Kathleen “Kay” Williams
Born Kathleen Gretchen Williams on August 7, 1916 on a peach farm in Erie, Pennsylvania. She had an older brother named Vince and a younger sister, Elizabeth. Her father left the family when she was a young child.
5’5, blonde, blue-eyed.
“Sometimes I would try to tease Clark into telling me some tasty morsels about his former leading ladies, but I might as well have banged my head against a stone wall. He simply refused to gossip. He’d break into that schoolboy grin that I found so irresistible and say, ‘She’s a fine girl. A fine girl.’ That’s the only thing I didn’t like about my remarkable husband, for I’m a gal who likes a bit of gossip, now and then.”
Kay left the farm at seventeen to become a fashion model in New York. She rushed into an early marriage, to an engineer named Parker Capps. By age twenty she was a divorcee and had appeared in many magazines, heralded the most beautiful model of the year. Hollywood beckoned and she signed a contract with MGM to join their roster of starlets. After appearing in a few bit parts, she became disillusioned with movie-making, saying, “I simply couldn’t act.” In 1942 she married Martin deAlzaga Unzue, a millionaire playboy from Argentina. He filed for an annulment after ten days but later dropped the suit. Kay filed for divorce eight months later, citing cruelty. They were finally divorced in 1943.
How They Met
In late 1942, Kay received a call from an MGM executive inviting her to the party MGM was throwing for Clark before he headed off to Europe for the war. They wanted her to be Clark’s “dinner partner” so he wasn’t alone. She declined. Another executive called back and told her she should reconsider. She still said no; she wasn’t interested in being his blind date.
Fast forward six months and Clark was home on leave. He just up and called her out of the blue one day and asked her out, saying he was sorry they weren’t able to meet before. She accepted. He brought her to the ranch for dinner and his cook tripped on her way into the dining room and the main course flew everywhere; they were both covered in gravy. They both burst into hysterical laughter.”Well, the first date you have with me and you end up in the gravy; at least you won’t forget it. I imagine I’ve made quite the impression on you.” He had. Kay says though that after a year of being together, they split amicably. He had a wandering eye and was off on location for a movie and they just both moved on. They did not communicate for about ten years.
In the meantime Kay met Adolph Spreckels, heir to the Spreckels sugar fortune and married him in 1945. She had two children: Adolph III (called “Bunker”) in 1949 and Joan in 1951. By 1953 the marriage had deteriorated. They had a very messy divorce, where he accused her of being a heartless gold digger and she told stories of him beating her unconscious with her slipper and threatening her with an axe. Both accused the other of being an alcoholic and Adolph went so far as to accuse her of having an affair with Clark during their marriage.
Out of the blue one day in 1954, Clark called Kay and asked her to dinner. They instantly clicked and were inseparable from then on. Clark asked Kay to marry him as they sat by his pool one day in May 1955.
To avoid the press, Clark, Kay, his friends Al Menasco and his wife Julie, and Kay’s sister Elizabeth snuck off to the small town of Minden, Nevada (near Reno) for the nuptials. Kay wore a navy blue Irene suit with matching heels, white gloves and pearls. Clark wore a dark blue suit, white shirt and dark tie. Kay recalled he was very nervous. They were married at the home of the Justice of the Peace, Judge Walter Fisher, at about 6:00pm on July 11, 1955. The newlyweds immediately flew to the Menasco’s home in Northern California for a romantic five day honeymoon alone.
Friends say that finally Clark seemed contented, for the first time since Carole died. Although Kay brusquely denied any similarities with Carole–“I never met her. Only seen her in pictures. And we look nothing alike!”–there were many similarities, such as Kay’s tendency for foul language and her ability it “rough it” with Clark on hunting trips. And, like Carole, (and unlike Sylvia) she let Clark be who he was and did not try to change the ranch (he told her she could redecorate and she said, “Why should I? Carole had great taste.”) or him as a person. He called her “Ma”, just as he did Carole and she called him “Pa”, “Pappy” or “Mr. G.” Friends of hers had assumed that her two children would scare Clark away, but quite the opposite. Clark was a doting stepfather, playing catch with Bunker, screening his movies for the children, reading to them and chiding them for bad grades. They were both overjoyed when Kay became pregnant. Clark told her, “It’s a miracle, a miracle! At last, we’re going to have a baby in the house. It will be like starting all over again. Kathleen–you’re 43 and I’m 59. Why, just think, between us we’re 102 years old and we’re having a baby!” Sadly, Clark would not live to see his son.
A Sad Ending
Clark had a heart attack on November 6, 1960 and was rushed to the hospital. Just ten days later he was gone. Kay had had dinner with Clark in his hospital room and gone across the hall to lay down. At 10:50pm, the doctor woke her up and told her that Clark had simply closed his eyes, his head fell back against the pillow, and he died.
She recalled, “Heartstricken, I wouldn’t let go. For two hours I held him in my arms. Finally, I did what my husband would have expected me to do–I faced up to it. Pa was gone. I touched his cold face with my hand in last farewell and I walked out of the room. As I reached the door I told myself I must not look back. I did not.”
Kay ensured that Clark had the simple funeral at Forest Lawn he had requested. She sat in the front
row with Bunker and Joan, her face covered by a black veil. Clark was laid to rest next to Carole, as per his wishes.
Life After Clark
Kay delivered Clark’s son, John Clark, at the same hospital Clark had died in months earlier, by scheduled cesarean section on March 20, 1961. She recalled the birth as bittersweet; she was so filled with sadness that Clark never got to hold his son. Kay received many baby presents and cards from Clark’s fans around the world. Born and raised a Catholic, she decided to rejoin the church and her faith after Clark’s death and had John Clark baptized a Catholic, with many of Clark’s friends attending the christening.
Listen to a news account of the christening:
Kay penned a bestselling memoir of her time with Clark titled Clark Gable: A Personal Portrait and did a flurry of interviews, posing for pictures with baby John Clark in the months following. When she received kidnapping threats, she withdrew herself and her son from the public eye. In the early 1970’s, she put Clark’s beloved Encino ranch up for sale (a developer bought it, divided the acreage and built designer homes on it, called “Clark Gable Estates”) and moved her family into Beverly Hills.
Not interested in remarrying, Kay was very active in local charities and ensuring her children received the best education. She had suffered from angina for several years and went in for triple bypass surgery in 1983 but never regained consciousness and died on May 25 of heart failure at a Houston hospital. Kay is entombed in the same wall as Clark and Carole in the Great Mausoleum, Sanctuary of Trust at Forest Lawn in Glendale, one row down and to the left.
*For more pictures, check out the Kathleen Williams section in the gallery.