by John Maynard
Motion Picture magazine, August 1949
Interviews with Clark Gable, the burly, jug-eared man who has become through some mystic evolution America’s living symbol of romantic prowess, are customarily of brief duration and only under the rarest circumstances permitted to extend over half an hour. One of the briefer variety recently was allotted a lady reporter who had been asked by her magazine simply to get behind what they called the “iron curtain” and dissect Gable exhaustively for something like 6,000 words: his personality, his psyche, his habits, his hobbies, his daily routine, his nightly routine, et cetera. In short, the works.
“How much time have we got?” Gable, who himself has nothing to do with such arrangements, asked the lady.
She laughed. “Fifteen minutes.”
“Good lord!” exclaimed Gable in honest perplexity. “What are we going to do with the other eight?”
Inasmuch as Gable alone among film stars has attained the dimension of an insinuation and may be called more accurately than any other figure a celebrities’ celebrity, his question might have been the product of almost affected diffidence. Actually, it was nothing of the kind. He was expressing in as few words as possible a state of affairs his friends have long known to be a fact: he has nothing to offer the interviewer who seeks color, nothing to add to the millions of words that have already been written about him.
It is his habit to announce this at the outset of any reportorial session, possibly in the hope of forestalling the ordeal entirely and certainly to discourage the kind of question he has no intention of answering and which outrage him as flagrant breaches of taste. These days, at 49, he submits to reporters only through the socially responsible awareness that they, too, must make a living. He is cheerful and fluent in conversation, but no less so because of the knowledge that at a designated time a publicity representative will break it up. If, as in the case above, the interviewer happens to be a woman, the publicity man will not leave Gable’s side. It is a matter of rote among Gable’s press intermediaries that he freezes in the presence of journalism’s distaff inquisitors, and tactful efforts are frequently made to steer the leg-work to a man. The reason for this is not entirely clear, insofar as Gable is by no means a woman-hater, but one probability is that the girls tend to inhibit his somewhat salty vocabulary. Another: they have been known to embarrass him rather cruelly.
It has been written tiredly of Gable for many years that he is a “man’s man”, whatever that may be. It has been written that since the death of Carole Lombard Gable, he has become a semi-recluse, and written that he has not. It has been written that he likes nothing better than to hunt, that he will marry again, that he will never marry again, that he is a dull fellow, that he is a scintillating fellow, that he is a man of mystery. (At the conclusion of his latest picture, Any Number Can Play, for example, Hollywood columns babbled for days over his probable whereabouts, since he was not at home. The answer–a ranch near Phoenix, Ariz., where he once baked out an arthritic knee–was neither a secret nor particularly electrifying.
With so much buck-shot in the air, an occasional hit is inevitable and a slightly more occasional miss even more so.
The only certainty appears to be that he is a thoroughly well-liked man—a “right guy”—with no remarkable eccentricities, no interest in gossip and a distaste for being involved in it himself, no ham in the sense that egotism is ascribed to an actor, and no man for making news away from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot, either by odd comportment or statements of belief or intent.
All these negative assets from the standpoint of the biographer, yet Gable lives a full, and, by his tenets, satisfactory life, not disenchanting except possibly from the bias of a test pilot, a mountain climber or a human cannon ball.
William Clark Gable is a spectacularly well-employed film star who knows perfectly well he’s in the best dodge he could have picked out but nonetheless is definitely wearying of the grind. He has been in Hollywood nineteen years and his present contract still has six to run. At its conclusion, he will retire, and that is that. He is paid his mammoth salary—supposed to be $7,500 a week—fifty-two weeks a year (unusual even in stars’ contracts, which generally call only for forty) and it is stipulated that he gets four months off after each movie. This breaks down into two films a year. These months he uses to travel with a sort of calculated aimlessness, sometimes abroad but just as often in America. His wanderlust has its roots in two of his vague fears: that of becoming insular in the Hollywood manner, and his recurrent mild fits of depression brought on by the gnawing conviction that it is later than he thinks. Gable has grown with his career and sees the whole world now as the only entity, in which his and Metro’s and Hollywood’s parts are beneath triviality. He wants most to go to the Orient, but of course he’s had to postpone it.
His chief please avocationally is to climb into his Buick station wagon, load it up with fishing tackle and head in any direction that occurs to him—Oregon or Arizona nowadays, where he maintains casual annexes to his way of life. He drives with no fixed itinerary and stops when he feels like stopping, generally at motels—“you get more for less from those babies”—or at unobtrusive side-street hotels. His sole mental provision is that he stop after dark to avoid the commotions his presence sometimes erupts. He bothers with no garage, leaving the car curbed and locked, sleeps as long as he feels like it, then gets up and shoves on.
