He Lives His Impulses
By Gladys Hall
Modern Screen magazine, September 1936
“I’ve only got about half an hour,” said Clark exuberantly, as he hustled me ahead of him into the MGM commissary, where he ordered and ate (to the rinds) two gigantic wedges of watermelon, washed down with several tankards of iced tea. “I just decided, half an hour ago, to go fishing in Utah. I packed my bags and dashed over here to talk to you. I was going to Guatemala because I’ve never been there. But I found I wouldn’t have time to make such a long trip so I got out the map and Utah leapt out at me. I’m off tonight—for two weeks or so. I like to live my social life with the fish!”
“So you really do?” I said, meditatively.
“Really do what? Like to socialize with the fish?”
“No, live on your impulses, as Hollywood says…”
“I don’t know what they say. It’s liable to be almost anything. But if they are saying that I’ve chucked clocks and calendars, card indexes, engagement books and mottos-for-the-day into the ashcan they’re right for once.
“I always have lived on impulse, more or less. But I’ve always felt guilty about it, too. Thought I was doing what I hadn’t oughter! I was brought up, as most American boys are, to believe that a fellow should plan his next step before he puts his foot down on the one he’s taking. I had a pang of conscience when I didn’t ‘look ahead.’ No more. It can’t be done by planning. Plans don’t work out. How can they, when you know yourself that it’s at least half as likely that we may not be here at all this time next year as that we will?
“I won’t build a wall of rules and regulations around me. They’re stifling and ridiculous. I won’t assume any more obligations than I have to. I started out to look for a house a few weeks ago. Thought, suddenly, that I’d like a place with grounds. I looked at a lot of them. They looked like one-man jails to me. And so I am staying at the Beverly Wilshire where I can check out—for Utah or anywhere else—in ten minutes.
“So ‘they’ say I have a new philosophy, huh? Well, I don’t give it any such high-sounding tag. But if U have anything of the sort it’s this—don’t plan! Obey your impulses. Do what seems the best and most appealing at the moment. Don’t wait for the next moment to come along so that you can check on yourself. You’ll never do anything if you do. Maybe your impulses won’t work out successfully but your carefully laid plans may not either—and you will have been through all the mental wear and tear of making ‘em.
“People often have asked me what I get out of it all—you know, being a movie star, making money, all the prerequisites. I don’t get out of it what a lot of people would, that’s a fact. I’m not luxury-minded. I don’t give a hoot for swell houses, swimming pools and entertaining. I don’t like big parties. I have no use for a yacht. I prefer a tramp steamer. Camping, fishing and shooting don’t cost much of anything when you don’t go to swank resorts—and I don’t. I have no use for swell clothes. I hate to dress up—I feel like one of those old fashioned tailors’ dummies when I have to put on the soup and fish. I like to wear slacks and sweaters and leather-lined jackets—nothing that must be fitted. My tailor has modeled a dummy according to my measurements and, any fitting that has to be done, is done on it. I call it ‘The Sissy.’ I like plain food, stew and beans, raw onion sandwiches and hamburgers and,” laughed Clark, “watermelon.
“No, there’s only one luxury success has brought me. I don’t kid myself that I have success, either—I’ve told you before that it’s a lot of applesauce for any screen star to make little of what he gets—and that still goes. Anyway, the only luxury success has brought me if that I now can buy the right, most of the time, to do what I want to do, when and where I want to do it.
“I’ve been through a series of unhappy times. I’ve been moody, depressed. And those phases ‘learned me’ that planning gets me nowhere, that a system strangles me and that trying to conform to conventional patterns makes a bull in a china shop out of me. When I’m a square peg in a round hole I don’t seem able to take it lying down.
“The only time I don’t give way to my impulses—when I can help it—is when I’m mad. That’s the time to put the stopwatch on yourself and wait until the old blood pressure is normal again before you make a move in any direction. When I get fighting mad I try to sit tight until I can see black and white again, as well as red. Like one time a certain man in town did something that ate me up. I went home in a towering rage, sat down and wrote him a blistering letter. Then I didn’t mail it. I don’t remember why I didn’t but the next day I saw the whole thing differently. And since that time this man and I have become pretty good friends. If I had obeyed that impulse I would have lost a very pleasant, and as it turned out, a very profitable contract.
“And I don’t think,” Clark said, more gravely now, “that I’ll live on impulse when, if ever, I marry again. Right now I’d say that I never will because I might meet some girl and marry her within a month, but I don’t think so. If ever I marry again, I want to be sure that I know all about the girl—I want to know her for a couple of years—find out how she thinks and what she wants out of life, everything about her. It’s all right for a very young chap to fall head over heels. But an older man, a man who has been married, is a fool if he hasn’t learned to walk more carefully, to take more time, to test his own emotions.
“So I should say that ‘in anger’ and ‘in love’ are the only times when I wouldn’t live on impulse—or shouldn’t.
“But I’m talking out of turn. I’m not interested in the idea of marriage. I’m not interested in rules and regulations, schedules, obligations, bonds of any kind. I’ve said before that freedom is what I want now and I still say it.
“I should have taken a lesson from my earlier life. Time was when I was working in a rubber factory in Akron, Ohio, and studying medicine at night school. Planning to be an M.D. I didn’t like the rubber factory and I didn’t like medicine. But I had been brought up to believe that a young man should prepare himself for a definite profession, preferably by working his way through—whether he liked it or not. That didn’t matter. It seems to be a part of the American tradition that it’s worthy not to get any fun out of your work. I don’t believe it. Getting a kick out of life, and especially out of what you do nine hours out of ten, is as good a religion as any I know. It’s stupid to be unhappy.
