Happy 115th Birthday, Clark Gable!
In celebration, here are 115 random facts about The King of Hollywood:
1. Clark weighed 10 1/2 pounds at birth.
2. He was born at home with the assistance of the town doctor, who charged $10 for the delivery.
3. He was baptized Catholic, one of his dying mother’s final requests. His father was Methodist.
4. He was named Clark after his maternal grandmother’s maiden name.
5. Clark liked to wear trench coats in movies, considering them lucky. Burberry made him one especially for Comrade X and it instantly became his favorite; he kept it and wore it for twenty years. At an MGM auction in 1969, a representative from Burberry tried to bid and win the coat, but it was sold to an anonymous bidder for $1,250.
6. The idea that Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell based the character on Clark is completely false. The novel was written between 1926 and 1929, before Clark was even in Hollywood.
7. His only films in color were Gone with the Wind, Across the Wide Missouri, Mogambo, Betrayed, Soldier of Fortune, The Tall Men, The King and Four Queens, Band of Angels, and It Started in Naples.
8. The first time Clark grew a mustache was in 1930 in the play Love, Honor and Betray with Alice Brady. He was playing a French gigolo and the part called for some upper lip adornment. He tried a fake one at first but it would often come off during romantic scenes so he was forced to grow a real one. He shaved it off as soon as the play closed.
9. His favorite foods included chicken and dumplings, bratwurst and sauerkraut, baked beans, steak, coleslaw, potato salad, peppermints, chocolate cake and chocolate chip cookies.
10. Extremely clean, he was known to shower at least three times a day. He thought baths were disgusting.
11. His least favorite color was pink. He didn’t like it when women wore it.
12. Clark’s father, William Gable, never approved of Clark’s profession, often stating that it wasn’t manly enough.
13. Clark’s mother, Adeline, died when he was ten months old. Modern researchers believe she may have suffered from epilepsy. Not much was known of the condition back then, with one of her family member simply stating, “She went crazy and then she died.”
14. It Happened One Night was animator Fritz Freleng’s favorite film. He modeled some of his most famous cartoon characters after characters in the film. Gable was the inspiration for Bugs Bunny–talking fast and munching on carrots (also the name Bugs came from Gable mentioning Bugs Dooley), Walter Connolly was the inspiration for Yosemite Sam and Jameson Thomas was the inspiration for Pepe LePew.
15. Clark smoked about two to three packs of cigarettes a day from age 14 until his death.
16. His favorite color was red. In clothes he preferred to wear grays, blues and browns.
17. It’s often been written that Clark was a below average student, but the archived records of his high school, Edinburgh High in Ravenna, show that Clark had a grade point average of 81 before he dropped out at age 17. His best subjects were physics and agriculture.
18. Clark’s father belonged to the Freemasons and urged his son to join. Clark did, to please his father, and became a Master Mason in 1934. He also joined the charitable order known as the Shriners.
19. We have Lionel Barrymore to thank for giving Clark his start in films. He saw him in the play “The Last Mile” and insisted on bringing him to MGM for a screen test. Lionel argued with MGM Head of Production Irving Thalberg, who scoffed at Clark’s big ears.
20. It is part of Clark Gable folklore that he “bankrupted” the undershirt businesses when he famously didn’t wear one in his undressing scene in It Happened One Night. This was not planned on his part, nor was it in the script. He didn’t like to wear undershirts, saying they made him feel smothered.
21. In the 1950’s, Clark turned down several offers to appear on television. He stated he was completely opposed to it, as it was destroying the film industry, the very medium that made him what he was.
22. Four out of the five Mrs. Clark Gables outlived him. Carole Lombard being the only one who didn’t, obviously. The last Mrs. Gable to die was fifth wife Kay Williams, who passed in 1983.
