clark gable idiot's delight

From January 1939:

Clark Gable’s feet have been problem children ever since he can remember. “The jams they have gotten me into would fill a book,” he said. But from now on, Gable’s 11-C’s have his blessings.

He admits being gratefully surprised that they piloted him safely through his song-and-dance act for “Idiot’s Delight,” now showing at the Liberty Theater.

“Frankly,” Gable remarked, “that dance business had me worried for two years. I was sold on playing the part of Hoofer Harry Van from the night I saw Alfred Lunt’s performance on the stage in New York. It was a great role, and one that I felt suited me, except for the dancing.  That was good, too, when Lunt did it.”

Gable had never stepped foot on a dance floor until he started work with George King, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer dance director. He was convinced that he couldn’t make his feet behave in a pinch.

“As a kid,” he went on, “I had the biggest feet, hands and ears in Hopedale, maybe in all Ohio. I was as tall as I am now, but skinny as a rail and awkward as a colt. Being a clumsy youngster gave me a complex it took me years to break. I had my first date when I was a freshman in high school. I ruined a budding romance by falling all over myself and spilling a plate of ice cream down the front of my girl’s best dress at a Strawberry Festival. I was always tripping over my feet.”

_________

If that’s true, once he became famous that girl probably told that story proudly to everyone she ever met!

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From February 1939:

Norma Shearer has found an acrobat is more popular than a queen, taking the grosses of “Marie Antoinette” and “Idiot’s Delight” into consideration.

Of course, in the latter, the ladies in the audience do nip-ups, too, because Clark Gable is in the cast.

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I am not sure what “nip-up” is supposed to mean…

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It is quite common to read that Clark Gable slept with every one of his leading ladies. And while that statement has been buzzing around for so long that many people take it as fact, it’s not true at all. In fact, I think the number of leading ladies he starred opposite that he wasn’t romantically involved with far outnumbers the opposite. Perhaps that is why Norma Shearer doesn’t get much attention as one of his onscreen lovelies–in fact she is one of the few that I can think of that I haven’t even heard a rumor he had slept with her! Nonetheless, Ms. Shearer is an interesting footnote in Clark’s personal and professional life.

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Norma was the reigning “Queen of the Lot” at MGM by the time Clark was paired with her in his star-making turn in A Free Soul in 1931. She was married to MGM’s head of production, “wonder boy” Irving Thalberg and had recently given birth to his son. Being married to the boss and having 10 years of silent pictures under her belt, Norma had her pick of all the juicy roles at MGM, the biggest and most prestigious studio of that period. In A Free Soul, Norma had the privilege of being Clark’s onscreen love interest before anyone knew that really was a privilege. Before that picture, few people noticed Clark, who had been getting by playing thugs and secondary parts in films such as Night Nurse and The Easiest Way. A Free Soul changed all that. Clark’s star power suddenly skyrocketed, earning him thousands of female fans who were intrigued by him defiling the Queen of MGM and telling her to “take it and like it.”

After Clark’s death, Norma was quoted: “Perhaps that was where Noel Coward got the idea for his line: ‘Every woman should be hit regularly—like a gong.’ And for that sort of thing it was Gable who made villains popular. Instead of the audience’s wanting the good man to get the girl, they wanted the bad man to get the girl.”

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Clark Gable and Norma Shearer in A Free Soul

In 1932 Clark and Norma were paired again in the screen adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize winning play Strange Interlude.  They played friends who end up sleeping together in order to produce a child to masquerade as her husband’s. (Didn’t you know that is the right thing to do when your husband has a family history of mental illness?)  Maureen O’Sullivan played the girlfriend of Norma and Clark’s son in the last part of the film and apparently Norma was not a fan of hers. Maureen later recalled, “Norma spoke very little to me, but Gable was kind and attentive. I didn’t even notice she noticed this–but she did, and didn’t like it. She sent a message asking him to spend less time talking with me on the set.”

