This is Clark
By Robert Montgomery
As told to Ben Maddox
Hollywood magazine, March 1935
…in which Clark Gable’s supposed “rival” paints a penetrating word-picture of him. And if you don’t think they’re pals, just read it!
I only hope that Clark receives as many compliments for me as I do for him! The lovely ladies who act opposite him like him. All the rest of the people on the set, from prop boys up or from the director down, like him. The nicest people in Hollywood like him. I know, because they’re always coming up and telling me so!
Now I agree perfectly with the unanimous appraisal of Clark Gable as the most likable sort of fellow. But I want to confess something. I get a personal kick from the way people look at me when they finish saying a kind word about him.
They speak and then peep at me in a fashion that I can describe most accurately as “suspicious.” When I say that I, too, think he’s great, they give me that sickly smile and seem to be inwardly murmuring, “The liar!”
Clark and I have often dismissed our “rivalry.” Since each of us is happily married, any possible rivalry is limited to the studio confines. By those who are informed on state secrets, I mean. Clark and I are the only two in town, I guess, who are uncertain about the whole thing. We get together for “wondering bees!”
But enough of exposing what I presume is a good gag.
The first time I ever saw Clark was in New York. About a half-dozen of us had gone to Arthur Hopkins’ production of Machinal, and in the play, in the role of a young engineer, was Clark. He made a distinct impression on us. There was a virility in his performance that set him apart from all the rest of the cast. We talked of him at length.
It was after I watched him score so magnificently with Norma Shearer in A Free Soul that I fully realized what a terrific punch he carries.
I don’t think there is another man or woman in pictures who has made such definite steps forward as Clark has, either. You mustn’t misconstrue this. He was a fine actor when he started on the screen. But every one of us can improve, and not enough of us do.
In spite of Clark’s breaks, his progress, in my estimation, has been due to his worth, rather than to luck. His meteoric rise was enough to dazzle any fellow. He could have sat back and taken it easy; he could have gone along elegantly just on personality. But he didn’t. He put real thought and effort into every part, and still does. That’s one reason why I respect him. The ordinary actor isn’t so much different from the person who has to reach for the first olive after opening a jar of them. There isn’t much to spur him on to dig down for the other olives. They’ll probably roll out.
Clark is definitely a man’s man—in his manner of thinking and behaving, and in his way of living. Although he has been flattered to the extreme, he hasn’t let himself go soft.
He has had to withstand more public pressure than any man in Hollywood. Every move he has ever made has been spotlighted. He has had countless opportunities to go haywire. And yet he hasn’t. Furthermore he isn’t namby-pamby. He doesn’t deny anything he has ever done. Whenever he has made mistakes—and who of us hasn’t made plenty?—he has admitted them…to the press. Believe me, that takes courage!
When he makes decisions, he stands by them and doesn’t hem and haw. You can depend on him and trust him to the utmost. What strikes me as exceptionally commendable is that he decides everything from a man’s viewpoint—not from the apt-to-be-fantastic aspect of a movie star.
Clark was fortunate in that he had knocked around Hollywood before he ever attracted attention. When you’re in the money, I find people treat you differently from the way they do when you’re in desperate need of a job. I know that from my own past experiences. But Clark had his jolts right here. He didn’t harbor any absurd illusions when he “arrived,” because he already knew what a whale of a difference a little fame and cash make in this town.
Those tales of heartbreaks that you read about, if you’ll stop to recollect, center about people who have a farfetched notion of Hollywood. They come into sudden glory and are swamped by the honeyed words. Or they are utterly discouraged by not getting the breaks. Clark went through all that, then abandoned Hollywood, went to Broadway, and finally returned to triumph—with his eyes wide open.
A trait I have detected in Clark from the beginning is his absolute understanding of himself. It’s important that we should correctly estimate ourselves. If Clark has ever deviated, briefly, from his own conception of his abilities, nothing could be more natural—for he is such a target for everyone’s ideas as to what he should do. But he can retrace the road to his original self better than anyone I know.
He doesn’t go in for a chauffeur for himself, or for any excessive star trimmings. His idea of relaxation is jumping into his car and heading for the mountains to hunt. There’s a spot in Arizona that fascinates him. The people there aren’t film-goers. They don’t know who he is; all they know about him is that he’s that very regular guy who blows in from California twice a year. He stays at various cabins, pays for his board, and sits up half the nights talking with “the natives”—about everything under the sun.
I hate one-track individuals. Clark tried an assortment of jobs before he ever determined on becoming an actor, and he could get along anywhere. With his adaptability, his intelligence, and his charm, he could step out of the movies and click in any number of other businesses.
You have heard how stars are pestered and how they have to slink down alleys and rush away in deep disguise, Well, let me tell you about this Gable. Frequently, he eats lunch in a little restaurant a half-block down Washington Boulevard from the studio. When he’s eating in the studio café, he’s generally upon a stool at the counter, tearing into a huge dish of stew. You draw your own conclusions!