23. Sylvia Ashley was the only one of Clark’s wives to remarry after being married to him.
24. Clark’s 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama is infamous for a few reasons: It was the film that gangster John Dillinger went out of hiding to go see, resulting in him being gunned down by FBI Special Agents right outside the theater; it was the first film to co-star Myrna Loy and William Powell, who went on to become one the era’s most popular screen teams, starring in fourteen films together; it was the first and only time that both of Carole Lombard’s husbands starred together–at the time she was divorced from Powell and would marry Clark five years later.
25. He won his only Academy Award on February 27, 1935. It was presented to him by Irvin Cobb.
26. Clark loved dogs all his life. As a small boy, he begged his father to keep a stray he found on his way home from school one day.
27. His most beloved dog was a German short-haired pointer named Bob. Bob’s favorite treat was ice cream so Clark gave him a little bowl every night before bed. He was Clark’s constant companion for over a decade until he died in 1955.
28. Carole Lombard had a dachshund named Commissioner who followed her everywhere. After she died, Commissioner took to following Clark around. Clark was upset to learn that Commissioner died while Clark was in Europe during World War II. Upon his return, his on-again off-again girlfriend Virginia Grey gave him a dachshund puppy, which he named Rover.
29. When fans would send Clark gifts (everything from pipes and handkerchiefs, to sweaters they’d knitted), his secretary would send a thank you note then donate the items to charity.
30. Some recent books have insinuated that Clark and Jean Harlow had a romantic relationship, which is not true. Clark looked upon Jean more like a kid sister, even calling her “Sis,” and theirs was an easy and friendly camaraderie, not a romance.
31. He loved poetry and Shakespeare. His favorite poet was Robert W. Service.
32. His favorite sandwich was a thick slice of Bermuda onion on homemade bread slathered with mustard.
33. Clark hated having his picture taken. He can often be seen with a scowl on his face if a fan happened to catch him in an unexpected candid. He said taking publicity stills was his least favorite part of his job.
34. He is often accused of just playing himself onscreen. He himself would even agree it to on occasion. But friend and co-star Spencer Tracy disagreed, saying in 1941: “He’s so natural, most people can’t tell the difference between the on-screen Gable and the off-screen Gable. They think he’s playing himself. He is, up to a certain point. There’s a difference between being natural off the screen and being natural on it. It takes a little art to be natural with a camera in front of you and a microphone over you. Gable has made a fine art of it.”
35. At his funeral, the pallbearers were Jimmy Stewart, Spencer Tracy and Robert Taylor as well as his long time friends Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling, Eric Dunliner and Ray Hommes.
36. Other than Carole Lombard, he was also romantically involved with the following actresses: Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Allan, Ella Raines, Paulette Goddard, Audrey Totter, Anita Page, Loretta Young, Grace Kelly, Virginia Grey, Merle Oberon and Marilyn Maxwell, among others.
37. Katharine Hepburn requested Clark to play her ex-husband CK Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story (1940). They sent Clark the script. He deemed it “too wordy” and said “other than pushing the dame down, I don’t have anything to do.” So the part went to Cary Grant.
38. San Francisco was Clark’s second highest-grossing film. Gone with the Wind was the first obviously, as it remains the highest grossing film of all time.
39. When asked what his least favorite films of his own were, he always said Parnell and Dancing Lady.
40. Clark was always extremely punctual and expected the same from others. One of his pet peeves was people who were always late; he found it inconsiderate.
41. It was rare that he questioned a director. He didn’t care what side he was shot from and he never went to see the day’s rushes. In his later years, he became less confident about his appearance and started to request less close-ups.
42. Being very particular about his clothes, wardrobe was the one department that often saw the bad side of Clark if his clothing did not fit properly. He infamously became furious when he arrived on the set of Gone with the Wind to find his costumes ill-fitting despite having endured hours of wardrobe fittings.
43. Clark was very bad at remembering dates–birthdays, anniversaries, appointments, etc. He counted on his secretary and his wife to keep him on track.
44. He was known for being healthy and rarely sick. Kay Williams claimed in their five years of marriage he’d never so much as had a cold.
