The Great God Gable
By Adela Rogers St. Johns
Liberty magazine, March 12, 1932
A Close-Up of a Man’s Man Whom Women Have Made a Star of Stars
(Reading time: 29 minutes, 15 seconds)
In Hollywood they call him the great god Gable.
The box office alone can create a god in Hollywood.
Clark Gable, in eight months, playing inferior roles, without publicity or propaganda, became the idol of the box office. A year ago not a soul in Hollywood had ever heard his name. Today he ranks ahead of every established favorite. One the same lot where a few short years ago he worked extra for five bucks a day, executives speak softly in his presence and cashiers sign checks in four figures every Tuesday.
The public has made a star. The motion picture industry is still gasping for breath.
At the MGM studio, when a group of feminine visitors arrive, the whisper goes around, “More women for Gable.”
It is always a whisper. Gable has a hot young temper and he hits like Dempsey. No one has yet dared call him a matinee idol to his face.
Yet women have always been good luck for young Gable.
A woman—his stepmother—first woke in him the joy of living. A woman—his first wife—earned him to his first real confidence in himself.
It was a woman—Lillian Albertson—who made him a finished actor and got him his first chance on Broadway. And a slim young girl—Minna Wallis, actors’ agent—who first recognized his great picture possibilities and sold him to a producer who didn’t even remember his name.
Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo, begging for him as a leading man, gave him a chance to play real parts.
And the women of America, fed up with antiquated or pleasant but slightly devitalized stars, forced their demand for him upon that arbiter of all movie destinies, the box office. Oddly enough, there is nothing of the ladies’ man about Clark Gable. Quite obviously, he prefers men to women in all ordinary circumstances. If ever I met an actor to whom one could apply that old but still illuminating phrase, “a man’s man,” it is Clark Gable.
He is a big, rough, tough unscrupulous soldier of fortune gone wrong.
He turned actor because it was the only way he could think of to escape the deadly monotony of a farm and import himself into an atmosphere of glamour and adventure.
He takes his women how and as and where he finds ‘em. They are nothing to waste time over. The idea of sending gardenias, writing subtle notes, telephoning nine times a day, or making odes to his lady’s eyebrows wouldn’t appeal to him. He is a natural, gay, delightful lover—but the gayety and the delight are in the man himself, not in a thousand extraneous attentions.
He didn’t say so, but I rather think he would agree with another great idol who once remarked to me that half the women in the world should be shot and the other half never allowed out of bed. There are so many more important things in a man’s life. Perhaps some day some woman will convince him otherwise, but that time is not yet.
Born a few centuries earlier, he would have been one of Caesar Borgia’s most able lieutenants. Born a few years later, he might have flown airplanes into strange lands or been a kingpin bootlegger.
Life to him is something to live hotly, swiftly, and with as little foolin’ around as possible. There is no kick for Gable in finesse, intrigue, delicate play of emotions, built-up situations. The kick is in direct, violent, vital contact with life and love, men and women. That is why men such as Wally Beery, Buster Keaton, Bob Leonard, the pilots who flew with him in Hell Divers, the cowboy who taught him to ride, are all crazy about him.
If he had an assured income of a hundred dollars a week the box office might sing in vain. Because Gable was born with an itching foot, and I doubt it all the perfumes of Araby and all the sirens of Hollywood could hold him from the long trail and the seven seas.
Youth clings to him, youth that demands excitement and undiluted adventure. The smell of the soil clings to him, the desire for down-to-earth, hearty living and eating and drinking and loving. There are no complexes, no inhibitions. No fixations, no phobias about Clark. His greed for life, for pleasure, for battle, for conquest, for money, is normal and honest and it vibrates in a room and wipes out the pale lavender scent of pseudo-sophistication,
How he would have loved the roistering, swashbuckling, dangerous days of d’Artagnan, the savage pioneer days of Daniel Boone, the hard-riding, hard-drinking, seafaring epoch of England’s Virgin Queen! And how Elizabeth would have loved him! Perhaps she wouldn’t have remained a virgin queen long if Gable had spread his cloak for her to walk upon. Gable isn’t the kind of man to spread cloaks for nothing.
