From September 1936:
Everyone thought Clark Gable was clowning when he remarked that he would like to sign a contract for twenty-eight days, starting with two cents a day. Each day’s salary to be multiplied by itself. In other words, the first day he would make two cents. The second day four cents. Believe it or not, by the end of twenty-eight days, it runs up in the millions. If you don’t believe Clark, get out your paper and pencil and start figuring.
Here is an article from Photoplay magazine in February 1940 in which Clark dispels some rumors about Vivien Leigh, his feelings toward playing Rhett Butler, and his marriage to Carole Lombard.
On the challenge of playing Rhett Butler:
“…my mind was preoccupied with Rhett Butler. He had me plenty worried, so worried that I didn’t want to play him.
Don’t think that was because I didn’t realize what a fat part he was. Rhett is one of the greatest male characters ever created. I knew that. I’d read the entire book through six times, trying to get his moods. I’ve still got a copy in my dressing room and I still read it once in a while, because I know I’ll probably never get such a terrific role again. But what was worrying me, and still is, was that from the moment I was cast as Rhett Butler I started out with five million critics.
About all the handicap an actor ordinarily has is two or three professional critics to a city which adds up for the whole world to about one large theater’s matinee business. Those birds may rap you and while you’d prefer their praise, still you can take those raps, if need be, hoping that the public which makes up all the millions of other movie-goers will like you regardless. But five million people have read “Gone with the Wind” and each must have his or her own idea of how Rhett should be played.
There was not only that, but I had an accent to think of, long hair to wear, and twenty-six costume changes—more than Carole has ever had in any one of her pictures (which brought me in for lots of ribbing from that one, too).”
On his wedding to Carole:
It has been written since then that Carole and I had that wedding day planned out for months in advance, but that’s not true. It happened this way. On the afternoon of March 28, I was finished with my scenes about three in the afternoon. While I was taking off my make-up, the assistant director came over and said I didn’t need to work the next day. I called Carole at once and with the aid of a close friend, we headed put that night to Kingman, Arizona. We took Otto along, not only to untangle any difficulties we might get into, but because he had a new car without license plates which meant we wouldn’t be spotted.
We were married at three-thirty that afternoon and left at five-thirty, getting home the next morning at three. Carole’s mother was there, all excited, which kept us up till five. Finally we got to sleep, only to be awakened at nine to discover forty cameramen, three newsreel men and twenty reporters waiting out in the front yard to interview us. Under the circumstances, David gave me another day off.
But the next morning when I reported at the studio, ready for the prison sequence, I discovered Vic had switched things on me and was prepared to do the wedding scene, only this day my bride was Vivien. David had engaged a full orchestra which was gurgling through the wedding march and whole I knew it was all a rib on me, I blew up in the first take. The stage hands all groaned, Vivien asked solicitously what was the matter with me, and Vic said, “It’s just that Clark has always been shy of girls.”
On Vivien Leigh:
As for any possibility of Vivien Leigh’s falling in love with me I knew that was out from our first glance. For never have I seen any girl more completely in love than that one is—with Laurence Olivier. It’s as visible as a Neon sign that she can’t think or talk of or dream about anything or anyone else on earth—except when she’s on the set. When she’s on the set, she’s what a good actress should be. She’s all business.
As for my falling in love with her, I’m sure that could have been plenty pleasant except that, added to her lack of interest in me, I didn’t have any heart to give away, either. Mine was staked out to that Lombard girl who is mighty beautiful and brainy. Carole and I weren’t married when Vivien and I first met, but we did marry while I was working on the picture and there’s a story about our wedding that has never been told and which I’ll get to presently.
I’ll be truthful about it, however; I’ll confess that the first time I saw her I doubted that Vivien could really play Scarlett. That reaction shows I’m no casting director. But, accustomed to the more abandoned and superficial personalities of Hollywood girls, Vivien seemed too demure to me, at that first meeting, for the vivid, relentless Scarlett.