45. In 1932, Clark appeared with his very first onscreen mustache, although it was a fake. In Strange Interlude, Clark’s character ages 20 years and a fake mustache was applied halfway through the film to show him aging. He hated it.
46. MGM wanted him to star in Home from the Hill (1960) but Clark refused, still bitter about the lack of appreciation MGM had showed him when his contract had not been renewed. The role went to Robert Mitchum.
47. Mogambo was filmed in Uganda and Nairobi in late 1952. Since Carole Lombard’s death, Clark had developed a fear of flying. His flight from Rome to Nairobi was his first since her death in 1942.
48. His most frequent director was Clarence Brown.A Free Soul, Chained, Idiot’s Delight, Night Flight, Possessed, They Met in Bombay, To Please a Lady, Wife vs. Secretary.
49. Jeannette MacDonald was one of Clark’s least favorite lady costars. He considered her to be prissy and fake. He objected to starring in the film with her because he felt he would look stupid just sitting there listening to her sing. He also was perturbed by how long it took her in her dressing room and that her contract stipulated that she get a week off every month for her menstrual period. She had really wanted him for her co-star in the film was disappointed in his attitude toward her. In the 1950’s, they were once staying in the same hotel and met for drinks, mending the fences.
50. In 1934, Clark was infamously loaned from his home studio MGM to lowly Columbia Studios to make a little picture called “Night Bus,” which would later be re-named It Happened One Night. Part of the deal was that Columbia also got John Barrymore to star in Twentieth Century…with future Mrs. Gable, Carole Lombard.
51. In 1949, Robert Wagner was one of Clark’s caddies at the Bel-Air Country Club. Clark gave him advice on getting into acting.
52. Clark attended the Academy Awards only five times: 1935 (when he won for It Happened One Night), 1936 (when he was nominated for Mutiny on the Bounty), 1937 (when he was the date of nominee Carole Lombard), 1954 (when he was the date of nominee Grace Kelly) and 1958 (when he presented an award with Teacher’s Pet co-star Doris Day).
53. Contrary to popular belief, Clark did not attend the Academy Awards the year he was nominated for Gone with the Wind. (More on that here.)
54. In 1931, newcomer Clark Gable married twelve movies in the course of twelve months, often filming two at a time.
55. In 1934, Clark’s father William married Edna Gable, who was his brother’s widow. So Clark’s aunt became his stepmother! Clark paid for the wedding and bought them a house.
56. His favorite fruit was grapefruit. When he lived on the ranch, he ate one every morning for breakfast.
57. Clark was very nervous about the singing and dancing required for his role in Idiot’s Delight. He spent over six weeks rehearsing, often at home with Lombard as his coach. On the day they shot the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number, the set was closed to outsiders. Lombard came by to watch and gave him a bouquet of roses afterward.
58. The number one thing that attracted Clark to a woman was intelligence. “It’s a dumb guy who is flattered by the girl he goes with being a half-wit.”
59. Contrary to popular belief, Clark never had his ears surgically pinned back.
60. The legendary Fred Astaire made his first film appearance in Dancing Lady, and his very first scene was with Clark.
61. His favorite candies were jellybeans.
62. In 1939, he caught a young man who had broken into his house and stolen one of his guns. Clark held him down until the police showed up.
63. MGM Head of Production Irving Thalberg had to talk Clark into taking the role of Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty, a role Clark vehemently did not want.
64. Clark’s second wife Ria Langham Gable, without meaning to, was largely responsible for Las Vegas being known as the nation’s divorce capital in the pre-war era. Since a California divorce had a year-long waiting period, Ria traveled to Vegas and set up residency for the required six weeks before her divorce was granted on March 7, 1939. Clark and Ria’s became the first highly publicized Vegas celebrity divorce, and once everyone read how easy it was for them, Vegas had a booming business.
