My Plans for Gable
By Clark Gable
Modern Screen magazine, December 1949
This remarkable self-portrait is one of the very few stories ever to be published, in any magazine, under Clark Gable’s own by-line. Modern Screen considers it an honor to be able to present such intimate revelations of a great star—by the one who knows him best.
There is an extra-sized mountain lion which roams pretty generally through the Sierra Madres in Mexico called “La Tigre” by the natives. Some years ago I went hunting for this cat along the border between the states of Sonora and Chihuahua. It is rough country and one evening, weary and hungry, but mostly weary, our party reached a little village that wasn’t even named on our map.
It was dark, there was no inn and all the inhabitants had long since gone to bed in the few rude huts that make up the place. I was too tired to take another step and was standing there wondering what to do next when my sleeping bad slipped to the ground from my shoulder. That was all the hint I needed. Kicking the bag against a dobe wall, I climbed inside and went to sleep right there and then on the street. I learned later that the rest of the group did the same after milling about a little and trying vainly to stir somebody up.
In the morning I was awakened by sharp, cuppy sounds. Barely peeking through my eyelashes in the bright sunlight, I saw that I was surrounded by a ring of Mexican children, all wide-eyed, but all perfectly still and respectful of my sleep. What had aroused me was the clippety-clop of heavily-loaded burros trotting past me on the hard, cement-like dirt. Their owners, with barely a glance for me, were already driving their burros out for the day’s work. I looked back at the kids and smiled. Instantly they broke into smiles, like a team. Then I closed my eyes and was somehow perfectly content.
I was just another tired traveler as far as the people of this hamlet were concerned. They didn’t know me from Adam nor did it make any difference. I was just a man who wanted to sleep, and what could be more natural?
I’m not sure why, but I got a feeling out of that which I have since tried—and almost always unsuccessfully, to recapture many times. Because that would be the perfect life for me when I am not working; to be able to go among the people, mix closely with them and be accepted just for myself.
Actually I can’t, of course. Now, people don’t mob me or tear off my sleeves for souvenirs or anything like that. They always seem nice and friendly—sort of treat me as an acquaintance. But still—well, I know they’re really looking on me as a curiosity, as a movie star.
Not that I’m crying bitter tears about the situation. I worked hard to get where I am, I wanted it, and I am grateful for the way things turned out. But the longing to mingle as just as ordinary citizen is always there and it gets stronger whenever vacation time comes around.
It’s vacation time now. By the time you are reading this, I’ll have left Hollywood for…I’m not just sure where. I know what I’d like to be doing. I’d like to be in Chicago, for instance, just meandering through the Loop or getting all confused finding my way through the maze of aisles in Marshall Field’s store on State Street. I’d like to be in New York, caught in the thick of its sidewalk life; maybe trying to force myself through the lunch crowd in the garment section just below Times Square or gawking along Broadway watching the window chefs in the quick-sandwich joints slice hams. There’s a stroll I could make up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, or through Grand Circus Park in Detroit, or winding around Milk Street in Boston.
All these things I did once—when I was a struggling actor. But they are not for me anymore. If I tried now…
Once I saw a Philadelphia policeman heaving and pushing in his efforts to rescue a beautiful movie starlet from an admiring crowd, and, in the midst of this melee, he looked at her and said, “Girlie, you may be a queen in Hollywood but right here in Philadelphia, you’re a public nuisance!”
Well, I don’t think I’d be a public nuisance. As I say, people on the streets don’t mob Clark Gable, movie star, even in the big cities. But let’s face it: I do attract that uncomfortably “special” attention.
So—while I’ll probably head for New York on my vacation, it will be just to pop out here and there along Times Square to catch the shows, and then pop back to more secluded surroundings again. I may go to Europe afterward. Last time I was there I bought a little car and started to drive it through the country. My trip didn’t go on very long because I had to call it off abruptly to return to California when my father died suddenly.
But it was enjoyable, if short. Only once was I recognized when I left Paris. The innkeeper of a little place along the road where I stopped for lunch asked me in painful English if I was Clark Gable. When I nodded he cried, “Ahhh! Then it ees possible you can be of inform to me!”
I said I’d be glad to be “of inform.” What was it he wanted to know?
“I want to know about ‘skeep it,’” he declared. “I have seen many of your pictures and many times you say this phrase, ‘skeep it.’ What does it mean, ‘skeep it’?”
I tried to explain. I told him that “skip it” literally meant sort of “jump over” something, but, in conversation, really meant to forget some subject or deed and go on to another.
