The Clark Gables at Home
Screenland magazine, August 1939
Scoop of scoops! Visit Clark and Carole in their new home with Screenland’s famous “Liza.” You’ll have the time of your life
When two of my favorite people, Carole Lombard and Clark Gable, got themselves married some weeks back I was thousands of miles away on the wrong side of the Rockies. I just happened to stumble on to it one afternoon when I was flat on my back in my hotel room having a little trouble with my ethmoid sinuses which were leaking like mad. As I reached for the Kleenex I turned on the radio and heard something dreary about 45,000 Texaco dealers from Coast to Coast quickly followed by a “Flash! Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were married in Kingman, Arizona today! And now U.S. Rubber Co. presents Raymond Paige.”
Well, I must say that’s a fine way to find out about the marriage of two of your best friends, tucked in there with 45,000 Texaco dealers and Raymond Paige. It was humiliating. It was belittling. “Who do they think they are?” I said with my customary originality. “They can’t do this to me! No wire, no scoop, no nothing. They can’t do this to me.” But they did. As Carole casually explained to me later, “Liza, you couldn’t possibly have been further from our thoughts that day.” My friends!
It seems that she was just fooling around the house that morning—the earliest riser in Hollywood, that’s Lombard—when Rhett Butler called up from the studio and said that he had the day off unexpectedly and why didn’t they get married. So Carole became all coy and fluttery like something from the Junior League. She called up her mother to come over and look after the house for the day, tried on all her new hats with a few “I haven’t a thing to wear,” and before anyone was wise—except her mother, Mrs. Peters—they were off in Clark’s car for the State Line. 9Arizona doesn’t have the inconvenience of a three-day license law that California has.)
Now I have a forgiving nature, mercy, you have to have it in this business, so I wired Clark and Carole, night rates, “well thank goodness that’s over.” To which they replied, “Don’t forget to buy wedding present in New York.” Quelle belle sentiment! That’s what I like about the Gables. They are so full of lovely romance and moonlight that you just want to wrap them up in lavender and stick them away in a drawer.
Eventually I returned to Hollywood, fresh from my Eastern triumphs; and fairly reeking of chic I drove out to the Valley to pop in on the Gables. Now I knew that Carole and Clark had gone back to the soil in a big way—hadn’t I lived through Carole’s correspondence course last summer in poultry feeding, can washing for dairies, olive thinning and vegetable weevils? Not to mention several of Clark’s tractor salesmen? But knowing movie folk as I do, and I do know movie folk, I naturally assumed that it was just a phase, and now that they had actually settle down on a ranch they would be landed gentry with plenty of finger bowls. I fully expected a Jeeves who would tell me that the Marster and the Modom were having their tea in the Rose Garden. I was all set to tear into a couple of buttered scones.
Instead I tore into a bevy of animals. Right there, in the middle of the driveway, with no intention of moving, were more dogs and cats that I’ve seen since France. I recognized Tuffy, Clark’s bulldog, and his bird dog, and his favorite cat (Clark adores cats) and Fritz, Carole’s horribly mannered dachshund, and Simon, and Topper, and Josephine who has a washing-her-face complex and sleeps only on the top of cars. And there was a new grey cat of sorts, who I learned later, had moved into the house the same day that Clark and Carole did; she didn’t seem to mind about the lack of furniture and all, and promptly gave birth to six kittens. When you bunch the Lombard pets with the Gable pets you can really understand that old wheeze about it raining cats and dogs.
After pushing my way through much pawing and licking and yelping and purring—my dress and slippers will never be the same—I made the front door, with a determined vow that if I ever met another tailwagger I would smack him down then and there. I have heard that it is very much hard to “crash” the Gables inasmuch as they feel that they have a right to a private life—but all I had to do to get through the front door was to duck under a ladder. The place seemed fairly alive with men in overalls who were puttering around with paint brushes and screw drivers. Not a sign of any Gables. Or of any tea, worse luck. But if you had blindfolded me, driven me around in circles for hours, and suddenly dumped me in this living room I would have known it was Carole’s. The rugs were rolled up, the furniture, and not much of it, was under wraps, but on the mantelpiece was a large vase of flowers, on a canvas-covered table there were flowers; in fact, there seemed to be flowers all over the room. Near the windows, waiting to be hung, were gay chintzes. Flowers and pretty chintzes—practically a Lombard trademark. Clark told me later that for days after they moved in they didn’t have a stove or a dining room table—but they had plenty of flowers. Carole saw to that.
The Gable ranch—which is the house that Clark and Carole have always wanted—is certainly not a mansion in any sense of the word. It is a typical ranch house with lots of knotty pine and with huge fireplaces in the living room and dining room. Besides the living room and dining room there are only two other rooms, a kitchen and a gin room, downstairs. The stairway goes up out of the living room and upstairs there are two bedrooms and baths. Definitely no guest rooms. It is being furnished, gradually, in the Early American manner and is going to be about the most homey place in this neck of the woods. You can spill ashes and put your feet in the chair, and even knock over a drink without having your hostess’ eyebrows go up. I mistook the dining room for the kitchen the day I was there as there was a small stove in the middle of the floor, but with Carole’s flair for decorating homes I don’t think it will remain quiet that informal. What Carole can do with chintz and flowers is really sensational.
