This piece from 1935 was written by a reporter sent to the Catalina Island set of Mutiny on the Bounty.
Oh, to be the lone female reporter hunting down the scoop to the location shoot of the latest Clark Gable picture! Sounds glamorous, right? Apparently not…
If you’re going from Hollywood, you ride the film boat from San Pedro wharf direct to the Isthmus, some ten miles across Channel. The boat makes it once a day carrying passengers and supplies. And so, surrounded by eight twenty-gallon gasoline tanks, four cartons of strawberries, two dead sharks, (to be used for Bounty atmosphere), and six milk cans, I started my great expedition.
The sky was clear. The stars were shining. The sea was choppy and rough; but by sticking my head out of the side and missing the strong gasoline odor, I managed to keep the stomach quiet. (I am told Mr. Franchot Tone, making the same trip the night previous, was not so fortunate! On Mr. Gable’s trip, he yelled for more speed!) At 12:30am, we sighted land and the huge camp, “City of Men,” wherein were parked the hardy crew of actors and technicians, et al, for MGM’s “Mutiny on the Bounty.” There was a cottage reserved for me, and I fell instantly into its waiting bed.
At 5:30 the next morning—it seemed middle of the night—a siren blew. Well, go to the fire. But no, it was just the first call for breakfast. Another siren blew at six; and at 6:30, I found myself at breakfast in the camp’s main dining hall with an extremely sleepy-eyed Clark Gable, a silent Charles Laughton, and a very charmingly pleasant Director Frank Lloyd. (You know, of course, that most men are really not fit to speak to in the morning until they’ve had their coffee, and I would say that Mr. Laughton and Mr. Gable, charming as their manners were later on the day, would be no exception to this rule. Mr. Lloyd, by the time I arrived at the table, had had his coffee!)
Incidentally, forgetting the rule, I remarked brightly to Mr. Gable that it looked like a fine day, and after a terrific effort, he brought forth a smile and a mumble: Yes, it might be, but he hoped it wasn’t windy. Mr. Laughton merely remarked bitterly that if he got any more sunburned, he couldn’t work anymore. After the first few sips of coffee, they looked much brighter, and by the time we fell into another water-taxi—it was the same I had ridden the evening previous, only now it was headed for sea—the conversation was a little more stimulating, although far from brilliant.
Incidentally, would you like to know what they ate for breakfast, these film idols? Well, Mr. Gable, I must report, is a sissy eater. He had a glass of lime juice and two cups of coffee. No scrambled eggs or sausages for him. Not even a bit of dry toast. I thought he looked longingly at Charlie Laughton’s well-filled plate, but I couldn’t be sure until he told me later—goodness, bit then; he hardly mumbled a word then—that he had to watch his diet. Clark Gable watching his diet!
“I haven’t eaten a boiled potato in years,” he told me. “And I love ‘em. I come from a family of big men. Fatness is a family trait. I had a grand old uncle with a stomach like John L. Sullivan’s and six double chins. Well, I resemble him in features, but I don’t try the double chins. So it’s no beans or potatoes or any of the hearty foods I like, For Gable.”
It’s interesting, these comments about what Clark eats. I have read many accounts that say he didn’t eat breakfast except for coffee. But this here about him having not eaten potatoes in years…I am rather skeptical of that. Clark loved food, loved to eat. Often when filming he would watch what he ate but when he got time off he ate whatever he wanted. I’ve also heard he was not a morning person (yeah don’t blame him there).
The Bounty, anchored off the Isthmus every night, had already started out to sea under power of its auxiliary motor, and we caught up with it some three miles distant and clambered up its side. The deck of the Bounty, as I viewed it for the first time, was a sight never to be forgotten. As you know, the ship is a replica of the famous old vessel which sailed from England to Tahiti back in 1700. It is ninety feet long, has a twenty-four foot bean, and carried three masts, the mizzen, fore mast, and main mast. It is what is known technically as a square-rigger and in the early morning calm, its sails were still to be furled.
