clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night

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.

clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night

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.

clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night

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.

clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night

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.

clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night

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.

clark gable claudette colbert frank capra it happened one night

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.”

clark gable it happened one night

Despite it’s rough start, the set of the film turned out to be an easygoing one, with improvising encouraged.

clark gable claudette colbert frank capra it happened one night

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.

Gable is Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired. On a bus to New York, he meets Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a runaway heiress, on her way to be reunited with her new husband whom her father detests. Peter soon 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. Gable is Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired. On a bus to New York, he meets Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a runaway heiress, on her way to be reunited with her new husband whom her father detests. Peter soon 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. Gable is Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired. On a bus to New York, he meets Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a runaway heiress, on her way to be reunited with her new husband whom her father detests. Peter soon 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. Gable is Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired. On a bus to New York, he meets Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a runaway heiress, on her way to be reunited with her new husband whom her father detests. Peter soon 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. Gable is Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired. On a bus to New York, he meets Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a runaway heiress, on her way to be reunited with her new husband whom her father detests. Peter soon 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. Gable is Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired. On a bus to New York, he meets Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a runaway heiress, on her way to be reunited with her new husband whom her father detests. Peter soon 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. Gable is Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired. On a bus to New York, he meets Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a runaway heiress, on her way to be reunited with her new husband whom her father detests. Peter soon 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.

clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night

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.

clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night

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!

clark gable academy award oscar

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.

clark gable claudette colbert it happened one night

clark gable vivien leigh gone with the wind

This week, featured is another article from the archive, Gone with the Wind Indeed!, Photoplay magazine, March 1937. This article is all about the pressing issue of casting the great civil war epic:

Time was when you could call a man a rat in Hollywood and get yourself a stiff poke in the nose. But now what you get is–”Rhett? Rhett Butler? Well–I don’t know about that ‘profile like an old coin’ stuff, but I’ve been told I am rather masterful and–” Yes and there was a day when you could call a woman scarlet in this town and find yourself looking into the business end of a male relative’s shotgun. But now it’s–”Scarlett? Scarlett O’Hara? Oh, do you really think so? Well, I wish you’d say that around Mr. Selznick. Of course, my eyes aren’t exactly green, but unless they use Technicolor–”

Ever since that very small but very un-Reconstructed Rebel, Mistress Peggy Mitchell, of the Atlanta Mitchells, wrote a book called “Gone with the Wind”, which went like a seventy-mile gale over the country and whipped up a grade-A tornado, a civil war, the like of which Jeff Davis never dreamed, has been raging uncontrolled way out in Hollywood.

Houses are divided, brother against brother, husband against wife, butler versus pantry maid.

“Why, Judge,” a woman told the court the other day, “this bum says the only man to play Rhett Butler is Warren William. How can I go on living with a cretin like that?”

“Yeah,” countered the defendant, “and, Your Honor, she embarrassed me before my friends plugging for Ronald Coleman. Ronald Coleman–imagine! My business dropped off.” “Divorce granted,” murmured the court, “although personally I’ve always thought Gary Cooper would be a natural for the part.”

Who will win? Well–here are the favorites, complete with clockings, handicaps, and pole positions. You pay your money and you take your choice:

Ladies first, which means Rhett Butler–

Clark Gable is the odds on favorite. He probably will play the part. If he doesn’t there may be a Revolution. The nationwide choice, by a wide margin, he runs neck-and-neck with Warner Baxter in the South, which, incidentally, will have plenty to say about the casting of this picture. Gable is also the big Hollywood favorite, although if you can’t see him you can’t see him at all. It’s that way. Letters have poured in threatening boycotts and reprisals (honest) if he’s cast as Rhett. The same if he isn’t.

Clark is the right age, the perfect build, the effective sex quotient. On a very touchy point–whether or not he can put on a Southern accent and wear it becomingly–he is doubtful. He would give a year of his life to play Rhett–why not? It would be the biggest money gland his career could conceivably manage.

But–Gable is among the most jealously hoarded of MGM stars. And Selznick International, not MGM, copped this prize story of the century. MGM turned it down! Selznick International means John Hay Whitney and David Oliver Selznick. But again–David Oliver Selznick is married to Louis B. Mayer’s daughter. Would Gable be available? What do you think?

Frederic March is the only actor so far officially tested for Rhett. Was the early choice, but seems to have faded in the back stretch. Would be available, eager and willing to play Rhett on a moment’s notice. Runs about third in the terrific straw balloting which increases every day. Is regarded by millions as a great actor–many others do not agree. Played the other great sensational best seller title part, “Anthony Adverse.” Consensus of opinion is that Frederic would be an adequate Rhett, but that’s all. Lacks the sinister sex considered absolutely essential to a great performance.

Warner Baxter has surprising support from Atlanta and the deep South. Is the best “sympathy” actor in the race. His recent sock hit in “To Mary–With love” is considered an apt build-up. Warner has the strong support of all who picture Rhett Butler as a man who suffered and suffered. Is keeping his fingers crossed day and night because if he landed it would be “In Old Arizona” all over again for him. His contract, of course, is with Twentieth Century Fox, which makes him eligible. Darryl Zanuck who is a borrower of stars in the talent market wouldn’t dare bite the hand that feeds him and keep him locked in the closet. Warner, too, is about the right age, a little on the oldish side. His weakness, too, is no powerful sex appeal.