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Clark and Norma in Strange Interlude

Norma and Clark’s relationship when the cameras stopped rolling could be described as cordial and friendly. He was however, not a fan of Norma, as the wife of MGM’s head of production, not wearing any underwear under her costumes!

As a footnote in history, it’s worth mentioning that Norma memorably sparked that infamous Carole Lombard temper at the Mayfair Ball in 1936–the same ball where Clark and Carole first caught each other’s eye. Carole was elected hostess of the ball, and designated it a “White Ball” and everyone was strictly instructed to only wear white. While a few women sneaked on by in pale blue and blush, Norma chose to make no mistake of her shunning of the rule, arriving in a vibrant red dress. Carole was spitting nails! The incident was so whispered about around town that it has been said it was the inspiration for the famous red dress scene in the 1938 Bette Davis film Jezebel.

David Niven, Merle Oberon, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg at the Mayfair Ball

David Niven, Merle Oberon, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg at the Mayfair Ball

In June 1938, Norma Shearer was announced as having secured the role every actress desired—that of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind.  From the Associated Press:

All’s out in free! The game’s over. Gone with the Wind has been cast.

Norma Shearer, who was born in Canada, will play the role of the Southern spitfire–“charged with electricity and possessed of the devil”–Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind,” when the picture is made later this year.

But by August 1, Norma “gave up” the role, apparently due to the backlash. From the New York Times:

Norma Shearer today announced her withdrawal from the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s ”Gone With the Wind,” which David O. Selznick is to make as a motion picture. Attributing her decision to fan mail, in which a substantial number of correspondents voiced their opinion that she was unsuited for the part, Miss Shearer made her decision known through the M-G-M publicity department.

Norma seemed an absurd choice for sure. Steve Wilson, curator for the Harry Ransom Center, discovered many details in David O. Selznick’s papers about this apparent casting of Norma as Scarlett:

Selznick had to make a deal with MGM to get Clark Gable. When they first started to get the deal together, Norma Shearer was part of that deal. She had been paired with Clark Gable a couple of times [A Free Soul, Strange Interlude] and they were about to make Idiot’s Delight. I believe she was the driving force behind the deal. She went to Louis B. Mayer and Nicholas Schenck [chairman of the board of Lowe’s, Inc., the owner of MGM] to say she wanted to be in this movie. But the public was not behind her as Scarlett. Some thought she could play Melanie. At one point, when Shearer thought she was going to play Scarlett, she sent a super secret memo to Selznick outlining her thoughts about the script. Basically, she thought that Scarlett — in the early part of the movie — was fine, but later on was not sympathetic enough. She wanted Selznick to change the script to make Scarlett more sympathetic. As it turned out, Shearer leaked this to Hedda Hopper and then the letters really started pouring in. So, that was a surprise to me to learn that Norma Shearer was so involved in that aspect of it and that she really wanted the part so badly that she really went after it very aggressively.”

Truly, Norma would have been absolutely disastrous casting! It seems odd that perfectionist Selznick even remotely considered her. But along came the perfect Scarlett, of course, named Vivien Leigh.

Speaking of Vivien Leigh, here is an interesting anecdote from Gavin Lambert’s biography, Norma Shearer:

[In the 1960’s] when George Cukor gave a party for Vivien Leigh during her last visit to Hollywood, he stage-managed a memorable encounter. As one of the guests commented, Scarlett O’Hara met Marie Antoinette. The two actresses, Vivien with the manic depressive’s wild flash in her eyes, Norma with the dew of unshed tears in hers, began talking immediately about how the public had identified them forever with their most famous roles. Vivien denied that she had anything personally in common with Scarlett, Norma insisted she had never felt like Marie. They laughed and shook their heads at the absurdity of it. Then Vivien said quietly, all the same, it had to mean something. Norma quietly agreed. They have each other long searching looks, and for a moment they seemed very serious and a little sad. Then they laughed again, praising each other’s performance, and kissed.

Not sure how true that is, but an interesting little exchange.

