A Queen for the King?
By Jerry Jerome
Unknown publication, 1949
Whenever conversation palls at a swank Hollywood party, there is always a sure-fire question that will snap everyone to attention. It goes like this: “I wonder whom Clark Gable is going to marry?”
This is the year for Clark to take a wife.
We’ll give you a clue, even draw you a blueprint, but in so doing we must analyze Clark Gable. This is not to be the smug, pat, often-told story of Clark—the oil driller who rose to be the most idolized screen star in the world. It’s another story, the picture of what kind of man he is inside.
Why is he so often attracted to women older than he? Why does the socialite hold glamour for him? How can he go with one girl six years and never ask her to marry him? When you know these things, you’ll know his future wife.
First, let’s look at the lineup in the Gable handicap. There’s everything to win for the lady: money, fame, good looks, world prestige.
What does Clark get? There’s Mrs. Dolly O’Brien of Palm Beach and New York. An extremely wealthy woman, who looks a little like the Duchess of Windsor, she has poise, wit and charm. Gable likes to laugh, likes sophisticated, amusing chatter, likes intelligence brushed with laughter. He has these things in Dolly O’Brien. Still, she’s five years Gable’s senior, which makes her fifty-four. Certainly no alluring young charmer. Yet Clark Gable once told a friend, “She’s the most fascinating woman I have ever known.”
That was a strong statement, because among Clark’s girl friends are some very fascinating women, indeed. There’s Millicent Rogers, the Standard Oil heiress, noted for her magnetism, brilliance, and savoir-faire. Not beautiful, she nevertheless won this compliment from noted photographer Geoffrey Morris, “The most unusual and arresting face I have ever photographed.”
There’s Joan Harrison, brilliant woman producer. Joan is quite lovely enough to be a star herself. The fact that she’s a writer-producer of distinction is only gilding the lily. She has a terse, clipped British accent, a clean-cut type of good looks, a lovely home built by Paul Lazlo. As a woman, she bespeaks charm and background.
There’s Virginia Grey, one of the sultriest sirens to ever hit Hollywood’s social set or silver screen. She bears a striking resemblance to Carole Lombard. Here is someone who understands the demands of Clark’s career, who can see through the actor to the man. Here is someone young, lovely as a poem, with a mind as keen and sharp as the horizon on a clear day.
There’s the “dark horse,” the young blonde girl in Arizona. She’s an arrested t.b. case, not terribly pretty—not terribly young, as a matter of fact, But she’s definitely top drawer society; and she’s a gallant fighter—something Clark admires.
There’s sophisticated, career-conscious Anita Colby. A former model, she’s now an executive at Paramount and riding her future like a horseman with a whip in her hand. She’s ambitious, beauty plus brains. Clark said of her: “She’s an eager beaver, always pushing herself!” But he said it with the air of a proud father. Clever, sharp, an opportunist, Anita Colby has played her friendship with Clark for all it was worth. And remains the only woman to do so and still hold Clark’s attentions and admiration.
There’s Iris Bynum, hostess at the Ocean House, fun-loving, rowdy, a far, far cry from the social set. Yet there must be something about her earthy approach to life that amuses Clark gable. For many months, they were seen everywhere together.
Finally, and very quietly, there’s Elaine White, the Metro secretary to whom Clark has been giving the biggest rush of all. He’s taken her to the Mocambo for dancing, and Clark doesn’t like to dance. He’s taken her to the biggest Hollywood parties as guest of the biggest Hollywood people. He’s showing her a life far removed from her workaday world, glamorous though it may be. Elaine is starry-eyed from it all. Who can blame her? Today, secretary. Tomorrow, perhaps—Mrs. Clark Gable.
Who will win the handicap? Here are the clues.
In the first place, what is Gable afraid of?
No. 1: He’s afraid of being clipped. When he divorced Rhea Langham for Carole Lombard, it cost him plenty. He has often said to friends, “I would be a millionaire today if it weren’t for Rhea.”
With taxes what they are now, he will never again have a chance to amass the fortune he handed over to the second Mrs. Gable for his freedom. He never wants to risk being similarly clipped again, legally or no. He feels safer with women who have money of their own.
No. 2: He’s afraid of being rushed into marriage. That’s why he’s happiest with women who make it plain that marriage is not on their minds. That’s what Anita Colby succeeded in suggesting. With Anita, Gable has always felt free. Other innocent friendships were wrecked the moment gossip columnists got wind of them/
He explained once, “It’s a shame what the columnists do. They pick up ‘a two-some” and from then on you’re a heel if you don’t marry the girl. Finally, the girl takes on the views of the columnists, and then you’re really in for it.”
Well, no matter how the gossip columnists speculated about Colby and Clark, he knew he was safe from marriage and safe from hurting Anita.
No. 3: He is afraid of his own judgement. Therefore, he likes people who know things. He has great respect for knowledge. Sometimes, he confuses being older with possessing knowledge. A revealing statement is, “He’s older and he knows.” In addition, although he is not afraid of his own social poise (after all, he’s one of the most sought-after men in the world and has rubbed elbows with prince and pauper alike), deep in his subconscious is the realization that he comes from very plain stock.
Because of this, he is drawn to the blue book label, to women who were born to a position in life above his own beginnings. There isn’t a phony bone in his body; Clark is head and shoulders above any other star in Hollywood when it comes to position, social prestige, and being a really genuine person. But the tag “society” has always held lure for him.
