Will Carole Lombard’s Marriage End Her Career?
By Don Worth
Motion Picture magazine, July 1939
Don’t be surprised to see “Ma” Gable give up her career one of these days, stay home and mend “Pa’s” socks—and mind the babies. Her pet dream is to skip being a star and begin being a wife and mother—full time.
Mrs. Clark Gable (she used to be that screwy Lombard girl; don’t you remember?) calls her husband “Pa” most of the time, now…
And Gable, he comes right back at her. His most-pet name for her, you see, is “Ma!”
That’s what they call each other pretty generally, now—“Pa” and “Ma.” Oh, to be sure, they have other things they call each other—some of the most startling things, which maybe we’d better not mention here. But the point I’m making, here and now, is that to Clark and Carole, now that they’re Mr. and Mrs. Gable, it’s just “Pa” and “Ma”…
And the further point I want to make is this: THEY’RE NOT KIDDING! They’re—well—rehearsing.
Because you needn’t be one tiny bit surprised if, before very many more moons have waxed and waned, Carole Lombard stands up and tells the world out loud that she’s gonna have Clark’s baby…!
And then and there, the rest of the world will finally and definitely realize what we in Hollywood pretty well know right now—that when Clark and Carole did that little “I-do” act in front of that minister in Kingman, Arizona, the other day, it meant: Goodbye, Carole “Screwball” Lombard; Hello Mrs. “Ma” Gable.
This isn’t one of those Hollywood-style marriages of public convenience. Clark and Carole didn’t get married just because too many people were writing things and saying things about them. They didn’t get married because any morals code of moviedom, written or implied, demanded it.
Clark and Carole got married because they were and are so dam’ much in love; they wanted to get married just like Sally and George, who live down the street from you, wanted to get married. So they could have a home of their own, and kids, and bye and bye, grandchildren and all that sort of thing.
Hell’s bells!—when Clark and Carole stood up in front of Dr. Engle in that sun-baked Arizona town, they were no more the two most sophisticated people in the world than would be Jimmy Jones and Susie Smith under the same circumstances. Carole didn’t make a wisecrack from the beginning to end, and that, from Lombard, is a world-sensation! It’s also indicative. It’s indicative of the fact that at that moment, Carole Lombard was ceasing to be the “screwball gal” of Hollywood, and beginning to be herself.
She was dropping, in that ceremony, all the business of posturing and acting and clowning and gagging that has made her famous. She was shedding that trick, synthetic personality exactly as she’d chuck a mask aside. She was marrying her man, and as women have done from time’s beginning and will do until time’s end, she was renouncing every bit of herself and her individuality and becoming utterly and completely part of her man.
And let me tell you this: as a Hollywood “insider,” I have felt a tremendous disappointment sweep the town at the unspectacular, gag-less nature of the Lombard-Gable nuptials. Hollywood felt surprised and cheated that Lombard didn’t pull some kind of outrageous gag, or give out some kind of dynamitish statement either at or immediately following the ceremony.
Hollywood is nuts. Hollywood might have known Carole wouldn’t. And if Hollywood was surprised at the orthodoxy of Carole on her wedding day, it’s going to be utterly ASTOUNDED at what’s going to become of Carole Lombard from now on. Because I’m willing to bet everything I ever hope to possess from now on that the Carole Lombard who won the designation of the wildest, maddest, screwiest hoyden in the world is gone. She has DROPPED the role forever. And now that she’s married, she’ll be one of the quietest, most unspectacular married women in town!
Realize these things:
Carole Lombard, who was born Jane Peters, decided early in life that she had to do things to get places. She has devoted herself, through every working minute, to that aim. She has always wanted to be a star. She worked at it, and became a star. She built up the most amazing make-believe personality Hollywood has ever known, but she did it because she wanted something and that was her analysis of the way to get it.
With that realization, you will realize that the creature you called Carole Lombard was just as make-believe a creature as the characters she played on the screen. She was acting the role of Carole Lombard off the screen precisely as she was acting the scenario-writer’s roles onscreen. And so, in the final analysis, the “screwball” Carole isn’t the real Carole.