Instead of all that, he must find his thrills before the camera and spread his cloak for cinema queens. But he loves it. He gloats in his success as a gambler gloats when he catches the fourth ace in a ten-thousand-dollar pot. After the lean years, the hard years, luck broke and poured the fleshpots of the world into his lap. And he makes no bones about thinking it’s a great idea.
After years of the usual affections, introspections, fears, and careful propaganda of most actors, the honesty, the naturalness, the frank pleasure and open delight of Clark Gable are like a breath of pine forest after the sick breath of a speakeasy.
Out at the Griffith Park Riding Academy, where the picture stars and the social world learn to walk, trot and canter, is an ex-cowboy from Montana named Art Wilson. He has the cold, mosaic-blue eye of the born daredevil. I have seen that eye in great racing drivers, in stunt men, in a famous bank robber I once knew well.
Art taught Clark Gable to ride.
Rather wistfully, his cold eye fixed upon the distant hills. Art said, “If I could get that guy away from pictures, I’d make a top hand out of him.”
Allow me to tell you that admiration of a man like Art Wilson is something of which to be very proud. Money won’t buy it, fame won’t command it. Art’s comments upon some other movie diols whom he has instructed are biting and slightly profane. In most cases, Art feels that the horse is the better man.
Of Gable he speaks with reverence.
“First day he come out here,” said Art, “I took a look at him, and I says to myself, ‘Art, he’s a big devil and he ought to make a rider, but, hell—he’s an actor. Chances are he’ll be thinking about his face.’ Anyhow, he says to me, ‘I got to learn to ride so’s I can play a part in a picture, and I ain’t ever been nearer a horse than when I was plowin’.’ So I says, ‘How much time you got?’ He says, ‘Two weeks.’ I says, ‘How much time can you give me every day?’ He grins and says, ‘Art, I ain’t got a thing in the world to do. Write your own ticket.’
“Well, about then I’m beginning to weaken, what with his admittin’ about plowin’ and that grin; and thin, I’m a little runt myself and he was sure built for horses, same as Gary Cooper. But I says to myself, ‘Art, don’t get excited. Lots of folks are OK when they got both feet on the ground, but they turn yellow when they see how far down it is from the back of a horse.’
“Well, anyhow, I took a good safe cow pony I had, that I knowed had more sense than most men. Gable gets on top of him. An’ I took ‘em up on top of a hill in Griffith Park. I knowed that hill and I knowed that pony. But Gable didn’t. So I says, ‘Now come on down after me.’ I wanted to find out, right off, if he had guts. I started down lickity-cut and I yells to Gable, ‘Come on, brother!’ And he come! Right down that hill just as fast as that pony could carry him. Never been on a horse before that day, Say, when he got to the bottom he was laughing like a kid. ‘I’m still on top,’ he says.
“Le’me tell you something. I know, and a horse knows, when a man’s afraid. Maybe he doesn’t show it. Maybe he acts OK. But there’s little things you can tell. That Gable don’t know more know the meaning of fear than a mountain lion. I give him the works, too. At the end of two weeks he could pick up a handkerchief going full tilt. He could get on and off a big horse running. There’s Western stars around can’t do that yet. He’s got a body that’s just about perfect—balance, strength, everything.”
He paused and looked up at a big picture of Clark Gable which adorned the bare wall of the little room back of the stables where he lives. Across it was written, “To Art, a great horseman and a real friend, Clark.”
A twinkle came into Art’s blue eyes.
“Guess there’s a lot of dames would give something for a picture like that,” he remarked lazily. “Maybe this is a funny place to find a picture of Clark Gable, but I bet you won’t find none in no masseuse’s boudoir. That’s something. And I’ll tell you something else: A lot of folks have come out to learn stunts for pictures. They go away—and that’s the end of that. You know what that Gable did? He went off down to Arizona to make his first picture, and he sent me a wire. I got it yet.”
He dug among spurs, gloves, bottles of liniment, and pictures of horses, and produced a wire. It said, “The first thing I had to do was ride down a hill fast. Got away with it OK. Thanks, kid.”