“Anyway, one night after medical school, I was eating a hamburger at an all-night stand. Two young fellows were in there, talking theatre. They were actors from a stock company playing in town. Something of the enthusiasm in their voices struck me. I went to see their show. And I tossed a coin on the spot—heads for doctoring—tails for acting. The tails got it and I never went back to medical.”
When you are with Clark you get the sense of living as a robust, full-bodied thing—real and worth living. You feel comfortable with him. And I thought again, what I’ve thought and said many times before, I like Clark Gable—and so would you. I may add that this is not true of everyone in Hollywood, not by any manner of means. Naming no names, I will say that there are quite a few I can think of who would not be endured if it were not for the aura of name and fame.
Clark really never changes. Not in any of the fundamentals. He is just as warm and hearty and unspoiled as he was when I first talked with him, five years ago or so. He even looks comfortable, Clark does. There is something generous and heartening about his expansive smile, his deep laughing eyes, his dimples which are more clefts than dimples. He never looks too “well-groomed.” He was wearing, that day, a gray flannel suit, tan shirt and dark tie. His clothes always look as though he had worn them for some time. His hair never looks as though it has just been barbered. His every hand clasp is hearty, cordial and enveloping. He walks with a spring to his step as though he were going somewhere and was eager to get there.
He was saying, “And so, I live on my impulses now with a free mind. I go fishing and hunting when I want to, alone sometimes, sometimes with one of the stage hands or one of the boys at the studio who likes fishing, too.
“I do all the little things I feel like doing. I shine my own boots. My valet—I have one here at the studio only because I have to, to keep my clothes pressed and cleaned—sits around sunning himself outside my dressing room door most of the time. And when we leave the studio at night, I go home—and so does he, I guess.
“During the noon hour, when I’m working, sometimes I dash over to a nearby gun club and do some skeet shooting. Sometimes I go to the rifle range, on the back lot of the studio, and shoot it up with some of the boys.
“When I go on my hunting trips I never go to swank resorts or preserves. I know what that means. You meet someone you know and the first thing you’re in the soup and fish, making polite conversation in a lodge dining room. I do my hunting off the beaten trails. I usually go to the same place, don’t ask me where. I always visit the same people there, too. They live in rude cabins and I eat my meals with them. We sit around the fire half the nights through swapping stories. They don’t even know who I am or where I came from. They don’t know my name. They don’t care. That’s swell with me.
“I tinker with my own car instead of sending it to a garage. I get up very early in the morning or very late. When I’m working, of course, I have to be up about six. But when I’m not working I have no daily schedule of any sort. I keep no ‘engagement book.’ One day I think it might be well to run down to the Santa Anita race track and see if my horse, Beverly Hills, has—hah!—won any more ribbons! The next day I may decide to do some skeet shooting. Or I may stick around and polish my guns. Or I may take a postman’s holiday and drop by the studio to see if anything has happened. I live for the day, the hour, almost the half-hour, and I’m no worse off than I’ve ever been in my life before.
“I don’t do ‘the thing to do’ any more, either. Once someone suggested to me that I should play polo—gentleman’s game and all that. So I bought myself a polo outfit and a polo pony and went to it. In about two weeks I gave it up. Not as reports had it, because the studio ordered me to. But because I was a dub at it. I felt like a fool—a great hulk like me riding one of those graceful little horses.
“No harm in trying anything once, of course. But if what I try doesn’t gee with me I don’t do what I once felt I had to—stick at it. I chuck it into the discard and forget it. And try something else.
“It’s silly to be too persistent about everything. It’s silly to be pigeon-holed when you know you damn well you don’t belong. It’s foolish to woo success too hard—if you do, it slips out on you.
“I always want the things I haven’t got. I hope I always will. That’s what keeps the impulses growing. And a man without impulses is dead and doesn’t know it.
“So now I flip coins in dead earnest. Why not? It was a flip of the coin that decided me not to take a bit part in ‘What Price Glory?’ a few years ago. Later I was offered a good part in the second unit of the same show. And the second unit turned out to be the first, really, and we played Los Angeles instead of being sent on the road.
“Another flip of a coin actually brought me to Hollywood. I’d had some luck and recognition starring in ‘Machinal’ and a couple of other plays in New York. A producer from the Coast wired me asking me to come to Los Angeles to play the lead in ‘The Last Mile.’ I didn’t know what to do. Broadway came first with me then, as it did with most actors. I wasn’t especially broke at the moment so the added money was no great inducement. What to do—hang around Broadway and take a chance on another show or go to Los Angeles and take the sure part and the extra dough? I flipped a coin—heads Los Angeles—tails New York. Heads turned up. I came West. I’m still here.
“I even live on my impulses so far as my work is concerned. Not that it gets me very far. I haven’t much to say about what I do or do not do, where stories are concerned. But I still have the impulse to argue about it, to put up a fight when I don’t like a part. I’m not any too keen about a picture on the grid for me now. I’d have to play an Englishman. And I’m not an Englishman. I’m a plain American and nothing else but. Can you imagine me talking with an English accent? You bet you can’t. Neither can I. I’d sound foolish to myself and to you and to everyone else. If I do play it I’ll just talk like I always do. I’ll be myself or nothing.
“And I didn’t, by the way, have an impulse to take out a fighting license as was reported. I’d know better. Why, if I got up against Maxie Bauer he’d knock the ears off of me in five seconds!
“And now,” said Clark, “my time’s up—the fish in Utah are running and they’re my game. I’ll be seein’ you.”
And he was gone. Out of the dining room, with that quick tread of the man who has places to go and wants to get there.