Gable Answers the Call of the Wild
By Frank Small
Photoplay magazine, June 1937
“He-man” Clark hits the lion’s trail—with a camera!
As soon as spring comes the call of the wild gets Clark Gable. Then he must be up and away hitting the trail that leads through the blue canyons out beyond the beyond. That’s the way it was this time.
“Parnell” was finished. He’d have a few weeks off, subject to possible retakes or added scenes. So Clark answered the urge to be up and away.
He knew where he’d go—back to that unmapped wilderness of towering peaks and sheer chasms that lies north of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. That’s been his favorite hunting ground for the past six years. He’d go after mountain lions, and he’d bring one back alive!
“Captain Jack” Butler, his guide on many an expedition, had been holed in at Kanab for the winter, with his hounds and pack horses. He was ready any time Clark was. Ted Tetrick, of the wardrobe department at Metro, wanted to go along so Clark and Ted tossed their duffel into the station wagon and started for the rendezvous at Kanab.
You’d have had a hard time recognizing Clark when he strode down the main street of the little Mormon village of Kanab, nestled under the Vermilion Cliffs that rise majestically against the sky. With the broad-brimmed hat, leather shirt and pants, and the heavy sideburns he wears in “Parnell” (the studio told him not to cut them off, just in case of retakes) Clark might have stepped from the pages of a Zane Grey novel.
Just over the Utah border in Arizona, tucked away in a canyon, is the village of Fredonia, where a generation ago the tall young Mormon men used to come riding by night to visit their hidden wives. For a stranger to enter this forbidden valley was to invite a welcome of hot lead from the guards. But all that is gone now, and Fredonia is hospitable to the travelers who are passing through there on the way to the Kaibob national forest.
Jack Butler had everything ready when they reached Kanab. They would pick up the camp equipment and horses when they passed Summit Valley.
“Plenty of mountain lions around,” he told Clark. “There ought to be good hunting.”
Where the road ends they left the station wagon and slung the tents on the pack horses. When they made camp in the shadow of Saddle Mountain, below the snow line, Clark gad left civilization behind. It was good to smell the wind off from far peaks, and tang of pine chips as he cut the firewood, and best of all, the odor of hot coffee boiling on the coals.
At five in the morning he crawled out of his eiderdown sleeping bag, rubbed the bristle on his chin, and breathed deep of air that was like nothing you breathe in the studio.
The sun hadn’t topped Saddle Mountain yet, and it was cold and gray in the canyon. The dogs, though, were yapping and straining at their chains, eager to be off. Butler’s white mule cocked one ear and then the other, wondering if he’d spend the day loafing.
“Ground’s in fine shape for trailing lions,” Butler said, lighting his pipe. “Moist and thawing a little when the sun comes out; it will hold scent for a long time.”
Horses were saddled, and they started down the canyon. The dogs had strong out, barking with excitement. Soon they were out of sight, but their yapping drifted back, and hearts beat faster for the sound of it.
“There’s no thrill quite like it,” Clark says. “Trailing mountain lions has every element of sport you want: riding or going it on foot when the way is too rough for your horse, hounds to follow the cat and keep things lively. There’s something doing every minute of the chase, with a rousing climax when you finally tree your lion.”
The dogs had a hot scent and were following it fast. But the lion was heading into high country, trying to shake off pursuit, and the going was rough.
Clark had chaps over his leather pants to protect his legs from the thorny brush. Sometimes the undergrowth was so dense that twigs and branches whipped at his face, and that’s when the broad-rimmed hat of the cowboys came in handy.
Then they came out onto a rocky plateau that dropped away in sheer falls for a thousand feet or more to the deep gorges. Far away they glimpsed the Colorado river, coiling through Marble Canyon like brown lasso.
Only Captain Jack carried a gun—a 30-30 slung in a boot at his saddle. Clark hunts with a camera. On this trip he carried a small one in his pocket and a home movie camera in the saddle bag.
The excited baying ahead told that the dogs at last had cornered their quarry. The horses had to be left behind, and the men tackled the steep trail on foot.
“When we got to the rim of the mountain we looked down fifteen hundred feet of cliff,” said Clark. “There on a ledge so small it didn’t seem possible for a living creature to find a footing, was the lion.
“The big cat had jumped or slid twenty feet down to land there. Oddly enough, one of the hounds had somehow managed to get down to another ledge, blocking off escape in that direction. There he was, marooned. He couldn’t climb back up, and another step would send him down through space in that awful drop in the canyon floor.
“Trying to rope a lion down there looked impossible. I’d roped them out of trees plenty of times, but never in a case like this. Anyway I’d try it. My first cast fell across his neck, but before I could jerk it tight he whirled completely around on that tiny shelf.
