After they were married in 1939 and Carole Lombard had proficiently decorated and furnished their cozy Encino abode to suit her and her “moose” of a husband, Clark Gable, she set her sights on her next goal: motherhood. Unfortunately for the Gables, this was a wish that would remain unfulfilled.
The consensus these days seems to be that Carole had some sort of medical problem that prevented her from becoming pregnant. Nowadays, a doctor would have told her first and foremost that she needed to stop the chain-smoking and perhaps dial down the coffee and Coca-Cola chugging.
Clark fathered a daughter with Loretta Young and later on a son with his fifth wife Kay, so the claims that some friends of Carole’s made that he was the one with the fertility problem seem to be unfounded.
Since we’ll never know exactly why parenthood sadly eluded the Gables, let’s look at the pregnancy and miscarriage rumors that plagued the couple throughout their marriage.
August 3, 1939:
Enthused Over Son
Carole Lombard and Clark Gable are so enthused over the arrival of a six-pound baby son for the Walter Langs (Mrs. Lang was “Fieldsie” Carole’s long-time secretary and closest friend) that it is now no secret they’d like a little Gable themselves. The two paced the hospital corridors with the anxious father awaiting the birth of the baby–and when Carole first glimpsed it, she said, “Here’s your Auntie Carole, you beautiful little thing!”
The baby was Richard Lang, Clark and Carole’s godson, whom Clark eventually gave his Academy Award to because the child admired it.
August 5, 1939:
Carole Lombard, blonde screen star, had undergone an operation for acute appendicitis and is recovering satisfactorily, it was learned today.
The actress was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital by her film star husband, Clark Gable. She had been ill two days.
Dr. Norman Williams performed the operation and reported that Miss Lombard’s condition was excellent.
Miss Lombard when she became ill was in midst of production in a picture called “Vigil in the Night” in which she plays the role of a nurse. RKO-Radio Studio said that production will be postponed until Miss Lombard recovers.
Many sources say that this was not an appendectomy and that in fact Carole had miscarried after horseback riding.
By November, the adoption rumors were circulating.
November 29, 1939:
Carole Lombard and Clark Gable are not going to adopt a baby–because they’ve decided in favor of the Gable brand.
Odd choice of words.
By 1940, reports circulated constantly about Carole and her various illnesses. Which seems strange since she was constantly pictured on her movie sets laughing and seemingly in the greatest of health, pictured hunting and fishing with Clark joyously. The rumors of Carole’s ill health had become so rampant that she felt compelled to give an interview to Screenland magazine proclaiming she was not sick and to stop worrying about her: “Help Kill Crazy Rumors About Me!”
Carole, all wrapped up in a white robe, was seated at her dressing table while the ever faithful Loretta fussed with her hair. She did look a bit peaked. Poor child. My heart simply overflowed with sympathy and I fought to keep the tears out of my eyes.
“Did you have a good rest, darling?” I asked softly and solicitously.
“Rest?” screamed Carole. “Are you crazy? Did you ever shoot quail? Do you know how fast they can dart over the mountains? And with me right after them with eight pounds of gun and three pounds of shells over my shoulder? Rest? I’ll have you know I walked ten miles a day, every day. Look at the blisters on my heels.”
“But, darling,” I said, so quietly and patiently, the way one speaks to a petulant invalid, “do you think you ought to do that? So much exercise isn’t good for your health, you know.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Carole demanded indignantly. “You can talk louder than that. There’s no one sleeping around here. Unless it’s Loretta.” (Loretta gave her dome a none too gentle whack with the hair brush). “And what, may I ask, is all this hooey about my health? When we got in from Mexico this morning I found a whole stack of letters from fans saying they were so worried about me. Several of them suggested specialists I should see, and different medicines which they guaranteed would cure me. I appreciate their interest. But I’m not sick. Maybe I’m a little goofy. I’ll even admit that maybe I’m a little dopey, at time. But I certainly am not sick. Why are people worried about me? Why are you giving me the Camille business? What’s it all about?”
“It was on the radio,” I gulped. “And in all the newspapers: Your health is supposed to be completely wrecked. You’re run down, your nerves are shattered, you haven’t any red corpuscles, and you’re in the last stages of something. You’re dying, too, or something like that. Anyway, you have to retire from the screen for at least a year. You’re—“
“Oh, so I’m retiring from the screen, am I? Well that is news! You don’t think that rumor could have been started by some people who say ‘Vigil in the Night’ do you? No, it can’t be that bad. In fact I think it’s rather good. If I were going to retire from the screen because of bad pictures I should have retired after ‘Fools for Scandal.’ See this—“ she showed me a slip which had a message on it that Mr. Pasternak had called. “Well, that means that I am going to do a picture at Universal in a few months. As soon as Boyer is available. And maybe before that even I have to do the Norman Krasna story which David Selznick will produce. And I have just signed a new contract with RKO which calls for three pictures. So please stop worrying about me retiring from the screen. Or, maybe you aren’t.”