David Selznick introduced us to each other at a dinner party at his home. Vivien was wearing a very plain, tailored dress. She’s much tinier in real life than she appears on the screen, and since she uses little make-up she has a very young, unsophisticated air. Besides, she had all the fires banked that evening and that Olivier guy was her escort.
Now I know I should have stopped to consider all that. But having seen Vivien only in “A Yank at Oxford”, in which she didn’t have a lot to do, I just looked at her that first evening at David’s and wondered if that keen-minded producer had gone haywire when he signed her.
I knew he hadn’t the first day Vivien and I got on a set together.
Read the article in its entirety in The Article Archive.
This month, Clark is a hard gamblin’ hard drinkin’ woman chasin’ shyster, Spencer Tracy is his best friend the priest and Jeanette MacDonald is the saintly opera singer who steals his heart in San Francisco.
Gable is Blackie Norton, a ruthless saloon-keeper in 1906 San Francisco, proud of his gambling ways. Despite their differences, he falls in love with Mary Blake (MacDonald), an aspiring opera singer who he hires to sing in his revue. His childhood pal, priest Tim Mullin (Tracy), objects to him putting Mary on display and stopping her from her opera aspirations. Realizing that Tim is right and that she should pursue her dreams instead of letting Blackie hold her back, Mary leaves him and becomes a successful opera star. It isn’t until the shattering earthquake that Blackie realizes his true feelings for Mary and sets out to find her among the rubble.
This film is a favorite of many a Clark Gable fan, and it is not difficult to see why. As far as Gable fans are concerned, this one has it all: action, romance, special effects, drama. A prestige project for MGM, San Francisco took fifty two days to shoot and costs $1.3 million, an extremely large sum in 1936. Money well spent, however, as the film went on $5.3 million at the box office, becoming the second biggest hit of Clark’s entire career, after Gone with the Wind.
Clark is at his swoon-worthy best here. When we first see him, he’s a perfect dashing specimen in a top hat, tails and cape, complete with cane–rather Rhett Butler-esque!
Truly at the peak of his heartthrob status, we are treated to many scenes of Clark smirking, winking and smooth talking with the ladies. Early on in the film, he shares a long liplock with a patron, who then points to the man next to her and says to Clark,”I want you to meet my husband.” Not many men can get away with that without getting their lights punched out!
We are also treated to a boxing match between Spencer and Clark, with Clark wearing nothing but what looks to be a high-waisted diaper!
His priest pal Spencer sums up Clark quite perfectly: “He’s as unscrupulous with men as he is ruthless with women.” Perfectly true as he tries to wiggle his way into pure and simple Jeanette’s heart–finding out she’s a virgin, he says, “I’m a sucker!” Myrna Loy, Clark’s frequent co-star, once lamented that the American public boxed her in to always be Nora Charles and Clark to always be Blackie Norton. It’s true, several of his films afterward were copies of Blackie in one way or another.
I’ll admit to, um, fast forwarding MacDonald’s opera house scenes. But one cannot help but be roused by her lively rendition of the film’s trademark song, “San Francisco” right before the earthquake. The song is, to this day, the theme song of the city. I had a friend who worked in a hotel there and once I called him and he put me on hold. What was the hold music? Jeanette belting out “San Francisco”! And yes, my friend made fun of me for being excited about hold music…
Clark apparently wasn’t a fan of Jeanette’s soprano –he was hesitant to star in the film because he thought he’d just be a prop standing there listening to her sing. To appease him, most of Jeanette’s singing scenes were filmed separately from Clark’s reaction shots. Interesting fact: One of MacDonald’s opera gowns was later re-used as a gown for Gilda in The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Jeanette was not one of Clark’s favorite leading ladies. He found her to be diva-like and a bit too prim and proper for his taste. He was also irritated that it was in her contract that she was given time off every month for her, ahem, “ladies days.” It is often repeated that she bothered him so much one day on the set that he purposely ate spaghetti loaded with garlic for lunch, knowing that that afternoon they were supposed to film a love scene. Jeanette was so offended by his breath she nearly fainted. Seems a bit immature for him, who knows if it’s true or not.