Carefully he replaced the telegram among his treasures.
“He didn’t want to be a ladies’ man. You know what he told me? We was sitting under an oak tree way up in the hills one day, eating our lunch and reading Will James out loud to each other, and he says to me, ‘Art, I’d like to be a Western star. Do you think I could?’ I says, ‘No reason why not.’ He says, ‘That’d be a pretty swell life.’”
Art looked straight at me.
“I ain’t got much use for women,” he said candidly. “I’ve been around some, and women as a whole don’t stack up with horses and men. But the women sure done all right for once when they picked Clark Gable. Shows they know a real man when they see one. He’s got the guts of an army mule and he’s there in the pinches.”
The women did pick Gable. They took protesting husbands and boy friends to see their new favorite. And the husbands and boy friends were converted, too. Clark Gable falls more in the class of Wallace Reid or Douglas Fairbanks than in the class of Valentino.
You have no idea how startled Hollywood has been by the revelation that picture audiences have a mind of their own.
The public, beyond question, made Clark Gable a star.
Hollywood still reels beneath the blow.
Such a thing hadn’t happened for years. The business of making stars had become a fine art.
It happened something like this. A star of the old regime wabbled on the throne. A group of eminent gents gathered in a mahogany office and played eeny-meeny-miney-mo. Forthwith, some extra girl with soulful eyes or some startled juvenile was elevated to stellar rank. Orders flew. Publicity departments awakened from peaceful dreams. Reams of copy spilled forth. Twenty-four sheets plastered the country. And slightly dazed audiences found themselves watching the immature flappings of Susie Glotz and wondering what it was all about.
Or a great part came along—an actor-proof, sure-fire part, like Millie, or Sabra in Cimarron, or the boy in The American Tragedy. The company signed up the fortunate player of that part and were off to the races. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it jolly well didn’t.
Or again, an established stage or opera star was lured with gold to the land of the no-longer-silent cinema and deliberately, and with great expense, forethought and care, built into a star.
The good old days of electing stars by popular voice were practically gone forever in the new machine age of pictures.
Suddenly the worm, worn out with bad pictures and inadequate starlings, rose in its might and its wrath.
With one voice, like the rooting section at a big football game, the public yelled, “We want Clark Gable!”
That night there was chaos in Hollywood.
Executives wore out buzzers. Casting directors went mad. Secretaries were running all over the place like Sennett cops. People were looking under desks and in file cases for Clark Gable.
Who, what and especially where was Clark Gable?
Nobody in Hollywood had ever heard of him. Dinner parties had not been graced by his presence. Gatemen knew him not. Then, to the amazement of the entire organization, an obscure assistant director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer raised his voice and said, “Why, he’s the big, black-headed guy that played the laundry-man in The Easiest Way.”
It turned out to be true. Irving Thalberg had Clark Gable under contract. Which was a great break for everybody. Thalberg deserved it. And having Thalberg behind him assures Gable of clever handling and good stories.
Don’t let anyone tell you that anyone “discovered” Clark Gable!
The public discovered him, acclaimed him, and literally forced him upon the attention of an industry which had been kicking him around for years. It is for that reason that I believe he will be one of the great stars, and not a mere flash in the pan.
When the women of America went mad over young Mister Gable; when the fan mail began to pour in; when he was mobbed at previews; when for the first time in years a gang lined up outside the big gates at MGM and asked the gateman, “Is this where Mr. Gable comes out?” –no one was more surprised than Clark.
He loved it. Any man who says he wouldn’t have been delighted under the same circumstances is a liar.
Gable looked around, and the primitive male in him preened itself and the normal masculine vanity of him purred. When famous women stars whom he had adored from a a distance joined the throng of admirers and gasped for breath in love scenes with him, he liked it just as much as any other man would have liked it.
He was grateful, he was deeply touched, he didn’t understand it all, but such popularity warmed his heart. I dare say he prayed for strength. I do know his reaction was one of rather shy and amazed delight.