Far enough away from the house, so you won’t ever have to scrunch your nose when the wind blows, are the stables, all white and green, and quite beautiful, if you are one to admire stables. One of its occupants is a cow given to the Gables as a wedding present by John Cromwell who is directing Mrs. Gable at present in “Memory of Love.” There will be horses later. The house is surrounded by fourteen acres of good old California soil and there are trees galore. Walnut, lemon, range, olive, grapefruit, avocado, to mention a few I recognized. The property was formerly owned and cultivated by Director Raoul Walsh, and outside the trees there are big bushes, and lots of strawberry and blackberry bushes. Carole has done over the flower gardens and has planted petunias, zinnias, and roses. And what Clark doesn’t know about citrus fruit isn’t worth knowing. He’ll talk about the care of citrus fruit for hours, but it’s much too too technical for me. If he must be rural I’d rather he tell me about the farmer’s daughter and the travelling salesman.
Well, I soon got tired of painters and carpenters and Pete, the caretaker, who pointed out a fine old walnut tree and said, “That tree’s four hundred years old.” And seemed rather hurt when I merely said “Really.” I should enthuse about a four hundred year old tree with dirt pouring through my heelless and toeless slippers! “Mr. and Mrs. Gable,” I mourned, “they must be somewhere around here. I called the studios and they aren’t working today.” “Straight ahead,” said Pete. “Look out for the goats and donkeys. I dunno why everybody wants to send pesky animals here. Tell Mrs. Gable I’ve gone to the store for some new feed pans.”
I went straight ahead, mired under a couple of times where there was a leak in the sprinkling system, dodged a few evil-looking goats, and resembling nothing so much as warmed over death, I finally managed to trip over a fence and land in Mrs. Gable’s chicken run. Carole in tailored slacks and gloves (even on a ranch she is still the best dresses actress on Hollywood) was quite busy counting the hundred and fifty chicks that has just hatched.
“Liza, pass me that pan of feed,” she said as casually as if she was asking for a cigarette. “Aren’t they cute? A hundred and fifty of them. Go right over there and look at my new chicken houses. They have sash covered openings and hen bathteries. Remember that correspondence school course I took in poultry raising? It’s no good. Everything has changed.”
“I don’t like chicken houses,” I said. “I think you might notice my new hat—and dress, what there’s left of it. I’ve been away or don’t you remember.”
“Don’t shout,” said Carole. “There’s a broody hen in there, I took her off her nest this morning and put her in the brood coop. And I don’t want you exciting her.”
Well, really, I thought. It has come to this. She thinks more of her broody hen than she does of her broody friends.
“I saw a lot of plays in New York,” I said rather grandly. “Carole, you would love Tallulah’s play. It’s all about—“
“I got two dozen eggs this morning,” murmured the glamorous Miss Lombard vaguely. Then she came to with a start. “Say,” she shrieked, “are you here as the press or a friend? I think I see a writing look in your eye.”
“You wouldn’t deprive a poor old broken down fan writer of making an honest penny, would you now?” I whined.
“I certainly would,” said Carole. “And if you hadn’t tried to cross that fiend in high heels—don’t you know how to dress on a ranch?—you wouldn’t be broken down. Clark and I don’t want anything written about our home or our private life. We aren’t giving any stories to the press.”
“That’s no way to talk to the press,” I said. “I’ll make trouble.”
“You’ll make trouble!” shrieked Carole. “This morning they brought our perfectly new and beautiful ice-box. We’ve been waiting for it for weeks. So what happens. So they drop it as they lift it out of the truck and my lovely new ice-box is now scattered all over the backyard. So I asked the painters to do one of my rooms in white yesterday morning and when I come back from the studio it’s in green. So they’ve made the barn door too small to get Clark’s trailer in it, and the whole thing has to be done over. So I’ve had nothing to read but ‘Wet Paint,’ and I’m nearly dying of painters’ colic—and you want to give me trouble!”
“Well, I was going anyway,” I said.
As I stumbled past the tables I found myself covered with a white spray and there was Clark spraying the fences and singing at the top of his voice.
“Liza,” he said, “come right over here and see my new tractor. See, it has a new primary air cleaner in the center at the high point just ahead of the steering wheel which protects the motor from dist. The air for the carburetor gets a second cleaning by passing through a watertype cleaner. Isn’t it a beauty. Say, what are you doing here, anyway? Carole and I—“
“Aren’t giving out any stories to the press,” I finished. “Well, if you and Carole think I can get a story out of a broody hen, a second cleaning tractor, and a pile of painters you must think I’m good.”
“Well, if you aren’t being professional,” said Clark, “why don’t you stay for dinner? Ham and grits tonight.”
But I was on my way to the opening of the Trocadero, though I must admit that the grits did tempt me. I can remember the time when Carole and Clark would have been right there for a swanky opening too. Carole looking too breathlessly glamorous for words, all smothered in white fox and star sapphire. And Clark, sleek and handsome, in white tie and tails. But those days, it seems, are gone forever. I think I’m kinda glad.