The Inside Story of the Gable “Rift”
By Imogene Collins
Modern Screen magazine, 1951
Modern Screen’s reporter goes behind the publicity screen of “everything’s fine” to reveal the true Gable situation.
The $20,000 mink was draped over Sylvia Gable’s shoulders. A gust of wind blowing from the north caught her blonde hair and whirled it over her left eye so that for a moment she looked like a tall Veronica Lake.
She tossed her head back, the hair falling into place, and Clark took her by the arm as the reporters swarmed in.
Sylvia Gable was about to depart from the Los Angeles International Airport for New York and Nassau. Reporters swarmed about her, determined to find out whether all the rumors concerning an impending Gable divorce were true.
“Mrs. Gable,” one of them asked, “are you and Mr. Gable contemplating a divorce?”
“Of course not,” she replied.
“Then why this separation?” another reporter asked. “What’s the purpose of this trip? Isn’t it true you can get a divorce in the Bahamas in six weeks?
“That’s in the Virgin Islands,” someone said.
Sylvia looked at her husband. Clark smiled slightly. “She’s going to Nassau to see about some property she owns down there,” he explained. “She may build a beach club or something.”
Mrs. Gable nodded and glanced around. A reporter said she was searching for Mrs. Dan Topping, Lana Turner’s sister-in-law, who was flying East with her.
“Don’t you like Nassau, too?” Gable was asked.
“I have to stay here,” he answered. “I’m starting a picture soon.”
“Mrs. Gable, how about all those separation stories?”
She shook her head. “Nonsense. Pure and simple nonsense. I don’t know how these stories get started.”
“There’s no thought of a divorce,” Gable said. “Absolutely none. Everything’s okay.”
Two photographers barged in. “That’s great,” one shouted. “How about kissing her, Clark?”
Sylvia Gable smiled. She moved in closer to her husband but she wouldn’t raise her face.
“Just one kiss,” a photographer yelled.
Gable tightened his tie and fingered his button-down collar.
“Come on, just one kiss.” The lensman pleased.
Gable grinned. “Sorry, fellas. But we don’t kiss in public. We’re past that stage.”
“Be a good Joe,” a reporter said.
Gable grinned. He took Sylvia in his arms and pressed his lips against her cheek. Feelingly, he closed his eyes. Sylvia kept hers open.
When she arrived in New York the following morning, Sylvia Gable told other reporters the same story. “Rumors about our marital difficulties are a lot of nonsense. I’m frightfully sorry but that’s all I can tell you. We said what we had to say last night in California.”
These denials are to be expected. Actually, there has been discord in the Gable household for months. Last year, for example, Sylvia wanted Clark to go to London. Justifiably, she wanted to show him off to her Mayfair society friends. Clark couldn’t go. He said he needed a good picture, and he thought “To Please a Lady” with Barbara Stanwyck could fill the bill. He went to Indianapolis on location and probably expected Sylvia to go with him. Instead, she went straight on to London without him.
This year, Sylvia planned on wintering in Nassau with the British colony. Clark couldn’t or wouldn’t go. First off, he checked into the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital under the name of John Smith. He underwent a complete checkup. Sylvia didn’t visit him in the hospital. As soon as he checked out, Clark hopped into his Jaguar and headed for the desert. Sylvia didn’t go there with him, either. His companion for the trip was Howard Strickling.
Gable refused to tell anyone where he was, and Strickling, the press director for MGM, refused to divulge his whereabouts.
Gable was finally located at the Wickenburg Ranch outside of Phoenix, Arizona, where he refused to answer any questions about his domestic life, and insisted that he was simply vacationing.
Phone calls to the Gable residence in Encino were answered by a voice which said: “Mrs. Gable has nothing to say to the press.”
Clark returned from the desert on a Monday. That night his wife told him that she was leaving for Nassau by plane the very next evening. He could go or stay behind, whichever he wished to do.
Gable pointed out that he was about to start production on his own film, “Lone Star”. He would soon have to leave on location again. There was no sense in flying to Nassau and coming right back again. So Sylvia Gable took off by herself, As a local wit put it, “As soon as one Gable comes into Los Angeles, another Gable flies out. If this is their idea of a happy marriage, I’d just as soon remain single.” A columnist wrote, “The Gables insist there’s nothing, absolutely nothing wrong between them—only about 3,500 miles.”