Ronald Colman popped into the running through an erroneous press dispatch. But once in has remained a strong contender. Chief advantage is his spot as long term contract star with Selznick International, his decided romantic charm, suavity, age and sympathetic personality. Chief disadvantage is ever-lovin’ Britishness, hard for the folks down South to swallow when the story is almost a sectional issue.

Those are the favorites. But Cary Grant, Basil Rathbone, Edward Arnold haven’t given up yet.

Now gents–it’s your turn.

For Scarlett O’Hara–

Tallulah Bankhead–shared the same bum steer announcement that brought Ronald Coleman in. Was tested by Selznick twice, once in Hollywood while on the stage in “Reflected Glory.” It was a simple color test but it gave the newshawks ideas. Tested again in New York by Director George Cukor. Is a professional choice, being considered the best actress of all candidates. Would satisfy Dixie, hailing originally from Alabama. Her pappy represents the state as Speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington. Talu could probably recapture a sugar-lipped drawl, all right, buy the years and an aura of sophistication are against her. The part would be like long delayed manna from Heaven for her, bestowing the great screen break her rooters have long wailed has been denied a great artiste. Only a lukewarm choice in the popular response. But vigorously opposed by an opinionated minority.

Miriam Hopkins is the red hot choice of Atlanta and the South. Leads other actresses by a nice margin in the letter deluge. One reason, she hails from Bainbridge, Georgia, right close to home. Is a good subject for color, if it is used, except she’ll have to wear a wig. Played Becky Sharp, the character generally compared to Scarlett O’Hara, but that might work against her.

Bette Davis is the number one Hollywood selection. Just missed cinching the part by a matter of minutes. On her way to England, Bette was told by Warner’s New York story board they were buying a great story for her, “Gone with the Wind.” But by the time they wired Hollywood for an okay, the hammer had dropped. The day His Majesty’s courts decided that Bette was a “naughty girl” and “must go back to jail” her low spirits were lifted by a columnist’s clipping calling her the ideal Miss O’Hara. Answers to Scarlett now around the Warner lot. Bette is the only Yankee girl to score below that well-known line. Ranks third in the Cotton Belt. Is considered to be just the right age to handle the assignment and blessed with the right amount of–er–nastiness. No complaints from the home folks on her southern accent in “Cabin in the Cotton” or as Alabama Follansbee in “The Solid South” (stage).

But–Bette is in the doghouse chained and collared, and one of the main issues of her legal whipping was her loan out demand. Warners can–probably would keep her in the cooler. Selznick, in fact, is supposed to have said, “Bette Davis? Great–but could we get her?”

Margaret Sullavan holds the second spot in returns from down yonder. Is a Virginia girl, and knows what to do when a lady meets a gentleman down South. Handed brilliantly the lead in “So Red the Rose”, another Civil War picture. Fractious and fiery enough to make Scarlett a vivid character. Tagged next to Bette Davis in Hollywood.

And the Field–Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert and Jean Harlow.

Now as if puzzling about all this were not enough to set a body weaving baskets in the clink, Messrs. Selznick and Company announce that they want for Scarlett and Rhett not Hollywood stars at all. No–instead they have arranged to canvass all the finishing schools of Dixie, and ogle Junior Leaguers at the very lovely teas and discover and “unknown” Scarlett. A similar search, minus the tea, is hoped to dig up an indigenous Rhett.

Thus, they say, everything will not only be peaches and cream for professional Southerners, but what is much more important, two brand new stars will be born. Why take other studio’s stars and build them? Isn’t this going to be the greatest picture of all time?

Well–as to the first idea–it’s great if it works, is the opinion of the Hollywood wise ones. But it won’t work, they say. Whom are you going to find in the sticks to handle parts like those? Whom could you dare gamble on?

And that “greatest picture of all time” stuff. It smacks strongly, I grant you, of the old mahoskus. It’s press agent oil of the most ready viscosity and has flowed freely around every epic from “The Great Train Robbery” to Shirley Temple’s latest cutrick. But this time the answer that snaps right back out of your own skeptic brain is, “Why not?”

These gentlemen–Whitney and Selznick–have, and they know what they have, the greatest screen story of our day. If you don’t think so, here’s the cold cash proof: The day after they laid $50,000 on the line for the picture rights, another studio offered them $100,000. The next offer was boosted to $250,000. The last bid, not long ago, was $1,500,000 and an interest in the picture besides! Tie that.

They said “No” and they are still saying the same. Mr. Whitney and Mr. Selznick are not ribbon clerks. They shot $2,200,000 on “The Garden of Allah.” They will pinch no pennies on “Gone with the Wind”. If color will help it (and it probably will) they’ll shoot and extra million. Sidney Howard is writing the script. George Cukor will direct. Walter Plunkett is designing costumes. These men are all top flight.