His principal virtues are his steadfastness and sincerity. But I can’t overlook Clark’s tact. He is a whiz at tact. Now, this counts at any line, but it is one essential to sticking around long in pictures. People who probably are not the chummiest of folk are Clark’s close friends. What I’d like to know, Clark, is—what’s your system?
It isn’t being silent, or being afraid to be frank. Clark is not a dodger when you ask him questions. Still, he makes friends of foes. Smart boy–!
Clark is like me in that he appears to be light and airy, yet is pretty serious underneath it all. He plans ahead—not calculatingly, but sensibly. He has a great sense of humor—but he doesn’t go in for kidding himself. And he never will.
I really do want to take a hunting trip with Clark some day. The only time we have ever had a vacation simultaneously, we were three thousand miles apart. I had skipped off to New York. When I heard that Clark was actually free, I wired him: “how about going hunting?” he had a wire relayed back to me. “The doctors have already gone a-hunting for my appendix!” He was doing his vacationing in the hospital.
He has grown to be a confirmed Californian and the big city mob scenes no longer appeal to him. The outdoor life has got him. Being in the open has become vital to Clark. Why, between “takes,” he doesn’t sit around on the set. He dashes outside and parks in the sun and talks democratically to whoever is at hand.
Still, he hasn’t purchased a Beverly estate. Or any home. He owns no fancy star set-up, preferring to rent. There’s a restless urge in him that has always dominated him, since he has been here, a riot in pictures, he has stayed in one place much longer than he ever did before. I’m not so sure that the acting life satisfies him completely, either. A man with Gable’s intensity yearns to live life, not just play-act it.
He’s generous. But for a while I had my doubts—during the fortnight of the great “duck mystery.” It was one of those we’re-going-hunting schemes, only I couldn’t get off. So Clark went alone and afterwards called me up. “Stop by the house and I’ll give you a half-dozen ducks,” he said. “Marvelous!” I responded.
I got the package that morning, took it home, and next morning I was served two ducks for breakfast. “Only two?” I questioned our houseboy. He nodded. So at the studio I said to Clark, “Thanks for the ducks—all two of them!” He was astounded, “Six!” I shook my head. “No, no, my lad, two!” He phones his house, and came back to insist, “They gave you six!”
Well, where the four missing ducks had gone perplexed us no end. Someone had done someone else wrong. Finally, two weeks later, I cross-examined my houseboy again. “How many ducks did Mr. Gable give me?” He knocked me for a loop when he answered, “Six.” I screamed, “Six? Say, let’s get together. I’m going mad! Before you told me I had just had two!” He grinned. “Yes, sir, you had two. But it was a day before I served you and in the meantime Mrs. Montgomery gave a duck luncheon. Didn’t you know about it?”
I should be talking about Gable when I can’t even keep up with what’s happening in my own house! But you see, I like Clark. And now don’t sneer when you read these honest words! I’m going to invite him over for a duck dinner. You can bet: he’ll bring the duck!
By Clark Gable
As told to Ben Maddox
Hollywood magazine, March 1935
…in which Robert Montgomery’s alleged “public enemy” tells what he likes about Bob—and why. And kills some “silly rumors!”
I was a fan of Bob Montgomery’s for at least two years before I ever met him. And I rated an introduction just five years ago. So, to be frank, all this talk that has been stirred up about our being romantic screen rivals sounds darn silly to me. Of course, we sort of alternate opposite the glamour girls. But I don’t hold that against Bob!
We recently vied for Joan Crawford’s heart in Forsaking All Others. A lot of folks were worried about how Bob and I would get along as co-stars, sharing honors in the same picture. I have a sneaking hunch that they hoped we’d squabble for the breaks.
This is the funny thing. They didn’t know that we had played together once before. Only then it was my first film at Metro, and I was a humble laundry-man in the plot! If you can recollect that far, I’m referring to Connie Bennett’s The Easiest Way. Bob was the dashing hero, and I was rung in for a “bit.” Life is strange, isn’t it? Now I’ve just finished opposite Connie in Town Talk!
Fight for the breaks? Nonsense! I’d much rather work with a cast that keeps me on my toes than struggle through a story with actors who are second-rate. Bob is a swell performer and the excellence of his technique, the way he can do scenes for all they’re worth, is stimulating.
You know how you acquire pre-conceived ideas about people? Well, the first time I saw Bob on the screen, I spotted him as one of my favorites. Then, when I glimpsed him with Norma Shearer in The Divorcee and Strangers May Kiss, I was positive that he must be a grand egg.
Unfortunately, I’ve stumbled upon the sad fact that all that glitters is not gold. Yes, even—or should I say especially?—in Hollywood. So when I landed that job in The Easiest Way five years ago, I walked onto the Bennett-Montgomery set mentally prepared for the worst. He might not be what he screened to be.
