Here is a letter that Clark Gable’s widow Kay Williams Gable wrote to Marilyn Monroe on April 11, 1961:
How about our little ‘carbon copy lover boy’–I am certain you have seen his press pictures. Just exactly like Clark. The ears are too close to his dear little head–I’ll fix that dept. later.
Do let me know when you plan to return to California–I’ll let you be second nanny in charge. Later you may take him fishing. Guess I will be the one to teach him to shoot ducks. My work is really cut out for me. I feel certain his dearest father is watching his every move from heaven.
I miss Clark each day more, I’ll never ever get over this great loss, but God has blessed me with my three dear children and precious memories Clark and I shared together.
Went to confession after 24 years–(hope the priest did not call the cops) seriously you can’t imagine how much this has helped me. Prayer helps, when I start to fly apart.
I plan to spend the summer at our ranch with John Clark. Joan and Bunker will be off to summer camp.
It would be so pleasant if you could spend some time with us, bring Joe too if you wish. Very private at our happy home.
I love the beautiful plant you sent to the hospital.
Have seen pictures of you in the paper, was pleased to see you looking very well. Do take care of yourself.
I should talk. I broke three stitches, lost my voice. My Dr. gave me hell for overdoing, then to top it all, he keeps reminding of my age–John Clark doesn’t seem to mind my age.
Give my best to Mae.
I hope this letter finds your heart full of happiness.
Clark Gable died 54 years ago today, on November 16, 1960. He was 59 years old.
Here is the description of his final ten days on earth, detailed by his widow, Kay.
The last day Clark spent in the house he loved began much as any other day on the ranch, except that it was raining. It was Saturday, Nov. 5, 1960. The night before, Pa had finally finished all work on The Misfits and he came home looking so worn out my heart ached for him. He talked of flying up to the duck club near Stockton for the weekend, but changed his mind.
Saturday morning he looked more rested. We had breakfast. Then later in the day Pa took his hunting dog out to one of our back fields and worked him. He was pleased with the dog’s performance and we talked about future hunting trips. Pa played with Joan and Bunker for awhile, then he seemed quite tired and restless–so unlike him. I said, “Come on Pa, you had better get a good night’s rest, so off to bed.”
About 4 a.m. Clark awakened with a bad headache. I have him some aspirin and he dozed fitfully. There was a terrific thunder and lightning storm–a rare occurrence in California–and it vaguely disturbed me. I was concerned about Pa and it was some time before I went back to sleep. At 8 a.m., I woke to find Clark standing in the doorway. He has started to put on a pair of his favorite khakis but he had been unable to finish dressing. His face was grey and beaded with perspiration.
“Ma, I have a terrible pain,” he said, “It must be indigestion.”
I was frightened by his appearance but I tried to keep my voice calm so I helped him to a chair. “I’m calling a doctor,” I said. “No, don’t,” Pa protested. “This will go away in a while. I don’t need a doctor.” I looked at Clark sitting there helplessly, then I reached for the phone. As I dialed I said, “I’ve never disobeyed you, Pa. But this time I’m sorry, you must have a doctor.”
When the doctor arrived, he took one look at Clark and immediately put in a call for an ambulance and a fire department rescue unit. “Is it a coronary?” I whispered. The doctor said he thought it was.
It was so like Clark to be more concerned about me than himself, even though he was in great pain. He protested my riding in the ambulance with him; he was afraid it might prove too upsetting in my condition. (Kay was five months pregnant) Of course, I insisted on staying right beside him. As the attendants wheeled him out, Pa looked up at me and said, “I feel terrible, Ma, doing this to you.” I gave Pa a reassuring smile as the ambulance headed out our drive, past his beloved oleander trees.
For the next ten days I rarely left Clark’s beside. At first, I slept in a little cot at the foot of his bed. But his small room soon became crowded with medical equipment and the two nurses we used on each shift, so the doctor thought it best I move to an adjoining room.
