Are Women to Lose Clark Gable?
By Ruth Biery
Movie Classic, February 1934
Women have idolized him, and women have made him what he is today. “So what?” asks Clark. What matters except living his own life again? He wants to escape from Hollywood and all that it means. He had time to think it all over, when he was ill!
Clark Gable told me, “If I had enough laid aside so that I would have a sure income of a hundred dollars a week, I’d leave all this in a moment. I’ve said that before. But I know now that we never get all we want out of life, so I’ll probably never get all of that hundred dollars a week. So when I get a part of it, only a small part—“
In other words, the moment that Clark Gable gets enough of that hundred dollars a week to protect him against starvation, plus enough to protect his family, he is leaving. He’s going to live life as he desires, rather than as Hollywood, movie audiences, and perhaps even those closest to him desire.
“I’m bored. I’m fed up. I’ve lost my ambition. I just work here now. I do my work as well as I can, but I don’t worry about it. I used to read everything that was written about me, but now I don’t care what they say. The moment a picture is done, I jump into my car and dash away from everything. I go alone, hunting, shooting. Motion pictures are just a job to me—the same as any other job!”
We have heard other actors say similar things. We have elevated our noses a little higher. “Talking for effect. Biting the hand that feeds ‘em. If they had their Hollywood chance taken away, we’d see how much they wanted it.”
Therefore, it’s difficult for writers to convince even themselves that an actor is sincere when he makes such a statement. Clark Gable doesn’t try to convince me. He didn’t care whether I believed him or not. Perhaps that’s one reason why I do believe him. Another is: Rita Gable [sic], his wife, confessed in a casual conversation that she is worried about Clark. “he’s not interested in all this—not as he used to be,” she said.
Money Isn’t Enough Any Longer
Of course, Clark has never become a true Hollywoodite as most actors do. He has always been a bit indifferent to the fame and the glory and the adulation given him. He told me once, “I am paid not to think,” and behind the remark was a restlessness, a disappointed nervousness that said, more plainly than words, “What’s a man doing in a game where he’s paid not to think?”
But at the time he made this particular statement, he was content with thought, “At least, I am paid not to think!” And the word “pay” came before the word “think.” In other words, his salary of four figures a week was compensation for being in what he felt—way deep in his heart—was not a man’s game. But today not even pay is adequate compensation.
“Of course, lying in the hospital had a lot to do with it,” he explained. “As I told you, I was paid not to think in Hollywood, so I didn’t think. But after that operation—eight weeks! There are only two or three bad days and you don’t remember them, anyway. The rest of the time, you think. You lie there, alone. You know that you very nearly didn’t live and—well, only life and death seem to matter. You’ve escaped death; you have life. So what?
“And you think back to the days when you were ‘down there.’ And now you’re ‘up here.’ So what? What have you gained—besides having things a little easier? And after you get them a little easier—what then? That’s what I asked myself again and again in that bed: ‘So what?’
“The real values of life are better ‘down at the bottom’ than ‘up at the top.’ And down there, you have hopes, expectations. You keep thinking of the thrill you will have when you get ‘up there.’ And then you get there and there isn’t anything to long for and yearn for and have visions about. So what?
Has Begin to Feel Carefree
“I tell you, I’ve lost my ambition. I will do my work. And if, after I’ve done my best, a scene is not so good, I’m going to say, ‘So what? That’s your worry. Not mine. I’m only paid to work here.’
“Life and death! You’re here a short time. Why not enjoy that time? I’m carefree, now, I tell you. If a picture is bad and I’ve done my work as well as I would chop down a tree—the best I could—why worry? So what?
“And when a picture is finished, my car is ready and I jump in and start going, leaving Hollywood and the studio and everything in the world behind. And I stay away until the studio calls me back.
“Listen, the happiest friends I have are a couple that I met when I was ‘down there.’ They have scarcely a roof over their heads. Yet, they are the most happily married couple I know. I have never met anyone to equal them for character and happiness up here. So what?”
