“I’m No Saint,” Says Clark Gable
By J. Eugene Chrisman
Motion Picture magazine, February 1932
Speaking straight from the shoulder, the new Great Lover admits he has taken his fun where he has found it—but he wouldn’t talk about his love life if he had one. He’s “not that kind of guy.” He wants the world to leave his past alone, not because he’s ashamed of it, but because it’s his own business. And he says he’s no second Valentino, and gives his reasons.
“Damn a man who kisses and tells!” Clark Gable leaned across the table, his heavy brows drawn down, his gray eyes blazing. “There was a certain actor who was quite a lady-killer in his time—you know the man I mean. Well, he wrote a book and in it he didn’t seem to take very much trouble to conceal anything. Do you suppose I want to be that kind of guy?
“Who asked me to be?” Gable leaned back and smiled. “That’s all they do ask me. That’s why I’ve quit giving out interviews. Every time anyone interviews me, he—or usually she—begins to ask a few questions about this or that and before I know it he’s trying to get me string out on what they call my ‘love life.’ Say, I didn’t know I ever had a ‘love life’ until I began to get a few breaks on the screen! And I’m the one that should know!”
He isn’t trying to deny that there have been many girls in his life. There have been—and he cherishes the memory of several of them. There was a childhood sweetheart, back in Hopedale, Ohio, who married another chap after Clark went to Akron to work…there was a girl in Akron who was his constant companion for two years…then after Clark was bitten by the stage bug, and was playing in third-rate road shows up and down the land, there was a little Southern girl, who gave him his first real encouragement as an actor..there were many fly-by-night acquaintances, most of whom he cannot now remember…there was his first wife, Josephine Dillon, dramatic coach, who taught him the fine points of acting…there is Ria Langham, his present wife, whom he calls his “ideal woman.”
Doesn’t Seek Great Lover Role
But Clark does not talk about them. He is even sorry he has revealed these few harmless reminiscnes. He did not seek the title of “the Great Lover” on the screen; and he is going to make sure that no one writes him down as a Great Lover in his private life. He does not entertain. He and Mrs. Gable seldom go out. At the preview of “Susan Lenox” in a small town near Hollywood, he was recognized by women fans in the audience and was affectionately mobbed by them. He flees from such demonstrations. By staying at home, he avoids advances from Hollywood’s professional men-baiters; he avoids the women who would crowd around him only for the publicity; he avoids all accusations that he, himself, is seeking publicity. He’s after privacy.
“On the level,” continued Clark, “I don’t like to have people asking me about the women I’ve fooled around with, trying to dig into my past. I’m willing to talk to people, and the press has given me some great breaks—but whose business is it what I did before I got up out of the ruck? Why can’t they leave my past alone? And so far as that is concerned, whose business is it what I do now, after I take my greasepaint off?”
“Well, they’re calling you ‘a second Valentino,’” I countered, “and when a man’s a great screen lover, he has to have a past. Women know that a man with all that sex appeal didn’t let it go to waste all his life.”
“I’m No ‘Second Valentino’”
“Yeah, and sex appeal’s something else I didn’t know I had until I read about it,” grinned Gable. “But this ‘second Valentino’ stuff is pure bunk. Rudy must have been quite a fellow with the ladies and on the screen he had what it takes. He was a romantic sort of a chap, always at ease with women—knew just the things they liked and never felt uncomfortable, no matter how thick they got. Now I can’t go for that sort of thing. Some of the stuff they print about me almost makes me blush. I like women, byt they make me uncomfortable unless I knew them pretty well. Sure, I’m glad they like me on the screen, but I’m no Valentino and I know it.”
“What’s the matter with your past that you don’t want to talk about it? You aren’t ashamed of it, are you?”
“No, not any more than most fellows.” Clark hunched those thick shoulders of his. “But I suppose we have all done a few little things we wouldn’t do over again. Not that I’ve ever stuck up a bank, betrayed any innocent girls, or broken up any homes—but little things, you know. I’ve bumped around a bit, and I haven’t been exactly a saint or a hermit, either. Most of us are like Kipling’s man, I suppose, especially is we’ve hit the bumps a little—we’ve taken our fun where we’ve found it, and found a few serious affairs, too. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t.
