Mr. and Mrs. Clark Gable
by Henry F. Pringle
Ladies Home Journal, May 1940
It was dislike at first sight that started the Gable-Lombard romance. Now it’s thriving on a combined $550,000 a year and practical jokes.
If a sense of humor, not to mention practical jokes, is a sign of a good marriage, the union of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard is as stable as that of King George and Queen Elizabeth. As far as the practical joking goes, Mr. and Mrs. Gable follow the pattern of the typical American marriage. That is, Carole is usually the ribber, Clark is the ribbee.
They had been married for a few months and were living on their ranch in the San Fernando Valley near Hollywood when, one morning, he incautiously opened the barn door where his three prize cows are housed. One of the cows had arisen from the wrong side of the bed and she promptly charged her master. Gable, remembering his screen roles, tried to bulldog her according to Western tradition and was promptly tossed halfway across the corral while the hired man rushed to his rescue. The idol of American womanhood wasn’t hurt in the least.
The idol’s wife, meanwhile, was watching from a safe place and screaming with laughter. Later that day, in town on some errands, she visited a costumer and bought a gaudy red toreador’s outfit which she solemnly presented to her husband before dinner.
That time Gable got back at her. She had been measured for a slick new riding outfit and was very proud of the breeches and the shining boots when it was delivered. Clark said with the utmost gravity that so splendid a habit deserved a fine, new saddle horse and that a Thoroughbred would be delivered in the morning.
Carole was thrilled, and early next day she dashed out to see what would undoubtedly become her favorite mount. In front of the house, calmly munching, was one of the ancient sway-backed animals used for comic relief in movies. Gable had rented it for the day.
For the most part, he just takes it. He is easy-going, good-natured and calm, while his wife is high-strung, talkative and nervous—mainly talkative. Clark does not object in the least to the fact that she talks most of the time. She is a raucous, rowdy girl—as well as being an extraordinarily lovely blonde—and she is interested in every conceivable subject, whether she knows much about it or not.
A typical scene between Mr. and Mrs. Gable at home would be at tea or cocktails in Gable’s faintly adolescent gun room with its collection of lethal weapons in a glass case on the wall. Clad in jodhpurs or Levis and usually needing a shave, Gable sits back in a large chair. Mrs. Gable starts off by perching decorously enough on a sofa. But soon she is squatting on the floor, her skirts far above the tops of the stockings on her pretty legs, and is talking steadily about politics, the war or just gossip.
Gable remonstrates, as husbands should, against her more flagrant extravagances, but most of the time he listens quietly, grins and reveals the dimples over which American women are mad. One rule, rarely violated in the Gable household, may contribute more than anything else toward the preservation of the existing tranquility. This is that they shall not talk about pictures or any other business matter while at home.
The Gable-Lombard marriage is the direct outcome of dislike at first sight, which may also prove something or other. Three or four years ago they were cast in a film together and quarreled more or less consistently during the shooting. It would appear, on the other hand, that Gable was intrigued with this high-spirited, noisy girl. In any event, he invited her to go with him to an elaborate Hollywood function called the White Ball, being staged by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. But they failed to get along again and Clark took her home rather early. The next morning, in his hotel room, he was roused into confused consciousness by what seemed to be the cooing of pigeons. In the room was a cage with two white doves. Attached to it was a card from Carole. “How about it?” the card read.
Every day over $1,500 is added to their bank accounts, or slightly more than one dollar for every single minute of the day and night. But of this amount, Federal and state income taxes consume from 70 to 80 per cent.
All the celebrities of Hollywood complain bitterly about income taxes, and there is some basis for their lamentations since they cannot, like people with inherited wealth, escape payment through tax exempt securities. In addition, their huge salaries don’t continue for many years. Carole Lombard, however, is the only movie star who has made tax payments a basis for national, even international, favorable publicity.
The stunt may not have been her idea. There are strong reasons to suspect that Russell Birdwell, press agent for the studio in which she worked, was behind it. Word was sent out, in any event, that Miss Lombard had earned $465,000 in 1937—she is making fewer pictures now—and would have little left after taxes and living expenses.
“But I’m glad to pay for my country’s taxes,” she was quoted as saying nobly. “The price is not too high for all the things this country has done for me, for the things it is doing for its citizens.”
Not inconceivably, Miss Lombard was wholly sincere and meant every word of it. Mr. and Mrs. Gable are among the liberals of the film colony. And the truth is that they can live more than comfortably on the balance—more than $125,000—left from $500,000 after the tax collectors have finished with it.
The Gable-Lombard ranch—any country establishment in California bigger than ten feet square is a “ranch”—is twenty acres in size, with a main house, a small stable, a barn, a house for the hired farmer and his wife, and some chicken coops and brooders. An accurate guess as to their living expenses, based on knowledge of similar places in the region, would be about $16,000 for servants, repairs, taxes, food and automobiles. This doesn’t take into account permanent improvements or what Gable, who is fascinated by agriculture, may spend for seed and farm machinery. But taxes on such a place would run $1,200 or so; upkeep, water, electricity and supplies would be the chief item—say $7,200. Clark Gable likes to drive fast cars and these would amount to $1,500 for maintenance and replacements.
Although close enough to Hollywood for convenience, the San Fernando Valley is regarded as remote; and the Gables, at the moment, are passing through a phase in which they entertain very little. So their domestic staff is not large. Mrs. Gable, when working in a picture, obviously has no time to run a household, since she must leave for the studio at some such ghastly hour as 7:30 o’clock in the morning. She knows rather little about housekeeping anyway. So there is an expert cook-housekeeper, an amiable butler-handy man who serves drinks and occasionally drives for the Gables, and a maid. Their aggregate wages total about $3,600 a year. The cost of food, because of the vegetables and chickens raised on the place, is really insignificant. At the most, it would be $200 a month, or $2,400 a year. One secretary takes care of the mail for both. They are not interested greatly in the ravings of worshipers, so fan mail is sidetracked at their studios.