“And what will you do when you have a trust fund that will give you a hundred dollars a week, and can leave this business?” I asked.
“I’ll travel. And meet people and—“
“But it takes money to travel.”
“Not the way I’ll travel. I told you we don’t get all we want. I won’t get that hundred a week. I’ll get a part of it. Perhaps, I’ll have to work part of my way—“
I have known Clark Gable since he entered pictures, this time, I know that he is telling the truth. All the restless, nervous agitation has left him. He’s carefree. That’s the best word to describe him. Carefree. So what?
Mental Picture of His “Escape”
I don’t think we’ll have Clark Gable among us much longer. Not any longer than his contract demands. Some day, he’ll be cited among those listed at Hollywood’s Bureau of Missing Persons. And if you want to find him, you’ll have to hunt on the decks of tramp steamers, in the seaside huts of tiny tropical islands or in the jungles of South Africa. He’ll have a gun slung over one shoulder, a fishing rod over the other and a pad of paper in the hip pocket. And every once in a while, you’ll see him hunch himself onto a tree stump or throw himself flat in the shade of a coconut palm. His pencil will scribble across the paper yanked from his pocket. And if you ask him what he’s doing, he’ll answer, “I’m thinking!” He’ll be writing what he thinks. Perhaps he’ll send the words to a publisher. But he won’t worry about them. If the regular rejection slip catches up with his ever-changing address, he’ll shrug his broad, brown shoulders and say, “So what?”
For Clark Gable is a man’s man, whose rise, by a perverse trick of Destiny, has been influenced by one woman after another. He is a lone wolf who has been forced—and forced by woman—to work in a pack. But some day, he’s going to be so far away from life as he has lived it in recent years that no woman in the world will be able to catch him.
Understand, this is no reflection upon any or all of the women in Clark Gable’s life. Out of love for Clark, they have done what women have done for the men they love since Eve tempted Adam. It is no reflection upon Clark. He was born an individualist. Selfish, you say? All true individualists are selfish. What modern civilization calls “selfishness” is as much an integral part of an individualist as are his blood, heart and arteries. And, strangely enough, such individualists have always been the strongest magnets for women.
Talks of His First Wife
In Oregon, he met Josephine Dillon, who became his first wife and about whom Clark has never been quoted til now. “Why?” I asked him. He answered swiftly, “Because no one ever asked me before!”
Josephine was a dramatic teacher. Clark went to her for instruction. “I paid her for each lesson that first year. I paid her for each lesson until we were married.”
It is nothing unusual for a teacher to influence a pupil. This teacher influenced Clark—his career and his ambitions. Can’t you hear her saying, “If you go to Hollywood, Clark, you can get into pictures?” They were married after they came to Hollywood, remember.
One time, in talking to me about his first experience in Hollywood, Clark told me, “One man did help in my career. Nobody ever prints that, though. I wish you would.” A wishful note in his voice! “He was an old director playing in that Jane Cowl production in which I carried a spear. He used to come down to the theater each morning and help me study lines of famous plays. He did it for nothing; simply because I wanted to learn. He taught me much.”
One man helped Clark Gable, And it is this masculine help that he will remember most vividly when he is scribbling thoughts upon his pad in the desert or jungle or mountains.
“Undoubtedly, it was my first wife who secured the appointment with Chamberlain Brown in New York. She has said she did. I did not know why at the time. I never thought to inquire why he saw me so quickly. She must have paved the way for me. Seeing Arthur Hopkins, then, was like seeing God. I saw him, too, at once, through Brown. And my first Broadway part, in ‘Machinal,’ came from that. Yes,” he mused, “what they have written about the influence of women upon my career must be true. I suppose I owe them a lot!”