To Gable, the most exciting thing about a woman is her mind. This is the last reaction in the world you’d expect from a man famous for his sex appeal and masculine charm. But it is his preference for the woman with a brain, that has defeated gossip columnists’ rumors again and again. So is Gable out with Miss Glamour of 1949? Relax. No “babe” will ever be Mrs. Clark Gable.
Take a look at the women to whom he has been married. There was Josephine Dillon, actress and dramatic coach who taught Clark much of what he knows of acting. She was older than he, and her great attraction was her knowledge.
Rhea Langham, of Park Avenue and ten years his senior, rode with him during the greatest span of success of his entire career. He was No. 1 at the box office year after year. He was head man at his studio; in Hollywood; in the hearts of American women. He was socially prominent, host at pretentious affairs which honored everyone from crowned heads to noted statesmen; Rhea was the guiding light behind this ambitious party-giving era. She had polish. Because of this, Clark felt she was right in most things that she did, and admired her for them.
Finally there was Clark’s own Carole Lombard. She was not Park Avenue. She was not older. But she had something in common with his past wives: she had brains. She knew the acting business from A to Z. She had a very good story mind. She saw things clearly. She always knew what was right for her and often for Clark and she acted upon that knowledge with decision and efficiency.
Beyond that, she had a softness, a generosity and warmth. She had a beauty that was breathtaking, and had an adaptability to the outdoor life Clark loved. More importantly, perhaps, she wasn’t afraid of him. She spoke up to him; refused to take any nonsense. She was honest with him and as without feminine artifice and false pretense as any man.
When Clark has any personal interest in a girl, he goes to fantastic lengths to see if she is really interested in Clark Gable, the man. He tests her. She really has to go through the mill to prove herself. It’s death to a friendship, for instance, for her to talk about their dating stance, for her to talk about their dating to the press. Also he’s a stubborn Dutchman, and he will sometimes wait for the girl to call if they have had a misunderstanding. From the first, Carole took none of this nonsense. Her attitude was, in effect, “You know my number. Call me.” She had independence.
There isn’t a single girl now escorted by Clark who has it to the same degree.
The girl who comes closest is Virginia Grey, a girl I don’t think Clark Gable ever really appreciated. I wonder if he ever knew how many times she could have furthered her own career if she had given interviews about “The Clark Gable I Know.” Or if he had the slightest conception of how she held her own career back because she wouldn’t go out with anyone else all the six years they went together. Or how often people plagued her with questions about Clark that she never answered.
I wonder if Clark Gable to this day has any conception of the dignity and charm and humanness with which she has tempered all remarks about him. Because, now that it is over, people wonder why.
She’s a startlingly beautiful girl with more sex appeal than Venus De Milo. She first met Clark at Metro in 1936. She was a young starlet starting out, and he was helpful to her. She was extremely grateful, the more so because they were just friends.
Then, in 1943, they started going together in earnest. He saw her at least twice a week—unless he was out of town—until Valentine’s Day, 1948. Yet in all that time, he only took her out to dinner twice; once to the L’Aiglon, once to Romanoff’s.
The last time she saw him was that Valentine’s Day night.
He was supposed to call her. Three days later he did, saying he was on his way over. But he never came. Virginia never saw him again, except at Hollywood parties where they said, “Hello…how are things?”
He never gave her an explanation; she never asked for one. She never called him. That’s independence, too.
Afterwards, a columnist asked her, “What happened?”
“It’s a funny thing,” Virginia answered, “I never really knew Clark. I guess you know him as well as I do.”
Such things as these Clark’s women friends must take in stride. He may date them every night for a week and then—silence. He’s erratic, unpredictable, and charming…but he’s lonely.
He’s lonely because the studio has built barriers to keep people out. But the barriers have backfired: they have kept Clark Gable away from the people. Strange and ludicrous as it sounds, he’s protected and sheltered to a fantastic degree.
He really never knows what’s going on in the world, so to speak. He never gets to talk, to learn, to feel. There’s a man-made wall of people around him.
This barrier is far from healthy. His friends have to be very good friends, indeed, to take the snubbing, the brush-offs, the he’s-too-busy routine that are part of the impregnable wall that surrounds Clark. Brains are hired to plan his life, to do his thinking for him, so that Clark—who has a good mind—has become mentally lazy.
There was no wall around Gable in the Army. He came back humble and sweet. He was firm about what he wanted and didn’t want out of life. It was quite a while before the wall was built again, before the insidious “protectiveness” of the studio started to keep him apart from the rest of the world.
Gable wants a closeness with someone, for real reality constantly eludes him. He lives in a strange world where the shadows seem more real than the substance.
To sum it up, what must the future Mrs. Gable be like? Well, she’ll be older, so Clark can feel she has knowledge greater than his own; she’ll have money and position, so Clark can believe he is being loved for himself alone.
Unless, of course, he meets a girl with nothing at all but love. That girl, at this writing, could easily be the little secretary at Metro: Elaine White. Or it might be the lovely Virginia Grey, the most loyal friend Clark has ever had. Or, it could be…
One night last year an Associated Press correspondent cornered Virginia: “When are you going to marry Gable?” he asked bluntly.
Virginia thought a moment. “Mr. Gable,” she said, “is already married—to a dream…name of Carole.”
It’s pretty hard to stand in for a dream.