Then it began to pail—the personal side, not the professional. There were too many women. They got in his hair. They interfered with him. It is a peculiar thing but very few of the male screen stars who have caused female audiences to flutter madly have been a big hit with the women of Hollywood. Very few. Gable is different. I am betraying no secret when I say that any number of glamorous ladies of the silver sheet were willing to be victims of the great god Gable.
The boy is no Galahad. He is a primitive, red-blooded man of thirty. His head wasn’t turned. He grinned engagingly and took the gifts the gods provided. Until it grew annoying.
One afternoon he drifted into Buster Keaton’s dressing bungalow. Like everyone else, he thinks Keaton is tops among men—a wise bird, with a heart as big as Leo the lion, and a clever, cool head.
Said Gable: “How far does this thing go?”
Said Keaton: “What thing?”
Said Gable: “This women business. You know this game. I’m not fat-headed. It’s not me. It’s probably the parts I play. It’s just a break. I like women all right. But not all the time. Man’s got other things to do.”
Said Keaton: “Go shoot deer or fish for marlin.”
This Gable, between pictures, goes up to Utah with Wally Beery, lets his beard grow, wears old clothes, and has a swell time.
He has grown woman-shy. He’s the sort of man who prefers to do his own hunting, and if women won’t let him, he’ll hunt deer, bigosh.
My first meeting with him was amusing. He had shot up so suddenly that I had never met him. He came to Malibu for dinner. He came in with that strong case of his. But his eyes were wary. The room was candlelit and there was a fire. Outside, the ocean was singing its ever-stirring song upon the beach. It is the custom at Malibu to wear pyjamas for dinner. I had on my best ones—Gloria brought them to me from Paris—because they happened to be the only ones that were clean that night. And because I had been nine hours at the typewriter that day and my back was practically broken, I was stretched out full length on the window seat.
Young Gable sat down on the edge of his chair and studied me gravely. He didn’t look very happy. He looked bored and rather sulky. I could see thoughts unwinding in the back of his head. What was expected of him? Women! And he’d been doing stunts in ice-cold water all day.
Just then my husband, who after four years of marriage is still my idea of something to get hot and bothered about, came downstairs. He had on an old pair of flannels and a sweat shirt. He came over and kissed me before he noticed that there was anyone else in the room.
The look of joy and relief that spread over Clark’s face was unconscious and simply swell. He took a deep breath, removed his coat and vest, remarked that he preferred his gin straight instead of gummed up with pineapple juice and cherries, and the evening began to look like a success.
I don’t think I spoke fifty words all evening. It was man-talk. Football—and polo—and deep-sea fishing—and places all over the world a man must see before he died. The Taj Mahal by moonlight. The Gobi Desert. Glacier Point in the time of the deep snows. The jungles of India and Africa.
Clark stared into the fire. His face gets tense and hot when he is excited. They had, I know, forgotten me, I was glad. Men can pay a woman no higher compliment than to forget her at moments like that.
Clark said: “If I had a hundred dollars a week, sure, for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t stay here another minute.”
Dick Hyland said: “Hell, no.”
Clark finished his gin and took a bite out of the lemon he had cut for himself—a trick he learned from navy pilots.
He said: “I’d go places. I’d start around the world. I’d go where I pleased and stay as long as I pleased. If I didn’t like a place, I’d get to hell out of there. I’d go native when I felt like it, and get cleaned up if the mood hit me. I’d learn to sail a small boat and go where ordinary people can’t get. I’d—“
Like two small boys, adventure-mad, they dreamed dreams and saw visions and talked and talked and talked until the candlelight paled.
Then they came back reluctantly to a workaday world.
I hated to see them come. I almost wished for a moment that my husband hadn’t loved me enough to tie himself to the white man’s burden of matrimony and convention. And I found Clark Gable lovable—not in the matinee-idol fashion, but lovable as are all strong males who are still little boys at heart. I had seen brutality in him, for, as men always do when they talk to each other freely, they had touched on women and fighting. But I had seen sweetness, yearning, and an inarticulate, untrained love of beauty. This is a cruel age for the born adventurers who have no love for the mechanical.