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Clark and Norma in Idiot’s Delight (1939)

By the time Clark and Norma were re-teamed for the final time in Idiot’s Delight, Clark was a bonafide star and an Oscar winner with many hits under his belt. His next role was Rhett Butler. Norma, however, was at the end of her career. After her beloved husband’s death in 1936 at the age of 37, she was left a widow with two small children and nearly died of pneumonia herself. She wasn’t seen on the screen for two years. She came back to star in a pet project of Irving’s, Marie Antoinette, which was well received but didn’t grab her the second Oscar she desperately wanted. Norma’s last notable role was in the classic all-female cast film The Women. Her later projects, Escape and Her Cardboard Lover, failed to dazzle and approaching 40 made Norma nervous. She retired from the screen in 1942 and subsequently married to Martin Arrouge,  a ski instructor 20 years her junior.

Although Clark and Norma would never grace the screen together again, their paths still crossed. Norma was very close friends to Sylvia Ashley, who would become the fourth Mrs. Clark Gable in 1949. Norma and Sylvia ran in the same circles, naturally, when Sylvia was married to Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Sylvia even attended Norma’s wedding to Martin.

Douglas Fairbanks, Sylvia Ashley, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg

Douglas Fairbanks, Sylvia Ashley, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg

Worth noting is that Norma was also was one of only a handful of Clark’s leading ladies to attend his funeral.

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Norma Shearer and Martin Arrouge at Clark’s funeral

Sadly, Norma’s name is not usually mentioned when someone recalls great actresses of her era. Contemporaries such as Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis and yes, even Joan Crawford are mentioned far ahead of her. Which would indeed have saddened her, as she spent her whole life trying to be the shiniest star.  Crippled by near-blindness and dementia in her later years, Norma died at the Motion Picture Country Home on June 12, 1985 of bronchial pneumonia. She is buried with Irving Thalberg in the Grand Mausoleum in Forest Lawn Glendale, not too far from Clark and Carole Lombard.

In the 1950’s, Norma sat down and wrote her memoirs.  Unfortunately they have never seen the light of day. Martin, her widower, would never let them be published. Why? Probably because they were rather fluffy. One of the few people to read what Norma wrote was actress Janet Leigh, who was discovered by Norma. Janet recalled, “[There was] no real mention of any problems. No reality at all…I wondered what to tell her. Finally I said, ‘How lucky you’ve been, what a wonderful life you’ve had.’ It seemed to go down well.” Apparently, a biographer has now gotten a hold of Norma’s memoirs and we are supposed to be getting a new book on her in the next year–I’m sure with some reality thrown in!

Read more about A Free Soul, Strange Interlude and Idiot’s Delight.  See Norma and Irving’s Santa Monica home and see their crypt at Forest Lawn Glendale .

Read more Spotlights:

Suzanne Dadolle

The Brown Derby Restaurant Part 1

The Brown Derby Restaurant Part 2

The Brown Derby Restaurant Part 3

Paulette Goddard

Merle Oberon

Ginger Rogers

Vivien Leigh

Myrna Loy

 

Have a suggestion for a Spotlight? Leave a comment!

Let’s take a look at some of the photos from 1939’s Idiot’s Delight, infamously known as Clark’s singing and dancing picture.

On the Set:

Clark, Norma and producer Hunt Stromberg

Clark, Norma and producer Hunt Stromberg

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Clark, director Clarence Brown, Norma Shearer and Louis Mayer

Director Clarence Brown turns his personal camera on Clark and "les blondes"

Director Clarence Brown turns his personal camera on Clark and “les blondes”

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Clark and the blondes (Virginia Dale, Paula Stone, Bernadene Hayes, Joan Marsh, Lorraine Krueger and Virginia Grey) stroll the MGM lot

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Clark and Norma on the MGM lot

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on the set with writer Adela Rogers St. Johns

Lots of divine publicity shots with Norma Shearer:

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And of course there were many publicity shots taken of Clark with those pretty blondes:

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And how about some Clark close-up screenshots?

