Which Girl Has the Gable?
Nancy Davis by Janet Franklin
Ann Sheridan by Douglas Johnson
Modern Screen magazine, 1948
They say Gable’s going to marry again—maybe he is. And now there are two girls in his life—one of whom may well make up his heart.
Is it love between Nancy Davis and Clark Gable? Hollywood, as this story reveals, believes it is. But one question still remains—the question of Ann Sheridan.
Has something at last happened to Clark Gable—something, to be exact, in the form of a slim, brown-eyed, brown-haired beauty named Nancy Davis—that is changing the fitful pattern of his romantic life? Is there to be an end to the short-lived affairs, the undecided hovering over first one girl and then another, that has been his story ever since he got back from the war?
Has he, in other words, finally found the Gable Woman, for whom he is more than willing to give up the Gable Women?
The answer seems to be yes—even though, if it is a love at all, it is so far a love in hiding. For the story behind it has more than just two pretty legs to stand on—there are interesting facts that can be tied to it. And the way Hollywood is connecting up the facts is causing the most cynical of scoffers to believe that the impossible has come to pass: A girl has shown up who has caught Gable’s eye—which, after all, he has given to many—but also his heart, which, since the stunning death of Carole Lombard, he has given to none.
The fact that little has been printed about the two doesn’t necessarily mean much. Obviously a lot is taking place—especially when you consider Nancy’s career. Something extra, something that doesn’t ordinarily happen to a girl whom Clark meets and likes, is going on with her. It’s a process that has already given them a relationship professionally. And that’s not a bad point to start from if you’re going to be together later on. Nancy Davis arrived in Hollywood only recently from New York where she first met Clark. Her film experience is meager—a few shorts she made in the East. Yet, you can get a pretty good bet in certain quarters that before the present year is out, or at least before the new one is well started, Nancy will enjoy starring status.
In the movie business, made-to-order success like this doesn’t come very often—and that’s just the thing. The path to fame she is walking seems to be so expertly paved, so conveniently shortened and cleared of all the usual difficulties, that there’s a touch of magic about it. And when you look around for whomever may be waving the potent wand that’s accomplishing all this for her—darn if an awful lot of things don’t point to the Great Gable himself!
To begin your looking, you have to go back to Clark’s New York trip last winter when he appeared at the U.S. Air Forces show at Madison Square Garden. At parties and affairs all over town during his stay, a new beauty appeared with him. Together, they dropped in at a cocktail party at the Waldorf Towers given by the wealthy Tommy Royce. They lunched at 21 and dined at the Colony. They saw the Broadway shows. When they attended High Button Shoes the audience applauded Clark when he got to his seat, and he had to get up and take a bow. The eyes of everyone were very much on the girl with him as well. People everywhere kept asking, “Who is she?”
The first, quick identifications were wrong as usual. There was talk about her being a Continental belle, a wealthy heiress, and English girl he had met during the war. It took Louella Parsons to furnish the right answer, even if she was 3,000 miles away in Hollywood that night. She correctly named Nancy in her column and told of her being a young stage actress and the daughter of a Chicago brain surgeon, Dr. Loyal Davis. Shortly after the item appeared, Clark went back to the coast, leaving Nancy behind in New York.
People who saw her around Manhattan after his departure expected to find her on the sad side. After all, she’d seemed radiant in his company, looking in every way like a girl who was having the most wonderful time of her life…and this wonderful time was now over. But, surprisingly enough, Nancy’s manner didn’t fit that part at all. In fact, she seemed happier than ever, acting more like a girl who knows something is beginning—rather than ending.
Naturally, some of her friends jumped to conclusions and were after her to talk about Clark. But she was evasive. She looked things, but didn’t speak them. Yet, one late afternoon at a cocktail party at the home of one of her friends, Mrs. Shirley Wolfe, she couldn’t restrain herself and had to say a few words. A guest, in from Hollywood for a visit, mentioned hearing that she and Clark had been seen together frequently.
“Oh, Clark is divine!” She is reported to have said. “I love him. He’s the most charming man I have ever met.”
In show business, things like this can be said without their meaning much. And girls who have said them have gone on to other things—and other men. But not Nancy. Not long afterwards, she was missing around New York. Not long after this, she was present in Hollywood—very much present. For soon word drifted around that she had a great big movie contract, same being with MGM, and MGM being, as if you needed to be told, the studio where Mr. Gable earns his bread-and-butter-plus.