The thing the two of them thrilled over and grew sentimental and profane about was the picture of some big trees in Yosemite.
And as they talked and drank I sat quiet, wondering. Wondering if it had been such a great break, this success of Gable’s. Wondering if it would soften him and coarsen him and get him, as it has so many men. Wondering if, a few years from now, he’d still care about trees and horses and high snows. Knowing what the Hollywood racket is like, with its strange fascination, its lure of wealth and more wealth, fame and more fame, that gets into the very blood. Flattery that grows on men as a drug grows, until they must have it in larger and larger doses.
I broke in on their talk and asked Clark Gable just how he felt about this sudden fame and popularity.
The dimples, that contrast so greatly with his bigness, his darkness, the almost menacing strength of him, came out. “The truth is,” he said, “I’m a little punch-drunk.”
I told him what I had been wondering. He listened gravely.
“I know what you mean,” he said. “But don’t forget, I’m not a child. I’ve been in the theater for twelve years. I’ve been hungry. I’m cautious about money because in poverty I’ve learned how valuable it is. I know you can be a hero today and a bum tomorrow. I give myself five years—no more. I’m grateful as hell for that. All life’s worth living. There’s a kick to it everywhere. It’s swell to be alive. There’s a kick in things when you’re down, fighting to get up. There’s a kick when you’re on top. And there’s the whole damn world still to see.”
Gable never suggests a married man, yet he has been married twice.
The present Mrs. Gable has been more less a mystery to Hollywood. She gives no interviews, receives few callers, and never discusses Clark Gable.
I met her by chance at abridge luncheon given by Lionel Barrymore’s fascinating and exquisite wife, the former Irene Fenwick. To my surprise, I found that a tall, majestic lady in severe and black satin was Mrs. Clark Gable. A dark woman, she suggests a regal and aristocratic beauty that belonged to Florence Vidor.
A determined, set, rather hard mouth she has, but her eyes are dark and sad and a little wistful.
I rather expected her to say something about A Free Soul, which happened to be my story and which gave Clark his first real part, as the gambler.
But she didn’t. Her graciousness seems to freeze at the thought of being interviewed or studied as the wife of the man so many women admire.
During the bridge game one of the many players at her table, a charming little woman in no way connected with pictures, said:
“I daresay you’re very tire of hearing compliments about your husband, Mrs. Gable. But I do feel I’d like to tell you what a refreshing thing it is to have him in pictures. His work is so natural and splendid.”
Mrs. Gable looked at her and did not reply.
There is a world of character in her face. She suggests Park Avenue, the well groomed woman of the world. She suggests the woman who has always had money, always worn smart clothes. She has a daughter eighteen and a son twelve, by a former marriage, and she is a devoted mother.
But the world of pictures, of the theater, is new to her. When she married Clark Gable in Santa Ana, not many months ago, she stepped into a land and a people as strange to her as China.
Her job is a tough one. But she has a determination, a will, that should see her through.
She had been losing heavily at bridge. Her partner, a girl famous as one of the greatest horsewomen in the country, said, “We’re certainly having a bad run of cards.”
Mrs. Gable sat up, looking like a Roman empress, and said, “It’s got to stop. If there’s one thing I have, it’s a determination to go through with anything I start.” Her playing improved. She made a couple of daring bids and got away with them. With a brilliant smile, she said, “You see. Bulldog determination always wins in the long run.”
They live very quietly, in a charming and comfortable apartment on the ground floor of one of Hollywood’s new and beautiful apartment buildings. Their closest friends in the picture colony are Mr. and Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. You see the four of them occasionally dining and dancing at the Cocoanut Grove. Most of her friends are New Yorkers visiting in California. And she lunches nearly every day at the exclusive Embassy Club with a little woman, the wife of an actor. Somehow it gives you a feeling of her loneliness to see her, as though she dared not venture to know more of the gay, gossipy picture crowd.
It is illuminating that both Clark’s wives have been much other than he.
