Too Old to Love?
by Bill Tusher
Motion Picture magazine, August 1955
A group of excited teenage girls were sitting at a counter in a Hollywood cafe, going
into raptures over Clark Gable, whom they had just seen in a reissue of Gone with the
Wind. Finally, the waitress, who had been listening in long-suffering silence, couldn’t
stand the drooling any more.
“For Heaven’s sake,” she blurted out, “don’t you kids know that guy’s old enough to be
“Oh yeah?” one of the girls replied. “He’s not like anybody’s father I know.”
But, as the waitress was aware, the unavoidable historical fact is that 16 years have
passed since Clark Gable played Rhett Butler, a time lapse that raises such uncomfortable questions as these:
Does he still breathe fire, excitement and naked masculinity? Does he still have that
amused authority in his voice, that audacity of manner, the powerful personality and the awesome physique? Is the Gable cult worshipping a flesh and blood idol–or is it now burning incense to a ghost?
In short, is Gable too old to love?
For some 15 barren years, Hollywood has been groping for a new King. There have been many pretenders to the throne, but none has succeeded to it. The big question is: Can the Gable of today compete with the Gable of 1939? What are the facts?
The fact is that the durable Dutchman, grey at the temples at 54 though he is, is a more sought after prize in marriage than any young Hollywood buck half his age.
The fact is that because blonde Kay Spreckels has the inside track with Gable–and may be even secretly married to him–she is without doubt one of the most envied women in the country.
The fact is that motion picture studios are sentimental about only one thing–money. And 20th Century Fox is so sure that Gable still has enough virility to charm the price of admission from millions of moviegoers that the studio has invested a mountain of money in his latest film, Soldier of Fortune.
The fact is that Gable has not lost the mirth in his voice, the twinkle in his eyes, the
sparkle in his manner, the spring in his walk, or any of the animal masculinity that he
has always exuded. His skin is no more wrinkled than his joy de vivre, his hairline has
not receded, his waistline has not expanded, and the head that he carries so proudly has not outgrown his hat size.
The dreamboys of the younger set never looked so good.
But it is also a fact that the Gable charm is not universally conceded. There are those
who say that he was never half the lover in real life that he seems to be on the screen.
There are those who maintain that his many marriages do not bespeak his disappointment with women: they reveal that his women were disappointed with him!
His friends laugh off such an idea. They point out the long succession of women who have been proud to have their names coupled with his; the unashamed reluctance of Lady Sylvia Ashley to leave his bed and board; the dream of the beautiful and young French model, Suzanne Dadolle, to become his fifth bride; and the tenacity with which Kay Spreckels has clung to Gable since the turn of the year.
Many Hollywood experts are certain that Clark with take the lovely blonde, who is
divorced from the sugar heir, as his fifth wife. Some are convinced that Kay and Clark
already have secretly eloped. Others are willing to accept at face value the repeated
professions of Gable and Kay, that they are only good friends.
These doubters will tell you that Gable has had his full of marriage, that he has lost
his appetite for entangling feminine alliances, that he has finally despaired of finding
another Carole Lombard, and that he lacks the will and the enthusiasm for anything but friendship.
But to the public, Gable still generates the electric charm which has characterized his
quarter-century reign as king of movie lovers. The evidence is abundant that he has lost none of the qualities which caused his immortalization as a romantic figure.
Gable’s hypnotic quality is almost impossible to define. he has the manner of a
benevolent monarch. On the set of Solider of Fortune with him, for instance, were his
long time stand-in Lew Smith and his equally long time make-up man, Don Roberson. He treats them, of course, as complete equals, but it is significant that they always wait for him to give the cue. They may swap cusswords and man-to-man stories with him, but they never doubt his dignity or stature. They never question that he’s the King.
It was the same with tourists lucky enough to get on the set, and with women he met at the 20th commissary. the King’s smile and charm left them limp with adoration, but they knew he was not on the make. He always seems a little aloof, a little out of reach, never contemptuous or patronizing, but just a little indifferent, a little untouched by the fever he generates. He’s his own man, and that’s something that every woman covets and every man respects.
Nobody ever gets the feeling that Gable has stripped himself in their presence. No matter how warm his conversation, how gracious his manner, how generous his deeds, he always
holds back a little of himself. He is never familiar enough to breed contempt, and never too aloof to breed resentment.
To awestruck teenagers and thunderstruck middle aged women alike, there is only one Gable and his to them the epitome of manhood. In the words of an anonymous Hollywood
philosopher: “fifty-four, schmifty-four, as long as he’s Gable.”
If Gable looks as good as ever to others, one reason may be that he feels as good as ever to himself. “I think I’m probably sharper now than I was when I made Gone with the Wind,” he grinned between takes in his dressing room. “My weight hasn’t varied ten pounds one way or the other.”
At the risk of over-simplicity, his stand-in, Lew Smith, sizes up Gable’s lure this way:
“Know what he’s got? He’s got two of the greatest thing in the business. He can look so
mean he could tear your head off, and when he smiles, you say, ‘What a great guy.’ He’s got the two extremes, hot and cold.”
