Why all Hollywood Adores Clark Gable
By Sara Hamilton
Movie Mirror magazine, July 1937
The newsboy at Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studios stood beside his magazine stand grinning widely. “Better get a Liberty this week, Miss Harlow,” he said. “Got a story in it about the greatest guy in Hollywood.”
“Really?” said Jean, reaching for the magazine. “And who is the greatest guy in Hollywood?”
“Aw, gee, Clark Gable is. Everybody knows that.”
The newsboy didn’t exaggerate. Gable is the great guy of the movies. And every man, woman, and yes, child in the movie village has his own pet reason for thinking so.
Great stars are usually targets of envy, jealousy, whispers and scandals. Great stars are seldom people. They daren’t be. And yet, after five years of Hollywood stardom, Gable stands before us today more loved by every worker in the industry than when he was in his humble Hollywood beginning, a spear carrier in the back row of extras.
His has been the acclaim that has gone to very few stars. The acclaim that once was Bushman’s. The hysterical approval that was showered on the handsome Valentino, and the tremendous popularity accorded the late Jack Gilbert.
Gable has had all that, and more. Yet, after five years of it he has emerged more a man than any great movie star of the cinematic past. Why? That’s what I made up my mind to find out.
It isn’t as though Clark were any plaster saint. He is quite capable of the most childlike antics of misbehavior. He has been known to brood in sulky silence when hurt or unhappy. Glaring nastily at one and all. He can and has spoken his mind to the right people at the wrong time. There is nothing wishy-washy or goody-goody about the man Gable.
But there is this about him. He has remained a truly simple person under circumstances that have turned the heads of nine out of ten men anywhere.
Measure them side by side, the spear-carrying extra and the present screen hero, and you won’t find a fraction of an inch difference. Except that the Gable of today is a shade more kindly and perhaps several shades simpler than the man of yesterday.
I sought out the people who have been associated with the man Gable throughout the years and those who know him fairly well and asked them frankly why and if they liked the actor.
The “if” won me only the stoniest of glares. There seems to be no question of “if” about it. They “whys” always came round through devious highways and by-ways to the same conclusive explanations.
“There is no use of my telling you, Sara Hamilton,” Joan Crawford said, her finger pointing directly at me as she sat in her dressing room. “No use of your putting it on paper, for people outside this business won’t understand, either, but big people are seldom kind to little people in motion picture business.”
“It’s the law, the psychological something that happens to stars. Why, I don’t know, but it’s true.”
“Well, Clark Gable doesn’t know in his heart that such a thing is. He doesn’t seek out the electrician, the prop man, the humblest worker on his set to chat with between scenes because he wishes to appear a good fellow. Gable likes those men. Wants to be with them because he does like them. They’re his friends. That any gulf lies between Gable, the star, and Joe, the electrician, is so far beyond his comprehension that it’s funny. It’s no condescending gesture on Gable’s part. I know. I’ve watched.”
“And let me tell you that’s the rarest thing in this business today,” Joan said. “He’s thoughtful of other actors about him. He has the greatest respect for their work. I remember in ‘Possessed’ I had a terrific crying scene to do. I was nervous, worked up, worried over the scene, and kept to my dressing room most of the day. Suddenly I was aware that the set was strangely quiet and had been all day. Only the day before there had been all sorts of clowning and gags going on between Gable and the workmen, and now this strange silence. I opened the door of the dressing room and looked out. There in one corner alone sat Gable. Throwing forbidding glances to anyone who dared raise his voice above a whisper.”
“It came over me suddenly that this famous star was sitting over there alone, had been all day, out of respect to the emotional stress I was going through. There was something so sweet, so thoughtful about it; I didn’t need music to bring on that flood of tears.”
“And that thoughtful kindness, that respect for another’s work is also rare in Hollywood,” Joan added.
Take now, the Gable of “San Francisco,” the ruthless, forceful Blackie. One would never think the star of that great epic capable of eating the humblest of pie. And yet Clark Gable did. It was Director Van Dyke who told me about it.
“I’m quitting at six,” Clark told Van Dyke’s assistant. The actor had been furious throughout the day over some uncalled for bit of business from a certain supervisor.
“Tell Gable to stick around,” Van Dyke told the assistant, “I want to get one shot with him and Jack Holt.”
The lights were set up, the scene called, and no Gable. He had simply walked off the set and gone home.
Van Dyke quit. I mean quit the picture. “I’m through,” he said. “Tell the producer to get someone else. I won’t be here in the morning.”
MGM studios experienced an oversized turmoil and one that never reached the outside world until this moment. There was a to-do that was a to-do and no mistake.
The next morning found the principals in the little drama within the drama gathered in the producer’s office. Gable was contrite. Ashamed. He apologized to the producer and Van Dyke.
