A Woman’s Lowdown on Clark Gable!
By Kay Proctor
Screen Guide magazine, May 1940
It takes a woman to see a man as he really is. For this reason Screen Guide assigned the finest feminine writer in Hollywood the task of telling what she has learned in her numerous interviews with Clark Gable. This is the REAL story of The Big Guy.—Ed.
I would rather write about Clark Gable than anyone else in Hollywood. The “Kid from Cadiz” has something you can really work on.
Possibly that’s true of other stars, but unlike Gable, they’re bound hand and foot by a lot of publicity taboos which make them about as interesting as milk toast. Gable wants the plain truth or nothing told about him.
His age, for example. There is none of the usual SHH! SHH! routine of trying to square his publicity department “Age” with biographical data, without leaving chunks of years “Missing in Action.”
“I was born in Cadiz, Ohio, on February 1, 1901,” he says. “What of it?”
Recently Screen Guide said he was 37. He corrected that himself. Imagine!
This fellow is unimpressed by all he has acquired; with his importance as a star. Luck, he insists, was with him: “Anyone who has ears and can speak and understand words of one syllable can do it,” he shrugs. “It might have been any other guy; it just happened to me.”
Even his bosses are set back on their heels at unexpected moments by his passion for facing facts. In Atlanta, at the super-swank premiere of “Gone with the Wind,” he bumped into his Uncle Charlie Gable, a down-to-earth character of 72 years. Arrangements were being made for the old gent to be photographed with his famous nephew when a cautious studio super-numerary tried to halt the proceedings.
“We can’t do that!” he hissed in horror. “Look at the old man’s EARS!” Uncle Charlie’s ears, it was observed, were twice the size of Clark’s well-publicized aural appendages. Taboo. It might make Clark look ridiculous. Clark thought not.
“Why not?” he demanded in a clear voice. “Mine haven’t done so badly for me!” The picture was shot.
The screen Gable dominated by his appearance and competency as an actor. Women see him as a Great lover—a notion aided by his trapping, six-foot-one physique; his steady blue-gray eyes; his heavy thatch of dark brown hair graying at the temples; his generous nose and full mouth, and his deep voice with its slightly harsh overtones. He suggest to them a dashing fellow who has the world by his tail, someone who would take what he wanted, where and when he wanted it. He is a romantic shot in the arm.
Sex and Its Super-Salesman
For a super-salesman of sex appeal on the screen, Clark has a curiously detached attitude toward sex in his personal life. This is not so much interference, as a refusal to place undue emphasis on it. To him sex is a normal phase of life to be give relative importance only. His is a released libido, not a neurotic obsession haunting the dark corners of his mind. He has “sex” but he is not sexy.
Gable has an instinctive respect for women. He admires women who show sound business sense. As a rule he is not at ease around them, perhaps because he has no small-talk to banter with them. Flattery arouses his deep distrust.
I’ve never forgotten some of the little things he told me women did which bothered him. Brilliant nail polish doesn’t bother him, but chipped nail polish does. So does a woman wearing shoes too small for her feet (you’ll understand why later!) or coming out of the beauty parlor with her new finger wave uncombed. He dislikes powder on a dressing table and check tubs left unfilled.
Each of Gable’s wives has given him something. Josephine Dillon have him faith in himself and his first dramatic schooling. Rhea Langham polished his social graces. Carole Lombard is giving him the companionship he needs to be happy. Out of those marriages he was carved this belief: A man cannot love completely unless his mind as well as his emotion is captured—and that is the two, it is the mental bond which makes a marriage endure. “Mystery” and “allure” are excess baggage.
What Do They See in Gable?
Men like Gable because of his quick and sincere sympathy for their problems and ideas; his lack of chi chi; his honest, debunking slant on things. They like him because he is a man, a hunter and fisherman; because he is a good conversationalist who hates gossip; because he isn’t afraid of work.
Women like Gable because he is dependable and kind, thoughtful of their well-being—yet male through and through. They like him because he is essentially clean in body and mind and because there is a lot of the small boy, the problem child, in him to arouse their maternal and protective instincts. They can understand Carole’s secret delight the other night when a typical Gable situation arose:
Dinner was ready when Clark came in from working in the orchard. But as he stood in the living room he furtively compared the distance to the closest lavatory with the distance to the table. The table was closer. Carole took one look at his hands.
“March, Mr. G.!” she ordered.
With a sheepish grin on his face, Mr. G. marched.
You Don’t See the Real Gable
Off-screen, Gable dominates by the sheer force of his personality; here his good looks are secondary. He has an unlabored, natural charm, born of his complete sincerity as a man. Fame and wealth have brought him no arrogance; he dresses better now and has more possessions, but in essence he is the same modest person who said “Yes ma’am” and “No ma’am” to his first interviewers!
Unexpected shyness shows itself when he is forced to talk about himself. Or when his wife suddenly jumps in his lap and affectionately embraces him in front of friends at home. He loves it, but his cheeks flush with embarrassment and he glances quickly around the room to make sure that no one has paid any attention. He hates the spotlight. He goes to unusual lengths to avoid it in any gathering.
There is a “champ” quality about him, not unlike that in Dempsey. You sense in him the determination and ability to be first in whatever he does. Six years ago, for instance, he couldn’t hit the wide side of a barn with a rifle. Today he can pick the leaf you choose off a tree with a .22 at 150 yards. None too proficient at present in the use of sidearms, he undoubtedly will be a crack pistol shot in another year; he practices weekly on the police range under the tutelage of the detective lieutenant who was the nation’s Number One shot last year. It is the same with whatever he does; he gives his concentrated interest or none at all.