“Oui! Oui! I understand!” he exclaimed. “Eeet is the same then as in English pictures when they say ‘op it!’, no?”
“Oh, no!” I said. And then I tried to explain the difference. All through the meal I tried to make it clear, but it was no use. In the end I decided that the only thing to do was to skip it. So I ‘opped it.
Well, if I don’t go Europe this time, probably to tour the provinces of France, then I may head west again from New York for my Rogue River place in Oregon and some fishing. I’ll drive up there, avoiding the bigger cities en route, as usual, and stopping at motels. As a matter of fact, though I have a 47-acre place on the Rogue, I generally stop at a motel near there which is owned by a friend. It’s simpler that way. More mobility. I can throw my gold clubs in the car and leave at a moment’s notice for deep-sea fishing at Guaymas, Mexico, for instance—where, though I am a stubborn Dutchman, I have many times met my match, and more than my match, in marlin and sailfish.
On one of my earliest attempts to catch marlin, I was accompanied by Jack Conway, the director, and another friend, A. T. Jergens. As soon as I got a bite I started to pull in violently and they both yelled out in alarm.
“You’ll break the line!” Jack cried. “You’ve got to take it easy with marlin. Slow and easy. Play him.”
But, as I say, I am stubborn. I did it my way. I fought. And at the end of the day I had caught three marlin. Jack had had three on the line and lost them all, and Jergens lost two. They both claimed that no one in deep-sea fishing history had ever caught a marlin my way before and that it could be accounted for by the fact that my unethical thinking had simply confused the unfortunate fish into giving in!
But it never happened that way again. I learned to follow Jack’s advice. “Just keep a light but steady pressure on the line,” he would say. “Like a woman after a man.” I’m sure I don’t know just what he means by this, but I did it anyway.
Well, in my vacation I may fish, I’ll play golf, but I won’t hunt. I won’t hunt because somehow I have lost my taste for it, especially deer hunting. The last time I hunted deer was at Kanab, Utah. I had my rifle to my shoulder and a fine bead on a deer when it suddenly came over me that I couldn’t pull the trigger.
I let my rifle drop and the guide with me looked astonished.
“What’s the matter, buck fever?” he asked.
“No,” I replied. “I just changed my mind.”
The truth was that the deer looked too beautiful, standing there, for me to drop him and spoil the picture. I’m not trying to propagandize about hunting. Every man to his own taste. It just so happens that since that time, shooting a deer has become for me no more sporting than going out and shooting the old family cow.
The story got around and I was kidded about it that night when I attended a square dance, my first, at the schoolhouse in Kanab. There was cornmeal on the floor, dust in the air, and a hundred people I had never met before swirling around the place. I did everything wrong, had every girl I partnered with giggling at my ineptitude—and I ended up having one of the best times I ever had in my life.
(It was also just as well that I had decided to quit hunting. The next morning I was so stiff I could hardly walk, let alone stalk a deer.)
For hunting thrills I have substituted golf thrills. Landing a ball on a tough green, clearing some nasty traps on the way, is as satisfying as sending a bullet under a deer’s shoulder—or at least it will do for me. And a few weeks ago it more than did for me when I was playing Bel Air and couldn’t find my ball after apparently hitting a spoon shot straight from the tee to the green. No, the ball wasn’t lost. It had come straight down into the cup, tearing piece of earth the size of a half dollar off the lip and jamming itself tight between the pin and the side of the cup—for a flying hole in one. Incidentally, it happened to be the 13th hole.
With all this traveling that I do, and plan to do ahead, it may seem to a lot of people that mine is a restless soul. I wouldn’t know. Everybody’s life falls into a pattern, sooner or later, and that is the pattern of mine right now. It wasn’t always like this.
There certainly was a time in my life when I really came close to being quite the fireside boy…
Today, when I’m working in Hollywood, I’m still the homebody. Unless there is a special occasion involved I drive straight home from work, have my dinner, read and go to bed. If I go out at all it is on a weekend. Any time you read an item about my being seen in a night club you can pretty well bet it was on a Saturday night.
When the picture I am working on is over and done with, I can’t stay put any longer and I’m off.
Why? Why not stick home? I don’t know. Iron bars do not a prison make, as the old saying goes, and my trouble may be that neither does brick or wood make a home. It just makes a house. There’s a difference.
Oh, I know what the difference is all right. Maybe I’ll meet up with her some day. Maybe that’s what all this traveling is about. A man can never tell.