The earthquake scenes are really something to behold. The stunning special effects used to simulate the earthquake were created by hydraulic platforms that were pulled apart by cables with hoses underneath. They took weeks of testing to perfect.
Legendary director D.W. Griffith was hired to direct the earthquake scenes after the producers saw the rushes of Van Dyke’s version, which they thought were rushed and fake-looking. Griffith gave them the authenticity they needed. His only direction to the mobs of extras was, “Pretend it’s an earthquake! Run for your lives! Try to help your friends!”
A critical darling, San Francisco won the Academy Award for Best Sound Recording. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Assistant Director, Best Writing (Original Story), and Best Actor Spencer Tracy. Clark was bitter about Spencer’s nomination, especially since his role was more of a supporting part. While I do think Spencer does a good job here , I think he is rather wasted in the role. Spencer (here and also in Test Pilot) was much too talented an actor to be playing Clark’s sidekick with a conscience. Spencer and Clark were friends for decades, but Clark was always envious of Spencer’s acting chops, while Spencer was jealous of Clark’s intense popularity.
Clark objected to the final scene in which he falls to his knees and cries while he thanks God. He found it unmanly and refused. Director Van Dyke finally convinced him to do it by promising him to film him from behind.
As everyone as heard by now, screen legend Lauren Bacall died this week at the age of 89. Known for her whistling, partying with the Rat Pack, legendary romance with Humphrey Bogart and that steely stare, Lauren’s death leaves a void in Hollywood. Glamour that can not be copied.
Although Lauren did not star alongside Clark Gable in any feature films, did you know that she did have the pleasure of being Clark ‘s date for one night?
In the summer of 1944, Lauren was depressed because her ongoing affair with the married Humphrey Bogart was not going anywhere. They were on the outs and her friends all thought she should move on. Director Howard Hawks and his wife, “Slim” (who, ironically, would date Clark herself after she divorced Hawks!) invited both Clark and Lauren to their house for dinner. Lauren, just twenty at the time, was none too impressed with Clark.
“Howard and Slim did everything they could to distract me. They said, ‘We’ve got the most dazzling man. Once you meet him, you’ll forget all about Bogie.’ The man was Clark Gable–one of those large-than-life people that you pay your carefully saved money to see. He was dazzling, but he stirred me not a bit. I tried to flirt a little, tried to be attracted to him–but it didn’t work. He was just a terrific-looking man without an overabundance of humor who had incredible dimples and was named Clark Gable. There were no sparks flying.”
Clark drove her home to her apartment in Beverly Hills. Lauren recalled:
“He walked me to the foot of the stairs. In the moonlight he kissed me goodnight, smiled and walked away. Nothing, but nothing.”
Lauren and Bogie were married a year later and Clark moved on to a bevy of blondes. What a memory to have though—Clark Gable walking you to your door and kissing you in the moonlight!
Rest in peace, dear Betty…..
Ever heard the rumor that Clark Gable got George Cukor fired as the director of Gone with the Wind because George was gay and Clark had such an inflated ego he wanted his own friend Vic Fleming to diret him instead?
I hash out the rumor in this post from 2012:
Silver Screen magazine “points with pride” to Clark, in April 1939:
In The Lists Of The “Ten Best,” Clark Gable Is Always Among Those Present.
All the misguided promotion ideas that usually leave the actor booked for Oblivion were tried on Clark Gable, but he out-lasted them all. He was Great-Lovered and Parnelled, but he is still one of the best bets at the box-office. Whether he is cast in a part like Christian on the Bounty or a lead in “It Happened One Night,” he does his dardnest and leaves it up to you. And there is his secret–he gives you all he’s got, and who can give more!
From September 1951:
Clark Gable will be too busy to brood, even if he were inclined to, over the divorce from Sylvia. He’ll do his first costume picture since “Gone with the Wind,” called “King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table,” in which he’ll portray Lancelot, and talk is that the King will also star in a series of rough and romantic adventure dramas this fall.
