Meet a Great Lady
By Clark Gable
Screenland magazine, February 1950
“The carefree kid I worked with 12 years ago has matured into a great lady and a real trouper,” says the King.
Before setting down a few observations on Loretta Young, I decided to check up on a few newspapers and magazines in which interviews were published, just to see how a guy goes about this sort of thing.
When I finished this research I was in more trouble than I had been when I started. Maybe that’s always one trouble with putting yourself wise—the more you learn, the less you know.
I found out that if you’re going to write a story about anyone, you should discover a few startling facts about your subject: like she had hunted tigers in Africa, or she paints portraits of Amazon savages, or she buys all of her clothing to match her mauve (whatever color that is) station wagon.
Well, Loretta simply doesn’t provide any startling facts. She is the nicest, sweetest, sincerest, most normal girl you would want to meet. If she were a man, her friends would say of her that she is a swell Joe.
I met Loretta about twelve years ago, when we were what is laughingly called “co-starred” in the same picture. The only star in that picture was the weather. We arrived in Bellingham, Washington, one afternoon in the midst of a blizzard which kept right on blizzarding for nine days. We were quartered, about thirty of us, in an airy building intended for use during the July heat wave. Brrrother was it cold!
We spent most of our time huddled around a stove, glaring at one another. After the first three days everyone had “cabin fever,” which is a polite term for the urge to kill. All except Loretta. My chief recollection of her at that time consists of seeing her standing at the window, nose pressed against a frosted pane, watching for Arvid Griffin to show up with the mail.
Arvid Griffin was, in those days, a Bellingham school boy who breezed in through the flakes and offered to be our emissary on snowshoes. All he could talk about was Hollywood. Most of us nodded and said, “Yeah, yeah,” from the depths of a book when he plied us with questions, but Loretta was genuinely friendly and interested.
She kept saying, “If you really want to get to Hollywood, you’ll get there. If the desire is planted deeply, and you won’t be distracted from your aim, you’ll succeed.”
There was something about the sincerity of her tone that would have convinced a totem pole.
So here’s an item: Arvid Griffin, once of Bellingham, Washington, was the second assistant director on “Key To The City,” the picture I just finished with Loretta. He regards her as a prophet—almost as a saint.
During the twelve years between “Call Of The Wild” and “Key To The City,” I didn’t see much of Loretta. I remembered her as a sweet kid, sort of carefree and good-natured, not too much interested in her career in spite of having plenty of talent.
I found out, during the first few days of the picture, that the carefree kid had matured into a great lady and a real trouper.
The first thing about her that impressed me was that she went about the job of making pictures in a workmanlike manner. There are some things about which I’m particular—maybe too particular. Punctuality is one of them. If we’re supposed to roll the cameras at nine o’clock, I plan to be ready. However, there have been plenty of times when the women in the company have not been ready for thirty to sixty additional minutes. I understand why this is (it takes much longer to make up a woman, except for costume pictures, and her wardrobe requirements are more stringent), but sitting around on a set when you know that every second’s delay is costing the studio money is an uncomfortable situation. At least it is for me.
That Loretta Young has much the same attitude toward the importance of time is illustrated by an observation I overheard one morning. Someone asked what time it was, and the answer was “Eight-thirty.” Quickly came the director’s correction: “It can’t be eight-thirty yet because Loretta isn’t here.”
She is stimulating to work with. When she came on the set each morning, she not only knew her lines, but she had thought out each of the scenes scheduled to be shot that day and she had some original suggestions about getting the most out of the situations. Not all of her piquant ideas had to do with her own part, either.
She is a generous enough workman to make suggestions about catchy bits of business for the other guy. In one sequence, for instance. She suggested that I climb through a window. I would never have thought of it myself, but we tried it out and it worked fine. Everyone seemed to think it was pretty funny.
When we were asked to pose for still pictures (which are later used in magazine advertising and picture exploitation), Loretta said, “Let’s live up those pictures. I think it’s dull just to stand facing one another as if we were two casual acquaintances waiting for a bus. Let’s have fun for the camera.”