Sprawling on the deck, standing, sitting, or lounging against boxes, was the all-male cast, a picturesque sight in stripped sailor pants, bare feet, and colored ‘kerchiefs around their heads. The real crew, regular San Pedro seamen, were, much to their disgust, in the same garb as the cast. They had to be so costumed for atmosphere; but later in the day when close-ups were in order, they made a quick change to their grease-smudged blue jeans and flannel shirts and square-toed shoes.
The first scene on tap was that in the story where the sailors, after being becalmed for days, catch a whiff of wind. Clark, as Fletcher Christian, excitedly runs the length of the deck, and Mr. Laughton, as Captain Bligh, follows him.
The first I knew work was under way came with a sharp call from Director Lloyd: “Have we a captain on board? Get your hat off, Mr. Laughton, and let’s get going!” For Mr. Laughton, still wary of the beating rays of the sun, was lolling in what shadow he could find, a lovely white 1935 duck hat pulled securely over his face.
Over and over, they took that scene. And then close-ups. And then some shots of Donald Crisp as Seaman Burkett, fighting with hungry, snarling shipmates over the catch of a shark. It was, surprisingly, much as if you were watching movies made within the four walls of a studio stage, save for the background of the tall masts of the old square-rigger with its flopping sails and the blue Pacific.
My attention concentrated on Clark—(what female’s wouldn’t?). I found him putting extraordinary vigor and power into his scenes; and then between shots, he was alike a great big kid. For the most part, he acted more like an ingratiating, irresponsible small boy than a great big he-man. Always between scenes he was forever playing, and more excited about the possible chance of potting a live shark with his revolver, which he had brought along, than the scene to be shot. Once I thought Director Lloyd was going to have to reprimand him seriously for his romping. Someone had yelled, “There’s your shark, Clark,” and forgetting his scene, he had grabbed his gun and rushed to take aim. The cameras were set, the lighting was right, and Lloyd wanted action. He yelled, “Take your places!” Everyone but Clark was ready. Lloyd yelled again, “Come on, Clark, let the shark go.” Looking very much like a disappointed small boy called to supper from playing pirates, Clark came back to work.
Laughton was a great surprise to me. I thought, why, I don’t know, that he would be extremely British and stand-offish and very dignified. He was completely the opposite. Much more adult in his actions than Clark, he too relaxed between scenes, but by sitting and chatting of everything with prop boy or actor or—yours truly.
I was fascinated to watch him go into a scene. In a second, with a twist of the shoulder, a flicker of an eyelid, he goes into character, is completely the sinister, stern English sea captain. His stride down the deck carried more power and more authority than I thought possible in a little man. The way he planted his feet on the deck, the way he carried his shoulders, changed him instantly from a pleasant person into that ominous captain whose every move exuded cruel power.
Clark would get in quite a tussle with the animal rights people over trying to shoot a shark nowadays! I do love these accounts of filming on the ship; it was rare in 1935 for an entire production to film on location like that.
After dinner with only roast beef, roast veal, fried potatoes, two kinds of vegetables, soup, salad, apple pie, ice cream, and coffee—you have no appetite at all on the sea!—everybody boarded water-taxis once more and went off to Avalon where there is a real motion picture theatre, to see the rushes run. And if I still entertained any notions about Mr. Charles Laughton being sedate and prim, I lost them then. There was a little delay getting the theatre lights turned on and out of the darkness from the stage came the sound of a tap dance. As the lights blazed, there was Mr. Laughton, enjoying himself hugely as he executed a soft-shoe number all by himself. When the gang yelled their approval, he bowed and recited the Gettysburg address.
The next day, “The City of Men” on the Isthmus lost its official classification. The Joan Crawford company, making “I Live My Life,” moved into camp for scenes on some old Greek ruins constructed high on a hill overlooking the bay. Women arrived in numbers, and I lost my ranking as “the only female.” And so I went home.
I do love this account of Charles Laughton! And interesting that Joan Crawford and crew arrived–Joan, the wife of Bounty star Franchot Tone and former flame of Clark’s. Clark apparently went over to visit Joan at those Greek ruins. There is photographic proof!
You can read the article in its entirety in The Article Archive.