Open Letter to Clark Gable
By Helen Gilmore
Photoplay magazine, December 1942
Dear Clark Gable,
I’m writing these few words to you not in behalf of your army of fans—they’ve done their job well—but for those of us who through the years have been your inarticulate admirers; the ones who went to see a picture because you were in it, got a lift from your quality of realness and unbeatable vitality, sent you a mental note of thanks and let it go at that. We’re the lazy ones—or perhaps the shy ones.
But you have done something now that makes it impossible for us to sit on our hands any longer.
Nothing can be sillier than this business of patting men on the shoulder for the simple step of joining up with one of the branches of the service. It’s pretty logical for a man to decide that nothing else he can do with his time will make sense so long as the Japs and Nazis are riding down every decent-living nation.
We who have come to know you consider it the most natural thing in the world that you should have done what you did—even to passing up the easier way of a comfortable commission and starting at the bottom of the ladder as a private—or, pardon me, a corporal.
We remember how you felt about that trip to Washington when you went east to find out what was the wisest and best thing to do. You came back to Hollywood—remember?—just about the time they were showing the first sneak preview of “Somewhere I’ll Find You.”
You didn’t spare the horses when you talked about that trip. You were impatient because some of them in Washington were still telling you that you could best serve your country by sticking with what you were doing—making pictures that could take people’s minds off the terrible things that were happening around them, the restrictions and sacrifices that were creeping up on them.
I was one of those who was inclined to agree with the Washington pleaders, but at the same time I would have bet my bottom dollar that nobody in all the world—not even Carole if she were alive—could have sold you on the fact that they were right. All of us knew how you had been champing at the bit to get into action ever since Pearl Harbor. Then when our boys took a shellacking in the Java Sea, it was all your pals could do to hold you back.
But from the moment that Carole took the sky road, any one of us could have come to you and said, ‘Well, you’ll look grand in uniform, fellow.” We knew then it was only a matter of time before Mr. Clark Gable became Major Gable, or Lieutenant Commander Gable—or just plain Private Gable.
Now that you’ve bought your ticket, here is a thought to take with you on the journey ahead. In the movies you have represented a man that every woman—at least practically every American woman—could love as a son, as a brother, or as a man.
And that’s what you mean now that you’re in Uncle Sam’s Army. You are Everyman, every American man who is the center of Everywoman’s thought today, her prayers, her hopes. She prays that Everyman will eat well, sleep well, and above all, keep well. She prays that he’ll get the most out of his training to be a soldier, prove his mettle as a man among men.
She hopes that he’ll think of her now and then, maybe send her a letter or postcard soon. She knows that he’ll take that trip to a foreign field one of these days—and when he does, she’s ready to keep quiet and keep smiling. She goes on working at her job so that he won’t worry about her and she sends him letters and little remembrances that will make him a happier soldier.
And then, at night, she prays that he’ll do the job he’s set out to do—to save his country from murder and rape and starvation—and that someday, even if it’s years later, he’ll come back to her, be she mother, sister, sweetheart or wife, and start again where they left off.
That’s what you’ll be meaning to all of us. We’ve heard about a few of the snipers who have been writing, “What do you mean by saying you’re starting from the ground up when you’re a corporal?” Those people don’t know that in your unit the lowest man is rated as a corporal for purposes of admission and that once he’s in, he loses his rating until he finished his officer’s training. So you’re still just “Mister Gable” when anyone addresses you.
But we’ve also heard what your teammates down in Miami are writing home; things like “…he gets the same treatment as the rest of us and there isn’t a man in the outfit whose respect he hasn’t won…great guy…”
Furthermore, we know you haven’t lost your sense of humor; not when you can write as you did to one of the boys at your studio:”They’re cutting my hair tomorrow. Brother, oh, brother, when they get down to those Gable ears they’ll fly me across the Atlantic as the latest thing in bombers!”
Most of us would have been perfectly happy if you’d stayed on as Clark Gable of the screen, who knew how to make an hour and a half pass in the theater like a few minutes. But you didn’t see it that way and we know why.
You’re going to do a terrific job for Uncle Sam—just as Jimmy Stewart and Tyrone Power and Doug Fairbanks Jr. and Henry Fonda and all the rest of the Hollywood boys are doing—and will do. Maybe, remembering that you’re Everywoman’s Everyman you’ll do even a touch more than your best—and believe me, pal, that’s tops so far as we’re concerned!