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From April 1937:

Just a little publicity story sent out about Clark Gable wearing a beard in “Parnell” caused more of a furare than anything of a similar nature with the single exception of Marlene Dietrich’s determination to wear trousers a few years ago.

Mail was received from all parts of the United States, a great deal from fans, but some from barbers’ associations advising that the idea be dropped for fear of a falling off in the tansarial trade.

Also, it seems there are various bearded organizations in the United States which strongly advocated the idea.

After the stage play, there was nothing in particular to suggest that Gable go bearded, and so he decided in favor of just a mustache.

Gable later is to play in “Idiot’s Delight,” the Pulitzer prize play, probably with Garbo.

___

The whole “Gable won’t grow a beard” thing was very overplayed for publicity. And, of course, Garbo didn’t star with Clark in Idiot’s Delight. Norma Shearer did instead…doing a rather bad Garbo impression.

In a Nutshell: Saratoga (1937)

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Directed by: Jack Conway

Co-stars: Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Frank Morgan, Walter Pidgeon, Una Merkel

Synopsis: Gable is Duke Bradley, a bookie who acquires the deed to the Brookdale horse ranch because the owner, Mr. Clayton (Jonathan Hale) owes him a lot of money. When Clayton dies, his daughter Carol (Harlow), who dislikes Bradley, is determined to get the horse ranch back in the family by winning horse races to pay Bradley back. Meanwhile, Bradley tries to bait Carol’s rich fiancée (Pidgeon) to place bets with him.

Best Gable Quote: “This is more work than I’ve done for a woman since my mother.”

Not-So-Fun Fact: Harlow collapsed into Gable’s arms during the filming of one scene and was rushed to the hospital. Diagnosed with uremic poisoning, she died of  a cerebral edema brought on by kidney failure just days later, at the age of 26. 90% of the film had been completed and MGM executives considered shelving the film altogether or reshooting it with Virginia Bruce or Jean Arthur. Harlow fans were outraged and sent thousands of letters demanding to see her last film.  They decided to finish it with a stand-in for Harlow’s part. Mary Dees was cast as Harlow’s stand-in, being viewed only from behind or beneath big hats and binoculars. Radio actress Paula Winslowe provided Harlow’s voice. Scenes that couldn’t be faked were scrapped altogether or re-written to feature one of the supporting players instead. Because the public flocked to see Harlow’s last film, Saratoga was one of the highest grossing films of 1937. Released just six weeks after Harlow’s death, it earned over $3 million at the box office

My Verdict: This film is infamous for being Jean’s last role and for the game of  “Spot the Fake Harlow!” I think it probably would have been a better film if Jean had lived to finish it. As it is, the film is thrown together in the end and does feel that well. It is one of the weakest of Clark and Jean’s pairings; their sizzle is on simmer rather than boil. Might be just me, but I just don’t find the horse-betting storyline intriguing. Take out the interest in seeing it for it being Jean’s last role and it is a rather mediocre film.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in March 2011.

In a Nutshell: Test Pilot (1938)

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Directed by: Victor Fleming

Co-stars: Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore

Synopsis: Gable is Jim Lane, a boozing, womanizing army test pilot who walks to the beat of his own drummer. On one trip, his plane starts leaking  gas and he lands on the field of a Kansas farm, where Ann Barton (Loy) lives with her parents. Their sparring turns to mutual attraction soon after and by the time Jim’s best friend and mechanic, Gunner Morris (Tracy) arrives to help fix the plane, they are in love. When Jim brings the plane home to New York, he has Ann in tow, as his new wife. Jim has a lot of adjustments to do to get used to being a married man and Gunner is jealous as it has always just been the two of them and now he is the third wheel.

Although Ann was at first thrilled at her husband’s exciting profession, she learns quickly how dangerous it is. She hides her true feelings from Jim and puts on a happy face with each new mission he takes on. Gunner, who has grown to admire Ann, grows more and more bitter as he watches Ann suffer behind Jim’s back.