It must not be thought that Nancy was signed without the usual screen test being made to determine what their photographic and voice possibilities were. That is to say, a screen test was made. Yet there was little about it that could be called usual. In fact, it was such a gilt-edged operation all around, so well supervised artistically and technically to make sure nothing went wrong, that when the details got to be known, any number of aspiring starlets around Hollywood gulped their envy frankly to any and all who would listen. The sum of their remarks was, “It should happen to me!” or, as one girl, with a more direct mind, put it, “He should happen to me!”
The scene Nancy did was a sequence from East Side, West Side. As a rule, a new player is tested by whatever directing and camera personnel is available. But Nancy, as herself explains, was “lucky”. The director she had was Mr. George Cukor, just about the top man in his line in Hollywood, let alone MHM. In his career only the most precious of moviedom’s stars have ever been assigned to him—from Garbo and Norma Shearer of old, on up to Greer Garson, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart and Deborah Kerr today. These are the sort of artistic responsibilities he ordinarily shoulders.
The cameraman, the fellow who can really influence the executives who see the test into saying either “Hello” of “Goodbye”, was George Folsey. His job, too, is hardly that of merely testing new talent—he is among cameramen what Cukor is in the directorial field. Some of Folsey’s pictures, both released and unreleased, include State of the Union, Take Me Out to the Ball Game, The Great Sinner and Operation Malaya.
How did the test turn out? Fine. Nancy had some honest words to say about it afterward. They were, “I don’t know what I’d have done without them!”
And then, within two weeks after the test was made, an announcement was forthcoming from the front office which was quite in keeping with the general uptake of her career since she first saw Clark in New York. The studio declared that it was going to make Death in the Doll’s House, from a recent best-seller, and that Nancy was the first actress to be assigned to it—in a major role. Subsequent announcements added Ann Sothern as the star, and along with her, little Gigi Perreau, the eight-year-old girl who scored such triumph in Enchantment.
Since Clark’s interest in her has become known, there has been a general weighing-in on Nancy’s appearance and background, and the consensus is that she runs very much in the mold of the sort of girls he likes. In her middle twenties, she is tall (five-feet-five sans heels) and slender (117 pounds). And since, in addition to there being the tradition of the stage in her family, she was also a Junior Leaguer in her deb days, she should not be out of place in Clark’s world—which lately seems to include the social set.
Nancy’s mother, Mrs. Edith Davis, was a well-known actress who worked with such greats as David Belasco, Chauncy Olcott and George M. Cohan. Nancy’s godmother was the late Alla Nazimova—whom she pairs with the late Laurette Taylor as her all-time favorite actresses of the stage. (Incidentally, she and Clark agree on Spencer Tracy and Walter Huston as tops among screen actors.)
She started her education in The Girls’ Latin School in Chicago and went on to become a Smith College girl in Northampton, Massachusetts, majoring in dramatics and English. While in high school in Chicago, she did a little radio work and was president of the dramatic club. During her summer vacations at Smith, she worked in stock in New England and Wisconsin, later in New York. She says, “I can’t remember my exact ‘start.’ I always wanted to be an actress—used to watch my mother and stay backstage as much as I could.’ But she recalls vividly her first real job in New York after she left college. She tried for a job in Ramshackle Inn on the road, was turned down, then got it when the girl already signed suddenly quit. Later, she won parts in Lute Song and Cordelia.
Those who are wondering about her and Clark want to know if, beyond her ambition to succeed as an actress, she has anything else in mind for the future—something that might include Clark. This brings us to an ambition she has discussed, which, she admits, is even greater than the first one—though she isn’t naming names. “I want to have a successful, happy marriage,” she says.
How about Clark on the same subject? His most familiar quote generally has to do with his marriage to Carole Lombard, to which he almost invariably refers in any conversation with a good friend. “It was a perfect thing. I never expect to find it again.”
But Virginia Grey—a girl, incidentally, whom Hollywood once rate the logical choice to be the fourth Mrs. Gable—thinks that deep in his heart he has never given up hope of finding it. Others who share this belief about him are convinced that in the past year Clark has become disgusted with the aimless course of bachelorhood.
There was something about the way he walked out on Iris Bynum at the Ocean House in the famous break-up of that affair some months ago that may have been a tip-off. After they’d arrived together, Iris reportedly went off to dance with another man, leaving Clark alone. But it isn’t like Clark to come even close to making a public scene or doing anything else that might cause talk. Yet this time he marched out on Iris and refused to come back, though she went chasing after him. Iris thereupon sealed the end of that entente by commenting, when she returned, “Let him burn!” (It is a question whether or not he was burning—but he could hardly have been happy about the situation when it broke into the columns, since this isn’t the kind of light he likes to be seen in.)