It was a great shock for me to see Clark in a hospital bed. He had always been so vital, so strong, so full of life. He was never ill and previous checkups had shown nothing wrong with his heart. Though he suffered great pain at the time of his attack, Clark never complained. He was a good patient and determined he’d get well. …
From the start, Clark insisted on knowing the truth about his condition. “I want to know just how bad it is,” he told the heart specialist. “I want to know how much damage there’s been and how active I can be in the future. Just give me the plain facts; don’t varnish them. I can handle it.” Pa’s courage never deserted him.
Clark was told that once he was out of the hospital he would face a long period of rest. After that he could gradually resume his normal activities. Each day he seemed a little better; he even felt well enough to read five of the twenty books I’d brought him from Hunter’s book store in Beverly Hills. I also brought in two little elbow pillows so he could read more comfortably. Clark looked at me over the top of his reading glasses. “Come on, old lady,” he protested. “Let’s not overdo this. I’m not quite that fragile.” We both laughed, but I noticed he enjoyed the pillows all the same. …
After Clark’s attack, the doctors explained the tenth day was generally the critical one for a coronary patient. I recall one of them saying, “If we get through the tenth day, all is well.” So I counted and I prayed. …
[On] Wednesday, November 16, we all felt encouraged. I brought in some of the letters and telegrams which had been arriving by the hundreds each day. Each afternoon I’d select a small number for Clark to read.
“Here’s one from an old girl friend of yours in Paris,” I said, handing him a sealed envelope. “See, I didn’t even open it.” Clark flashed me that characteristic grin. “Where are you hiding the rest?” he teased.
I sat next to Pa’s bed, watching his reflection in the mirror. I had never seen him look so handsome, so serene, in all the years I had known him. It was almost miraculous, I thought. The marks of his illness–the lines, the strain and the pallor–were gone. Clark looked twenty years younger and his expression was strangely peaceful. I’ve heard it said the flame burns brightest just before it sputters out. But this never crossed my mind as I sat bathed in Clark’s wonderful glow.
Later, Rufus Martin, our devoted houseman, who had been with Clark over twenty years, stopped in a for a brief visit. He, too, was encouraged and left smiling. “I won’t worry about Mr. Gable any more,” he said.
Pa and I had a nice little dinner together and we commented on what a lovely day it had been. At 10 minutes past 10 p.m., I felt an angina attack coming on. I couldn’t understand it; I hadn’t had one for nearly two years. I didn’t want Clark to worry, so I quickly made an excuse to leave the room. I kissed him and gave him a tender hug saying, “Sweetheart, I’ll be back after the nurses get you ready for the night. Then we’ll drink our buttermilk together and I love you.” They were the last words I spoke to my husband.
Over and over I have said to myself, “Oh, if only I hadn’t left the room.” But at least I know that it was over in a split second. The doctors assured me Clark suffered no pain–he didn’t know he was dying. The nurse said he simply closed his eyes, his head fell back on the pillow and he was gone. It happened at 10:50 o’clock.
I had dozed off after going to my room and was awakened by the doctor and a nurse. “Clark has taken a turn for the worse,” I thought I heard the doctor say. It was like a nightmare. The nurse seemed to be crying. I started to get up, then blacked out. In a few seconds I recovered. The doctor was rubbing my wrists. “What did you say?” I cried. This time I heard him clearly. “Clark has passed on.”
“Let me go to him,” I said, pushing myself up from the bed. “No,” pleaded the doctor. “It’s better for you to stay here.” I reached for my robe. Nothing on this earth could have stopped me from going to Pa. I motioned the doctor and his sedatives aside and I went. …
They had told me he was gone. But, of course, I tried to hold on to him. Heartstricken, I wouldn’t let go. For two hours I held him in my arms.
Finally I did what my husband would have expected me to do–I faced up to it. Pa was gone. I touched his cold face with my hand, in a last farewell, and I walked out of the room. As I reached the door I told myself I must not look back. I did not.
You can read more about Clark’s death and funeral and see his will here.
