Carole Lombard’s Life Story
by Louella Parsons, February 1942
Mr. Gable had also hinted—for publication as well as privately—that if the Gods were ever kind enough to grant him a divorce from his present wife, wild and rearing horses wouldn’t drag him to the altar again! Those who know him say he emphatically wasn’t kidding. He was involved, at the time, in a distinctly sordid, unpleasant property squabble with [Ria Gable]. He had been, for the past three years, paying her half his salary. The question was, simply, how much of that salary she was to get in the years to come. This reporter doesn’t know what was asked or what was offered. And doubts if anyone else knows wither, except the two most concerned. But it wasn’t the kind of struggle that whets any man’s appetite for romance. And then, remember, Clark Gable was the kind of a guy he was. Simple, and quiet, and a little shy, and nowhere near as dashing as those lovely parts he plays. At the height of his difficulties with Rhea, he announced with a burning sincerity that none could doubt: “The only possession I have ever craved—the only goddess I can serve faithfully for all my life—is Freedom!”
It was, perhaps, six weeks after that statement of Clark Gable’s that Jock Whitney gave his famous Hollywood Gag Party. And what was to be easily the greatest romance of our century began to tremble into life.
To those of us who were close to it—to me, certainly—it all seemed, even its beginnings, like a kind of Romeo and Juliet in very modern dress. Maybe we all felt that way because the marks of greatness, and tragedy, and recklessness,, were on that romance even in its foolish start. And maybe, even while we all disapproved so violently, we also realized instinctively that nobody had ever approved much of Romeo and his girl friend either! Not while they were alive…
The Whitney gag party was held at noon, on February 7th, 1936. The guests were instructed to come in evening clothes and brighten up the proceedings in any way that occurred to their imaginations. “And if you can’t think of a gag come anyway…”
It need hardly be said here that Carole Lombard was able to think of a gag.
She came on a stretcher—looking, as one of the guests said later, such a lovely ghost of herself that for a moment it seemed sacrilege to laugh.
But they laughed all right—when they caught their breaths! She had herself carried in, you see, by two men dressed as internes. And you know how people are—lots of them fell for the stunt at first, and rushed forward pretty panicky. And then, where issued from the pale lips of that still white figure, the kind of crack that only Carole Lombard could make—well, most of Mr. Whitney’s guests thought it was a scream…
But there are always those who are not amused. The exception being, in this case, quite conspicuous. Yes—his name was Gable. And he hadn’t come with a gag. And he watched Carole’s stretcher entrance with his famous face quite blank, and his unsmiling, and ever so faintly bored, look.
It wasn’t an accident of course—that look on Gable’s face. It was a pretty pointed insult. And of course, Carole felt it instantly, and glanced his way instinctively and, of course, their eyes met. There followed the kind of silence that every good host prays won’t happen at a party of his.
Out of the silence, Carole Lombard said: “Personally, I’ve always considered the man a stuffed shirt.”
She didn’t whisper it, you understand. Or mutter it or anything. She said it loud and clear and sweet. And there were at least three newspaper men and one woman reporter present. I’ve been told that Paramount’s publicity office spent the next weeks doing nothing but killing that story.
Gable didn’t say anything, as he walked away. But is face, which is ordinarily a good healthy brown from outdoor exercise he loves so, wasn’t brown at all. It was yellowish. And I can still see the tight twisted line of his mouth…
Beyond question, Carole’s crack had gone very deep. Deeper than she could have possibly intended! And for reasons she couldn’t possibly have known—then.
But later it wasn’t hard for Carole—and others—to understand what Clark must have felt that day. We just had to remember one or two things. And put ourselves in his place. It went, you see, something like this:
On that particular day in 1936, Clark had been married to Rhea Gable for more than five years. Now, no one is denying that Rhea was a charming person, and according to her own lights, a fine high-minded character! But neither would her best friends claim for her that informality or lighthearted fun were her strong point. Rhea Gable just hadn’t been brought up that way.
And Clark Gable was an eminently easy-going guy. It’s pretty well known now that he’d done at least his share of compromising to make that marriage with Rhea go. It’s no secret, certainly, that he went with her to many a ponderous social function he would joyfully have skipped. And he lived in a home that certainly wasn’t his own idea of informal comfort…
Now Clark Gable never liked, and never adopted, Rhea’s point of view on life. In fact, he liked it so little that, long before Carole Lombard entered the picture, he’d brought himself to the point of fighting for a divorce.
But the fact remains—no two people can live together for years and try to make their marriage go, without, to some degree, absorbing each other’s tastes. And Clark had tried hard to play thing Rhea’s way! Result: After five years some silly people were beginning to whisper that Clark was getting as stuffy as his wife…
Now that kind of gossip can be very galling, indeed! Especially if you’re a plain, friendly, unpretentious person, like Clark Gable. And most especially, if like him, you’ve spent a lifetime hating phoniness, stuffiness, and front. It can be worse than galling when it’s said to your face by a very lovely blonde devil, who, when all is said and done, is about the most attractive creature you’ve ever met…!
It must have been about twelve fifteen when Clark walked away. I know because Carole invariably arrived on time at parties and this one had been called for noon.
It must have been about twelve thirty when everybody saw Clark shoulder his way back to her. He’s a big man and always a conspicuous figure at a party. He was twice as conspicuous that day because he had on his face a look with which several million Americans are familiar—the look of a very angry man about to punch somebody squarely on the nose.
He took her over to the bay window, beside the book case, and they probably stood there for the best part of half an hour taking turns talking and neither of them smiling once. When Carole left him, her eyes were black and enormous, and almost literally smoking with rage.
“That guy,” she told me, “is worse than a stuffed shirt. He’s an insulting heel!”
“Did you,” she asked me quietly, “see anything wrong with that gag of mine? Did it strike you as in poor taste? Do you think I’m an exhibitionist? Do you think I’m a neurotic? Do you think I’m a childish and a miserable little fool?”
I said I didn’t. I also asked a lot of questions but they didn’t do me any good. Carole merely stated, icily, that she’d spoken her mind and thought she’d gotten under Gable’s skin. Judging by his black glowering face, and his frozen manner, the rest of the party, she was right.