“Then he gathered himself and sprang right off into space. I thought that cat was a goner but he struck the face of the cliff fully twenty feet farther along, clawed his way up a crevice, and was gone like a brown streak of lightning.
“Now we didn’t know what to do about that dog stuck on the precarious roost he’d picked for himself. Butler tried to rope him, but couldn’t be done.
“Ted suggested that we loop the rope under his arms since he was the lightest, and lower him down there. It was ticklish business, let me tell you! But it was the only way to save the hound. Butler and I braced ourselves and paid out the rope inch by inch. Then the load slacked, and Ted yelled that he was safe on the ledge.
“He tied the dog and we hauled him up easily. Getting Ted back was another matter. But we finally hauled him up by main force.
“No use then going on after the cat. We had been five hours on the trail, and even with short cuts it would take about as long to make camp again. You can bet we were glad to get into our sleeping bags that night!
“Next morning the dogs were eager to be off again, but they whimpered as their sore feet hit the frozen ground. We decided to give them a day’s rest.
“Our next cat didn’t give us such a long chase. The dogs had him treed and were dancing and howling below him when we arrived. Then I had to laugh. It was a cub, about six months old, and it was trying to put up a ferocious front.
“I tried to think of the terrific amount of damage that little cat would account for in his lifetime, but I hated to see him killed by Butler’s rifle. Even at his age he would slaughter a hundred deer in a year, not to mention the calves and colts of ranchers in the valleys. Full-grown cats don’t stop at deer, remember—they’ll spring on a horse and by sinking those two-inch claws into the poor animal, get leverage so their jaws can break the horse’s neck.
“’I’ll take that little fellow back alive,’ I told Butler.
“The branches were thick, so I climbed after him, and it was easy to drop a noose around his neck. When I hauled him down, Jack grabbed his tail and in a few minutes we had him hog0tied. Then we manicured those knife-like claws and took him back to camp.
“He made a great racket when he was chained to a tree and refused to be friends. So we went out after a companion.
“This time the hounds had a big fellow treed. I got my movies and then went after him. It was a tough job getting a rope around him, but we brought him back to camp, draped over the back of a pack horse.
“With two lions tied to trees let me tell you that camp of ours was far from peaceful! It was a bedlam of snarls, spitting, and general cat yowling. Why in thunder I wanted ‘em alive, Captain Jack couldn’t see. He thought the tarnation varmints should be turned into pelts, and that right pronto.
“But I wanted to make movies and bring ‘em back to town. I figured the little fellow would make a nice pet for Carole Lombard, although I wasn’t sure she’d appreciate him as much as I did.
“Anyway, there they were, and they filled the night with hideous noises. Sometimes before dawn that fool white mule got himself tangled in the chain of the biggest cat, and the spring snap parted right at the collar. Of course Mr. Cat wasted no time in getting away from there. I’ll bet some hunter; out to rid the range of these cattle killers, will get the surprise of his life to find a dog collar on the lion he has treed!
“The next day we were off on one of the darndest adventures I’ve ever witnessed. I get chills to think of it even now.
“Once more the trail led up into the high country, through narrow gorges that climbed onto rock ridges, going up and up. Deer, driven down into the canyon with the snow, were thick. We came across the remains of one with only the antler and backbone left, where some cat had made a banquet.
“I dismounted for a shot of the carcass, collecting another bit of evidence against the villains we were hunting.
“Finally, the bugle voices of the dogs changed and we knew they had our lion cornered. When we got there, we saw that the lion had holed up in a cave. We scrambled up to the lip of the cave and looked in. From the hissing and spitting that greeted us, we knew the lion was there all right.
“’Maybe we can smoke him out,’ Butler said.
“But after two hours of kindling brush and trying to get smoke into the cave, we gave up. By this time the lion’s temper was just about as short as our own.
“’I’m going in there after that cat,’ declared Butler.
“I’ve had my share of close calls, including one time with a big bear, and I regard cats as pretty cowardly creatures, but I wouldn’t crawl into a dark cave after one, believe me! And that cat in there was plenty sore, too.
“But Jack too a flashlight and his forty-five, and in he went. At first he couldn’t see the animal, but casting the spot around he saw it on a ledge above him, those two glowing green eyes staring down at him. The big cat bunched his legs, his tail twitched as he got ready to leap—and then Jack fired. He came out dragging the dead cat by the tail.
“That’s carrying the sport a bit far for my money. I didn’t know which would come out of that cave alive, Jack or the cat, and I was glad indeed when he came out.”
It was time to head back home. Ted and Clark loaded the unmannered little pet into the station wagon and headed back to Hollywood.
But did Carole appreciate her pet? She did not! Now Clark has a live lion on his hands and if there’s some zoo that wants a baby cougar, the address is Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Culver City. And Clark will be grateful if you apply at once!