Marriage is very much in his mind. He has held on to his big valley ranch even though an apartment, or even a smaller house in Hollywood or Beverly Hills, would be much handier and certainly less expensive.
Clark has one well-known trait. He likes to give a new experience a whirl, no matter where it takes him, or in whatever company—but in the end, as he says, “I like to get back to my friends. In the end, these friends think, Clark, who was never as happy as when he was married to Carole Lombard, will find his way back to home-life again as a husband.
Nancy won’t say whether or not she’s the girl destined to be his wife. She just keeps busy with preparations for her first picture while Clark, in between pictures at this writing, spends his time golfing, making no appearances at parties or the night spots.
Where and when he and Nancy see each other (and under circumstances Hollywood is pretty sure they do) hasn’t come out yet. Maybe they will first be reported together at some unexpected place like Clark’s golf club. Not that Nancy has ever played the game. The sports she has been active in are tennis and swimming. But when she told about them, soon after arriving on the Coast, she added, for whatever it might be worth, “I would like to learn golf.”
And her chances look good.
Although only Gable knows what Gable will do, those who saw him at the Racquet Club in Palm Springs are willing to make predictions. They say Clark has found the right girl at last. She’s Ann Sheridan, and here’s why…
It was gay, it was giddy, it was romantic. It was also sensational. For while Clark Gable and Ann Sheridan have known each other for years, they’d never been more than casual friends until that recent week in Palm Springs. And what happened then may be the prelude to a behind-the-scenes drama will eventually remove Clark Gable from the bachelor ranks.
True, both Ann and Clark are supposed to be involved with other people. Ann with Steve Hannagan, the famous publicist whose constant companion she has been for several years. Clark with a lovely young girl who has just been signed by Metro. Yet—well, this is the story of what happened…
For a change, Clark was taking a vacation in style and had been lolling around the swank Palm Springs Racquet Club for several days. Sometimes he dined with friend and host, Charlie Farrell, whom himself was once the Number One man of the screen. Sometimes Clark played a little tennis or sat on the sidelines and watched Paul Lukas and Jimmy Ritz knock themselves out. Clark was a man relaxing, with nothing on his mind—that is, until the fateful afternoon when Ann Sheridan checked in.
In a way, it was like a boy suddenly discovering that the girl he used to chin with over the back fence had grown up into something highly desirable. To understand, you must know that Clark has worked for most of his career at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Once, more than a dozen years back, he was employed at Warners where Ann worked for so long, but he was dropped. If Clark had never left Warners for a studio clear across town, he and Ann could have discovered each other a long time ago.
As things turned out, though, Clark worked at Metro, married Carole Lombard, and later lost her in a tragic plane crash. Ann, in the meantime, worked in picture after picture at Warners, married George Brent, and divorced him.
After that exciting union was blown apart by clashing temperaments, Ann is reported to have said, “Never again will I marry another actor.”
Something else that had worked to keep Clark and Ann from seeing much of each other is the desire they hold in common to get out of the movie-making atmosphere the moment they finish a picture chore. Clark goes hunting in South Dakota or Mexico, or just stays home. Ann goes East to visit friends.
And though Ann, when she’s in California, lives less than five miles from Clark in the San Fernando Valley, she and he have never traveled much in the same circle of friends. Ann’s idea of a whale of a time is to have several cronies drop in for an evening to listen to a three-piece Mexican band. She never issues invitations to formal parties and seldom accepts them. (Her great pal Steve Hannagan, when an associate once asked him why Ann so seldom came into New York from her Connecticut farm hideaway, is said to have answered, “I just can’t get her to put shoes on.”)
On one occasion, though, some time back, she went to a party at Ann Sothern’s home in Beverly Hills. Ann Sothern had just separated from Bob Sterling and friends were rallying around to keep her from being lonesome.
As Ann Sheridan was being driven over, her escort said, “Know something? Gable’s going to be there tonight. You know, you two would be a really great pair.”
Ann’s reaction was something below the boiling point. She said she’d known Clark for a long time, but she never again wanted to mix with the Hollywood crowd. At the party she and Clark kidded around as they had countless times before, but they were like brother and sister. Other guests who had hoped that a spark might be struck were doomed to disappointment.