“That’s all very well,” the director said, “but you owe those boys down on the set and apology, too. You stood them up as well as me, remember.”
Gable never hesitated. “I’ll apologize to the boys, certainly,” he said, “I think I should.”
And so onto the set of “San Francisco” the great shining star of the picture walked over to the prop boy and humbly and sincerely apologized. To Joe, the electrician, to Tad, the carpenter, to Holt, the actor, he was equally humble and meek.
“I was a bit worried over those scenes between Gable and Tracy,” Van Dyke said. “I needn’t have been. I was afraid Gable would play up his scenes with Tracy in such a way that Tracy would be completely overshadowed. Listen, you hear a lot about Tracy walking off with those scenes. Know why? Clark Gable went in there and gave and gave to Spencer Tracy. I watched it going on. I couldn’t believe it at first. But I saw that man build scenes time after time to Tracy’s advantage. Not, mind you, that Tracy isn’t actor enough to take all he wanted. But he didn’t have to try. Gable helped him steal every scene they were in. No jealousy. No smallness. It isn’t in the guy.”
“He’s got balance. He’s never late on the set. He’s usually from five to ten minutes early. He can take a gag as easily as he can hand one. He’ll squawk his head off before a picture starts if there’s something he doesn’t like. But you’ll never hear a peep out of him after it’s under way,” the director concluded.
“The sweetheart of all time,” Tracy terms him. “The greatest guy in the business.”
“Why?” I wanted to know.
“Why? Because,” grinned Tracy, “he’s a man before he’s an actor. Talks like a man, thinks like a man and never talks movies.”
And there’s Hez Arthurs, the old feed man down at Palms feed store.
“Who? Gable the pitcher guy? Oh, him? Dardnest guy a feller ever seed. Comes down here to get alfalfa for his horse.”
The old fellow took out a red and while handkerchief and blew on it.
“Come down here one day for alfalfa and I wuz hobbin’ around with lumbago. ‘What’s the matter, Hez?’ he asks me. ‘Dod blanked lumbago,’ I tells him. ‘Well, what you want? More alfalfa for that nag of your’n?”
“He never said anything, see, but he gets down out of that old Ford of his’n, and sez ‘Get over, you old blatherskite.’ And he spent nigh to two, three hours luggin’ in my sacks of oats that had come that mornin’. He shifted bales of alfalfa around and helped all afternoon.”
The rise of Bob Taylor to a place equally as hot-spot as Gable’s, and on the actor’s own lot at that, is the greatest test of the man Gable. There could be and should be, by all performances past and present, a consuming jealousy on Gable’s part for a boy who threatens to usurp this place.
But consider this. Clark and Directors Jack Conway and Eddie Mannix had formed an exclusive little duck hunting club far up the California coast line. One day Clark approached the directors and said, “Look, I’d like to take Bob Taylor into the club. He’s a fine boy and likes hunting.” The directors assented and next trip found Bob Taylor under Clark’s care on a duck hunting expedition. Clark, who loves the sport, didn’t do much shooting of his own that day. He spent the day helping Bob. Giving him first shots always. Guiding him through the intricate business of gun versus bird in flight. Only a true sportsman will understand the magnamity of that gesture.
And there’s the dumbfounded actor who almost received a punched-in face from one Mr. Gable. The actor, wanting to get in right with Gable, began a tirade against Bob Taylor. “A sissy pretty-boy” was about as far as he got, when Mr. Gable let loose a barrage of plump language that scared the actor out of his wits. “But I—I thought,” began the actor, when Clark let loose again.
“Bob Taylor is one of the finest boys in the business,” he stormed, “and you or no other ham can say anything about him to me.” And with that he walked off.
There’s another friend of Gable’s who shares those camping-out expeditions. He isn’t a movie star. He lays no claim to fame. Ted Tetrach is just a boy in the property department of Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios, but he’d held in high esteem by Clark Gable.
He’s Clark’s pal. His buddy.
When Clark was beginning as an extra and later a bit player around the lot, he met and liked Ted the prop boy. Ted liked him. Today, five years later, Clark and Ted are still pals. Riding around in Clark’s Ford. Out hunting and camping together. “Clark takes his place at the cookstove and dishpan just a little oftener than the rest of us,” Ted grinned.
A man in the Metro Goldwyn Mayer publicity department was asked, as part of his daily stint, to write a short talk for Clark to deliver over the radio. The writer set to, and in the course of the day turned out the little piece. Gable was to receive a substantial check for his appearance, and as the actor’s salary was from heavy at that time he was eager and anxious for the chance.
The next day or so Gable came flying into the publicity department all out of breath. In his hand was a check. “Here’s your split,” he grinned. “Boy, we sure made that easy.”
The face of the studio worker was a blank. “What are you talking about?” he asked.
