Why Women Go Crazy About Clark Gable
By James. R. Quirk
Photoplay magazine, November, 1931
Clark Gable is the male sensation of the screen today because in every role he has played the part of a man who fears neither Jack Dempsey nor Peggy Joyce.
He is a caveman with a club in one hand and a book of poetry in the other.
Here is no tender lover, strumming sweet love songs; no smitten cavalier throwing his mantle over a puddle to save the tender tootsies of his fair one; no ga-ga strippling crying life is o’er lest the sweet object of his tender affections will not permit him to dedicate his life, liberty and fortune to her eternal whimsies.
In one short year he has made the most phenomenal and dazzling progress. He may never achieve the heights of romantic idolatry of Valentino, nor the year-in and year-out box office assurance of Chaplin or Fairbanks; but there is no one man on the screen today whose personality so intrigues the feminine audience.
A strange phenomenon of feminine psychology, the almost instantaneous success of this new type of lover. Note that I did not use the word “hero.” For Clark Gable’s popularity does not rest upon the foundation of noble deeds, tender passion, nor self-sacrifice. As a lover he begins with indifference, demands utter submission, and ends with either complete and uncompromising domination or defeat. And there is no defeat in him save death.
Ace Wilfong, in “Free Soul,” was the apex of a series of such characterizations. Jan (Norma Shearer), refined and fragile, glories in her infatuation for the man to whose will she must and did yield. The character of the noble self-sacrificing, and honorable lover, played by Leslie Howard, a much more artistic and versatile actor, paled into insignificance in his final victory.
Is it that the ladies and gentlemen of the audience have been fed up with too much super-human nobility, hearts of gold, and all that sort of thing in our motion picture actors?
How often have we watched some nin-com-poop of a fair damsel treat the self-sacrificing and languishing hero like a sap, and make him go through all kinds of hell to come into a close-up with her at the finish, when all the time we wanted to tip him off that she was a selfish, dizzy dame, and not worth the effort?
On the screen Clark Gable meets every women with a challenge in his eyes, a mocking grin culminating in a laughing dimple, an aloofness that is not far distant, and a skillful parry for every attempt to throw him off his guard. An adroit opponent in a duel of sex.
It is that uncertainty about him, that self-assuredness, that indifference that interests women. He is like a magnet that both attracts and repels. That complex mystery, woman, is baffled by a greater mystery than her own—a man she cannot understand.
Skillfully, his producers have given him parts that make him enigmatic. He has never been all white, never been all black. Almost every role in which he has played holds back, until the denouement, a phase of his character that he has kept concealed. Mystery has been monopolized by women. Clark Gable has stolen one of their most potent weapons and turned it on them.
The characters which he plays today would have been repugnant a few years ago. With one exception, he has played hard-boiled guys, and his success has been based on those parts. Is it not possible that the long series of gangster pictures, making heroes of underworld characters (pardon, Mr. Hayes), has led up to a tolerance, then an acceptance, then an admiration, of such men?
And, without any intent to discuss anything political or topical, may there not be an unconscious glorification of the man who, in utter disregard of all l aw, goes out and gets what he wants at the risk of his neck?
Women love fighting men. Clark Gable has never played the coward nor the weakling. He has been a fighter, whether outside the law in “Free Soul” or as a Salvation Army worker in “Laughing Sinners.”
But is Clark Gable all actor? Does he not project something of himself on the screen?
He is not, and he does.
For twenty years, boy and man, I have been an observer of the screen; for these sixteen years, come next Michaelmas, as editor of Photoplay. And I can say truthfully, having had occasion to know most of the famous folks of the screen, that, all in all, no actor can hide his real personality behind greasepaint, make-up, nor art. The camera reads the mind and unmasks the individual.
Clark Gable has never been the lady-killer in real life any more than he has on the screen.
He has been a stage actor for years. Starting out from a Pennsylvania Diutch family as a lad he has wandered all over America on his own. He has ridden the brake beams of a freight car. He has known hunger.
He has known women. He has been married twice (three times, some say) so he ought to know something of women. Six years ago, as a small part player on the same lot where he shines today above John Gilbert, he was unnoticed.
Then he returned to the theater under the management of Louis MacLoon, who, two years ago, held him under contract at the lowly figure of $175 a week.
Things went bad and MacLoon was forced to release him because there was no more work in sight.
He again sought work in the movies. This time fate was kind. He got the break.
I do not want to spoil any illusions but I must tell you about the first time I ever saw Clark Gable off the screen. I was lunching in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer restaurant in Culver City when he came in.
A particularly effusive and beautiful blonde screen actress rushed up to him and introduced herself.
“Oh, Mr. Gable,” she gushed, “I think you are the finest actor on the screen.”
I have never seen a man more ill at ease. He looked around appealingly. He stood on one foot, then the other. I felt that under his rough, three-day beard (he was making retakes for “Susan Lenox”) he was blushing like a school boy.
“Thanks—ah—yes–thank you,” he stammered, “but I’m afraid there are a lot of them on this lot who know the tricks better than I do.”
“Oh, but Mr. Gable, everyone knows you are so wonderful—“
“Yes—thanks,” he said, “thanks—yes—thank you. I must be back on the set—yes—thank you.”
And the big tough-looking guy in the three-day beard rushed out of the restaurant and hid in his dressing room, lunching on a ham sandwich and a glass of milk.