So you can reasonably be sure of this–when you finally see “Gone with the Wind” you’ll see a picture dressed in the best trappings of modern production, primed with meticulous preparation, artistic thoroughness and as many millions as it can comfortably stand.

But as for who will be Scarlett and who will be Rhett–well, the riot squads are doing a nice business, thank you. And good citizens of Hollywood scowl across Cahuenga Pass at North Hollywood muttering. “Dam’ Yanks!” While out in Beverly Hills the South Side of the Tracks is threatening to secede if somebody will only fire on the Brown Derby.

It looks as if we’ll fight it out on this line if it takes all summer. Everybody’s welcome, and usually it doesn’t require a second invitation. Just casually mention the subject. You’ll see. Matter of the fact, the only person I can think of offhand who doesn’t seem to be at all upset about the matter is the lady who wrote the book.

Early in the fray, Margaret Mitchell allowed it would be nice if a Southern girl could play Scarlett. But the reaction was so violent that it must have surprised her. At any rate she announced the other day it was her one desire to remain only as the humble author, and to a close friend she confided:

“I don’t care what they do to ‘Gone with the Wind’ in Hollywood. Just so they don’t make General Lee win the war for a happy ending!”

These choices really crack me up. JEAN HARLOW?? CARY GRANT?? EDWARD ARNOLD?? CLAUDETTE COLBERT?? Really atrocious.

You can read the article in its entirety in the Article Archive.

 

shirley temple christmas

In the January 1935 issue of Hollywood magazine, they printed “Santa’s book” of good and bad points for film stars. So who’s getting what they wanted for Christmas and who is getting coal?

CLARK GABLE

Good Points: For giving is It Happened One Night. Being always thoughtful of others. When a friend had no place to keep her dog, he gave it a home on his ranch.

Bad Points: Balks at picture assignments with women stars. Drives studio frantic by disappearing between pictures, when he is wanted for story conferences.

Gifts: More dogs to take care of

 

CAROLE LOMBARD

Good Points: Proved she could act in Twentieth Century. Came back to start Repeal like a good trouper, though still suffering from the shock of Russ Colombo’s death.

Bad Points: Still cusses when excited. But improving. Gets mad at stupid producers who want her to make stupid pictures, and makes one now and then in spite of herself. Put your foot down, Carole!

Gifts: A real vacation

JOAN CRAWFORD

Good Points: Kept her head and won respect by not rushing into another marriage. Has stuck by her career. Left off that extra splash of lipstick this year. Always gives us good pictures.

Bad Points: Suspicion that she has gone a bit coo-coo on cars. That big white limousine, and now that all white, satin upholstered roadster. Joan! How could you? And that horn can be be heard fully three miles!

Gifts: A plain Ford

JEAN HARLOW

Good Points: Well, you finally finished that book, Jean! I like you to stick to things that way. Add good point; not letting personal problems sour her. Made her mother happy with beautiful room in new home. Lifted Bill Powell out of the dumps.

Bad Points: O, hum, with 115 pounds distributed like that, what are Jean’s bad points? Hasn’t sent the editor a copy of “Today is Tonight,” her first book. Maybe he’ll find one in his stocking!

Gifts: A letter from every fan

SHIRLEY TEMPLE

Good Points: Refuses to be spoiled by compliments. Is Mrs. Santa Claus’ favorite actress. Can now spell her name and count. Invited all Hollywood (almost) to her birthday party.

Bad Points: Shirley, you mustn’t ask for so much gum–I heard you! After all, Mama isn’t made of gum! But I guess you’ve been a very good girl.

Gifts: Carton of gum

MARLENE DIETRICH

Good Points: When her studio make-up woman gave a little house-warming, Marlene came to the party and brought a gift. Keeps democratic; always lunches at Paramount cafe with common horde.

Bad Points: Caused great anguish and disappointment on return from Europe with trunks and trunks of gorgeous clothes–and then refused to appear in them, though all Hollywood waited in expectation, The meanie!

Gifts: Another director

BING CROSBY

Good Points: Now there is a fine lad; hope he continues to be a good boy, and gives us more like She Loves Me Not. Add two more good points–the twins. (Give Mrs. Crosby some credit there).

Bad Points: Got put in the doghouse during the making of We’re Not Dressing for keeping Director Taurog out all night. He and Carole Lombard tied a rope to the still man’s camera and hoisted it to the roof. Makes Paramount worry by putting on weight.

Gifts: Triplets!

WILLIAM POWELL

Good Points: The Thin Man–worth a dozen good marks. Got our favorite child, Jean Harlow, out of the dumps. Built a new home with a swimming pool for his nine-year-old boy.

Bad Points: Can’t find any black marks to chalk down against Bill. He has a good word for everybody, and everybody has a good word for him.

Gifts: Monogrammed hankies and scarf.

CLAUDETTE COLBERT

Good Points: For earning and keeping the admiration of all fans. Because her form has nothing but good points. For giving is her share of It Happened One Night.

Bad Points: Hates to take stills and is always trying to get out of it. Takes too many people’s advice and worries too much about meaningless criticisms if trivial matters.