From December 1953:
On his last visit to [New York City], Clark Gable gave most of the major night clubs a big play, and he was spotted in as many as five and six different cafes nightly but never with a party of friends numbering less than eight. Toughest assignment to get, according to newsmen, was a daytime interview with the star—he was never available until after sundown and never after sunrise.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Clark Gable, but one of them that I really can’t tolerate is anyone who says his Army service wasn’t the selfless and heroic act that it was. Today is Veterans Day and therefore the perfect opportunity to revisit this 2008 article that was published in World War II magazine:
Miami Beach can be miserably hot during the off-season, and in the summer of 1942—long before air conditioning became commonplace—it was an inferno. It was definitely no seaside paradise for the men of the US Army Officer Candidate School who lived there. Barracked in waterfront hotels that the federal government had stripped of niceties, they spent their days inside cordoned-off areas, running, marching, and exercising in temperatures of 100 degrees and up.
The locals seemed to have grown bored with this latest wartime distraction when, in late August, newspapermen noticed women gathering on sidewalks to watch the OCS cadets march to the mess hall for lunch. The ladies of Miami were craning their necks to catch a glimpse of GI 191-257-41—Corporal Clark Gable, former movie actor and, according to female fans, the most desirable man on the planet.
Gable joined the army during World War II for the same reason every other American volunteer gave: he wanted to serve his country in time of war. Almost everyone was signing up, including movie stars. But readers of Photoplay and other large-circulation movie magazines knew there was more to Gable’s story than he was letting on.
With his dark pomaded hair, neatly trimmed mustache, bedroom eyes, charming smile, and snappy baritone dialogue delivery, Gable had been America’s most popular male sex symbol throughout the 1930s. Female moviegoers gasped when, in the 1932 jungle romance Red Dust, he manhandled platinum-blonde love goddess Jean Harlow and made her like it. He won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the 1934 comedy It Happened One Night, in which he tried to talk actress Claudette Colbert out of her pajamas and revealed, to the dismay of underwear manufacturers and the delight of women, that he wore no undershirt.
The 1939 epic Civil War–era romance Gone with the Wind clinched Gable’s image for all time. In that film, on a dirt road, in front of a blood-red sunrise, he took actress Vivien Leigh in his arms and gave her the kiss of a lifetime. In that one moment he proved his power. He could turn a four-hour melodrama into the most profitable picture of its day and still have enough charm left over to seduce any woman in America.
That was the public Gable, a red-blooded man’s man with charm, courage, and an overriding sense of humor in the face of adversity. He had been a stage actor, learning his craft in touring companies until he was discovered by theater veteran Josephine Dillon, an older woman who wanted to fund and direct his career, and who became his first wife. A second marriage to another older woman followed, this time to socialite Ria Langham, who, coincidentally, wanted to fund and direct his career. By the time he made his Academy Award–winning turn in It Happened One Night, Gable’s second marriage was merely a formality, and he was discreetly playing the field.
In March 1939, during a break from filming Gone with the Wind, Gable ran off to Kingman, Arizona, with Paramount star Carole Lombard. After a long romance with that blond beauty, Gable caved in to pressure from the public and his studio, MGM, to grant Langham a quick divorce and make an honest woman of Lombard.
The public Carole Lombard was the attractive star of popular movie dramas and screwball comedies. In private, she was a foul-mouthed woman with a zany sense of humor. She was an active Democrat with a serious interest in world affairs, while Gable was a low-key Republican concerned with maintaining his automobile collection. In December 1940, the pair was in the Oval Office as part of a small audience watching President Franklin Roosevelt make one of his Fireside Chat radio broadcasts. In a half-hour conversation with the couple after the broadcast, Roosevelt won them over as public supporters of his “Arsenal of Democracy” project, which was sending ships and munitions to aid Britain in its fight against the Nazis. Both were actively involved in this promotional work when, less than a year later, the Japanese destroyed the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Immediately following that disaster, Gable was installed as chairman of the Screen Actors Division of the Hollywood Victory Committee, to organize entertainers for hospital appearances and military camp shows. Lombard went to work for the US Treasury Department selling war bonds.
