A Famous Pair–and a Finale
Life magazine, January 13, 1961
Clark Gable came to The Misfits full of beans. In it he plays a character he loved–Gay Langland, a free-roaming, woman-loving wild horse hunter at war against a society that would tame him. He takes up with Marilyn Monroe’s Roslyn, the most loving and man-wanted woman in town. And the conflict between a vigorous Gable and gentle Marilyn is the essence of Arthur Miller’s screen play written especially for his wife Marilyn and soon to be released by United Artists.
This was a movie that should have gone along easily–so well fitted were the players to the misfits they played. As the fancy-free divorcee who takes up with footloose mustang wrangler, Marilyn plays a role into which are written bits and pieces reminiscent of her own life. The wrangler is all complicated masculinity, virile, violent and, in spirit, the perfect part for Clark Gable. To help the two there was a top director, John Huston, and fine supporting actors, Thelma Ritter, Montgomery Clift and Eli Wallach.
But as always there were troubles: forest fires and dust storms delayed the shooting and Marilyn collapsed with heat fatigue. This time the troubles went far beyond ordinary bad luck. At film’s end came the unhappy announcement of Arthur and Marilyn’s divorce, and then the final tragic news of Clark’s death.
But the movie had been completed. Gables especially was enthusiastic about it. If he judged alright–and he was ever slow to praise his own movies–his last film will be one of his best.
Revealing Talk of an Old Pro
During the making of The Misfits, James Goode, a former Life magazine reporter, had many shoptalk sessions with Gable and from them came a picture of the star that will surprise many who thought they knew him. Behind the famous face and he-man personality of the screen star was a thoughtful man with a solid background of stage experience and a thoroughly professional respect for his work. Here are some of the things he told Goode:
“The acting I know–what I know of it–originally came by working with professionals in the theater. Before I made my first movie, I played for such directors as Arthur Hopkins, George M. Cohan. David Belasco. I played heavies, comedy, a white-haired judge, a chairman. I also did Shakespearean roles, understudying Dennis King as Mercutio, Rollo Peters as Romeo, and Lewis Hester as Tybalt, memorizing all these parts.”
“Acting has always been and still is with me a profession, not an easy one to learn. I learn something new in every picture. I do not know what they mean by a finished actor. As far as I know, finished is when you can’t get a job.”
“Lionel Barrymore persuaded me to try pictures in 1930. Talkies were just coming in and he said, “You’ll find the picture business has changed. The silent picture people don’t talk so well.” He arranged a screen test for me at his studio, MGM, as a native boy in The Bird of Paradise. All I wore was a g-string, a hibiscus over one ear and a knife. I was painted brown and they had curled my hair. The studio chief, Irving Thalberg, took one look at me and said, “Never.” Later he hired me at $650 a week.”
“I would not have taken The Misfits parts even if I liked the man if the rest of it was weak. But it’s a strong play. One actor never made a picture. The play must have something to say. I’ve never played a part exactly like this fellow. He interested me. As I saw it, there’s not many of these fellows who refuse to conform to the group around.”
“If The Misfits inspires youngsters sufficiently even to think about being themselves, it will help.”
“A man my age has no conception of what is happening now. We are left out of society. These atom bombs–that’s another world–one we don’t understand. I grew up with the automobile. Now it’s as antique as the horse. ”