The first Mrs. Clark Gable was a dramatic teacher. Her name was Josephine Dillon. A soft woman, with glorious deep-set eyes. A mellow voice. The manner of studied charm that belongs to many dramatic teachers.
You probably remember your elocution teacher in high school.
Clark had trekked as far west as Portland, Oregon, when the company in which he was alternately prop boy, spear carrier, juvenile, and old gentleman went on the rocks. No salaries had been paid for weeks. The kid was broke, hungry—and completely happy.
Without two nickels to rub together, he was having a glorious time. He had escaped the monotony of his father’s Ohio farm, the dullness of work in a small town. He was seeing life.
The telephone company gave him a job climbing poles, which he did blithely. But he wanted to keep on with his stage work. On a side street he found a dramatic school, presented himself as a pupil.
So they met—the tall, dark, rather awkward young man with his sudden smile, and the gentle, eager, little woman whose brown curls were already touched with gray.
The lessons began. How much she actually taught him I don’t know. Not a great deal, I imagine. One thing she did. She believed in him and she loved him. Josephine Dillon was the first of the Clark Gable fans.
Perhaps he was never in love with her as Clark could be in love with a woman. But he loved her. She mothered him.
Clark’s own mother died when he was only a few months old. Like all men of intense masculinity, he is particularly susceptible to mothering. In place of the mother whose dark young beauty he knew only through small old-fashioned pictures, he had a stepmother.
“I think she was the finest woman who ever lived,” he said to me. “She was a good woman with a great understanding of humanity. We weren’t a laughing family. We’re Holland Dutch. Farmers—Pennsylvania and Ohio. Serious people who had to wrest a living from the soil. The gayety and beauty and joy of life came into our home with my stepmother. She loved music and flowers. No matter how hard she worked, she always had time to laugh and sing and play. She used to sneak out and play catch with me when I came home from school. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters, but she was like all three combined. Mother, brother, sister. I loved her. She died when I was sixteen.”
The imprint of that stepmother is deep in Clark Gable. So deep that he has perhaps never quite outgrown his need of her, of the gay, sweet, vicarious mothering she gave him.
Today Josephine Dillon lives in Hollywood, still teaching dramatic art. Part of Clark Gable’s salary goes to her every week. No one, perhaps, has gloried more in his success. It is rather sweet that she is able to take to herself credit for some of that fine, natural art that enables Clark Gable to project his irresistible personality.
If anyone made Clark Gable a good actor—and he is a good actor—it wasn’t Josephine Dillon. It was Lillian Albertson.
Theatergoers of a decade or so ago will remember the beautiful red-headed actress who scored one of the most sensational of all Broadway success in Paid in Full. Today Lillian directs plays which she and her husband, Louis B. MacLoon, produce on the Pacific coast.
For seven years after Clark Gable came to Los Angeles he was under the able, biting, and affectionate direction of Lillian Albertson.
The tall young man whose clothes didn’t fit him, who didn’t quite know what to do with his big hands, amused and delighted her. She liked his silence, illuminated by that wonderful smile which came most often at his own expense. It intrigued her to teach him ease and grace, to bring the deep masculine timbre through the Middle Western pronunciation which was natural to him.
Above all, she admired the same thing that, years later, Art Wilson the cowboy was to admire: his courage in the face of difficulties. They never paid him more than seventy-five or a hundred dollars a week. Between those pay checks stretched long, lean periods when the rent of the Hollywood bungalow court where he and his wife lived went unpaid and eating money was scarce. He grinned through it all. Never talked.
Josephine Dillon worked as a dramatic teacher in a school on Seventh Street in Los Angeles. It was a small school, and Clark used to go there sometimes and observe with a grave eye the doings of the pupils. He developed an instinct for silent clowning, for pantomime, that was the despair of everyone connected with the school.
A pretty girl named Virginia Herbert taught a dancing class at that time, and Clark used to break her up day after day. He would come and stand behind her pupils, where she could see them and they couldn’t, and do the most amazing burlesques of their efforts.
His wife had a mania for teaching him to walk up and down stairs correctly. So Clark would solemnly and earnestly walk up and down a flight of stairs for half an hour at a time, with a grace countenance and that irresistible twinkle in his eyes. Then he would suddenly break loose and begin to raise the devil.