“If it means so much to you,” said Carole with one of those Lombard guffaws, “I’ll be big about it and admit that maybe I am just a teensy weensy bit off-color. Now—does that make you and the radio commentators and the newspaper columnists feel better? But I fey any of you to go through what I have been through for the past few months and not look a little pale. You, cutie-pie, would look bedraggled. As you know, I had an acute attack of appendicitis last August and was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Three weeks later I reported to RKO for ‘Vigil in the Night,’ the Cronin story with Brian Aherne and Anne Shirley, who, by the way, is a grand actress. For seventy-eight days I worked from nine to six on that picture without one single day off, didn’t I, Loretta? And me fresh out of a hospital. The studio kept planning for me to have a collapse, but I fooled em. I didn’t miss a day.”
If the appendectomy was a tall tale, she was riding with it, anyway!
The Gables went on an extensive hunting and fishing trip after Clark finished filming Boom Town and Carole finished They Knew What They Wanted. After some intimate moments in the duck blind, Carole was sure she was pregnant and rushed to the doctor for a test upon their return. But it was negative.
Carole had slowed down her filming schedule in hopes she’d become pregnant–making only two films in 1940.When she still wasn’t expecting at the end of the year, the Gables crossed the country to John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. I’m guessing this was at Carole’s insistence. It was spun that Carole was having a “minor operation” and that Clark was being seen for an old shoulder injury.
January 1, 1941:
Movie actress Carole Lombard will undergo a minor operation tomorrow at John Hopkins Hospital.
She entered the hospital Monday with her husband, Clark Gable, who said at the time he would have an injured shoulder examined. Miss Lombard said the operation was decided upon after a general physical checkup.
Dr. Richard W. Telinde, chief gynecologist at the hospital, will perform the operation, which was described as not serious.
From a Baltimore Sun article:
Gable…visited Baltimore in December 1940, when he and his third wife, screen actress Carole Lombard, whom he married in 1939, arrived at Johns Hopkins Hospital for a medical checkup.
Gable, injured when a wall toppled on him while he was filming “San Francisco,” complained of a dull ache in his shoulder.
Gable stood on the steps of the hospital’s administration building next to Lombard, who was dressed in a mink coat and black hat, talking with photographers and reporters.
“Please speed it up, I’m not feeling very well,” he said.
“We probably will have adjoining rooms in the Marburg building. The rest will be good for me, too,” Lombard said.
Dr. B. Lucien Brun, surgeon–in-chief and head of the oral surgical staff, later removed a tooth and part of the jaw in an hour-and-a-half operation that left the actor saying he felt “rotten.”
“Dr. Louis Hamman, who examined both Gable and his wife, Carole Lombard, said today he believed the decayed tooth root had been poisoning the actor’s system and affecting particularly shoulder muscles injured in the filming of ‘San Francisco,’ ” reported The Evening Sun.
Before leaving Baltimore for Hollywood, the celebrated couple visited Gov. and Mrs. Herbert R. O’Conor for a tour of the State House and the Naval Academy.
As they left the State House, they posed for pictures. “Miss Lombard then stopped and played with Bobby, the Governor’s 4-year-old son who was airing his new bull pup on the lawn,” reported The Sun.
They also visited Children’s Hospital, where they autographed the body cast of 11-year-old Agnes Valentine, a Frederick County resident who was recuperating in the hospital.
A few days later, a huge package arrived from Hollywood for the little patients at Children’s Hospital.
Inside was 68 pounds of chocolate candy and a note: “For the children, from Carole and Clark.”
We’ll never know what the diagnosis was or what her operation was exactly. Back in those days, fertility testing was not near as extensive as it is today and there were no options such as IVF. There were also many things that Carole would have probably been told by her doctor about conceiving that we know nowadays are completely false. Like I said above, the ill effects of cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine were unknown then, for starters. At this point, the lack of positive news was causing Carole quite a great deal of stress and causing friction in the Gable marriage. By all accounts though, they weren’t told the situation was hopeless and by summer, the rumors were rampant again that a little Gable was on the way:
From May 1941:
The staff at New York Hospital is agog over Carole Lombard’s reservation. A baby Gable, they say.
New York Hospital? Odd.
From June 1941:
There have also been reports that C. Gable and Carole Lombard are expecting. The forthright Carole says, “I’m sorry it isn’t true. And when it is I’ll be the first to know about it and I’ll be the first to tell about it.”
From July 1941:
My, how that Carole Lombard baby rumor does persist, despite Carole’s vehement denials!
From August 1941:
A little bird (stork?) tells me that a little Gable is expected next spring.
From August 1941:
“It’s not true, I’m afraid,” Carole Lombard tells me about the news of an impending little Gable.
I often see it mentioned that Carole suffered two miscarriages. It is a safe bet that the second occurred in summer-fall 1941. It’s rather funny how the blurbs of the Gables expecting were quickly swept under the rug a short time later, either with no comment or a swift denial by Lombard.
In December 1941, the United States was swept into World War II and there were more important things to worry about than a little Gable on the way. I’ve heard some people say that Carole was pregnant when she died; I sincerely doubt that. If she’d known she was pregnant, no way she’d take on such an arduous trip, especially after two miscarriages. I’ve heard the romantic tale that she found out she was pregnant while on the bond tour and took the plane home because she wanted to tell Clark in person. Rubbish. This was 1942, she couldn’t pick up a pregnancy test at a drug store.
Unfortunately for us all, the world was not graced with a sassy little Lombard-Gable with blonde ringlets, big blue eyes and big ears!
Clark and Carole with a little girl in Atlanta for the premiere of Gone with the Wind