On the night of January 15, 1942, Lombard telephoned Gable from Indianapolis on a patriotic high. She had just sold a record breaking $2,017,513 in bonds during an eight-hour sales drive in the Indiana State House rotunda. “You better get yourself into this man’s army,” she said before hanging up. The next evening, she died in the crash of a DC-3 airliner outside Las Vegas.
It was widely understood that Lombard was Gable’s soul mate. So, at the news of Lombard’s death, the whole nation stepped back to let Gable grieve. And grieve he did. Production on a film he had been making stopped. He wandered the southern California ranch he’d shared with her, followed by her confused little dachshund. He talked with buddies and their wives about all he and Lombard had planned, and about the last thing she had said to him.
At loose ends, drinking heavily, Gable decided the only way to break his cycle of pain was to do as his wife had directed. To the ire of MGM and his agent, Gable renegotiated his movie contract. The new deal suspended his salary and took him out of all new projects so he could join the army.
Army recruiters directed Gable to Henry “Hap” Arnold, commanding general of the US Army Air Forces. Arnold said the service needed a film to recruit gunners for its new big bombers. He proposed that if Gable completed OCS, he could go to Britain and make such a film. That was the proposal, but could Gable get through the rugged physical training, pass the batteries of academic exams, and learn how to be a working US Army officer? The army was about to find out what few if any fans knew: that Gable was born in 1901, had not finished high school, did not have a tooth in his head, and suffered from hemorrhoids and a variety of minor skin disorders. By any standard, he was not a prime candidate for military success.
On August 12, 1942, Gable was sworn into the army in California. Then he boarded a train for the Miami OCS center. For most of the trip, he traveled quietly. But at the New Orleans rail station he was swarmed by adoring women, causing him to arrive in Florida a day late. When he finally showed up at the OCS, the press was waiting. There were shouted questions, and requests to photograph him getting his required military crew cut. On the spot, the man known as the King of Hollywood negotiated a deal. He would shave his famous mustache off for the cameras. Then the press would retire and let him get down to business.
Gable’s real concern with the haircut was his ears. Often taped back to the sides of his head when he went in front of movie cameras, his ears reminded friends of the Walt Disney character Dumbo. Without his hair and the cover of a small overseas cap, these appendages would appear outrageous in photographs.
Finessing his day-late arrival in Miami and the news riot at the army’s reception center were the last movie-star moves Gable made for months. Although the army wanted Gable as much as he wanted the army, he was now just a 41-year-old man with a bad haircut, sitting on a bunk in overheated Florida clutching three spare sets of full dentures, tired out just by the act of traveling there. There would be classes in the morning and for eight hours every day except Sunday and Gable hadn’t been in a schoolroom since Woodrow Wilson was president.
To the delight of the free world and the surprise of many, Gable made it. He graduated 700th in a class of 2,600 men, most of whom were half his age. A mediocre student and a tired trooper on the drill field, he succeeded by using skills he learned in the movie business. He didn’t understand much of the classroom material, but each lecture came with mimeographed sheets covering the salient points. Treating the sheets like a script, he spent his nights perched on a toilet to study by the bathroom light, memorizing the information and repeating it verbatim the next day on written exams. On the field, he acted fresher than he really felt and tried to show enthusiasm. He walked the dreaded guard duty without complaint.
That autumn, Arnold personally oversaw the OCS commissioning ceremony. Gable, at the urging of army brass, was asked by the class to give the graduation speech. “The important thing, the proud thing I’ve learned about us is that we are men,” he concluded. “Soon we wear the uniforms of officers. How we look in them is not very important. How we wear them is a lot more important. Our job is to stay on the beam until—in victory—we are given the command to fall out.”
A mint-new lieutenant, Gable completed several more weeks of specialized training and a stint in air gunnery school. Then he flew back to California on Christmas leave, making a point of showing that how you looked in your uniform was important, at least to him. As an officer, he was allowed to have his uniforms tailor-made, so he did, by his own army of needle men. His aching feet were wrapped in handmade shoes, his mustache was back, and he had grown his hair long enough to comb. Back home, after parties and social rounds, he made private visits to special friends before leaving for more training at Fort Wright, near Spokane, Washington. From there he was to ship out for England.