His interest in hunting has abated to practically zero, partly due to his idea that there is no good hunting left in the United States, but he has cultivated a fondness for golf, which he plays almost daily with a small group of friends when he’s at home. He rarely goes to nightclubs on the simple grounds that he has already been to nightclubs and he leaves most parties early: by midnight, his yawns are apt to be out of control. He rises early from habit, whether working or not, and is quite apt to spend a free day stripping down and reassembling one of his three automobiles. He is a skilled and enthusiastic dilettante mechanic with a rapt if rather fickle devotion to engines. He constantly trades in his cars for new ones, and has a detectable taste for the exotic in chassis-lines. Until recently, his most prized possession was a Jaguar, a dazzling British-made convertible that fascinated him until something else came along.
He is perhaps the best groomed, in a quiet way, of any Hollywood star, although he maintains no awesomely extensive wardrobe, and indications of emphatic slovenliness in anyone else have been known to irritate him. His hair is gray now at the sides, a development that bothers him none at all, but it’s all his and there’s a lot of it. Gable is capable of causing repressed surges of excitement in his studio commissary simply by entering, an unheard of impact no other player can exert, and he is called “King” by a few intimates, a surely fulsome business that distresses him. Of all his pictures he has liked best It Happened One Night and Test Pilot, while capable of gagging violently at the recollection of Adventure and Parnell. Gable is an extensive reader and quite often gets excited over something he thinks might be right for him, with results sometimes good and sometimes tragic. (It was he who influenced his studio’s purchase of Command Decision, a 10-strike, and he who urged Parnell, a gutter-ball.) On the whole, it is thought best by strategy levels to con him out of his enthusiasms, the latest of which is a wild and long-nurtured desire to play the role of Capitan Horatio Hornblower.
Gable’s dimples, adenoidal voice and square shoulders are characteristics so familiar to millions of households they don’t warrant elaboration in any piece dealing with him. He lives on a ranch in the town of Encino in the San Fernando Valley, a home designed in ivory shades by his late wife, and it has been said that he has resolved never to leave it.
This is not quite true. On hearing last year that the home of the Lauritz Melchoirs, a wonderfully situated hilltop affair, was for sale, he quietly asked friends to look into it for him. It was not, as it turned out, on the block at all, but Gable would have bought it at the time if it had been and if the terms had been right.
The coterie that contends, on the other hand, he will not again marry is in all likelihood correct. He has insisted to those close to him that he has no intention of doing so.
One of the rare unkind tags ever hung on Gable has been that he is a trifle close with a nickel. The statement is a little more than unkind: it is notably untrue. A minor player in one of his pictures, for instance, came to him recently for a loan of $100 to clear what he called some hospital expenses. Gable heard him out without expression and walked back to his dressing room. When his next call came, Gable strode across the set fast. Looking straight ahead and without breaking stride he rammed a bill into the player’s breast pocket as he passed. It was for $100-plus, and Gable later refused to discuss repayment, pleading lack of memory of the incident.
Another time, several years ago, it was arranged to toss a rather elaborate party on the set of a Gable picture for someone. It shortly became evident that nobody liked the individual enough to contribute anything toward the festivities. Gable was advised of the hitch. “Stop collecting,” he said. He paid for the party in total and the person involved never knew the difference.
Gable, subdued by the peculiar and plainly preposterous idea that nobody will show up, hosts few elaborate parties, while nerving himself right up to the edge of the gesture, at least once a month. He drinks no more than moderately and lives a relatively quiet social life. Whether he takes himself seriously as an actor is a moot point, best underscored by his disposition of the Oscar he won for It Happened One Night. Friends—Mr. and Mrs. Water Lang, he the director, she Carole Lombard’s one-time secretary and dearest friend—called on him with their young son, who took to admiring the statue.
“Like it?” Gable asked him.
“Take it,” said Gable.
Thus Gable’s major dramatic accolade reposes today on Master Lang’s bureau.
From Metro to Gable’s home is a run of forty-five minutes. In repeated efforts to cut the time, Gable drives faster than is good for him and has piled up once or twice, not seriously. He likewise contends that his favorite occupation is doing nothing whatsoever and he is the laziest man from the Oregon border on down. Otherwise, it is hard to fault him. He kicks no orphans, gets in no fights, is flung in no pokeys for obstreperous conduct. His thumbnail description will have to remain then unexciting but accurate enough: the biggest star of all just a right guy that everybody likes.