Gifts: That long planned trip to Europe

GEORGE RAFT

Good Points: For never forgetting a friend.

Bad Points: That fist fight at the Brown Derby.

Gift: A night club

GARY COOPER

Good Points: Settling down to being a good husband. Never kicks about a picture role. Let Shirley steal one picture and gave her a present for it!

Bad Points: Has terrible memory or else a convienent forgetter. Spoiled one scene by putting on wrong tie and forgetting where the right one had been tossed.

Gift: A rifle

GRETA GARBO

Good Points: For just being the most fascinating star in pictures. For doing The Painted Veil. For creeping out of her shell a bit.

Bad Points: That inhuman hermit complex. Refusing to sign a new contract and keeping Metro and all her fans in suspense.

Gifts: A husband

 

boom20

From September 1940:

Players who came to the Hollywood feast early get most of the gravy. The highest salaries go to firmly established stars like these:

Clark Gable hits the cash register for about $7,500 weekly, 52 weeks a year, with fat bonuses.

Ronald Colman pockets $150,000 per picture, plus 10% of the world gross when it goes over a certain amount–and it usually does.

Robert Taylor brings Barbara Stanwyck an envelope containing about $5,000 weekly, plus bonuses.

Bette Davis earns not less than $3,500 a week the year round.

Deanna Durbin, who blossomed before the economy blight, earns over $2,500 a week, and bonuses.

Claudette Colbert draws $150,000 per picture.

Jimmy Stewart gets about $2,500 a week–and a crack at that bonus.

Due to Hollywood;s reluctance to reveal actual salaries, these sums are estimated on the basis of information supplied by reliable sources.

Hardly threatened with starvation, these stars still can’t approach the Arabian Nights scale of living once rampant in Hollywood:

Linda Darnell has climbed from $110 to $350 a week within the last year. It will be a long time before she reaches the $1,500 mark.

Mary Beth Hughes collects $350 a week for mugging with John Barrymore.

Carole Landis, much publicized, earns $350 weekly for the same sort of role that brings Carole Lombard $150,000 per picture.

Robert Stack gets about $250 a week, opposite Durbin and Dietrich. Robert Montgomery’s greater fame, experience and ability would rate $4,000 weekly for the same work.

Hedy Lamarr, as well known as Colbert and Garbo, earned $750 weekly a few months ago, now gets $1,250, may never reach $5,000.

clark gable hedy lamarr claudette colbert spencer tracy boom town

This month, Clark Gable is a womanizin’ oil chaser, Spencer Tracy is his long-suffering best pal, Claudette Colbert is his best girl, and Hedy Lamarr is his sidedish in Boom Town.

Gable is “Big John” McMasters and Tracy is “Square John” Sand, or as Big John calls him right from the beginning, “Shorty”. They are two wildcatters out west trying to strike oil. They pool their money and smarts and soon hit it big. Putting a snag in their festivities is the arrival of Elizabeth or “Betsy” (Colbert), Shorty’s sweetheart from back home. She arrives to see him but falls in love with Big John instead, and they are married the night they met.

A year passes and when Shorty thinks that Big John is not treating Betsy right, the two men come to blows and flip a coin to decide who gets the oil rigs. Shorty wins and Big John and Betsy hit the road. The film follows them through the years as Big John and Betsy have a son and strike it rich, first in Oklahoma, then in New York. Shorty also strikes it rich but soon loses it all. When the two men meet again and decide to let bygones be bygones, their friendship and working relationship is tested again when Shorty discovers Big John is having an affair with the elegant Karen VanMeer (Lamarr).

The film is rather melodramatic, but the cast is fantastic and it keeps your interest even if oil drilling isn’t exactly your idea of a thrilling topic.

clark gable spencer tracy boom town

The film has all the ingredients for the perfect Clark Gable stew: he gets dirty, he throws punches, he juggles two gorgeous girls, and he’s kind of a cad through it all but in the end it all works out a-ok for Clark.

Clark and Claudette, the Oscar-winning duo from 1934’s It Happened One Night, are re-teamed here for the second (and last) time. The chemistry hasn’t faded for these two–they still fell easily into the roles of two people very much in love.

clark gable claudette colbert boomt town

clark gable claudette colbert boom town

clark gable claudette colbert boom townclark gable claudette colbert boom town

Boom Town

One of my all-time favorite Clark Gable scenes is in this film. Claudette, torn between her obligation to her childhood beau Spencer and her newfound love for Clark, runs up the stairs to her hotel room and away from his embrace.

