Clark Gable’s Romantic Plight
By Dennison Hastings
Photoplay magazine, September 1937
Bachelor or benedict, which is he? Never before have the problems of a Hollywood marriage aroused so much interesting speculation.
No great lover of the screen was ever confronted with a more amazing and perplexing romantic tangle before the cameras, than the one confronting Clark Gable right now in his off-screen dual role of:
The married man who is not married and the carefree bachelor who is not free!
Never before in Hollywood, where marriage problems are no novelty, has any case aroused so much conjecture as the present muddled status of the screen’s Number One Hero.
Not only are his friends and the casual onlookers bewildered, but Clark, himself, seems confused by the strange turn of events in what was supposed to be just another divorce action.
Married or single? Bachelor or benedict? Which is he?
To all modern viewpoint purposes, Clark was a “free man” from the moment Ria Gable announced their separation, with the explanation that they had both known for some months that their marriage was not a success. She also admitted that a property settlement had been agreed upon several months prior to the break and hinted that an action for divorce would be filed in the immediate future.
At the time the story broke, Clark was in New York; and if he was surprised by his wife’s statement concerning their marital status he concealed it admirably. For some time, their intimate friends had been aware that all was not right with the Gable marriage. For, despite the fact that they were rated as two of the “swellest people in Hollywood,” it was rather easy to see that they were not the same type—in their interests.
Inside stories and explanations of the break flew thick and fast; but the most popular (and certainly the truest) reason advanced was that Ria was, and always had been, a true sophisticate, a socially inclined woman whose grace and charm belonged against the background of a smart drawing room. And Clark, well…Clark, with his love for roughing it and his preference for open shirts rather that stiff-bosomed ones, just wasn’t the man to fit into the picture.
There were no villains in the story. In spite of the cheap journalistic trick that hinted Gable romances with his three latest leading ladies, on the same day and on the same page that carried the separation story, there was no other woman and with charming Ria no other man. They were just two people, each grand in his own way, who could no longer make a go of it together. Each was so well liked that no sides were taken—even by their most intimate friends.
Up to this point, then, there was seemingly nothing at all complicated about their broken marriage. It was, apparently, headed directly for the divorce courts.
Clark came back to Hollywood, took up residence at his apartment hotel and began a bachelor existence for the first time; because, as you will remember, he has been a most definitely married throughout his career—first to Josephine Dillon and then to Ria. He lived very quietly. He had never liked parties and, during those first few months of readjustment, he attended very few of them. The studio occupied his working hours and, on his first vacation, he barged down into Mexico on a hunting trip with Leo Carrillo and a bunch of the boys.
Clark was leading his kind of life.
And Ria continued to live her kind. She still occupied their beautiful home in Brentwood (understood to be hers under the terms of the property agreement) and, always perfectly groomed, she was a charming figure at the races or first nights, escorted by Bob Ritchie, Joseph Schenck or any one of a number of interesting men-about-town.
But it was only natural that any time Clark so much as nodded in the direction of a woman it would construed as a “romance.” When debutante-turned-actress Mary Taylor, from New York, lunched with him at the studio, it was columnized that he was sponsoring her career. Note was taken of the “news” when he sent flowers to little Loretta Young when she was so dangerously ill. On two or three occasions, he was seen playing tennis with Eadie Adams, the Cine-Grill’s pretty, blonde blues singer.
And then Clark met Carole Lombard.
What Hollywood now believes to be the real, honest-to-goodness love story of the hour, the Colony’s most perfect off-screen romance, began casually at a “Gag Party” hosted by Clark and his good friend, Donald Ogden Stewart. The idea for the celebration was so goofy that it attracted attention all over the country. “Bee” Stewart, Don’s attractive wife, had been suffering from a nervous breakdown and her doctors had forbidden her to attend parties in the evening. So Clark and Don conceived the idea of throwing a formal party in the daytime. All Hollywood was invited to attend Bee Stewart’s Annual Nervous Breakdown Party in their grandest and gaudiest ermines and sables!
By twelve o’clock, noon, ever dinner jacket and décolleté gown in town was wandering around the sunlit gardens and the tennis courts. But the party reached a new high in entertainment value when Carole Lombard, arrayed in all her glory—plumes in her hair and all—pulled the gag-to-end-all-gags by arriving in an ambulance! Though it was not their first meeting, the “Great Lover” and the “Glamour Girl” hit it off from the moment she was carried, flat on a stretcher, into the house. Clark laughed until the tears rolled down his face at the spectacle of the elegant Miss Lombard shelving her dignity to such an hilarious extent. He’d met Carole only in the rarified atmosphere of the Mayfair, or against the backdrop of a period drawing room. Of course he had recognized the beauty and glamour of the blonde Miss Lombard before—but invariably as the luxurious movie star.
Before that party was over he discovered that there is no grander sense of humor in Hollywood and hardly a more regular, down-to-earth lady in the silken sisterhood, than Carole Lombard—who used to be Jane Peters and doesn’t care who knows it!
They played tennis all afternoon—Clark in his stiff shirt and Carole in her fine plumes waving in the afternoon breeze—and Clark had found a girl who didn’t seem to care a continental darn whether her makeup wore off or her hair fell out of place. There was no crazy gag Clark could think of that Carole couldn’t top.
Those who attended the party say that Clark was like a great big kid. He had never played so hard. He’d never laughed so much. And if he shared that laughter with Carole, it is quite probable that neither one of them realized how deep a foundation it marked for the beginning of their great friendship.
