make your progress more difficult or easier, but you can arrive if you keep on trying.
“My mother (she was really Clark’s stepmother, but he always refers to her as his mother) was a religious woman. She had a lot to do with forming the ideals that I have carried with me all these years. She used to teach me that ‘all mean are created equal.’ I believe it fully.
“We are all about the same in the beginning. We have about the same amount of instincts, desires, and capabilities. It is up to us whether we keep them alive or not. I don’t believe anybody was ever born mean or pessimistic or under-privileged. We all have the seed of greatness within us. I know I’m no better than anybody else. I’ve had pretty good luck and good health and I’ve learned to keep plugging away.
“Now, here is where I branch off from fatalism. I believe that a lot of fellows are born with the ability to succeed in some one undertaking, but they lack the initiative to carry on. They trust too much to luck and give up too easily. Success in everything takes a lot of determination and will-to-do. And even after you get it, you’ve got to keep pushing yourself in order to stay where you are.
“Optimism helps a lot. Some folks say that I am a born optimist. I’m a long way from being one. In fact, I don’t believe there is such an animal. Like makes us optimists or pessimists, but we aren’t born either way. I’m not cheerful all the time. I get just as blue and discouraged as the next fellow when things go wrong, but I’ve always managed to shake out of it and go on. I think a fellow gets more fun out of the game if he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
“I do believe that what is to be, will be. Lots of folks believe that when it comes time for them to go, nothing will keep them here. That is because they have had things happen to them that they can’t figure out any other way. I have.
“One event completely convinced me. I was beating my way back to Portland to meet some friends. This was years ago when I was trying to get a start on the stage. I had a pal with me, whom I had met on the road near Sacramento. We were both dead broke and tired and hungry. It began to rain, and we waited at a gas station for somebody to come along. A book agent came by. The front of his coupe was half-filled with books and he didn’t have room for us both, but he offered to take one of us.
“We couldn’t make up our minds who would go so we tossed a coin. I lost. I didn’t mind because I knew somebody would come along before very long. But two days later, I picked up a day-old paper and saw where the book salesman and my pal had been killed by a train at a grade-crossing in Oakland. It made me feel pretty tough and is one of the things that has made me believe that when it comes our time to go, we’ll go. It just wasn’t my time, that night.
“I’m not very superstitious, though. I don’t bother to walk around ladders or do anything else just because somebody says it is lucky. I have hunches once in a while, but they are always wrong. I don’t even try to follow them anymore.
“I remember I had a hunch one time that I was going to have an accident. It was a rainy night and the roads were plenty slick. I got a very strong hunch that I ought not to go out. But I disregarded it. A friend of mine was laid up in the hospital and I had promised to see him after work. I knew he would be expecting me, so I went. My hunch proved a ‘dud.’ I had the best visit I ever had in my life. I met a fellow that night who had just come to town from Arizona and we got acquainted and a few months later I went hunting down on his ranch. And did I have a good time? So in the long run I got a darned sight more out of going that night than I expected.
“Another time I had a hunch not to walk under a ladder at the studio. I went ahead and just as I walked under it, the fellow who was painting on it lost his balance and dropped his bucket behind him. If I had followed my hunch and had walked around the ladder I would certainly have been covered with paint.
“I’m superstitious about just one thing. I let luck make my big decisions for me. When I get to the spot where I can’t decide what is best for me to do, I flip a coin and go ahead. I don’t bother to flip a second time, either. I take the first lead I get. I’ve done that several times in my life and I’ve never regretted it.
“I have a lot of funny beliefs, I guess. But you can boil them all down to a few simple rules. ‘Live and let live. If you stumble, get up and go on. Don’t take yourself too seriously.’ After all, nobody is too important.
“If you and I were to step off tomorrow, Mary, you know that we wouldn’t either of us be missed too much. There would still be stars to write about and fan writers to do the writing.”