How Second Wife Aided Career
It was the present Mrs. Gable who kept him in the acting profession. A play in which he had appeared with Alice Brady had been a flop. He was discouraged. Mrs. Gable had wanted to be an actress herself. But she had married and become a mother at seventeen. She still kept up theatrical contacts, met many actors and actresses who were on the New York stage. She met Clark in 1928.
“I want to go back to Ohio where I came from and go into the automobile business,” he told her. “The stage isn’t for me.” But, Mrs. Lucas (as she was then known) saw in Clark the same possibilities as had Josephine Dillon. She talked to him by the hour, coaxing, persuading, encouraging. And he—catapulted.
Clark Gable had merely carried a spear on the stage when he appeared in Los Angeles with Jane Cowl. But Lilyan Alberston, manager, had remembered him. When she was casting “The Last Mile,” she wired for him. There were plenty of men in Los Angeles who could have played that part and yet—another woman remembered Clark Gable.
And when motion pictures producers saw him in that play and clamored for him to sign—ah, I wish we had photographs of the scene between Mr. and Mrs. Gable in a San Francisco hotel upon the evening that Clark had to make his decision.
“I don’t want to stay out here. I don’t want pictures. I tried. I failed. I know I can make five hundred dollars a week on the stage—“
“No, Clark. No. You must remain. Think of the opportunity. Five hundred dollars will mean nothing in a couple of years. You can do it if you try—“
Again, it was woman’s ambition, rather than Clark’s; woman’s vision, rather than man’s.
A Woman First Ballyhooed Him
And here is still another story of a woman’s influence on his career; a story that has never been told till now. It has not even been hinted. This woman brought about the final success of Clark Gable in pictures. No—not Joan Crawford in “Possessed;” not Norma Shearer in “A Free Soul”—but a far-sighted woman in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer publicity department.
Clark Gable walked into her office one day in answer to a summons to tell his story. He was a nobody. His first picture with Constance Bennett (“The Easiest Way”) had not set box offices on fire. He was just one more stock player on that big lot, one more person who would probably remain six months and return to—wherever he had come from.
But as he stood in that doorway, all of his rugged independence, his virile individualism flashed across the room to the woman seated behind the desk.
And, the next day, this woman-of-the-publicity-department commenced telephoning the women of the press. “We’ve got a man down here who has more sex appeal than any man I’ve ever met. You’d better come out here and have luncheon with him. You’ll get a real thrill, I tell you!”
I was the first woman to answer that call. But the next day, there was another and the next, another. About ten days later, we women writers were huddled together around the luncheon table at the regular meeting of the Hollywood Women’s Press Club.
“Have you met Clark Gable? Isn’t he—I was never so thrilled in my life—“
For two hours, we talked of nothing but Clark Gable. For two months, we wrote of Clark Gable, who had only small roles on “Dance, Fools, Dance,” “The Secret Six” and “Night Nurse.” We prepared the women of America, through our newspapers and our magazines, for a new sensation when they saw Clark Gable.
Then Came the Dawn of Stardom
The producers were not blind. They could read the raves of the Press women. They decided that if women of Hollywood could go for Clark Gable, so could women of the world.
And as each individual woman tried to mold him—so did the mass of us. We of the Press said, “You must give us this story. You must talk about that angle.” And the women of the world sent him thousands upon thousands of letters. “You must play in this kind of picture. You must send me your photograph. You must—“
Hollywood is a town of musts. Here are innumerable ways to secure fame; there are only a few ways to hold it. You must do as the public desires. If you are a popular, masculine hero, you must do as the women desire.
Yet Clark Gable had fought against doing anything except what he, himself desired. “If I don’t like it, it isn’t for me!” He had told his own father that; he had told innumerable others. And now he was at the top, where no one cared whether he liked it or not.
He was a man’s man, a lone wolf by nature, treading a path dictated by women because the pay was so great that he could count money as his compensation. But in the hospital, money didn’t count. “Only life and death mattered.” He came away with life, determined to live that life as he wills it. “So what?”