I remember, too, that no one bothered to introduce me to him at first. Everybody assumed we had known each other on the stage in New York. I guess it was a coincidence that we hadn’t become acquainted in the East. Anyway I finally got up the courage to ask for a genuine introduction.
He and I were kept so busy afterwards that we didn’t really have a chance to become friends until about a year ago. And at that, most of our conversation still concerns what we’d like to do, what we will do. When we have the time!
Bob is not the least disappointing in person. He is the same gay, light-hearted, romantic fellow you see in his pictures. There’s a jaunty, friendly way about him that immediately wins your approval. Even his clothes—and he’s usually comfortably nonchalant, despite his expensively tailored wardrobe—have a delightfully informal air.
He couldn’t be boring or stuffy if he tried, because he’s too full of the zest for living. Dat ol’ debbil Fame hasn’t lured him into “taking it big.” He is sincerely interested in people and nearly always has someone with him. Bob isn’t moody or morbid. Or arty.
We have the same pet sports—hunting and horses. We’ve never gone hunting together yet, because we’ve never been able to make our time between pictures jibe. As for our mutual interest in horses, Bob is going in for steeple-chasing and high-jumping at present and I’m being a little less ambitious. I merely ride—and speculate as to whether my best horse is going to do right by me when I enter him in the next big race.
One of the qualities I particularly envy in Bob is his ability to meet any situation that may arise. Figuring ahead what you’ll do is one thing. Reacting instantaneously is another. You can’t floor the boy! His brain functions trigger-fashion and it would take a better man than Gungha Din to stump him.
I remember an amazing incident. He has a farm in the hills of Connecticut, you know, and he plans to retire to it eventually. Whenever he can maneuver a vacation, he heads back there, and he already has his house fixed just about as he want it. The only trouble is that folks have discovered that it’s his, and there isn’t as much privacy as he anticipated. A fellow has to get off his eternal dress-parade sometime!
Well, one day Bob had been out and, when he returned, he found that a young man and woman had walked up, opened the front door, and were completely at home inside, giving his living-room a minute once-over. Can you imagine such nerve? I’ll admit that I’d have been so mad at such effrontery that I’d probably have been completely speechless.
Bob was astounded, but he never let on. “Do you like it?” he queried politely. “Oh, yes,” they answered. He says he could tell they were newlyweds and, somehow, didn’t realize that there was anything odd about just walking in and making themselves at home.
“I’m so glad!” he exclaimed. “Let me show you all around and then we’ll have tea!” Bob loves to play jokes on people, but he’s a good sport when he’s the goat, too!
I’m going to tell another incident about him. This last Christmas, he gave a lot of heavy thought to his selection of a present for Brooks Morris—Chester Morris’ six-year-old son. Bob finally settled on a fancy electric train. Three weeks before Christmas he had it sent to the Morris home, for Chester to hide away. A couple of days later after he had been advised that it arrived safely, he phoned Chester one evening and said he wanted to come over. So what did he want to do? He had Chester pull aside all the furniture in one room and proceeded to plunge into the mysteries of setting up that train and seeing it run in all its complicated glory!
But there’s another side to Bob, also. I am sure you have sensed this from his screen portrayals. After all, a man who was all gaiety would grow tiresome. Bob has his serious moments.
As a business man, for instance, he is very shrewd. He didn’t fall into his Hollywood success. There were years on the stage when he was struggling along on a small and shaky salary. So he has behaved with praiseworthy foresight since establishing himself in pictures. He lives comfortably, but he hasn’t bought a mansion. He rents a house from John Mack Brown. He isn’t putting on any front to impress. His home is for his family and his friends. His earnings are carefully invested.
Bob isn’t gullible. And, believe me, that’s a very helpful characteristic out here. They don’t try to sell you the subway or the Empire State Building, but practically everything else can be had “at a great bargain, just for you!”
There’s an amazing contradictory streak in him. He doesn’t take things seriously, and yet, undoubtedly, he does. It’s difficult to explain. All the hullabaloo made about stars doesn’t fool him—he accepts it as fun and phoney-business. But he is profoundly concerned, nevertheless, with things being as they should be. He’s still idealistic.
He is one of the leaders in the Screen Actors’ Guild and is constantly battling for justice, for better conditions for the actors. Not just for himself, but for our profession as a whole.
I hate to go through a picture with those extraordinarily arty souls who have illusions of grandeur. They carry on as though they had the weight of the world on their shoulders. Hey can’t be natural for dear it will shock the prop-boys–or spill the beans about themselves! Bob, now, goes at it with a keen sense of humor. He enjoys the actual acting.
I should say that he ranks extremely high as an actor, too. He has an obvious charm of personality, and more. Bob has studied, debated, which are the best ways to give certain effects. In other words, he is skilled at his trade. And that means something. His personality, which is unique, put him across in Hollywood. But his earnestness, his mastery of the technique of acting, will keep him on top here as long as he wants to stay. I don’t think there’s a better light romantic actor at any studio.