When he played Sergeant Kyper in the Pacific coast company of What Price Glory, he was the clown of the company. His favorite stunt was to take a long stick and greatly annoy the actors in the dugout scene. Then there would be a grand rough-and-tumble brawl afterward—that was a tough troupe of ex-service men—and Clark would come out with a bloody nose and a delighted grin.
The big romance of those days==he and his wife had separated in a friendly fashion—was a brief one with Pauline Frederick.
When the gorgeous Pauline did Madame X in San Francisco, Clark played a bit, the prosecuting attorney in the last act. Clark still treasures a cigarette case she gave him in memory of that engagement.
Of his first wife Clark Gable said to me briefly: “I don’t much like to talk about it. She was a sweet woman. She was good to me. But we weren’t suited—for marriage. I hope she’s happy and I hope she thinks well of me.”
I once heard him remark, in passing, that it was a mistake for any man to work too hard at marriage.
The great drama of Clark Gable is that all those seven years he was sitting right on the front door of the picture industry. Nobody would let him in. He registered at the Central Casting Office and worked as an extra. He was one of the extra men in The Merry Widow and, on the same stage where he now stars, witnessed the famous battle between von Stroheim and Gilbert, between von Stroheim and Mae Murray. But pictures would have none of him. Perhaps it was just as well. He needed those years in New York.
Houston, Texas sent Clark Gable to New York, and in a roundabout way back to Hollywood.
He got a chance to go to Houston as a leading man in a stock company. He went. He saved his salary. But he got his first break. He met a girl in Houston who played a small but terrifically important part in his fate. She was a very, very pretty girl and she fell in love with the leading man. The important part was this: Her father was the leading tailor in town and a very good tailor he was. Daughter decided it would be good business for papa to make clothes for the young leading man. Clark agreed. Papa made the clothes.
When he landed back in Los Angeles from Houston, Clark had the first good clothes he had ever worn in his life. He also had three hundred and sixty-eight dollars in cash, which was more money than he had ever seen at once. Mrs. Gable had decided to divorce him. The world was his.
Nothing was farther from his mind than pictures. For seven years he had played on the stage within a stone’s throw of Hollywood. He had played with Jane Cowl, Lionel Barrymore, and Pauline Frederick. He had scored and enormous hit as the reporter in the play Chicago when Nancy Carroll starred, and had seen the producers grab her right out of the wings without a glance in his direction. To hell with pictures!
Lillian Albertson introduced him to Arthur Hopkins in New York, and Hopkins gave him the leading male role in Machinal.
Three years later he came back by airplane to play The Last Mile in Los Angeles for Lillian Albertson and Louis MacLoon.
Another woman stepped into his horoscope—a slim, gypsylike young girl named Minna Wallis, sister for a First National producer. Minna saw him with the eyes of a woman. But she saw him, too, with the shrewd eyes of a clever actors’ agent, used to bucking the tough racket of putting over actors in Hollywood. She signed him up. Minna Wallis got him the small contract as a stock player at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer which turned out to be a gold mine for everybody—MGM, Clark Gable, and Minna.
For it was under that contract, which Minna forced down everyone’s throat, that he played the laundryman in The Easiest Way and the gangster in Joan Crawford’s Dance Fools Dance; under that contract that Garbo saw him and wanted him for her leading man.
Yes, women have been good luck to Clark Gable.
To meet Clark is to meet the same man you see on the screen. That is true of few stars. He has the same smile. The same animal magnetism. The same charm which no psychologist has ever explained, but which probably got Eve in the Garden of Eden when she first saw Adam.
In the old days of Wally Reid, of Valentino, of the young Dick Barthelmess, of Tommy Meighan and Tom Mix, perhaps Clark Gable wouldn’t have stood out in such amazing and startling relief as he does today.
The answer to his great popularity seems to me very simple.
He is a man.
They seem to be sorta scarce these days.
And we are not nearly so complex nor as civilized as we like to pretend.