The Gables have no tennis court and not even a swimming pool, a sign of penny-pinching which, until recently, would have been virtually a scandal. Their ranch is roughly comparable to farms operated as hobbies by well-to-do business and professional men outside of New York, Philadelphia, Detroit or Chicago. The place is in the red as an agricultural unit, of course. But there are only three horses and a mule, a couple of cows, some chickens and turkeys and a mixed assortment of fruit trees.
Gable’s passion for guns nearly got him into serious trouble last August. A burglar contrived to get into the house in the early morning, selected a weapon from the gun room and confronted Clark in his bathroom shortly after Carole had left for the studio. The actor behaved as a movie hero should, however. He tackled the desperado, disarmed him and turned him over to the police. Next day in court, on the other hand, Gable was somewhat chagrined to find that the burglar was far from ferocious, that he was really a misguided youth—nonetheless, he might have been dangerous with a gun in his hand. Gable tried to have the charge dismissed, but the police insisted on going through with the prosecution.
Mrs. Gable added to his discomfiture when she came home. Not long before, Clark had brought home a new dog, a boxer, and announced that he would guard their home with his life. The watchdog’s name, he said, was Toughie. Carole had been doing some sleuthing though. She found footprints and dog tracks leading to a car in the garage. There was no doubt whatever, she said, that the burglar and Toughie had spent the night in the automobile, quietly sleeping side by side.
“You’d better change his name to Sweetie,” she told her husband.
There is no doubt that Mr. and Mrs. Gable get fun out of the simple life. Gable works hard on the place and is learning a lot about raising citrus fruit and other crops, about soil and its improvement. He gets up at seven o’clock, unless working in a picture, and hitches Judy, the mule, to a road scraper or runs the tractor. When he must spend the day at the studio, he makes up for it by working Sundays. And he really gets tired.
One night he tossed himself into a big chair after being up since dawn and said that he was starving. He came to the dinner table without cleaning up.
“You haven’t even washed your hands,” Mrs. Gable protested.
Being a shrewd and pragmatic young lady, Carole has made herself part of the life which so greatly enchants her husband. She takes care of the chickens, after a fashion, and supervises the garden. But I doubt that she does so at any peril to her nice complexion. She had been a fair enough athlete before she was married to Clark. That is, she could swim, play tennis and ride a little. But she knew less than nothing about guns or hunting, and so she proceeded to learn. She hired a teacher and went out on the range daily to practice. A few months after they were married, Gable decided to go duck hunting and his wife announced that she would go along. She thereupon bagged more birds than he did, to his great delight.
The Gable house on the ranch looks old but isn’t. Nothing in Los Angeles has mellowed save through artifices of the architect and the decorator. The house is two stories high, of white brick and frame, with a gabled roof which does not look out of place, despite its New England flavor, on the hilly California ranch. The main room is the living room, done simply with yellow and green furnishings. There are only three rooms downstairs and two main ones on the second floor. To the right, as you enter the house, and down a step or two, is the dining room. This too, is early American with a narrow table at which six to ten guests could be seated. Pleasant pink china lines the walls. There is a chandelier of oil lamps, wired for electricity, and two other small lamps stand on the table. A smaller table—actually a refinished poker table—is used by Mr. and Mrs. Gable for breakfast. On the floor are hooked rugs bought in New England.
The living room, one gathers, is for company. The Gables spend most of their time on a wide back porch, where there are gay yellow tables and chairs, or in Clark Gable’s personal sanctuary, the gun room. Throughout the house good taste prevails. That, too, is not uncommon in modern Hollywood, which abounds with decorators who bully the movie folk into restraint and decorum. The Gable house was, however, done by Miss Lombard herself. She takes a childish pride in it and beams with pleasure at deserved tributes.
Upstairs, the more traditional Hollywood note is discernible. In Mrs. Gable’s bedroom there is a vast four-poster bed with a canopy of starched white cloth. Adjoining it is a glittering bathroom with walls of mirrors.
Clark’s bedroom is on the grandiose side too. The bath-dressing room is very modern and contrasts with the rest of the house. Disclosed by a spring is a small bar in one wall. “I had it built there because he sometimes yelled for a nightcap and then I had to go downstairs and get it,” his wife told friends.
One great attraction of the ranch is its privacy; the house cannot be seen from the road and few tourists and movie fans know where it is. Life in the valley has similar advantages. The residents of the village are entirely accustomed to seeing them and pay small attention to them. He has discovered, to his delight, that he can shop in the general store without calling attention to himself.
Privacy is enjoyed nowhere else and is therefore cherished. The Gables are surrounded if they attend a first night or go to a restaurant. On the rare occasions when they go to New York, autograph hunters plague them. A petitioner once demanded four signatures from Miss Lombard; she asked why he wanted so many and his answer aroused her sense of the ridiculous. “He told me my value had risen to twelve cents,” she said, when she got back to Hollywood.
Any actor who claims that he does not view fans and autograph hunters with mixed emotions is evading the whole truth. The Gables are frank in saying they would be bothered even more if they were not besieged, because that would mean, in truth, that they were slipping from the peak of their popularity. Yet they would enjoy being able to do things which now are more or less impossible. They discussed, one evening last summer, the possibility of visiting the New York World’s Fair and attending the theatrical openings in the autumn. Gable said Carole ought to be able to disguise herself by fixing her hair in some totally different way. As for himself, he wasn’t sure. It would be much harder.
“Yes, dear,” Carole purred sweetly, “you couldn’t get away with it with those ears of yours.”