“The radio talk, mug,” Gable said. “I got my check for it, and here’s your half.”
“My half? Why, man, I get paid for doing those things. That’s my job. I can’t take your money.”
He took it. Gable saw to that. “And that dough meant something to Gable in those days,” he said. “Boy, it’s the only time an actor ever bowled me over like that.”
We searched about for a friend who knew Clark outside the studio. We found him.
He smiled when we asked him about Gable.
“Ever go motoring with him?” he asked me. We shook our head.
“That’s all you’d have to do to find out why Gable is rated tops in this town. I’ve ridden with him dozens of times in my life, and each time was a nerve-wracking experience that would have soured me on life in one ride. I remember the first time in particular. We were driving out Melrose Avenue when a couple of girls in a huge Packard ahead of us spotted Clark and began screaming, calling his name and honking. They’d race in front and try to stop us. Several times we swung on just in time to avoid a serious accident. Clark’s face was fiery red with embarrassment. We never knew the minute we’d crash into those crazy kids or them into us.”
“My aunt!’I screamed after one narrow escape. ‘Does this happen often?’
‘Always,’ Clark answered grimly. ‘It’s the way I usually drive through town.’
Suddenly I spied a corner cop. ‘Hey,’ I began and Clark stepped on the gas. ‘You fool!’ he cried hotly. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’
‘Why, telling the cop,’ I said. ‘Do you want us to be killed? Or to kill them?’”
“At that, Gable shot through a vacant lot, up an alley, through an empty garage and out a strange driveway to escape.
‘Listen,’ Clark said when we had finally eluded the screaming girls, ‘What kind of sap would I be, reporting a couple of fans who wanted to yell hello? How would those girls feel? No, I’ve got to take this thing and like it, and no fan of mine will ever find me crabbing no matter how tough they make it for me. I asked for this, didn’t I?’”
“I’ve known him,” the friend went on, “to get out of that Ford on country roads to help old people, young people, any one to change a tire. He’s never in too big a hurry to stop at the distress of need of a fellow man.”
“I was getting over a sickness,” Director Jack Conway told me, “when Clark and I started off on our last hunting trip. Just the two of us. Somehow, without my quite knowing how it was managed, most of the load always found itself on Clark’s back. The wading in the river and marshes for quail was always Clark’s job. He saw to that. That’s the guy Gable for you.”
“I’d wake up and look at him over there on the ground wrapped in his blanket with five days’ growth of beard on his face and think, ‘Gosh, he’s a terrible sight!’ But do you think Clark ever expressed any concern for his appearance? Pooh! You take Gable as he is or you don’t take him.”
“And here’s where he’s got it over any actor or yes, any man I ever knew,” Director Conway continued. “We all unconsciously put on a little dog or a bit of extra niceness when we meet people the first time. Actors do it instinctively. All but Gable. The Gable you meet the first time is the Gable you meet the second, the tenth, or the hundredth time. Not a bit of extra swank does he ever assume.”
There’s Bud Evans, the twelve year old lad who stood on a corner one morning hitchhiking his way to school. His thumb doing double quick time as Gable came along in that Ford.
“Hop in!” Gable cried.
The kid stared, his mouth open.
“Gee,” he said, “Mr. Gable, the kids up at school won’t believe me when I tell them it was you drove me to school. Could you write your name on something for me?”
“They wouldn’t believe that, either,” Gable said, pretending to be puzzled. “I’ll tell you what, let’s drive up to the school together.”
Blocks out of his way, Gable drove the lad to school. To help a pal out. In fact, Gable was almost late himself. He arrived on the set at just five to nine that morning. But was Bud Evans a hero? And does Bud Evans call Clark Gable his pal?
And of course there’s George, the old fire chief down at the studio. George and his walrus mustache knew Gable first in those early days on the lot. And they still know him.
They tell a story of a famous nobleman visiting the studio recently who expressed a fervent desire to meet the famous Gable.
Well sir, the studio was turned inside out hunting for Gable. His Ford was spotted near his dressing room so they knew he must be somewhere on the lot. But where?
They found him exactly one hour later, sitting out in front of the fire house with George. Their chairs were tilted back against the building and Clark was talking while George chewed and spat. Life was pleasantly rolling on. The mince pie baked for Clark by the fireman’s daughter was resting cozily on the actor’s lap. And there they sat. George and Clark and the mince pie.
In other words, for all his fame, he has remained unspoiled, For all his present wealth, he doesn’t have to show it off. He hasn’t become a snob. Secure in the knowledge he would be welcome literally anywhere, Clark chooses friends who like him for himself and not for his name. And principally, in a selfish town, he thinks of the other guy first.
That’s why they adore Clark Gable in Hollywood.
It would, as a matter of fact, make any guy popular anywhere on earth. If you don’t believe it, try and see.