Best Gable Quote: “The sky looks sweet and wears a pretty blue dress, doesn’t she? Yeah well don’t kid yourself. She lives up there, she invites you up there and when she gets you up there, she knocks you down!”

Fun Fact: Loy recalled that Gable was intimidated by the drunken “sky wears a pretty blue dress” speech and had her rehearse with him over and over; he was afraid of appearing too sensitive. In the end he did it perfect in one take.

My Verdict: This film is the first one comes to mind when people say they have seen the Clark Gable basics: It Happened One Night, Gone with the Wind, The Misfits, etc. Now what should they see? TEST PILOT. Why? Because this film is Clark Gable in his 30’s prime, all wrapped up in a pretty bow and presented to you on a platter. The witty script gives Clark plenty of wisecracks, he’s got a fair share of white-knuckles action scenes in the air, buddy brother-love scenes sparring with Spencer Tracy, and romantic scenes with the fabulous Myrna Loy. I consider it an essential.

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Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in January 2013.

 

In a Nutshell: Too Hot to Handle (1938)

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Directed by: Sam Wood

Co-stars: Myrna Loy, Walter Pidgeon, Walter Connolly

Synopsis: Gable is Chris Hunter, a newsreel cameraman who is always where the action is. Walter Pidgeon is Bill Dennis, a rival newsreel cameraman who is constantly trying to out-scoop Chris. Both of them are bored in Shanghai since they can’t get anywhere near the action of the Chinese-Japanese war. His boss (Connolly) demanding action shots of the war, Chris starts making up fake shots using toy airplanes and sending them in. This angers Bill who decides to get even by sending his girlfriend, Alma (Loy) to fly in and he tricks Chris into thinking she is delivering vaccines so he’ll get an action shot. Chris’ driver ends up accidently causing Alma’s plane to crash while trying to get the shot and Chris rescues her from the blaze. Chris and Alma soon fall for each other, much to Bill’s chagrin. The two men constantly try to outdo each other, until binding together (somewhat) to help Alma find her brother, who is held captive by voodoo bushmen in the South American jungle.

Best Gable Quote: “I didn’t distort the truth. I merely heightened the composition.”

Fun Fact: While filming the plane crash, it was reported that the fire got out of control and the director wanted to cut the shot so they could get Loy out of there in time. Gable rushed in and pulled Loy 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. Loy recalled she never thought she was in any danger and speculates it was the studio just trying to get some publicity for the film.

My Verdict: Another reteam of Clark and Myrna in an action packed romance! This one includes foreign adventure and Clark gets to be the rogue reporter yet again. It’s an enjoyable romp, with Clark and Myrna showing their usual spark and Clark ruffling Walter Pidgeon’s feathers. The film loses steam for me once they set out in the jungle to rescue Myrna’s brother.

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Read more here.

 

In a Nutshell: Idiot’s Delight (1939)

clark gable idiot's delight

Directed by: Clarence Brown

Co-stars: Norma Shearer, Burgess Meredith

Synopsis: Gable is Harry Van, a World War I vet and struggling vaudeville performer when he meets Irene (Shearer), an acrobat, while performing in Omaha, Nebraska. They have a brief romance before going their separate ways. Many years pass as Harry tries different acts and odd jobs in between. Fast forward to 1939 and Harry is on a train in Europe with his current act, Les Blondes. They get stopped from getting into Geneva due to the impending war. Stranded at a mountaintop hotel, Harry notices a Russian countess who looks just a tad too familiar–could it be Irene from Omaha?

Best Gable Quote: “What’s more, it cost seventy-five cents! You know, that’s the most expensive present I ever bought for any dame!” (I had to pick that one because Carole Lombard thought it particularly hilarious and telling of Clark’s penny-pinching ways and would retort it back to him often!)

Fun Fact: Gable was very nervous about the singing and dancing required for the role. 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.