What This “Farm Life” Really Means
Gable is living now right where he belongs—on a farm. He realizes it anew every day as things bring back memories of his childhood days on a farm and his joy in them. He harrows a field and remembers days on that Ohio farm when he smelled the warm earth upturned. He plants seed and remembers the thrill of the first green shoots poking through a black field.
No “gentleman farmer” is this Gable. On his farm he works side-by-side with the hired hands from dawn to dusk, pruning trees, building fences, grubbing the earth. This is not a passing fad or fancy; his life and the real interest are rooted there. So far the profits have been negligible, but breaking even is to him a real triumph. He realized that last year when his limited orange crop gave him a jolt in marketing problems. When his fruit had been graded, washed and boxed, he proudly called the co-operative association to which he belongs to come and get it. Several weeks later he received his payment—a check for $1.20! Henceforth he plans to give all farm produce in excess of household requirements to needy families.
This Is the Life!
It is an unpretentious place, the farm. Located a quarter of a mile off a main boulevard in the valley, thirty minutes driving time from the studio, it covers twenty acres, and is planted in alfalfa, fruit trees and vineyard. The house is a white-brick farmhouse built for comfort and furnished the same way with low, durable furniture. It includes a living-room, dining-room, kitchen, small office, combination gun room and library and two bedrooms and baths. There is no swimming pool, tennis court or private projection room to convince Clark he’s a big shot. There is no provision for guests—a polite-enough hint that the Gable prefer to be by themselves.
The servant-staff is limited to one full-time hired man (pickers are hired as crops mature), a colored couple named Martin and Bessie, and a secretary, Jean Garceau.
Excluding the three family cars–Clark’s Cadillac coupe (disguised to look like a convertible by covering the steel top with canvas and lowering the body four inches, because he wanted the safety of a coupe with the zippy appearance of a convertible); Carole’s Lincoln Zephyr sedan (he turned in her convertible when he couldn’t get her down to less than 50 miles an hour) and the Buick station wagon, the place is worth about $50,000 as it stands. A lot of that is in expensive farm implements and still more in his famous collection of guns, one of the finest of its kind.
He could afford a more lavish place if he wanted it. He doesn’t. More sessions would mean added burden.
This Won’t Last Forever!
“When I have enough money to guarantee me an income of $10,000 a year for life, I’m going to quit,” Clark says. “If I can’t get along on that, that’s just too damned bad!”
He hasn’t got that much yet, though the $2,000,000 he will earn on contracts already signed for the next seven years should assure it. Contrary to general opinion, Gable is a wealthy man by Hollywood standards; certain aspects of his past, notably his divorce settlement with Ria Gable, have proved a heavy drain on his savings. Taxes, too, have taken a deep cut. What he has is now invested in annuities and bonds.
Gable is no gambler—not because he is a poor loser or stingy, but because he wants value received for every dollar spent. He and Carole have furious sessions of backgammon where it is a terrific evening if 20 cents changes hands. He plays a fair game of bridge and is a smooth ballroom dancer. Fancy and tricky rhumbas he leaves for the fellows whose feet don’t hurt.
Would You Call This Glamour?
Gable’s close friends are as few as his casual friends are many. His intimates include the “Tuffy” Goffs, (“Abner” of “Lum and Abner” on the radio), the Charles Walters (he’s a Santa Barbara attorney), and the Walter Langs (the director, whose wife “Fieldsie,” Carole’s former secretary). Once in a while they go to the movies at the neighborhood theatre in the valley, but usually they just sit around home and chew the fat. Gable is a great spinner of yarns when he feels at ease, and then he builds his stories into veritable productions.
He cares little for jewelry, and rarely wears more than the ruby ring Carole gave him some months ago. He loves to eat and can dispose of a man-sizes steak in short order. Although he keeps his cellar well stocked with the finest brands, he uses little liquor himself, only an occasional cocktail before dinner or a tall drink after.
His wardrobe, one of the most elaborate in Hollywood, is as conservative as a banker’s. He knows exactly what he wants. Every costume he wore on “Gone with the Wind” was changed after the sketches had been okayed and the clothes made. They just didn’t feel or fit to his taste. His favorite outfit is gray slacks, a loose tweed coat, white linen shirt, solid-color tie and black shoes. His feet, as hinted before, have always given him a lot of trouble. As a result, he spares no expense to get comfortable shoes. Usually they have extremely thick soles to protect the tender soles of his feet.
Glamour girls, society and night club life bore the daylights out of him. Although he’s the café catch of the town, he has gladdened a manager’s heart but once since he and Carole were married in Kingman, Arizona, on March 29, 1939. He owns an impeccable suit of “tails” and wears them with distinction and grace, but he has worn them only three times since 1932!
Being a star doesn’t take up as much time for Gable as it does for dozens of others. He is a voracious reader of bestsellers, magazines and newspapers and he is well-versed in current affairs. When the war broke out he bought detailed maps to brush up on names and places. But “heavy” cultural books and “arty” ideas are anathema to him.
He is a man of very few words, and he makes every word count. On a locket gave Carole he had inscribed simply, “I love you, Ma.” She took the tip and had “So do I, Pa.” engraved on the other side. When they don’t address each other as Ma and Pa, it’s simply “Mr G.” and “Mrs. G.”
This may be an apocryphal story, but it paints Clark Gable as he is today. Carole is said to have telephoned him at home from downtown. Bessie, the maid, answered. Apparently she neglected to cover the mouthpiece, for Carole clearly heard her yell:
“Hey Pa! Ma is on the phone!”