“But just because a fellow happens to get a break in pictures, why should he be supposed to spill all that stuff for the public to read about? I don’t care whether a man’s an actor or a plumber, his past belongs to himself and those who have shared it with him. How would you like to sit down and tell your life’s history, truthfully, tell about all the women you’ve known? How would it look in print?”
“Well, there are a few little things that…”
Gable’s Idea of a Cad
“Sure!” he agreed. “And then the women! When I read stuff like that which the other fellow spills. I put him down as a cad. If a chap has to capitalize the pleasant memories and pleasant moments that women have been sweet enough to give him—boy, he’d better stay with the pick and shovel. Anyhow, that’s how I look at it.”
“Women who see you on the screen get a kick out of you because you look dangerous,” I ventured. “You have that treat-‘em-rough and tell-‘em-nothing attitude and they like it. They think that life for Mrs. Clark Gable must be one thrill after another.”
“Yeah and there you go. Leave Mrs. Gable out of this. But between you and me, she knows I’m a pretty tame egg. I’ve got too much respect for womanhood to be one of these cavemen. But some woman interviewer asked me if I had ever actually treated a woman the way I did Norma Shearer in ‘A Free Soul.’”
Clark threw back his head and laughed. “Say, if a situation like that ever came up in real life, I’d probably fall over my own feet with embarrassment. Gee, this is going to be tough on me if it ever gets into print. I’ll lose all my fans and have to go back to the peevy pole or the kerosene circuit.”
“And that’s where you’re wrong,” I told him. “I can see that you really don’t know much about women, after all. I don’t think you’re fooling them much, you know. They get a big kick out of watching you be the caveman on the screen, but they know it’s all in fun, in spite of the fact that you’re good at it.”
“And what do you know about women? I suppose you’re going to print your part of this interview, too?”
“Not much,” I assured him. “My wife might read it.”
“It’s What a Man IS That Counts”
“Oh, I’m the one who’s on the spot! Well, I suppose I can stand it, but I’m telling you straight it does get my goat sometimes. I am glad I got a break, but I worked hard for it. And I’m glad I can give people something they like on the screen, but outside the studio I do want to live my own life. My wife and I live quietly, we don’t go to many parties, and we feel that we have the same right to privacy as the surgeon across the court of the lawyer down the hall. When we went through a second marriage ceremony a short time ago, the papers published our address and we had to move to escape fans and interviewers.
“Out here in California in the old days,” he continued, “a man’s past was his own affair and it was as much as your life was worth to be too inquisitive about such things. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if that was still the fashion. A man comes out here and gets a break. The next day the whole world demands to know every detail of his history. If, while we were on the way up, all of us knew that some day our past would be of so much interest, we might be more careful. But we don’t, and once we’ve arrived, why don’t people give us a break and, so long as we please ‘em on the screen, take the attitude they did in ’49—that it’s not what a man was that counts, but what he is?”
He’s Like Dempsey
You can’t help but like this fellow, Clark Gable. He has been likened to Valentino, but he reminds me more of Jack Dempsey than he does anyone else. He wears a dress-suit becomingly (as you saw for yourself in “Possessed”), but the real Gable feels much more comfortable with his shirt open at the neck and his sleeves rolled up. He gives the same impression of physical power, but, like Jack, you can’t imagine him misusing it. Also, like Jack, he has the same deferential attitude, the same respect for the opposite sex. He may insist on privacy, but he hasn’t a swelled head and he does have a sense of humor.
He’s not the man you see on the screen, but I believe that most women, knowing him well, would prefer the shy, idealistic Clark Gable of reality to the swaggering menace of the screen. And if you are a woman “who knew him when,” don’t worry. Clark Gable isn’t going to talk. He considers his past his own—and he isn’t going to spoil any of your memories or his by sharing them with Tom, Dick and Harry.