65. Clark admitted being short-tempered at times and could be rather impatient and intolerant to stupidity.
66. Men in White was the first film that MGM bought the rights exclusively for Clark to star in. Before that he was just the “male lead” opposite Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, etc.
67. Clark was nominated for a Golden Globe Award twice: in 1959 for Teacher’s Pet and in 1960 for But Not For Me.
68. Gone with the Wind became a source of extreme bitterness for Clark in later years. Because he had agreed to sign on as Rhett Butler after MGM offered to pay off his wife Ria for a divorce, no thought was given to the fact that he should also ask for a percentage of the film’s profits. He blamed his agent for this oversight and also David O. Selznick for “hosing him over”. The film was re-released in the 1950’s and Clark refused to attend the premiere. With each new re-release, Clark was only reminded of the money he had “been swindled” out of.
69. Clark and Wallace Beery did not get along during filming of China Seas. During the scene where Beery hits Clark while he’s passed out, Beery reportedly smacked Clark hard instead of faking it. Clark jumped out of the chair and threatened to break his neck and the crew had to separate them and continue filming the scene the next day after they had cooled off.
70. Clark’s favorite thing for Carole Lombard to cook was baked beans.
71. Clark portrays a father in The Easiest Way, Strange Interlude, Hold Your Man, Test Pilot, Gone with the Wind, Boom Town, Adventure, Any Number Can Play, Across the Wide Missouri, Soldier of Fortune, The Misfits.
72. One of the few foods Clark detested was pudding of any kind, saying “that’s what I’ll have to eat when I’m old and lose my dentures.”
73. Myrna Loy recalled that their relationship was never romantic, that they were more like brother and sister. He would often read poetry and Shakespeare to her on the set. At the end of a film, they would celebrate with champagne.
74. Clark very much wanted to star as Bick Benedict in Giant (1956) but director George Stevens nixed the idea, citing him as being too old. The role instead went to Rock Hudson.
75. Cammie King (Bonnie Blue) famously said that one of her few memories of the set of Gone with the Wind was that Clark’s mustache tickled.
76. Clark received his second Academy Award nomination for the Mutiny on the Bounty. Laughton and Tone were also nominated, all for Best Actor. Noticing that it seemed odd that three actors from the same film were up for the same award, this prompted the Academy to start issuing awards for supporting actors and actresses. All three lost to the only Best Actor nominee not in the film, Victor McLaglen, for The Informer.
77. In 1937, Clark was set to play nineteenth century Irish politician Charles Parnell in the biographical drama Parnell. The real Parnell had a full beard. For whatever reason, despite the fact that in between shooting films Clark often grew a full beard while out on hunting trips, Clark refused to grow a beard for the role. The compromise was some very unflattering long sideburns, or “mutton chops.”
78. Carole Lombard memorably gave Clark some “peace doves” after they got into a fight when they first started dating. Clark kept them and all their descendants on the ranch for the rest of his life.
79. During filming of one of the love scenes in Homecoming, Lana Turner was chewing gum to freshen her breath. Clark kissed her so forcefully that he had to pick gum out of his mustache. Lana said after that she used mouthwash instead.
80. Clark did not believe that he had done a good job in Gone with the Wind until the overwhelmingly positive response after the premiere in Atlanta. Even after that, he shrugged off his performance as just doing what he was told to do.
81. He disliked having a barber shave him, preferring to do the job himself.
82. Clark hated people who were dishonest, and admitted if you lied to him once he had a hard time trusting you ever again.
83. During the filming of Honky Tonk, rumors were rampant that Clark and Lana Turner were having an affair–which they both denied. To show a united front, Clark and Carole Lombard attended the first preview together hand in hand. These rumors persist to this day, but Lana vehemently denied them in her autobiography.
84. When asked what his favorite film of his own was, he usually said Mutiny on the Bounty. After he saw The Misfits, he declared it was the best of his movies. He also expressed adoration for Test Pilot.
