The Score on Gable
Photoplay magazine, August 1946
“Gable’s back and Garson’s got him,” screamed the nation’s billboards this spring. “Adventure greatest smash in years,” proclaimed the movie trade papers. “That Gable! What a star!” murmurs Hollywood.
“How bad does a picture have to be to make a fortune?” asks Mr. Gable himself. “Am I as lousy as I appeared to be in that one?”
Clark Gable is gratified at the success of “Adventure” and feels a deep sense of satisfaction and humility over the fact that his public did not forget him. But he’s not fooled by this hit. He’s not fooled by many things. Not that he is a great thinker. But he instinctively arrives at the right answers.
Now that he’s back, now that he’s returned to civilian life—and now that neither Garson nor any other lovely has got him—he is trying to find a lot of right answers to many things. The most popular man in the world, he’s desperately lonely. He dashes around from place to place—in any one of his five high-powered cars, or by plane, or by motorcycle, or on horseback—but he doesn’t remain anywhere.
Recently he was at the Arizona Biltmore, that luxury hotel in Phoenix, having a bout of hunting, golfing, and riding. There the name in the Gable news was blonde and gracious Mrs. Bette Chisholm, widow of iron magnate Archie Chisholm. She has a home in the Biltmore Estates not far from the hotel and Clark spent a good deal of time with her, for she fits the Gable formula of being a good sport. Also, it is possible they had something in common in the memory of a love taken away by death. At any rate, those who saw them together at the romantic El Chorro Lodge of a desert evening would assure you they were having a wonderful time.
But—Clark had a wonderful time with Dolly O’Brien, who was in much the same category. Widow of sportsman Jay O’Brien, she is very chic, gay, clever, New York-ish and a shade older than Gable. “They should marry,” said Clark’s friends, ‘they have such a good time together.” Well—Dolly has married, but not Clark.
Then there’s Virginia Grey. Virginia is slim, beautiful, young and golden-tressed, An actress, she understands all about studio demands. She lives near the Gable ranch and likes to do the “Valley” things—riding and working in gardens and such. “Clark and Virginia ought to marry,” say their Valley friends. “They have such fun together.”
They plainly do, and yet Clark seldom takes Virginia to the big movie-colony parties. He is, of course, asked to every party given, for hostesses cry for him, but he takes Anita Colby to those events.
Why is Colby his favorite party date. She’s a perfect party girl. She’s gorgeous to look at. She’s full of wisecracks and dances like a dream. But her big party appeal for Clark is more than that. It’s that she doesn’t get in his hair at such times.
Scores of women around Clark Gable act with frantic foolishness, but Colby, “The Face,” has always insisted that she and Clark were simply friends. The hostesses wanting Mr. Gable with an intensity lavished on no other “extra” man, don’t sigh for Clark and Anita to wed. They are too scared even to think it might happen—and ruin all their dinner parties.
Still, they are even more frightened when they contemplate those ultra quiet dates that Clark has been having recently with Joan Crawford. For every important Hollywood resident can remember back ten years to when a bright flame burned between Joan and Clark.
That flame never really burned into a conflagration. There were too many factors throwing cold water on it—but it never quite died, either. Just after this past New Year’s, after Joan’s parting from Phil Terry, Clark began seeing her again.
Mostly Clark has gone to Joan’s house, though a few times Joan has gone to his—but the real Gable pals are not too startled at learning what they talk about at their dinners for two. It is not romance.
What Joan and Clark talk about is Carole Lombard. His friends know that when he talks about anything beyond the standard social patter, Clark talks only two subjects, either Carole or his stretch in the Army.
He talks very briefly about the latter. His gripe with the Army is very simple. He wanted to do a job, a real and sincere job. That’s why he enlisted as a simple GI, even though he was over age and could have pulled any amount of wires to stay out of uniform or, in going in, to have gone in among the top brass. But he just wanted to fight.
His fame, however, made him an Army problem. The simplest way of turning him into merely a figurehead was to push him through OCS and promote him. Clark couldn’t blame the Army. He knew it wasn’t its fault that it objected to women by the thousands hanging on the fences that surrounded any camp in which he was stationed. But that wasn’t his fault either. He did nothing to encourage such feminine hysteria. He was a man, like a million others, inspired by his love of his country. He was willing to give his life for it.
When he was sent to England, Clark hoped he would be in the real fighting. The last thing he wanted was an oak leaf on his shoulders and orders to fly over the battlefields, camera in hand. But that’s what he did—until the Army dismissed him.
Those months in uniform destroyed a dream of his. Clark, who honestly is unaware of how different he is from the average soul, has always dreamed of “simple” people. He always felt before he went into uniform that such people were to be discovered somewhere outside of Hollywood. That Army hitch proved to him that people are just as complex in Lum’s Corners as in Hollywood. Being a romanticist, Mr. Gable didn’t like learning there is no Utopia in which everyone leads a calm, utterly happy life.
The loss of that dream made him more nostalgic than ever about his life with Carole Lombard, which life, he now realizes, was calm, simple, utterly happy and also complex, exciting, worldly and witty.
Carole was killed in an airplane accident on January 16, 1942, as she flew back from a bond drive. Every January 16 since then, Clark has gone away alone somewhere. While he was in uniform, he could only escape for a couple of hours, but this past January, being a free man, he hid out for weeks. On his return, it was visible that he had grieved deeply.
And that he finds some facet of his dead wife’s personality in the personalities of is present leading ladies is just as visible. Anita reflects Carole’s flair for clothes, Virginia has her same type of slim, golden beauty, Joan has her intensity, Betty has her sense of sportsmanship.