At Fort Wright, Gable did his best to stick with his assignments, but civilian women working on the base were a problem. They pestered him, begged for dates, and pressed slips of paper with their telephone numbers into his hand. The base commander issued an official notice: “Lieutenant Gable will appreciate it if the public will not interfere with his training. He wishes to be treated like every other member of the Service.”
The Fort Wright phase of Gable’s military career was brief. Gable earned an aerial gunner’s silver wings there and was transferred to Pueblo, Colorado, where he became part of the 351st Heavy Bombardment Group. Commanded by Colonel William Hatcher, the outfit was nicknamed Hatcher’s Chickens. Gable was given the go-ahead to assemble a creative group for his film project. The first two on board were Lieutenants Andy McIntyre and John Lee Mahin, movie-industry friends from California. Next, former studio sound technician Howard Voss and cameramen Robert Boles and Mario Toti, all now in the army, were rounded up. As an informal unit inside the 351st, Gable’s crew was dubbed the Little Hollywood Group, and together they pushed off with the 351st in April 1943 for the Polebrook air base near Peterborough, England, north of London.
In Britain, Gable, promoted to captain, demonstrated grim resolve. He wanted his war service to be as respectable as the next man’s. He took unnecessary chances, flying several combat missions in B-17s when superiors would have preferred he stay on the ground assembling film footage that others had shot. On one of these flights, a German 20mm shell tore through the plane’s floor, ripped the heel from one of Gable’s flight boots, and exited through the ceiling, just missing his head. Several times, he took over for gunners wounded in flight. After one of those occasions, he was rattled because, he claimed, he could see the face of the German fighter pilot shooting at him. War had suddenly become personal.
As much as anything during this period, Clark Gable, officer and gentleman, wanted to be considered just one of the guys. It was an elusive goal. His graduation from the Fort Wright gunnery school had been filmed by newsreel cameras. In theaters, viewers heard a narrator say, “Watch out, Mr. Hitler, Lieutenant Clark Gable is headed your way!” Then, not long after Gable arrived in Britain, the English-speaking Nazi radio propagandist known as Lord Haw Haw announced: “Welcome to England, Hatcher’s Chickens, among whom is the famous American cinema star, Clark Gable. We’ll be seeing you soon in Germany, Clark. You will be welcome there, too.”
Happy Veterans Day and Thank You to all our veterans.
You can read the rest of Captain Hollywood in the Article Archive.
This month, it’s Clark Gable and Sophia Loren romping around the beautiful Capri scenery in It Started in Naples.
Clark is Mike Hamilton, a Philadelphia lawyer who travels to Rome to settle the estate of his estranged brother who drowned. He is shocked to learn that he has a nephew–an impressionable, unruly eight-year-old boy named Nando (Marietto), who is being cared for by his mother’s sister, Lucia (Loren). At first Mike tries to give Lucia some money and head back to America, but as he gets to know Lucia and Nando, he decides to stick around. Lucia works as a maid and cook during the day and as a nightclub singer at night. Nando doesn’t attend school and roams the streets barefoot, passing out nightclub flyers and smoking cigarettes. Mike decides Nando would be better off in America with him, a decision not welcomed by Lucia. After his lawyer suggests to both of them that they “make nice” to settle the matter out of court, they fall in love.
Our Italian tale begins with Clark’s narration–his lovely, silky voice telling us his reason for traveling to Italy from America:
“This is bella Napoli–beautiful Naples. I was here once before, with the Fifth Army during the War. The Neapolitans cheered us all the way from the beach. Half an hour later they were selling our gasoline on the black market. And those kids on the street–scrounging cigarettes, swiping K rations–for a while in this town, Spam took the place of spaghetti. I’m just coming back to settle my brother’s estate–with any luck I’ll be out of here without even drinking the water!”