My Verdict: Every Gable fan should see it. Not because it’s a spectacularly great film, but because it’s your lone chance to see Clark dance and sing and make a bit of a fool of himself. And in that aspect it’s enjoyable. It’s the whole Norma Shearer-doing-a-bad-Garbo-impression part that is lost on me. The plot of is-she-or-isn’t-she-Irene-from-Omaha thing is stale and really quite silly. Overall, it’s not a disappointing film, it’s rather enjoyable, just with a dull romance amongst the singing, dancing and war drama.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in May 2011.

Ratings

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Idiot’s Delight, one of those classic films where one might say, “What kind of a title is that?”, was based on a hit Broadway play starring Lynn Fontanne and Alfred Lunt. It won the Pulitzer Prize and was revered for its strong anti-Nazi themes. When MGM bought the film rights, all anti-Nazi references were removed, leaving just the structure of the story. Pre-World War II America wouldn’t want to see such negativity, after all, and who wants to ruin the foreign receipts by risking it being banned in Europe?

Gable is Harry Van, a World War I vet and struggling vaudeville performer when he meets Irene (Norma Shearer), while performing in a traveling show in Omaha, Nebraska. He is the assistant to the hilariously inept Madame Zulieka (Laura Hope Crews), she an acrobat. They have a brief romance before going their separate ways. Many years pass as Harry tries different acts and odd jobs in between. Fast forward to 1939 and Harry is on a train in Europe with his current act, Les Blondes, a group of attractive bubbly blonde back-up dancers. They get stopped from getting into Geneva due to the impending war. Stranded at a mountaintop hotel, Harry meets a Russian countess who seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to a certain acrobat from years before. As he squints at her and rolls her eyes at her over-the-top mannerisms, he admits to still being in love with Irene, the girl from Omaha. When everyone must evacuate the hotel before it is bombed, Harry and Irene are left alone together, with her finally admitting her true identity.

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The film has two endings. In the international version, Gable and Shearer are seen solemnly singing a hymn while the hotel is being bombed. In the domestic version, the hotel is still being bombed but Gable and Shearer start carrying on about their new act and Gable begins playing an uplifting tune on the piano. Since the United States had not yet joined the war, they thought it was best to film two endings: a more poetic one for international audiences to show their sympathy for the war, and an uplifting carefree ending for American audiences.

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I am sorry to say that the first time I saw this film it was my introduction to Norma Shearer. Had I seen one of her fabulous pre-codes first, I might have warmed up to her sooner. But no, my first introduction to Norma was her overdoing a Greta Garbo impersonation in a platinum wig. I was not impressed and it took me a while to want to see another one of her films. Norma’s left-over-from-silents tendency to overexaggerate is best taken in small doses and Idiot’s Delight is a whole bowlful.  Apparently, Garbo was the initial choice for the role of Irene. In contrast, I think she would have played the Russian countess role rather well, but not so much mousy Irene. Norma plays brunette Irene okay, but with some wide-eyed, overly-enthusiastic youthfullness that I think was left over from her Marie Antoinette. Later in life Norma did admit that her performance in Idiot’s Delight was indeed a Garbo impersonation.

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It’s hard to find any depth in the character of Irene and I find myself wondering why Harry was bothering trying to figure out if this uppity countess was indeed his beloved Irene. The weak premise of a woman playing someone else to fool a suitor had been done before in Quality Street (1937) with Katharine Hepburn, and would be done again in Two-Faced Woman (1942) with Greta Garbo. In those two instances, the man comes off looking like quite the numbskull for believing the farce. At least Clark’s Harry shows his disbelief early and is quick to roll his eyes and make a snide comment here and there.

Burgess Meredith (yes, a very young “Mickey” from Rocky) has a noteworthy role as Quillary, a loud opposer to the warwho is sadly silenced. His role is rather diminished thanks to the paring down of the political and Nazi references in the script. One wonders why they left the character in at all if they were going to take away his cause?

All in all MGM took a what could have been a rather effective WWII anti-Nazi film and made it a platform for Clark to dance and Norma to overact. But, it’s enjoyable, and has its comedic moments. Clark’s Harry is so overcome with love for this ghost of Irene, he shows nothing but annoyance and passivity for his Blondes. Quite a departure for a character of Clark’s!