Clark at first seems confused but then says softly–but firmly, and with an almost pleading look in his eyes, “Hey! Come down here.” When Claudette obliges, he informs her, “I make up my mind quick. I made it up when I first saw you I guess. You aren’t ever going to leave.” Just try and resist that!

clark gable claudette colbert boom town clark gable boom town clark gable boom town clark gable claudette colbert boom town clark gable claudette colbert boom town

 

Spencer Tracy is again playing Clark’s conscience, much as he did in San Francisco. He is left to be the one shaking his head at Clark’s actions and trying to steer him down the right path. Clark and Spencer were “frenemies” of sorts–considered themselves very close friends but at the same time envied each other. Clark was jealous that Spencer was so highly regarded as an actor, and Spencer was jealous of Clark’s popularity and hearthrob status.

clark gable spencer tracy boom town

In this film, Clark and Spencer get to beat each other up in a rather hokey fight scene. Throwing fake punches and breaking furniture right and left, Spencer throttles Clark for cheating on Claudette with Hedy. Hokey and makes some amusing screenshots!

clark gable spencer tracy boom town clark gable boom town clark gable boom town clark gable boom town clark gable boom town

While filming the fight scene, Spencer’s stand-in accidently smacked Clark square in the mouth, breaking his dentures and cutting his lip–causing a delay in filming.

Hedy Lamarr is pure window dressing in this film. But if anyone could be good looking window dressing, it was Hedy! She was very nervous about the role and apparently Clark often had to reassure her. Their scenes together were steamy enough that MGM quickly reteamed them in Comrade X.

clark gable hedy lamarr boom town

 

Boom Town was filmed during what was probably the happiest time of Clark Gable’s life. Riding high on the recent success of Gone with the Wind and in a newlywed bliss with Carole Lombard, Clark had never looked better.

clark gable boom town

Boom Town is available on DVD in The Clark Gable Signature Collection. Read more about the film here and see over 200 pictures from the film in the gallery.

frank morgan clark gable claudette colbert spencer tracy boom town

On March 10, 1933,  “The Long Beach Earthquake” hit Los Angeles.

From May 1933:

Hollywood came through the earthquake practically unscathed. Long Beach and Compton business districts, only a score of miles away, were virtually demolished.

But the sustained temblor, which wrecked these cities, caused Hollywood to shake up on its foundations, and people rushed panic-stricken into the streets. No one knew when the buildings, swaying like trees in a gale, would fall upon them. Hollywood was plenty scared.

Broadway stage folk who had recently arrived stood with white faces and open mouths, terrifiedly wishing themselves back in New York. And those who had lived in Hollywood all their lives were just as badly paralyzed with fear.

Perhaps the most dramatic thing that happened during the entire shock was on the “Dead On Arrival” set, at Paramount, where Ricardo Cortex was performing an operation on Gloria Stuart. First the operating table rolled away and Gloria sat up. The cameraman, leaving his electrically-driven camera still running, rished to the doors. But the whole cast was trapped on the huge sound proof stage. And as the building swayed, the lights trembled and the dazed crew stopped, virtually paralyzed, the still grinding camera photographed the entire terror-stricken scene until the current was cut off. The players finally forced the doors and rushed into the street.

On another sound stage a few yards away Carole Lombard, Alan Dinchart and the rest of the “Supernatural” cast were making a spooky scene wuth the whole set dimly lighted and with weird sound effect. At first everybody thought the quake was a part of the picture, but when the realization hit them the panic was on.

Individual stars felt the upheaval wherever they were. Claudette Colbert was walking in the studio wardrobe when the floor started to shimmy and a dummy rooled out of the shadows right to her feet in the darkness. Claudette gave one wild whoop and was on her way.

Irene Dunne was in a dentist’s chair. She, the nurse and the dentist all made a rush for the door. The door was jammed and had to be taken off its hinges before they could get out, with the buidling rocking like a ship in a wild sea.

Clark Gable was in the publicity office. When the lights went out Clark made for the door. His foot went into a wastebasket and he went flying into the street, wastebasket and all.

 

 

clark gable carole lombard brown derby

This post is Part One of a series of posts I will be doing regarding Clark Gable’s favorite restaurant in Hollywood, The Brown Derby.

The Brown Derby Restaurant was a Hollywood standard. In its heyday, it was as famous and as symbolic of Hollywood as as the Hollywood sign or Grauman’s Chinese Theater.  I don’t think I have read a single book on a Hollywood star yet in which the Brown Derby wasn’t mentioned, even in passing. A 1932 article described it as such:

The Brown Derby is more than a Hollywood institution. It is not only a place to meet and talk over contracts and plan divorces and further romance under the bronze derby-hatted lights, it is also a place to eat. It is famous both as the spot where Jim Tully battled Jack Gilbert and the spot where you can get Special Hamburger brought sizzling to the table, in copper frying pans. It is a place where the stars gather at lunch time and after premieres  to be seen–and to relish some caviar.

There were actually four Brown Derby restaurants in Los Angeles–sadly, all are now demolished. The original  was located on Wilshire Boulevard.  Opened in 1926, it was known for its dome shape and for its proximity to the extremely popular Cocoanut Grove nightclub in the Ambassador Hotel. There was also one in Los Feliz and one in Beverly Hills.