This is Clark’s second-to-last film and he looks 100% healthier here than he does in his final film, The Misfits. Tanned, silvery hair and a little plumper from a bit too much Italian pasta, he looks pretty good.
Clark’s character is at first not enchanted by beautiful Capri–not one bit. From putting his wallet in his interior jacket pocket to refusing to drink from a water fountain and brushing his teeth with liqour to threatening everyone trying to grab his suitcase–he’s hardly swept up in the charms of Italy.
The scenes between Clark and his little nephew Marrietto are adorable. Skeptical at first of the boy’s parentage, upon meeting him, Clark peers at the boy’s face and notices the family resemblance. Then the boy turns and watches a woman go by and whistles. “Welcome to the family!” Clark proclaims as he shakes the boy’s hand.
My favorite is the scene in which Clark is teaching little Nando how to properly construct–“Now we come to the moment of truth–onions or no onions?”– and eat a hamburger: “You have to approach a hamburger with assurance. If you show it that you’re frightened, you’ll wind up with a shirt full of mustard.”
His guidance of the boy is much needed–as the little guy wanders around dirty with no shoes, passing out nightclub flyers at 2:00am, smoking cigarettes, drinking wine and not going to school. Marietto was adorable and quite a good little actor too. Apparently he eventually became a doctor.
Clark tries to get the boy to embrace his American heritage–playing baseball with him, giving him a watch with an alarm, introducing him to milkshakes.
Of course Clark soon gets out of his stuffy suits, falls for Sophia and starts to embrace Capri and all it has to offer.
Clark was hesitant to take the role as he felt that he was far too old to be romancing the twenty-five-year-old Sophia Loren. The producers convinced him by showing him a film she had made with Cary Grant the year before, Houseboat. Clark liked the film and since Loren seemed to have chemistry with Grant, one of Clark’s contemporaries, he agreed to do It Started in Naples.
While Sofia is young and gorgeous and goes from queen to cook to nightclub dancer with ease, she is not an ideal mate for Clark here.
He is just too old for her, I must say. The year she was born he was in It Happened One Night! The pairing is awkward and just not realistic. And it’s rather funny that he’s supposed to be engaged in this film and proclaims he’s been a lifelong bachelor–he just looks too old for any of this!
Kay and the children accompanied Clark on the location shoot. They sailed to Europe from New York in July 1959 and spent time in Holland, England, France and Austria before arriving in Rome and then renting a villa. While they were there, it was his stepson’s birthday. Kay had to run around trying to find cowboy gear so they could have a little party. This turned out to be their last family vacation.
From September 1936:
The debut of the Music Box Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, as a broadcasting station, was quite an auspicious occasion. Hundreds of people came to witness Marlene Dietrich and Clark Gable give a stirring performance. However, there was just as much drama before the broadcast, as there was while the players were reading their lines. Marlene had to have her microphone adjusted so she could face her audience. It seems she is quite self-conscious about her profile. On the other hand, Clark prefers giving his audience a profile view, instead of meeting them full-face. After these little matters were adjusted, the play got off to a flying start. At the end of the broadcast, Dietrich lost no time in getting in touch with her representatives. It seems that Clark’s name had been mentioned first in the announcements and–well, you know how sensitive some people are!
Clark Gable was famous for thirty years and in that time signed a lot of things–pictures, movie posters, books, handkerchiefs, napkins, hairbows, baseballs, hats…I’ve seen it all. This one, however, is new to me. Here Clark has signed–and inscribed–a copy of Gone with the Wind in Italian!
Clark Gable writing in Italian! I would believe that this was inscribed while he was in Europe, either during his tax hiatus in 1952-1954 or while he was in Italy filming It Started in Naples in 1959. I am no expert on the various editions of GWTW so maybe someone can help me out with the year.
I also know very little Italian, but this seems to say something about “express my love to mother” and the lady’s last name. Peculiar. A rare item at any rate, it was sold at auction a few years ago for $300.