Well, that film didn’t come to fruition at all! And I think at 50 Clark was a bit old to be Lancelot anyway…
Let’s take a look at the stars of Gone with the Wind before they starred in their iconic roles 75 years ago…
Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O’Hara)
Olivia de Havilland (Melanie Wilkes)
Ann Rutherford (Carreen O’Hara)
Evelyn Keyes (Suellen O’Hara)
Leslie Howard (Ashley Wilkes)
Barbara O’Neill (Ellen O’Hara)
Thomas Mitchell (Gerald O’Hara)
and…a young Clark Gable (Rhett Butler)
Everyone has specific years in their lives where they look back and realize that that particular year was one of the most memorable of their entire lives. 1939 is being heralded quite a bit this year, as it is widely considered the best year for movies in history, with classics such as Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Dark Victory, Ninotchka, Wuthering Heights, Beau Geste, Juarez, Stagecoach, etc.
Looking back, I don’t think that Clark Gable could deny that 1939 was indeed a special year for him, personally and professionally. Let’s have a look back at Clark’s life, 75 years ago….
January –After years and years of pre-production and speculation, talent searches and screen tests, Gone with the Wind finally began filming. Clark joined his co-stars for Technicolor tests on January 20. Filming began officially on January 26, but Clark’s first day on the set was January 31, to film the charity bazaar scene.
Idiot’s Delight, co-starring Norma Shearer, was released and did moderate box office.
March–On March 8, 1939, Clark’s second wife, Ria Franklin Gable, had finally had enough of being villianized in the press for holding onto her loveless marriage for dear life. And thanks to Clark’s contract for Gone with the Wind, she received the hefty lump sum of $300,000 she wanted in exchange for her marital status. So off to Reno she went and was granted a divorce.
On March 29, 1939, Clark Gable wed Carole Lombard in Kingman, Arizona. After four years together (perhaps longer), this was the marriage Hollywood was waiting for with breathless anticipation.
On March 30, after driving all night, Clark and Carole awoke to find hundreds of members of the press on the lawn of Carole’s Bel Air home. The adorable photos of the newlyweds, still in their wedding clothes, were taken that morning and their love still shines through in them to this day.
June–On June 27, the long and tedious production of Gone with the Wind came to an end. Clark and Vivien Leigh filmed the final scene of the picture, where Rhett walks out on Scarlett and leaves her with those iconic eight words.
July–In July, after months of renovating and decorating, Clark and Carole finally moved into what would eventually be both of their final residences, the ranch in Encino.
August–In August, Carole was entered the hospital to undergo an emergency appendectomy (some people say that in actuality she had suffered a miscarriage). Clark arranged to stay in the room next to hers so she wouldn’t be lonely.
September–In September, Clark reported to the set of his next picture, Strange Cargo, co-starring Joan Crawford. Their romance had long since fizzled and Joan had recently been named “box office poison” so she was re-teamed with Clark in the hopes of rekindling their onscreen chemistry. The production involved location shooting in Pismo Beach.
December–On December 12, Douglas Fairbanks died. Clark had considered him a friend and him and Carole drove out to his home to pay their respects to his widow, Sylvia Ashley, who would become the fourth Mrs. Gable in ten years time.
On December 14, Clark and Carole arrived in Atlanta for the world premiere of Gone with the Wind. They rode through downtown Atlanta in a huge parade before hundreds of people, spoke a few words, and retired to their suite at the Georgian Terrace Hotel to change, before attending the ball at the Atlanta Municipal Auditorium.
On December 15, Clark and Carole attended a press luncheon, took a tour of the Cyclorama and visited the governor’s mansion. at 8:15pm, they were front and center at Loew’s Grand Theater for the premiere of the film.
December 25 was the newlyweds’ first Christmas in their new home. She gave Clark white silk pajamas and a matching robe; he gifted her a heart-shaped ruby necklace.
On December 27, Clark and Carole were back in their finest duds to attend the Hollywood premiere of GWTW at the Carthay Circle Theater.
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