All right—what’s the real lowdown? It’s obvious enough to be common knowledge. Clark and Sylvia Gable come from two different worlds. Sylvia is a socialite. Clark is not. Sylvia is cosmopolitan, urban and sophisticated. Clark is not. Sylvia enjoys the leisurely life. Clark is incapable of inactivity. Sylvia’s fortune—at least $2,000,000, possibly more—is the result of fortuitous marriages and subsequent inheritances. Clark has earned every penny he’s ever made. Sylvia is definitely an intellectual with artistic tastes. Clark is brainy, but in an un-bookish, common sense way. Gable’s friends, for the most part, are from the movie world. Sylvia’s interest in movies is academic, and her circle of friends is truly intellectual. Sylvia likes fashion shows, the ballet, and literature. Gable likes hopped-up Jaguars, and fashion shows bore him stiff.
The question everyone is asking today is: If there are so many primary differences between these two, why did they get married?
The obvious answer is that they were very attracted to each other and got married quickly. They realized their basic differences but, like most couples in love, they felt that these weren’t irreconcilable with marital happiness.
But weren’t they? According to friends who know Gable intimately, their marriage may deteriorate into a kind of convenient Noel Coward in which the wife goes her way, the husband goes his, and the world if led to believe that all is milk and honey.
“Look,” explained one of Clark’s pals, “Sylvia left for Nassau on April 17th. Clark said he had a picture coming up which was why he couldn’t accompany her. Well, actually, his film, “Lone Star”, wasn’t scheduled to get under way until the middle of May. He could have gone along for two or three weeks. By the same token, why take a vacation in the desert with Howard Strickling when you can have your own wife along? Doesn’t make very much sense unless, of course, you and your wife aren’t getting along too well. Everyone realizes that Clark and Sylvia like different things, but that’s probably what lies at the root of all the trouble. Maybe they just aren’t for each other, and maybe it’s a good idea to call the whole thing off rather than let it linger and die.”
“Clark, however, is extremely sensitive to public opinion and my guess is that there will be no divorce announcement for some time—certainly not before his film is finished. Maybe not even then. Gable has always found divorce pretty distasteful, and will stay with any marriage as long as there’s the slightest chance of success for it. He’s been divorced twice in the past and doesn’t relish the notoriety that would come the third time. Right now, all he’s interest in is making a good picture.”
A girl who used to date Gable when he was still single attributes his domestic difficulties to the clash of personalities. “It’s very simple,” she says. “Both Clark and Sylvia have been accustomed to having their own way for years. They don’t call Clark “King” at Metro for nothing. The King can do no wrong. Anything he wants, he gets. He has his choice of leading lady, director, publicity man, camera man. He has all the money he wants, and for years has been completely independent. He goes and comes when he likes. All of a sudden, he elopes with Sylvia Ashley.”
“My opinion is that he was not only lonely, but that he was tired of playing the field. He also wanted to marry someone commensurate with his position in life. Okay, he married Sylvia. Now, she has really been around. I don’t want to go into a long recital of Lady Sylvia’s three marriages but you can take my word for it that she knew the score when she married Clark. She wasn’t one of those fragile little things he could push aside. She has a mind and money of her own.”
“As you probably know, Clark never entertained very much at home. Well, Sylvia changed that. She had this dining room done over, and being a very gracious person and a charming hostess who likes to entertain, saw to it that her friends dropped in for Saturday night snacks. She also re-did the bedroom that was once Carole Lombard’s. She decorated with green and white chintz and, in general, gave the Gable house the feminine touch it had needed for a long time. The most important thing is that she felt, and still feels that in any marriage the adjustment must be mutual. She didn’t mind roughing it on location for “Across the Wide Missouri”, but by the same token she wanted Clark to accompany her to events like the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, Adrian’s fashion show, dinner at Romanoff’s, the Philharmonic Concerts. Maybe I’m wrong, but I think he might have objected.”
Whether Gable is too old to make these adjustments—he’s hitting 50—or whether Sylvia is too set in her ways to adjust to her husband’s, is a matter of speculation. At any rate, neither will discuss this publicly.
They are both mature, intelligent people, without other love interests, or a desire to marry again. Possibly they will prefer a state of affairs where Sylvia Gable travels, Clark Gable makes pictures, and the studio announces that both of them have never been happier.
Unfortunately, there are some skeptics who will just not believe it. There is no one in Hollywood, however, who doesn’t wish the Gables happiness.