Men don’t resent Gable because he never throws his weight around. “When he’s with a group of other men among women,” director Ed Dmytryk points out, “he doesn’t act like king of the group, as if he knows he’s more in demand than any other man. He acts like any other guy.”
Not only does Gable refuse to lord it over other men, but he won’t let anyone else lord
it over them. Once, when Gable arrived on a late call for a picture, as assistant
director ran up to him and said, “Oh, Mr. Gable, Lew Smith and the boys are playing poker in your dressing room. You want me to get ’em out?”
“Hell no!” Gable boomed, “Get me another dressing room. Lew might be losing.”
It is natural that other men would swear by such a guy. But what are the reasons for
Gable’s lasting fascination with women? One probability is that Clark never lets the gals down. Even in retreat, he treats womanhood as a cherished thing, smothers the species with gallantry and consideration.
When he was under bitter attack in the divorce proceedings launched by Lady Sylvia
Ashley, an awful stink was threatened, but Gable came out smelling like a rose. He kept his head and he kept his followers by refusing to slug it out in the press, gallantly
suggesting to persistent reporters that they “let the lady tell it.”
Asked about wedding bells for him and Kay Spreckels, he shook his majestic mane and said bluntly: “I don’t answer that kind of thing. I don’t discuss women at all with anyone. There are good qualities in all women. Some may be lacking in some of these qualities and should have them. I’m liable to say so and hurt their feelings, and it wouldn’t be meant that way at all.”
Clark not only doesn’t like to talk about the women in his life, but he doesn’t like the
women in his life to talk about him. He is the despair of reporters because he is a
member of that vanishing but still sought after breed–the strong, silent man.
Exhibit A is brunette Suzanne Dadolle, who boasted prematurely that she had bagged Gable as a husband. “I am a discreet woman, and I think that’s what he appreciates,” the willowy Gallic doll said with ironic indiscretion. “We have the same tastes and the same ideas. We both like quietness, simple food, and our favorite dish is pepper steak and beans.”
She may have been right on all counts, but apparently Clark regarded this as their
secret, and that could be one of the reasons Suzanne never made it to the altar with him.
Women who have known Gable intimately extol the fact that he never uses friendship as an excuse for shabby treatment. Blonde Virginia Grey carried the torch for The King for years, but if it’s true that hell hath no fury like a women scorned, you can’t prove it
by her. She praises Gable as a guy whom she always found straightforward, respectful and sensitive of her feelings. Neither Virginia nor any other woman has ever accused Gable of pushing her around, and nobody has ever been able to accuse him of permitting any woman to push him around. Complains Clark: “I can’t say hello to a woman without touching off a marriage scare.”
Since he and Lady Ashley abruptly called it a day, he has been reported altar bound with
Mrs. Betty Chisolm, a Phoenix socialite; the aforementioned Mademoiselle Dadolle, Dolly O’Brien, Joan Harrison, a Swedish girl on the liner Liberte, a beauty in Rome, and another in St. Tropez.
As ever, Gable kept everyone guessing.
When Kay Spreckels entered–or re-entered–the picture, it didn’t have much effect for
Gable to point out that he and Kay had been friends for many years. Boy-meets-girl
handicappers noticed that they seemed to be working at it harder this time.
It was Kay who saw Gable off to Hong King. After he landed there, he got out his trusty
typewriter three or four times a week to send her affectionate notes, and he received
answers from Kay regularly.
When Gable came back to Hollywood, Kay visited him constantly on the set of Soldier of Fortune. As far as she was concerned, Gable was neither too old to pursue, too old to love, nor too old to monopolize. She came out night after night during outdoor shooting at 20th’s Chicago Lake, where a wharf scene in Macao was set up. Usually, she arrived around 8 o’clock–when no press agents or reporters were around to take notice—and stayed until midnight. Between takes they went into his trailer dressing room and shut the door behind them. They were very together, and very incommunicado.
The rash of guesswork on whether Gable will stick with Kay is sobered only by
consideration of Clark’s various and sundry post-Lady Ashley utterances on marriage.
From the lips of the distraught Lady Sylvia in her divorce testimony had come a picture of Gable’s allergy to the fetters of matrimony. “He told me,” Sylvia informed the judge,”‘ I wish to be free. I don’t want to be married to you or anyone else.. I am just unhappy being a married man.'”
Later, relieved of his marital ties, Clark was making a picture in Holland with Victor
Mature when Vic and his wife–since divorced–had an argument, and Vic muttered about his problems.
“Single men,” Gable pointed out, “never have any problems.”
Single or married, Gable has a way of inspiring women to adventurous heights. It’s a
phenomenon he does not pretend to understand.
“I suppose,” he grins, “that the public builds some kind of idea from what they’ve seen
of me on the screen.”
And it’s the kind of idea that wouldn’t get past the censor.
Gable too old to love? There may be a few grumbling dissenters who’ll argue that The King is a fugitive from a home for the aged, but to the vast body of American womanhood–even the teenagers on their Tony Curtis and Bob Wagner kicks–Gable will never be too old. Never? Well, Gable himself doesn’t go quite that far. As he says when he proposes marriage to Susan Hayward in the last scene of Soldier of Fortune:
“The offer will still be good two years from now, and so will I.”