“You are being very obvious, young man, and I don’t need to be taken down.” I made a face at him. “I have already been put in my place by a veddy, veddy important young woman today. In fact, when I came on your funny old set, I felt about as high as a snake’s stomach.”
Clark laughed—a good, hearty, ringing laugh. I do like the way he alughs! I think half of his charm lies in his voice. His is the only one that I have ever thought might actually “coax the birds off the trees.” I know a blind woman who goes to the theatre when his picture is showing just to hear his voice.
“Can’t you tell me some more?” I begged after a minute’s silence. “I’m still shy a page.”
“Why, I’ve only just got warmed up!” he assured me. “Don’t leave out the part about everything usually happening for the best. I believe that without any reservation. I know if I had my life to live over again I wouldn’t want to change it any. I’m glad I had a tough time of it at the start, even. It makes things seem nicer now.
“When I first came to Hollywood and tried to get a chance at pictures. I wasn’t ready for success. If I had gotten a break then I would probably have failed. And if you muff your first chance in this game, it’s pretty hard to get a second one. I fiddled around just long enough to get a rough idea of what the picture business was like. I didn’t care much about it, either.
“It is lucky I didn’t. I went back to the theatre and got some technique knocked into me before I made a real try at it. Then everything came easy.
“In the beginning, I felt pretty bitter because I couldn’t get on, but I know now it was the luckiest thing that ever happened to me. Even when I came back the second time, I didn’t make any hits right off the bat. My first test looked pretty awful, and I gave up all thought of picture work.
“It wasn’t until after Macloon gave me the role of Killer Mears in ‘The Last Mile’ that I got talked into trying pictures. Even then, I didn’t want to take the part of the gangster in ‘Dance, Fools, Dance.’ I had an offer to go back on the stage. I knew if I took it, I would have something to do the rest of the winter. And if I wasn’t good in pictures, I might be out of a job when the first one was finished. It would be too late then to go back to New York.
“I couldn’t make up my mind. I thought it over and over, and I finally tossed up a coin. ‘Heads I stay, Tails I go.’ It came ‘heads’ so I stayed and everything turned out okay.”
“Don’t you ever get the shivers,” I asked, “when you think what would have happened if the coin had sent you back to the stage?”
Clark laughed at me again. “Haven’t yet! I probably would have done all right. That’s where I’m a fatalist. I believe that whatever is to be will be. That coin had to come ‘heads,’ because it was right for me to stay.”
The director called him then, and as soon as he was gone, I heard a prop-boy say to Kay Mulvey, the young publicity woman who had brought me out: “For Pete’s sake, get that gal off the set, or we never will get through here. Clark is worrying more about her interview than he is about his lines. He’s got eighteen scenes to do before he goes home tonight and it’s six o’clock now.”
I don’t wait for an invitation to leave. I went! I really had what I wanted. Clark had given me a rough idea of his rules for living. It is philosophy that we all could use quite easily. Go after what you want. Don’t give up. Don’t take yourself too seriously. If in doubt, toss your decision on the lap of the gods and grin. You can’t escape your destiny, for what is to be will be.
Boiled down, that’s about it. And if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, Clark has proved his creed is right.
He has arrived—by a circuitous and at times a rough route. In the beginning, he was a normal, young man with a healthy zest for fame, who was willing to work and suffer to get there. Now, he is at the top and able to enjoy the fruits of his toil and privations. He doesn’t feel that he is any better than anybody else, so nobody envies him his success.
Clark is a big man. He stands six feet one and weighs 190 pounds. And I think he is much nicer looking off screen than on. Most of the girls will concede that he looks pretty good on the screen, too. His ears don’t look too big to me. And hints about his being “tenderly brutal” make me laugh. He is the most amiable sort of person and deeply sympathetic.
I have known Clark for four years now and I believe all the stories his press agents write about him. Because, in spite of the glamour and unreality of the life he leads, he remains real and likable. Long ago, I promised myself I would never have a fan crush on any of our movie stars, or I know I would have a bad one on Clark Gable right this minute. He is the nicest person I know!