Laughter was not new to Carole. She has always been a little mad—even at the dizziest heights of her stardom. She’s never taken anything so seriously—her career, her marriage, her divorce from William Powell or even herself—that her great, healing sense of humor has not been able to heal the wounds suffered in her colorful zest for life. But the young, laughing-and-gay, vital-and-intense Carole must have been a brand new woman experience to Clark Gable.
Until his meeting with Carole, the important and dominant women in his life had been mature and experienced. Josephine Dillon had brought understanding and guidance to the inexperienced boy she married, and her knowledge of the dramatic world was invaluable to Clark as he stood on the first rung of the success ladder. Ria Gable had had three marriages previous to her union with Clark. A charming woman, poised and refined, she brought cultural sophistication to the home of the young actor just on the edge of a skyrocketing career. But as deep as was her devotion to Clark, her heart was shared by two nearly grown children and their problems. Knowing Clark Gable, I am sure that he would be the first to admit the fine courage, the material and social help these mature and experienced women brought to him both as an actor and a person.
But now for the first time, his life was suddenly revolving around an intensely vivid girl whose vitality and zest for life was as strong as his own.
I don’t believe Clark and Carole fell in love. I think they crashed into it! I believe they have crashed through the gags and the silly things they do together to a revelation that must have astounded them as thoroughly as it intrigued Hollywood; that underneath the frivolity and nonsense of Valentine-Fords and onion corsages, they are the same kind of people cut from the same gusty cloth of life.
From the beginning of their friendship, they have been inseparable. Other men, who have been in love with the flaming Carole, have dropped from the scene like so many wilted petals. For behind all the glitter and glamour of the movie-star front, Carole has the same basic, hard-rock reality that motivates Clark in everything he does. With all her far-flung reputation as the social queen of Hollywood, I can imagine Carole dropping a shimmering evening gown from her shoulders, to get into slacks and onto the back seat of a flivver—to go tramping off to the backwoods to live out of cans and sleep on hard cots, loving it all. Carole’s gift for party giving isn’t so much a love for the social whirl as it is a love for life—or aliveness in any form. Up or down, on the crest of the wave or braving the struggle, she has DARED fate to bore her; and fate, this far, has never accepted the challenge.
In a way, it is too bad that these two vital, gutsy people should find themselves ballyhooed at the latest “that-way” couple of Hollywood. It is too bad that reporters must inquire timidly in the captions of pictures showing them at the fights…at the beach…at the skating rink and at Carole’s pool: “Is this another Hollywood romance? Are these two interested in one another?” It is like asking if the tide is interested in the moon—the earth in the sun! I don’t believe I’m guessing when I venture the thought that their interest surpasses anything either of them have ever known in life—even the careers they have both fought so hard to build. And if I know Clark Gable at all—I can promise you, he is going to fight for this great love of his life as he never fought for anything before.
Because there is going to be a fight! Not the sort of fight that man-of-action Gable can combat with sheer physical strength, but a long drawn-out legal battle between lawyers in the guise of “seconds” with the possibility of long delays while decisions are contested.
The expected divorce between the Gables has met legal tangles. Something has come between the perfect understanding Clark and Ria seemed to have at the time of their separation. The newspapers headlined it: CLARK GABLE SUES WIFE. Sensational articles bared the news that the courts would be asked to settle the problems of their community property—the courts would have to settle the validity of the agreement they made way back in September 1935. At that time, Clark claims, he made a huge financial settlement on his wife. And now, he further claims, she is refusing to be bound by the property agreement and intends to breach it. Mrs. Gable has said that she will turn the entire matter over to her attorneys and that she has nothing further to say.
It is for the courts to decide who is right and who is wrong. The case, as a legal point, is not nearly so interesting, not half so important as the human lives and emotions affected by it.
Where large movie-star salaries are involved, it is usually impossible to obtain quick legal action. One court seldom settles the problem to the satisfaction of all concerned. This same type of legal battle has been known to drag on for years. The actual divorce between Juliette Crosby Hornblow and Arthur Hornblow, Jr. was not settled until five long years after their separation. During much of that time, Myrna Loy and Hornblow waited; they were married just a few weeks ago. And it begins to look as though the marital difficulties between George Raft and his wife may never be settled to clear the way for the marriage of Raft and Virginia Pine.
So now Hollywood is asking, with heartfelt interest for everyone concerned in this newest legal tangle: “How long will the Gable battle complicate the lives and the happiness of the three swell people involved?”
The great pity of it is that apparently no one is to blame in this strange fight set on the stage of Hollywood doings. Ria Gable is not the type of woman who, because a great love has come into the life of the man who was once her husband, would deliberately throw difficulties in his path. When she announced, of her own volition, that her marriage with Clark was at an end, it was because she realized how final the break between them must be. She made her own decision, chose her own path. She is not fighting, now, to reunite her life with Clark’s. She must be as distressed as he at the necessity of bringing their differences to a court decision.
But the two who are most desperately and tragically affected by this misfortune are Clark and Carole.
Will they be called upon to weather the unending delays that have brought such heartache and unhappiness into the lives of others embroiled in the same tangle?
What does the future hold for their love story that began with such gallant laughter?
It is folly to attempt an answer to these foreboding questions. But this far, I am willing to gamble my last cent; whatever the future holds for them—wherever the ending—it will find them together—Clark and Carole—side by side, fighting for the greatest love that has ever come to either of them!