Clark was quite unsure of the role from the start, as he was not exactly light on his feet. He had taken the role to bide the time until he started filming Gone with the Wind, another role he was uneasy about (interestingly, it wasn’t long before the start of production of Idiot’s Delight that it was announced that Norma Shearer  had “turned down” the role of Scarlett O’Hara). Clark spent sixweeks rehearsing his dance scenes and his girlfriend-soon-to-be-wife, Carole Lombard, helped him out at home. On the day the big “Puttin’ on the Ritz” dance sequence was shot, the set was closed to outsiders. Well, all except Carole, who cheered him on and gifted him with a bouquet of roses when it was completed–in one take! Much of the publicity before the film focused on Clark’s practice and how he couldn’t dance. It really seems like MGM was trying to say, “Come and see Gable make a fool out of himself!” In the end, he is definitely no Fred Astaire, but I wouldn’t call him an embarrassment to hoofing.

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An interesting note of Hollywood history tied to the film is that a young starlet named Lana Turner was supposed to be one of “Les Blondes.” Her natural auburn tresses obviously wouldn’t do for the role, so she dyed them platinum. Before production began, Lana was struck with appendicitis and had to withdraw. She rather liked the hair though, and kept it through her career. And thus, another famous “Hollywood blonde” was born.

Learn more about Idiot’s Delight here and see more than 200 pictures from the film in the gallery.

See the amazing lineup of films from 1939 being reviewed by the CMBA here.

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From January 1939:

Clark Gable, attempting to master the art of tap dancing for his role in  “Idiot’s Delight”, doesn’t know an electrician hid on a high rafter of the sound stage to watch Clark, who permitted no watchers. And the electrician became so convulsed at Clark’s awkwardness he nearly fell headlong at the actor’s feet!

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Hey now, Clark didn’t do so bad! Stay tuned– I’ll be reviewing Idiot’s Delight  for the CMBA Films of 1939 Blogathon on Tuesday.

New this week:

I have added two new categories to the gallery–

“In His Footsteps,” which has pictures of places Clark has wandered. Right now I have uploaded pictures of the Georgian Terrace Hotel in Atlanta, where Clark and Carole stayed during the premiere of GWTW. Much more to come!

“Events”, which has pictures of GWTW events. I have uploaded pictures from May 7’s Social Media Meet-up at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, the April 2009 70th Anniversary Screening of GWTW in Atlanta and the Gateway to the Wind event in St. Louis in November 2010. Yeah, I know, I am way behind on uploading these. It is rather shameful. But here they are now! And soon I will have pics from the GWTW event in Atlanta taking place June 10-11!

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From Febraury 1939:

It occured to us while we patiently waited in Clark Gable’s portable dressing room for Clark to finish a scene with Norma Shearer for “Idiot’s Delight”, that maybe you, too, would like to know something about that famous Gable dressing room which is wheeled from set to set.

The walls, to begin with, are knotty pine. The dressing table, also knotty pine, is bare and simple , with a single mirror and two lights. There is no make-up kit anywhere in sight. Two ample-sized brass ashtrays are gastened to the walls–one by the red leather divan and one by the red leather easy chair, the only two articles of furniture.

A cigarette box is nailed down by the built-in dressing table. Two prints, the tally-ho type, are nailed to the walls. There is a clothes closet without a single garment in it. Only an empty box lies on its floor.

The day we were there, two scripts of “Idiot’s Delight”, one opened to that day’s scene, lay on the dressing table that contained no powder, comb, brush–nothing to make our hero beautiful.

But on a small built-in shelf lay what seemed to us the oddest selection of books, for Gable, we could imagine. One, autographed by its author, Maurice Watlikns. was labeled “Chicago”; another, “After the Storm”, was also autographed by its author, Arlo D. Pollock.

But the third formed a climax that even now stips us in traffic for a moment’s refelction. It was called “The Parnell Movement with a Sketch of Irish Parties from 1843.”