Jean Harlow and William Powell at the Brown Derby

Jean Harlow and William Powell at the Brown Derby

The location on Vine Street near Hollywood Boulevard, the second one built, was the one that figured most prominently in the golden age of Hollywood. Opened on Valentine’s Day 1929, it was the place to see and be seen in Hollywood. It wasn’t a fancy restaurant by any stretch, serving basic fare at decent prices. But the stars flocked there in droves. It can be said that the Vine Street Brown Derby was at least partially responsible for making the intersection of Hollywood and Vine the heartbeat of filmdom. Located among radio studios, theaters and just a short drive from studios, it was the prime location for stars to have lunch and a quick meeting.

The Vine Street Brown Derby

The Vine Street Brown Derby

From an article titled “Star Grazing,” June 1939:

Stop by [the Vine Street Brown Derby]  at noon or at dinner time and you’ll see Tyrone Power, for example, eating his favorite boiled brisket of beef with horseradish sauce and a glass of milk. Janet Gaynor will be ordering Turkey Derby, a creamed speciality. You’ll see Eddie Cantor demolishing hamburger steak, dry, no onions, Al Jolson bolting chicken chow mein and American tea, Claudette Colbert going in a big way for chicken hash Somborn. Claudette never has to diet.

Or perhaps you’ll find Jack Benny and Mary Livingston enjoying a snack between radio rehearsals. Both will probably be ordering ham, but his must be Westphalia and hers must be Virginia. Numbered among the Derbys’s best customers, they collect a lot of “gags” around the place. They even write radio scripts there!

It sounds almost like a fairy tale, doesn’t it? Like you would just walk in and see all these beloved classic stars any time of day! The restaurant was certainly more than just a place to eat…it was a place to see and be seen.

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier at the Brown Derby

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier at the Brown Derby

Jon Hall was signed for The Hurricane by Sam Goldwyn right there in a Derby booth. Marie Wilson and George Raft were both discovered there. Lupe Velez and Johnny Weissmuller had a regular Friday night date at the Derby. John Payne wooed Ann Shirley there. A famous episode of I Love Lucy was filmed there, with Lucy stalking William Holden.  And oh yes, Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard in a Derby booth.

Bob Cobb, part owner of the restaurant and husband of actress Gail Patrick (Carole’s sister in My Man Godfrey, among other roles), invented the Cobb Salad at the Brown Derby after hastily throwing leftovers onto a plate late at night in the kitchen. It became a menu staple and now is common everywhere.

Also famous on the menu: their grapefruit cake, pot roast, Spaghetti Derby, chicken a la king, chili, onion soup, paprika chicken, and chiffon cake.  Norma Shearer’s favorite was the lamb chops, George Raft liked steak with lots of ketchup, Bob Montgomery ate his weight in cheesecake, Adolph Menjou favored pate de foie gras, Gloria Swanson munched on creamed chicken hash, arlene Dietrich was partial to the beef stew, Boris Karloff would often order only milk and several pastries, Eleanor Powell loved the Turkey Derby, John Barrymore favored pancakes with sausages, and Charlie Chaplin would usually order a steak but only eat four bites. Steamed clams were immensely popular, counting Wallace Beery, John Boles, Victor McLaglen, Bill Boyd and George Bancroft among the fans.

clark gable

Clark Gable’s caricature

While these stars were chowing down, they had quite the ambiance. The walls of the Brown Derby were famously covered in caricatures of famous people. In 1929, a young man named “Vitch” started sketching whomever walked in the door in exchange for some hot soup and coffee. Soon, he was famous for his work and the walls were covered with every big name in Hollywood. As the years went on, so did the tradition and Vitch had many successors. You weren’t somebody until you were immoritalized on the wall at the Derby!

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“Here you see a typical noontime gathering of autograph seekers at the Brown Derby–which gives you an idea of how hard it is for stars to lunch in peace.”

brown derby restaurant

In 1939, Bob Cobb commented,”Clark Gable has to have his coffee just right and Alice Faye’s boiled eggs can’t be left on too long. Gary Cooper’s fried chicken must be dry rather than greasy. And that’s the way they get ’em. They get ’em that way even though we have to tear the kitchen apart.

“Stars are particular about their food because they know what good food is. Stars are used to having things the way they want them and that;s how we plan to have them. But if we didn’t the stars wouldn’t fuss. Most of them are the nicest folks on earth from a restaurant man’s point of view. No, they’d simply leave the food, exit smiling and not come back. Who’d blame them? Not me!”

bob cobb gail patrick marian marsh howard hughes

Bob Cobb, Gail Patrick, Marian Marsh and Howard Hughes at the Brown Derby

For Clark’s fortieth birthday in 1941, Carole threw him a big surprise party at the ranch catered by the Brown Derby and featuring Clark’s favorite items on the menu: corned beef hash, pot roast, baked beans and orange chiffon cake.

Their second anniversary party that year was also catered by the Brown Derby, who delivered the food to the set of They Met in Bombay.

And on January 11, 1942, Carole’s final full day in Los Angeles, she and her mother ate lunch at the Brown Derby while out shopping for their trip.

"What no waitress? No waitress when Clark Gable and the Missus, beautiful Carole Lombard, are at the Brown Derby and practically dying for a rich, thick steak? They say there's a caste system in Hollywood, and the biggest stars get waited on first. But this time the Brown Derby was so crowded, even Clark had to wait for service. He looks puzzled, but Carole was amused."