85. After A Free Soul was released, critics barely mentioned the relative newcomer Clark Gable, reserving their praise for Lionel Barrymore. Moviegoers, however–especially female ones–wrote the studio in droves demanding more Clark and his fan mail started pouring in. Movie magazines took notice and hailed him as “the man’s man all modern women dream about!” Because of this, his $650/week contract with MGM was ripped up and he signed a new one for $1,150/week.
86. After he died, Clark’s final hospital bill, which included an 11 day hospital stay, an adjoining room for Kay to stay in, an x-ray and round-the-clock care, totaled $1,703,71.
87. In Gone with the Wind, the scene where Melanie is comforting Rhett after Scarlett’s fallen down the stairs called for Clark to cry on camera. He balked, citing that it was “unmanly” and not true to the character. Selznick told him they’d film it first with him crying, then without, and then he could make the final decision. Upon seeing both prints, Clark agreed that the crying should stay.
88. While filming a plane crash scene in Too Hot to Handle, it was reported that the fire got out of control and the director wanted to cut the shot so they could get Myrna Loy out of there in time. Clark rushed in and pulled Myrna out of the plane, saving her life before the flames engulfed her. The press quickly got wind of the story and it was front page news. Myrna recalled she never thought she was in any danger and speculates it was the studio just trying to get some publicity for the film.
89. Somewhere I’ll Find You was the film Clark was making when Carole Lombard died. After her death, the producers thought the title hit too close to home and suggested changing it to “Red Light.” Clark insisted they do him no favors and keep the original title.
90. Clark did not see any part of Somewhere I’ll Find You until MGM gave him a personal copy of it in 1956.
91.When filming the fight scene between Clark and Spencer Tracy in Boom Town, Tracy’s stunt double accidentally punched him square in the jaw, breaking his false teeth and cutting up his lips. He was out for three weeks to heal and the film was shot around him until he returned. The first scene upon his return to the set was a love scene with Claudette Colbert. She kissed him so hard his temporary dentures cracked.
92. For the scenes in Homecoming that flashed back to Clark and Ann Baxter’s courtship, hemorrhoid cream was applied to Clark’s face to shrink his eye bags, heavy makeup was applied to his face and neck, and his jowls were pulled back with rubber bands. The result was less than flattering and he hated it. The flashback scenes were thus cut back to one brief scene.
93. His most frequent leading lady was Joan Crawford. Dance Fools Dance, Laughing Sinners, Possessed, Dancing Lady, Chained Forsaking All Others, Love on the Run, Strange Cargo
94. Carole Lombard was interested in the screenplay for Woman of the Year (1942). She thought it would be a perfect chance for her and Clark to re-team on screen. She was very disappointed to learn that Katharine Hepburn had snatched up the rights to it and it was going forward with her and Spencer Tracy.
95. Clark’s only Oscar now resides in the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences Library, having been purchased at auction in 1996 by Steven Spielberg for $607,500. Clark’s son and only heir, John Clark, put the Oscar up for auction at Christie’s in Los Angeles. The Academy tried to bar the sale, producing a document Clark signed that stated that if he ever wanted to sell it, he had to offer it to the Academy for $10 first. A judge ruled that the document was forged (the Academy maintains that it was not) and cleared the way for the Oscar to be auctioned. At the time, the winner was anonymous. It wasn’t until Spielberg stepped up and donated the award back to the Academy that his identity was revealed. “I could think of no better sanctuary for Gable’s only Oscar than the Motion Picture Academy,” Spielberg said in a statement. “The Oscar statuette is the most personal recognition of good work our industry can ever bestow, and it strikes me as a sad sign of our times that this icon could be confused with a commercial treasure.”
96. Both Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart turned down the lead role in Teacher’s Pet.
97. Clark was fond of the robe he wore in the New Orleans honeymoon scene in Gone with the Wind and kept it. He later wore it again in Honky Tonk.