Clark Gable, on the other hand, is legitimately Clark Gable, all the way through. Gable has never put on an act. He has always been himself—because that self was precisely what screen fans demanded. Clark Gable didn’t fit a screwy personality into a pattern. Clark Gable’s REAL personality fitted into the pattern of what the screen needed. And so the Gable you know is the real Gable.
So what?—so here you have two individuals, married and their lives joined. You have a make-believe personality hitched to a real personality. And it is simply and inescapably inevitable that the “screwball” personality is going to collapse under the strain. The dominant real personality of Clark Gable will absorb the brilliant make-believe personality of Carole Lombard. And what’ll happen—there’ll finally be just Clark and Carole Gable. There’ll be a swell guy and a swell woman—a woman who is the real girl that Clark Gable married; not the clowness (is there such a word?) as the Carole Lombard you’ve come to accept.
For underneath that trick Carole, you see there has always been a real woman. And it’s that real woman that few people in Hollywood knew or know. It was given Clark Gable to be one of those people. And it wasn’t the artificial Carole he fell in love with; it was the real woman underneath. And Carole, being above all a very smart woman, knows that—and what she’ll give Clark Gable as his wife will be NOT the phony Carole Lombard, but the real “Ma” that Gable loves.
She has confessed to her intimates that there’s nothing she’d like more than to have Clark ask her to quit the screen; to have babies; to just be his wife. After all, why shouldn’t she? All her life she’s worked. She never knew a free, unplotted childhood. She began making movies when she was just a kid in school clothes. She’s been acting ever since—working, always working, for this Hollywood racket isn’t just a 40-hour week; it’s a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job. And Carole must be tired of working after all these years.
And so you can accept it at face value, as God’s honest truth as well as Carole’s, when she tells her close friends that all she wants now is to skip being a star and begin being a wife and mother, full time. And that’s why I led off this story with the stuff about “Pa” and “Ma” and their really meaning it.
“I’d just like to let Pa be the star, while I stay home and mend socks and mind babies.” Carole told a pal, the day after she and Clark got back from their elopement.
And right here and now, I imagine, it’s time to debunk a lot of the applesauce and hone you’ve been hearing about that wedding trip of Clark and Carole.
Why, over the radio only a few nights after the marriage, I heard a bleating that the reason Clark and Carole picked that particular day to elope was that most of the newspaper reporters and writers in Hollywood were away—they were up in San Francisco, on a studio-arranged junket to see a preview of Alexander Graham Bell and attend the San Francisco Fair.
And because of that, Clark and Carole sneaked away like a couple of guilty kids and married in a hush-hush atmosphere.
To that, I say HOOEY! I happen to know that Clark and Carole had it all planned out for weeks and that they knew they could get away with a quiet, dignified wedding any day they wanted to, even if all the reporters in the world were concentrated in Hollywood. It was purely coincidental that the day they finally did drive off and do it happened to be a day on which some reporters were out of town.
You see, Clark had picked Kingman, Arizona, months ago. He’d hunted and fished around that country, and he liked the town. He liked the little First Methodist Church there. And right there, notice this: Clark and Carole never had any idea other than to be married by a minister. This justice-of-the-peace stuff might be all right for Hollywoodsters who were just getting married for a gag, but for Clark Gable, a justice wasn’t enough. They’d decided, right from the beginning, on a minister.
Besides, both of them wanted to get away from the usual Reno or Las Vegas stuff. So many of Hollywood’s screwiest marriages have been what they quaintly call “solemnized” in these places that Carole and Clark, in love and feeling deeply about it, didn’t want any of the scent of that sort of thing to attach itself to their own wedding. So Clark picked Kingman.
So having picked the place, scanned the maps, and figured driving times, Clark and Carole knew very well that any day they felt like it, or the chance offered, they could drive to Kingman in a few hours, and get married without any of the phony fanfare that they both basically abhor. And there is another fine tip-off—that Clark and Carole, screwy as they’ve acted for the sake of publicity and fun in the past, wanted their marriage to be utterly dignified and plain and honest and sincere and fine. You see, this marriage is no gag!