“What no waitress? No waitress when Clark Gable and the Missus, beautiful Carole Lombard, are at the Brown Derby and practically dying for a rich, thick steak? They say there’s a caste system in Hollywood, and the biggest stars get waited on first. But this time the Brown Derby was so crowded, even Clark had to wait for service. He looks puzzled, but Carole was amused.”

What became of this beloved Vine Street staple? It was destroyed by a fire in 1989 and a W Hotel was built on the spot a few years ago. I took a picture of the location when I was in Hollywood:

w hotel hollywood blvd brown derby

In part two of my Brown Derby restaurant series, I’ll be cooking Clark’s favorites from the menu, thanks to The Brown Derby Cookbook!

See below for more pictures of stars grazing at the Derby:

 

From April 1935:

What would you do if you only had 24 hours to live?

carole lombard

Carole Lombard…wants to gather her friends around her for the last bow. Instead of just a few, she prefers a large gay cocktail gathering in her home.

“Because,” she said to me, “I think it would be great to go out with a ring of laughter and music in your ears, don’t you?”

cary grant

Cary Grant:

“By cable, telephones, wires and radios I would get in direct communication with the few people I have hurt during my life. With death hovering near, I could explain and ask their forgiveness, a thing that seems too difficult to do in the midst of life and loving. I would make my peace with them, and then I would go to some out of the way church and make peace with God.”

claudette colbert

Claudette Colbert:

“First, I hope I could arrange for those precious twenty-four hours to take place in New York City, and I’d like the day to be a Wednesday or a Saturday. I would want it this way so I could attend a matinee and another performance in the evening. You see, I would like to witness two whopping good plays on my last day on earth. And, somehow, I think I would like to find death in the same place where I first found life, in the theater.”

gary cooper

Gary Cooper:

“I’d charter a plane and fly up to the family’s ranch in Wyoming. The trip should take five hours, leaving nineteen for a swim and some fishing in the waterfall pool near the ranch house, a short ride into the mountains and one campfire meal. I can’t think of anything else more satisfying for my final day.”

bette davis

Bette Davis:

“I can forget every worry, fear and irritation in the High Sierras. I am sure I could even forget impending death there. I would want Ham, my husband with me, and, if possible, our two dogs. We have a special camping place in the northeastern corner of Kern County, California, that few people know about. I’d like to pitch camp there, catch one rainbow trout, cook it over an open fire, eat it, and then watch one of those impossibly beautiful mountain sunsets.”

clark gable

For Clark Gable there would be no heroics or dramatics. He would dispense with farewells, last talks with friends and loved ones, and would live his one short day as it were just another casual date on his calendar. “I’d like to go to work at the studio as usual, see familiar faces, do familiar things, eat familiar foods, that’s all.” And then after a full minute’s hesitation he added: “Oh, yes, just one more thing, I’d like to see a sunrise.”

I’m sure you’ve heard the song by the Postal Service, which is titled “Clark Gable.” The line that features his name is “I’ll kiss you in a way Clark Gable would have admired.” Say what you want about Clark and his acting limitations, but that man was a born onscreen lover!

Rosalind Russell recalled: “The only man who could make a love scene comfortable was Clark Gable. He was born graceful, he knew what to do with his feet and when he took hold of you, there was no fooling around.”

Let’s get a lesson in the fine art of onscreen lip locking from Mr. Gable himself…

rosalind russell clark gable they met in bombay

with Rosalind Russell in "They Met in Bombay" (1941)

clark gable norma shearer a free soul

with Norma Shearer in "A Free Soul" (1931)

greer garson clark gable adventure

with Greer Garson in "Adventure" (1945)

joan crawford clark gable chained

with Joan Crawford in "Chained" (1934)

ann baxter clark gable homecoming

with Ann Baxter in Homecoming

clark gable idiot's delight

with a lucky nurse in "Idiot's Delight"(1939)

hedy lamarr clark gable comrade x

with Hedy Lamarr in "Comrade X" (1940)

clark gable lana turner honky tonk

with Lana Turner in "Honky Tonk" (1940)

jeanette macdonald san francisco clark gable

with Jeanette MacDonald in "San Francisco" (1936)

clark gable myrna loy men in white

with Myrna Loy in "Men in White" (1934)

clark gable constance bennett after office hours

with Constance Bennett in "After Office Hours" (1935)

mary astor clark gable red dust

with Mary Astor in "Red Dust" (1932)

grace kelly clark gable mogambo

with Grace Kelly in "Mogambo" (1953)

marion davies clark gable polly of the circus

with Marion Davies in "Polly of the Circus" (1932)

greta garbo clark gable susan lenox

with Greta Garbo in "Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise" (1931)

doris day clark gable teacher's pet

with Doris Day in "Teacher's Pet" (1958)

claudette colbert clark gable boom town

with Claudette Colbert in "Boom Town" (1940)

loretta young clark gable call of the wild

with Loretta Young in "Call of the Wild" (1935)

yvonne de carlo clark gable band of angels

with Yvonne de Carlo in "Band of Angels" (1957)

deborah kerr clark gable the hucksters

with Deborah Kerr in "The Hucksters" (1947)

barbara stanwyck clark gable to please a lady

with Barbara Stanwyck in "To Please a Lady" (1950)

jean harlow clark gable china seas

with Jean Harlow in "China Seas" (1935)

carole lombard clark gable no man of her own

with Carole Lombard in "No Man of Her Own" (1932)