I mean, wouldn’t you think he’d want to forget? Or doesn’t he even know its there?

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I’ll be reviewing Idiot’s Delight as part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Classic Movies of 1939 Blogathon in May, so stay tuned!

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Virginia Grey and Clark Gable

Virginia Grey and Clark Gable

There is certainly a number of  women who referred to Clark as “the love of her life.” No, these aren’t the laments of lovesick fans, but the wistful comments of his past girlfriends. Judy Lewis recalls her mother, Loretta Young, saying this and also stating that her biggest regret was “not getting your father to marry me.” Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford’s daughter, has mentioned that her mother called Clark the great lost love of her life as well.  I have also seen the quote attributed to Elizabeth Allan, Suzanne Dadolle and even Grace Kelly.

Clark and the blondes in "Idiot's Delight." Virginia is the last one on the right...she got his feet!

Clark and the blondes in "Idiot's Delight." Virginia is the last one on the right...she got his feet!

To me, the saddest in the line-up is Virginia Grey.

Virginia was a pretty blonde starlet who never reached her full potential as virginiagreyan actress. Her father worked for Mack Sennett in the early days of filmdom and little Virginia made her screen debut at age nine. Her film resume lists over 140 credits, but most are not memorable. She was always the best friend or sister of the main actress, left to play second fiddle. One of her most memorable roles  is that of Joan Crawford’s smart- alecky co-worker in one scene of  1939’s The Women (You can watch it here).

She had a very small role in the beginning of Test Pilot, fittingly as one of Clark’s jilted girlfriends. The following year she was cast as one of “Les Blondes”, Clark’s peppy blonde back-up dancers, in Idiot’s Delight. There is a well-circulated story that Mrs. Gable, aka Carole Lombard, caught one of the blondes flirting with Clark on the set an demanded, “Get that bitch off this picture or I’ll take Gable out of it!” I’ve kind of always doubted that story, as that doesn’t really seem like something Carole would do, even in a fit of jealousy. But if it is true, Carole should have had her eye on a different one of those blondes!

I am not sure how close Clark and Virginia were on the set, but she was one of his first dates after Carole died and before he left for the service. She wrote him letters (what would I give to get my hands on those!) while he was overseas and they were spotted out around town when he was home on leave.

Clark’s personal secretary Jean Garceau recalled that while Clark was overseas, Carole’s beloved little dachshund, Commissioner, died and Clark was very upset about it. Virginia bought him a dachshund puppy to cheer him up and he named him Rover.

Post-war Clark saw him frequenting nightclubs in both Los Angeles and New York, often in the company of socialites such as Iris Bynum, Millicent Rogers and Dolly O’Brien. But Virginia kept popping up with him and seemed to be the one constant. The press liked to make comparisons between her and Carole (“Both blonde! Both comediennes! Both excellent horsewomen!”) and decided for themselves that she would be the perfect Fourth Mrs. Gable. Their romance especially seemed to be heating up in 1948, when she was a frequent visitor to the set of Homecoming.

Nobody was more shocked than Virginia when Clark up and married Lady Sylvia Ashley in December of 1949. She was devastated. Clark attempted to contact her afterwards but she refused to speak with him. Her friends recalled her suffering and referring to  Clark’s new bride as “Lady Ashcan.”

The marriage to Sylvia being short-lived, Clark soon came knocking around Virginia’s door again. But she was too heartbroken to forgive him.

She never married.

Post-Carole, Clark seemed to go for older women; women who were independent and wealthy; women whom he didn’t have to worry about running to the press. He seemed to have a soft spot for Virginia that remained for several years. I’ve often thought of what would have happened if he had married Virginia instead of Sylvia. Would it have worked out? Would they have had children that he would have lived to see? Interesting to ponder. Out of all of his post-Carole exploits, Virginia did the seem the most like Carole. Maybe that’s what scared him off? virginia89

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Read more about Virginia here, including a 1941 interview with her, appropriately titled “The Girl Nobody Knows.”

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