2014 has brought about the 75th anniversary of Gone with the Wind, which has been met with much deserving fanfare. No doubt, Rhett Butler is who draws the majority of people into Clark Gable fandom these days.
But this year brings about another important film milestone: the 80th anniversary of It Happened One Night, the little-film-that-could, one of the greatest romantic comedies ever made and the first to win the Academy Award “grand slam”: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. It is safe to say that if Clark had never played Rhett Butler, he would be remembered best for Peter Warne.
Director Frank Capra, one of the most renowned directors in the history of cinema, stated once that “a film about the making of It Happened One Night would have been much funnier than the picture itself.” I don’t know about that, but it sure would make a funny satire about movie making.
It Happened One Night started out as a magazine short story called “Night Bus” that was bought by the lowly, “poverty row” Columbia Pictures for a mere $5,000. Capra, not yet at the top of his game and known mostly at that time for the pre-code dramas he made starring Barbara Stanwyck, was not pleased about being assigned to direct this little bus film and argued with studio head Harry Cohn about it. He went off to Palm Springs with screenwriter Robert Riskin to try and squeeze some magic out of a tired old bus story.
Columbia didn’t have the payroll to house big names, so they always struck deals with other studios to get stars in their pictures. Capra and Cohn were excited to get some of MGM’s roster to be in their little bus picture. One of the first to turn down the script was Myrna Loy who recalled later, “Oh, I’ve taken flak for refusing that picture. Frank gave it to me for years…But let me say, here and now, they sent me the worst script ever, completely different from the one they shot. I’ve had others corroborate that… That girl was unplayable as originally written. I mean, we’re in the middle of the Great Depression and she’s running away because being rich bores her.” Her refusal was followed quickly by Constance Bennett, Miriam Hopkins and Margaret Sullavan. At the same time, Columbia was also making Twentieth Century and for that they were borrowing a certain Miss Carole Lombard, so they struck a deal to borrow Claudette Colbert for “Night Bus” as well. She balked at first, as she was due for a lengthy vacation. They were only able to secure her by promising a $50,000 paycheck and a written promise that the film would be completed in under four weeks.
It’s been widely reported that Clark Gable was sent to Columbia to star in IHON as a punishment for sleeping around with Joan Crawford despite Louis B. Mayer’s objections, and for missing weeks of filming due to a severe blood infection and causing production delays on Dancing Lady. Some reports say that isn’t true, that it wasn’t a punishment, it was just a deal between MGM and Columbia. Either way, Clark wasn’t happy. Robert Montgomery had already been secured and the contracts were being drawn up when suddenly Mayer withdrew his offer of Montgomery and replaced it with Gable.
Capra was at first elated to being offered Clark to star in his little bus film. But after his first meeting with the MGM star, he rightfully soured on the idea of Clark as the leading man. Capra remembered vividly his first encounter with Clark:
My open doorway darkened; tall, square-shouldered Gable stood there swaying, hat rakishly tilted over his eyes. Evidently, he had stopped at every bar between MGM and Gower Street.
“Is thish Mishter Frank Capra’s office?”
“Yes, Mr. Gable. I’m Frank Capra. Come in, please, come in.”
“Gla-ad to meet cha. Likewise.” He headed for a kitchen chair and plopped himself on it. I held my breath. The chair groaned, but didn’t break. Oh, was he loaded!…He cleared his throat with a disgusted belch. Then he focused on me.
“Well-l, what’s the poop, shkipper–besides me?” He was not only boiled, he was steamed.
“Well, Mr. Gable, I–”
“That son-of-a-bitch Mayer,” he cut in. “I always wanted to see Siberia, but damn me–I never thought it would smell like this. Blech-h-h!”
My insides were curdling. I picked up a script and riffled it. “Mr. Gable, you and I are supposed to make a picture out of this. Shall I tell you the story or would you rather read the script by yourself?”
“Buddy,” he said in his tough-guy drawl, “I don’t give a [expletive] what you do with it.”