98. Teacher’s Pet was originally to be filmed in color, but the producers decided to film in black and white upon Gable’s request (he was self conscious about his weight and aged appearance after criticism of Band of Angels).
99. Adventure is usually maligned as a a huge flop, but that is not true. At first, the film broke box office records for its opening weeks due to fans eager to see Clark’s return to the screen. But bad word of mouth and unfavorable critical reviews caused the audiences to fall off sharply. It was considered a commercial success however, earning a profit of $500,000.
100. Gone with the Wind had three premieres: Atlanta, New York and Los Angeles. Even though Gable attended the Atlanta and Los Angeles premieres (with Carole Lombard), he did not see the film in its entirety until the 1950’s. At the Atlanta premiere, he spent half the film chatting with Margaret Mitchell and sources say by the second half he had fallen asleep. At the Los Angeles premiere, the Gables, accompanied by Raoul Walsh and Marion Davies, spent the entire running time of the film in the theater manager’s office getting drunk.
101. His most common character name was Mike or Michael. Chained, Love on the Run, To Please a Lady and It Started in Naples.
102. During filming of Dancing Lady, Clark was hospitalized with a high fever. It was determined he had pyorrhea, from his rotting teeth and gums, that was starting to spread throughout his body. Almost all of his teeth were removed and then he had to wait for two weeks for his gums to heal before he could be fitted with dentures. They shot all the scenes without Clark and then production was shut down waiting for him to return. Producer David O. Selznick grew impatient and wanted to replace him with Robert Montgomery, but studio head Louis B. Mayer nixed the idea. Clark finally returned after six weeks, only to nearly collapse on the set and have to be rushed back to the hospital. When he was fully healed and returned again on October 20, he had been absent from the set since June 12 and the film was $150,000 over budget because of the delay.
103. Before becoming an actor, he worked as a farmhand, oil driller, rubber factory worker, tie salesman and telephone lineman.
104. Betrayed flopped at the box office and barely recouped its production costs. Clark, however, was still included on the list of the top 10 box office attractions of 1954 thanks to Gone with the Wind being re-released that year.
105. Later in his life, many suspected he suffered from Parkinson’s disease due to his hands and head constantly shaking.
106. Eager to branch out after his separation from MGM, Clark decided to try his hand out as a producer and formed a production company with Jane Russell’s husband, Bob Waterfield, to produce The King and Four Queens. After casting, location scouting, editing and tending to all the minute details of the film in addition to starring in it, he found being a producer too stressful and the film was the only one he ever produced.
107. During the filming of the scene in Gone with the Wind where Rhett carries Scarlett up the stairs, director Victor Fleming kept demanding retakes, over a dozen times. An exhausted Clark obliged and carried Vivien Leigh up the stairs over and over again. Finally Fleming said, “The first take was perfect, Clark!”
108. Soon after they were married, Carole decided they should raise chickens and sell their eggs. She designed a carton for them, calling them “The King’s Eggs.” When it was determined that this venture would mean charging a dollar an egg to make a profit, the idea was abandoned.
109. Around 1946, Clark joined an informal group of actors who rode motorcycles around on weekends. Other members included Keenan Wynn, Gary Cooper, Robert Taylor, John Wayne, Ward Bond and Van Johnson.
110. Thinking body hair unclean, Clark often shaved his chest hair.
111. It’s been said that Clark was a poor dancer, but several of his woman companions said that actually he was pretty graceful on his feet, especially good at the waltz.
112. Clark liked his hair short and off his neck. The long hair he had to grow for Gone with the Wind drove him crazy.
113. He had an alcohol problem on and off over the years, his drink of choice being whiskey. Often he would quit cold turkey and drink only lemonade and Coca-Cola.
114. He broke the knuckle on his left ring finger in his farming days and therefore wore his wedding bands on his pinkie.
115. Today is his 115th birthday, so go watch a Gable movie! (Maybe with whiskey and an onion sandwich?)