Well, there came Clark’s awaited “day off” from being Rhett Butle in GWTW. Carole wasn’t working. So that night before, they made their last arrangements—
Clark, his heart thumping like a guy who hadn’t spent years playing torrid love scenes, went to a florist and bought a corsage and tow boutonnieres! He bought a plain corsage—two pink roses and a spray of lily of the valley—for two reasons: first, because it was to be in keeping with their simple, fundamentally nice and fine wedding, rather than “orchidy” and flamboyant; second, because a more fancy corsage might have been a tip-off to a snooping press.
You see, in Hollywood, even florists and florists’ attendants are paid for being sideline reporters; if they can slip a tip to a radio caster or a columnist, they get a few bucks. So Clark, wise in the ways of Hollywood, bought a simple corsage that wouldn’t occasion any wonderment.
The two boutonnieres—one pink rose was for himself, and the other for his friend, Otto Winkler, a former newspaperman who has become one of Clark’s intimate friends and companions. It was Otto who was to go with them and help drive those few hundred sandy, hot dusty miles to Arizona.
They shoved off at 8:45 that morning. They got to Kingman seven hours later. All the way, they weren’t recognized, even though they weren’t hiding behind dark glasses. It was only a few minutes’ activity in Kingman that finished the business—a very thrilled girl named Viola Olson, clerk in the courthouse, gave them their license.
Then they hurried over to Dr. Engle’s parsonage at the Methodist Episcopal Church. Otto was the best man. Mrs. Engle was bridesmaid. The city clerk and Viola Olson and a Fred Cate served as witnesses, and they’ll probably be talking about it for the rest of their lives. That was all. It was simple; it was dignified; it was so doggone clean and sweet and unphony that Otto said it was all he could do not to bawl.
Afterward?—well, Clark and Carole called up a few people. They called the studio and told them what they’d done. They called a few close friends among the news folks and told them. They sent a few telegrams. By then, a couple of press-service correspondents in Kingman had heard about what was going on, and Clark and Carole told them the details. Then they got back in their car, and hurried back to Hollywood. No honeymoon; not yet.
Of course, by the time they got home, the news hounds were hot on their trail. Clark and Carole ducked to Carole’s house, which they’ll call home until they move into the house Clark bought from Raoul Walsh, out in San Fernando Valley. So many reporters clamored for interviews that Clark and Carole had to have two open hearings, taking them in relays. They posed for endless picture-taking. They answered questions. And that was all.
Next day, Clark went back to work. As he stepped onto the stage, the strains of The Wedding March sounded, and the cast cheered and Clark blushed a little bit. One or two smarties made some wisecracks, and Clark ignored them. And that was all.
At home, Mrs. Carole Gable—yes, she signs autograph books that way now!—was busy making plans for being housewifely. She’ll supervise moving into that Valley ranch. It’s only a little place, hidden away from the road, behind a big hedge and a huge gate. Six rooms—only two bedrooms. NO guest room, mind you! A gunroom for Clark’s arsenal. A big kitchen and a big dining room. Carole, who loves to cook, will do a lot with that kitchen. Carole’s addiction to cooking is no press-agenty gag. She loves it. She makes an awful mess of pots and pans and kettles when she does, but boy how she can cook! She’s the living personification of the wisecrack: So you can cook, too!
In a few days—probably by the time you read this—Carole will be at work at RKO, in Memory of Love. She has been insisting that there be no delays in production. She and Clark are figuring on getting time off together, after Gone with the Wind is one, if ever, for a honeymoon.
They’ll be gone a long time. Then they’ll come back to work—Clark to finish his current contract, and Carole to make what pictures she feels like. And now I’ll try a bit of predicting:
In two years, Clark Gable’s current contract will be over. He has always wanted to take a lot of time off at the end of it, for a long, long trip—months, maybe years. Now that he’s got Carole, it’ll probably be their honeymoon. They’ll probably go to Africa, do some gig-game hunting. Clark’s a rabid huntsman, and he’s taught Carole to be one of the best shots in Hollywood.
When they come back, Clark will resume his career. It has quite a long time to go before Clark’s day is over.
BUT—and mark this down in your “future” book—I’m willing to bet that when they come back, Carole Gable will NOT resume her career. I think she’ll say a loud PHOOEY to the screen, and let Carole become just a pleasant memory.
I think by that time she’ll have some little Gables. If she hasn’t, she’ll get them in a hurry. And she’ll stay home and be Mrs. Gable and mend socks and mind tots.
And she’ll love it.