She had ordered tea that afternoon, so she took an empty cup, gripped the drinking rim in her teeth and leaned backward. I didn’t know what she was going to do next—probably break the cup, I thought—so I was helping her with my face…you know how a person does.
The still cameraman got that one. Everyone around the studio seemed to be pleased with it. Said it was ingenious.
There are some people in the picture business who don’t take still pictures very seriously. They feel that such posing is a time-consuming affair that doesn’t pay off. Not Loretta. Her attitude is that everything having to do with making a picture and calling the attention of the public to that picture is very important.
She’s a gorgeous soul. Instead of returning to her dressing room between scenes, she would join Ruth Roberts (the dialogue coach) and either go over lines, or chat. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the sound stage, with electricians moving huge light standards, grips moving walls, prop men bringing up fresh items of equipment, and foreman yelling directions, Loretta would be perched on a tall, wooden stool, watching the activity with as much real enjoyment as if it had been all new to her.
She has the happy quality of never being bored. Everything interests her and everyone interests her. She knows which gaffer is about to become a father, and whether he and his wife want a boy or a girl and what they plan to name the child; she knows whose mother is ill, and who is taking a vacation trip to Honolulu. What a memory! And what genuine interest in her fellow human beings!
Another Young attribute which appeals to a man is that Loretta is devoted to her husband and her youngsters. She is that rare combination, a natural-born homemaker as well as a very successful actress.
She and I were sitting on the set one afternoon, and I began to tell her some yarn about an experience of mine in Chicago. When I finished, she laughed until she cried—incidentally, the ever-present still cameraman caught that one, too—and then she launched into a report of an experience of Tom Lewis’s.
Well, his story was considerably better than mine, and Loretta told it very well. After we had howled about it Loretta said, “I really should have waited until you were having dinner with us and then I should have persuaded Tom to tell you his strange experience. If he does, eventually, you’ll laugh again, won’t you? I wouldn’t want to spoil his enjoyment.”
Most wives, if such an emergency arose, would cut off the poor old man with the observation, “Don’t tell that story again. I’ve heard it a dozen times, and I’ve told Clark already.” Not Loretta. Her first consideration was Tom’s enjoyment.
Toward the end of the picture, Loretta told a group of us that when she finished “Key to the City,” she was going to take a real vacation. She said that for the first time she could remember, she was free of a picture commitment.
Someone said, “I imagine you’ll take a long trip, won’t you? To Europe, probably, which everyone is doing this season.”
Loretta hugged herself and laughed softly. “I am going to stay at home with my family,” she murmured. “I’m going to have breakfast, luncheon and dinner with them. I’m going to read books to the children and play games with them. I’m going to talk to Tom for hours every day about all the topics we store up while I’m busy making a picture. I’m going to be a wife and mother—the best vacation job in the world.”
Loretta is a splendid hostess. The house in which she and Tom live is situated on top of a knoll in Beverly Hills. From their terrace, a person can see the expanse of the beach cities and, on that well-known clear day, Catalina.
There is something about the rooms of the house which issues an instant welcome. Maybe it’s the color scheme, which Loretta planned herself. Perhaps it’s the big, comfortable, man-welcome furniture. I wouldn’t know about the technical reasons. All I know is that when a gang of us gather at the Lewises, we stay and stay and stay, and we talk as if somebody had dropped twenty dollars in the “continuous” slot. I’m not a great conversationalist myself, but I enjoy hearing other people discuss incidents, facts and ideas. You can count on picking up several stimulating ideas any time you visit the Lewises.
Loretta Young just glories in being a woman. She says quite honestly that she thinks the job of being a woman is the most interesting and the most inspiring task one earth. She thinks it is a mistake for a woman to covet even one of the so-called male advantages. She thinks that a wise woman can live a much more useful and rewarding life than a man. But she can also describe inspiringly the opportunities of men to help build a better world.
Yes, as I said in the beginning, the careless, slap-dash youngster I met twelve years ago has become a great lady. I regard her as a friend, and I hope she feels the same about me. To be a friend to Loretta and Tom Lewis is about as satisfactory a label as a man could aspire to in Hollywood.