There being no handy rebuttal to that conversation stopper, I mumbled something about my Siberia being MGM, tucked the script under his armpit and suggested he read it between drinks. He swayed to his feet, looked down at me, and giggled drunkenly, “Hee hee-e-e! Sez you.” He wobbled out the door, hit both sides of it, then stumbled off, singing, “They call her frivilous Sa-a-al, a peculiar kinf of a–hey, you guys!” this last came to some Colombians in the courtyard, “Why aren’t you wearing parkas in Siberia?”
That was my first meeting with Clark Gable and, I hoped, my last.
Not the best first impression, but Capra’s opinion of Clark changed after filming began. “Clark turned out to be the most wonderful egg. He just had a ball. What I believe is that he was playing himself, and maybe for the only time in his career. That clowning, boyish, roguish he-man was Gable. He was shy, but a lot of fun with people he knew. He was very sensitive about those God-damned ears, but he made jokes about them. After a shot, he’d ask, ‘What’d they get–an ear?’ He didn’t look like anyone else. It was not only physical; he had mannerisms that were all his own; ways of standing, smoking–things like that–and a great flair for clothes. Whatever came natural to him, I let him do.”
Despite it’s rough start, the set of the film turned out to be an easygoing one, with improvising encouraged.
The story is of Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired, encountering runaway heiress Ellie Andrews on a night bus to New York from Miami. Peter realizes her identity and befriends her so he can get the exclusive story. Along the way, after masquerading as man and wife at an auto camp, sleeping in a field, hitch hiking and stealing a car, they fall in love. When Peter leaves Ellie at a motel in the middle of the night to try and get some money from his old boss to marry her, she mistakenly thinks he has left her for good and calls her father (Walter Connolly) and husband to pick her up. Peter is heartbroken and so is Ellie. She agrees to her father’s wishes that she re-marry her husband, since they were not married by a priest. On her re-wedding day, Peter shows up to collect money from her father for what he spent on her during the trip. He admits to her father that he loves her. Her father tells Ellie and as she is going down the aisle, she takes off to be with Peter.
There are so many great scenes, from the Walls of Jericho and “Perhaps you’re interested in how a man undresses.” to singing “The Flying Trapeze,” to hitch-hiking and a lesson in doughnut dunking, the film is no doubt a classic.
The film began shooting the last week of November and shot the last scene on December 23, 1933, costing a mere $325,000 to make. Claudette set out for vacation and Clark headed back to MGM, both certain that they’d just had a fun time making a sure flop. “Clark and I left wondering how the movie would be received. It was right in the middle of the Depression. People needed fantasy, they needed splendor and glamour, and Hollywood gave it to them. And here we were, looking a little seedy and riding on our bus.” Claudette recalled.
IHON wasn’t an overnight sensation. It received good press reviews and the numbers were steady; but it was the word of mouth from moviegoers that brought in the receipts. It ended up earning $1.1 million domestically, a large sum for a little bus picture made by a little studio.
Despite its success, it still was a shock that the film won all the major Academy Awards. Claudette famously had to accept her award in her traveling suit as she had been on her way to the train station when she heard she had won!
The film changed Clark’s life for many reasons. The first being, of course, that is was his first Oscar nomination and only win; ultimately it was the only major film award he would ever win. Secondly, the film skyrocketed his popularity. Before this, he was steadily gaining fans, but was mostly used as a “gigolo” for MGM’s female stars, playing second fiddle to Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer and Joan Crawford. IHON showed he could hold his own. Third, it proved he had real star power–just by removing his shirt and showing he had no undershirt underneath, sales of undershirts sharply declined!
Lastly, this film holds a special place in my heart. Years ago, I was just dipping my toe into classic films. I was flipping through the channels and TCM was on commerical and it said IHON was next. I remembered reading that Clark Gable (who was little more to me at that point than Rhett Butler) had won an Oscar for it but other than that I knew nothing about it. Little did I know that the film I was about to watch not only became one of my favorite films of all time, but it can be credited with this website as if it wasn’t for Clark’s absolutely wonderful performance capturing my heart, I wouldn’t be the Gable fan I am today.
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