I began “Movie of the Month” last July after the site’s first anniversary. I try to bounce around Clark’s filmography as I figured it would be rather dull to start from the beginning and end at his death. The films featured so far:

June: But Not For Me

May: Idiot’s Delight

April: Band of Angels

March: Saratoga

February: China Seas

January: Hold Your Man

December: Red Dust

November: The Secret Six

October: No Man of Her Own

September: Teacher’s Pet

August: Never Let Me Go

July: Wife vs. Secretary

So, I thought it was fitting to celebrate two years of the site and one year of “Movie of the Months” with a pretty memorable one: Clark’s Oscar winning performance in It Happened One Night.

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 It Happened One Night 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.

Now an essential classic and considered the first screwball comedy, It Happened One Night is the prime example of a sleeper hit. Produced by the “Siberia” of studios by an un-appreciated director and performed by two stars against their will, it seems an unlikely entry into Academy Award history. But with a snappy screenplay and chemistry that burns through the screen, it indeed earns its place in history. Gable is Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired. On a bus to New York, he meets Ellie Andrews (Claudette Colbert), a runaway heiress, on her way to be reunited with her new husband whom her father detests. Peter soon 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 in this film! Of course, nobody can forget the “Walls of Jericho” Peter erects in their shared motor lodge room and him making her uncomfortable by undressing in front of her. (Snopes says the legend that undershirt sales plummeted after Clark appeared without one seems unlikely.)

And Peter displaying to Ellie the “art of hitchhiking” is truly unforgettable. 

After his attempts fail (gasp!), Ellie decides to give it a try. “I’ll stop a car,” says Ellie defiantly, “and I won’t use my thumb!” After her baring a shapely leg results in a car schreeching to a halt, Peter retorts bitterly, “Why didn’t you take off all your clothes? You could have stopped forty cars.”

I also love the scene where they are pretending to be a fighting married couple for some cops that come by looking for Ellie. “QUIT BAWLIN’!”

I remember the first time I saw the film I felt cheated by the ending. We never do get to see Ellie and Peter actually reunite. We only hear the trumpet blow as the “Walls of Jericho” come crumbling down. It’s also interesting to note that Peter and Ellie do not kiss in the film at all. Not one smooch. But yet there is something so romantic about the film and you are left to imagine what it was like when Ellie burst into Peter’s office in her wedding dress to be with him forever. Subtlety that is probably lost on most of today’s modern audiences.

This little-film-that-could went on to sweep the Oscars; the first film to win the “grand slam”: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Screenplay. A feat that would be unmatched until One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1975 (and later also achieved by Silence of the Lambs in 1989).

Seems so unlikely considering the film’s humble beginnings. In 1933, director Frank Capra was working for the “poverty row” of studios, little Columbia Pictures. The stars at MGM and Warner Brothers looked down their noses at this little studio and definitely none of them wanted to be sent over to make a picture called “Night Bus.” But this was the script Capra had and the film he had to make.  Even with the name changed, nobody wanted to star in it.

Myrna Loy was Capra’s first choice for the role of Ellie and she recalled:

Frank had tried to borrow me for his… picture, “It Happened One Night.” I’d refused it and Louis B. Mayer backed me up…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. In fact Bob Montgomery turned down the male lead for the same reason, but no one believes me. 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.

 Margaret Sullavan, Miriam Hopkins, Constance Bennett–all turned it down. After the script was rewritten and rewritten, Claudette Colbert accepted the role. With the two conditions of a huge hike in salary and if filming could be completed in four weeks, before her planned vacation.

But who for the male lead?

After Robert Montgomery turned it down, Capra was surprised that Louis B. Mayer OFFERED him Clark Gable. Even though he knew that being sent to Columbia from MGM was a punishment for Clark (some sources say for turning down too many scripts and wanting more money, others say for disobeying Mayer by continuing his affair with Joan Crawford), Capra took what he could get and had a meeting with Clark at his office at Columbia.

Capra recalled:

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.

But of course, it wasn’t. And after a few days shooting, Clark got over his “burn” of being “exiled to Siberia” and enjoyed himself on the film. And it shows.

Frank Capra, Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable on the set

All of them were shocked when the Academy Award nominations came out and It Happened One Night was nominated for five Oscars. And they were flabbergasted that they WON all five. Claudette Colbert was so sure she wouldn’t win that she didn’t even attend the awards; she was at the train station and had to be summouned back, where she accepted her award in her traveling clothes.

It Happened One Night is a special part of Hollywood history, Clark Gable history, and an overall delightful gem.

It is available remastered on DVD. Read more here and read about Clark’s Oscar here.