Now, as the saying goes, years pass. Clark is having a fine time in Palm Springs at the Racquet Club. His presence there has stirred excitement among all the ladies present, from starlets to wealthy Eastern dowagers. He is charming, considerate, kind. There is an extraordinarily beautiful girl there named Yvonne De Carlo. Willingly, Clark spends a lot of time having his picture taken with her. The pictures may be of some publicity use later on. Not for Clark, who has no need for publicity—but he likes to see youngsters get ahead, and during his stay on the desert he poses for dozens of photos with people who could use pictures showing them with someone important.
Enter Ann Sheridan. When Ann arrived at the Racquet Club, walking through the oddly-arranged entrance which leads directly into the bar-dining room, Clark looked up from his conversation and made a mental note that the new arrival was quite attractive. In a matter of seconds, he did a double-take. Why, it was Annie Sheridan!
What happened from there on is a peculiar reversal of events as they have been known in Gable’s life. Usually, Clark doesn’t have a chance to be the aggressor. If he makes himself available, there are a half-dozen charming women around. This time, it seemed to people watching, that for the next few days Clark pursued while Ann retreated. At least, her interest seemed casual enough.
Vacationers at the Racquet Club watched the little game like people clustered around a television set. They were delighted to note, on the third or fourth day, that Mr. Gable abruptly began to make progress. Now Ann, who had been so casual, seemed to light up.
Everyone looked forward to the Saturday evening gathering of the Racquet Club clan. A big dinner had been planned with a number of Hollywood folk, including Frances and Van Heflin, to be present. When dinner began, however, there were two conspicuously empty chairs. An hour passed, then two. Guests began to speculate whether or not Ann and Clark hadn’t checked out and taken off for some place like Nevada where two people can become one in a hurry.
This didn’t happen, though. Along about 11 o’clock, the two showed up. They’d been for a long ride in Clark’s car. Immediately, they were the butt of considerable happy ad libbing, and for a an answer they just grinned at each other like a couple of high-school sweethearts who had ditched classes for an afternoon in the park. During the course of the evening, they toasted each other at the table, danced together to the tropical music, holding tight as though they expected any moment to have the director yell, “Cut!”
Of course, Charlie Farrell’s Racquet Club has witnessed quiet little romances before, but this was so obviously something different. Those who know have never taken Clark’s constant dating with various young Hollywood girls seriously. Here, however, were a man and a woman so clearly drawn together and so absolutely right for each other that those present felt like breaking out in applause.
Around midnight, onlookers had caught the fever that the pair were generating.
“How old is Clark, anyway?” an Eastern matron wanted to know.
“Oh, I’d guess around 40. It’s a funny thing—that gray at the temples seems to make him look younger than he did a couple of years ago.”
The lady scoffed. “That’s not what’s making him look young. It takes a woman like her to bring out the best in a man’s appearance.”
Actually, Gable is 48. Ann is getting acquainted with her thirties; yet she is much younger than the women in whom Clark has been interested in the past. Perhaps more than any other girl he has ever known, Ann is the most like the late Carole Lombard. She has the same flair for beautiful clothes and a similar disregard for the niceties of high fashion. She has a robust, riotous sense of humor of the type for which Carole was so well-known.
There the comparison should end—for Ann is strictly individual to the nth degree. And independent. Being so, her sudden interest in Gable prompted speculation that perhaps she has seriously quarreled with Steve Hannagan.
At least, during the time Ann was at the Racquet Club she certainly had nothing on her mind but Clark. So much so that in the intimacy of this small club hotel the two soon became taken for granted and no longer a matter of curiosity.
Abruptly, the holiday was over. Ann returned to Hollywood. On the heels of her departure came news that Steve Hannagan was flying to the Coast. He does that frequently in any event—but now he had real reason. Perhaps now, when their friends had long since ceased to speculate on possible marriage, Ann and Steve might have headline news to announce. (Though up to now Ann seems to have had a “why marry him and spoil a beautiful relationship? Attitude.) Or, a battle could be in prospect. Whatever was in store, Clark stayed on for a few days in the desert, looking noticeably lonesome, absentminded and completely disinterested in the ladies who remained.
Away from the immediate proximity of the swift, exciting romance between Ann and Clark, the ill-informed were inclined to disregard the entire affair as trivial gossip, particularly since neither bothered to confirm or deny the obvious. Even if they had, any veteran reporter will assure you that Hollywood denials are often synonymous with the word proclamation. Now, let’s see what happens.