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

In a Nutshell: It Happened One Night (1934)

clark claudette colbert it happened one night

Directed by: Frank Capra

Co-stars: Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly

Synopsis: Gable is Peter Warne, a cocky newspaperman who has just been fired. On a bus to New York, he meets Ellie Andrews (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 (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.

Best Gable Quote: “Perhaps you’re interested in how a man undresses. You know, it’s a funny thing about that. Quite a study in psychology, no two men do it alike. You know, I once knew a man who kept his hat on until he was completely undressed. Yeah, now he made a picture. Years later his secret came out—he wore a toupee. Yeah. No, I have a method all my own. If you notice the coat came first then the tie then the shirt. Now, uh, according to hoyle, after that the pants should be next. Here’s where I’m different. I go for the shoes next. First the right then the left. After that it’s every man for himself.” (Ok, it is nearly impossible to pick one great quote, there are so many, but I had to pick the undressing scene)

Fun Fact: Gable won his only Academy Award for this film; his first nomination. It Happened One Night was the first film to sweep the main categories of the awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Screenplay. Only two films have accomplished the feat since: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Silence of the Lambs.

My Verdict: Do I really need to go into why this one is a Gable Essential? It is comedy perfection in every element. Romantic, silly, sweet, and dramatic all in one. The script is absolutely wonderful, the direction excellent and Clark and Claudette are perfect. It is a simple little film, with the characters making nary a costume change and the settings far from glamorous, but it is that great script and the superb acting that makes it great. It is so romantic that at the end it surprises you when you realize that Clark and Claudette don’t kiss even once. I completely love this film.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

 

This post is part of Bette Classic Movie Blog’s Moustaches for Movember Blogathon. Movember is a campaign in which men grow moustaches over the month of November to raise funds for prostate cancer.  You can learn more about the cause here.

You think of Clark Gable and you think of that familiar moustache (well, that and maybe the ears…) It’s funny that the mustache has become so synonomous with the image of Clark Gable, considering he didn’t want one to begin with.

Clark was a clean freak, the kind who took showers multiple times a day and who reportedly shaved his chest hair because he considered all that extra hair “un-clean.” So it seems unlikely he would willingly sport a moustache. And he wasn’t willing…at first.

The first time Clark grew a moustache was in 1930 in the play Love, Honor and Betray with Alice Brady. He was playing a French gigolo and the part called for some upper lip adornment. He tried a fake one at first but it would often come off during romantic scenes so he was forced to grow a real one. He shaved it off as soon as the play closed.

Clark Gable Alice Brady

Clark and Alice Brady in Love Honor and Betray

A clean shaven  Clark emerged on the Hollywood scene in 1931, playing mostly gangster roles and fitting the part nicely.

Clark Gable A Free Soul

Clark in A Free Soul

In 1932, Clark appeared with his very on screen first moustache, although it was a fake. In Strange Interlude, Clark’s character ages 20 years and a fake mustache was applied halfway through the film to show him aging. He hated it.

Clark aging not-so-gracefully in Strange Interlude:

Clark Gable Strange Interlude

Starting out baby-faced...

Clark Gable Strange Interlude

A little older, here's the fake moustache's appearance...

Clark Gable Strange Interlude

Older and getting grayer...

Clark Gable Strange Interlude

And looking like Colonel Sanders.

His next role as Giovanni in The White Sister also called for a moustache, just as Ronald Colman had had in the previous 1923 version.

Clark Gable

Clark in The White Sister

I am not sure if he actually grew one for the role or if it was fake, but it appears to be real in his next picture, Night Flight.

Clark Gable Night Flight

Clark in Night Flight

The moustache was real in Clark’s next role as a Broadway producer in Dancing Lady. I think by this time he was becoming used to it. Clark was absent from the set for several weeks due to a high fever. He had to have his teeth extracted and because of the surgery, his moustache was shaved off. So, when he finally returned to the set, he was again sporting a fake.

Clark Gable

Clark in Dancing Lady

I think Clark changed his mind about the moustache around the time he won the Oscar for It Happened One Night.  Popular before the film, his fame now soared and his moustache was copied by millions of fans.

Clark Gable It Happened One Night

Clark in It Happened One Night

As it was now a part of his film popularity, Clark’s  feathers were ruffled when he had to shave the moustache off for historical accuracy to portray Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty.

Clark Gable Mutiny on the Bounty

Clark in Mutiny on the Bounty

He wasted no time growing it back and there it was in his following two films, Wife vs. Secretary and San Francisco.

Clark Gable

Clark in Wife vs. Secretary

Clark Gable

Clark in San Francisco

But Marion Davies, his costar in his next film, Cain and Mabel, claimed to be “allergic to moustaches” so he had to shave it off to play Larry Cain.

Clark Gable

Clark in Cain and Mabel

During the shooting of Cain and Mabel, he was called back to do some retakes from San Francisco and had to sport another fake!

The moustache is back in Love on the Run.

Clark Gable

Clark in Love on The Run

In 1937, Clark was set to play nineteenth century Irish politician Charles Parnell in the biographical drama Parnell. The real Parnell had a full beard. For whatever reason, despite the fact that in between shooting films Clark often grew a full beard while out on hunting trips, Clark refused to grow a beard for the role. The compromise was some very unflattering long sideburns, or “mutton chops”.  Why Clark thought that was better than a beard is beyond me! And the film was famously a flop.

The real Charles Parnell

Clark Gable Parnell

Clark as Parnell

Myrna Loy Clark Gable

Clark and Myrna Loy in Parnell

 Clark’s moustache was of course one of the components in making him the perfect Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, as Margaret Mitchell describes Scarlett’s first view of him:

He was a tall man and powerfully built. Scarlett thought she had never seen a man with such wide shoulders, so heavy with muscles, almost too heavy for gentility. When her eyes caught his, he smiled, showing animal-white teeth beneath a close-clipped black moustache.

Clark Gable Gone with the Wind

Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind

Cammie King (Bonnie Blue) famously said that one of her few memories of the set is that Clark’s moustache tickled.

Clark Gable Cammie King Gone with the Wind

Cammie King and Clark Gable in Gone with the Wind

The moustache was here to stay through the late 1930’s to the early 1940’s. The skinny, sculptured mustache had given way to a thicker, more modern look.

Clark Gable They Met in Bombay

Clark in They Met in Bombay

But in 1942, Clark enlisted in the Army Air Corps and only commanding officers could have facial hair. And so, with much publicity, Clark shaved off his famous moustache.

Clark Gable

Clark shaving off his moustache after joining the Army

Clark Gable

A moustache-less Clark receiving his shots after joining the Army

Once he graduated from officer’s school, the moustache was back. But this time, it was thicker and more of a “man’s moustache.” Probably the lack of time and utensils to do a proper trimming while stationed overseas…

Clark Gable

Officer Gable

Clark Gable

Officer Gable

 

Post war, the moustache was here to stay, becoming grayer, but staying put.

Clark Gable Command Decision

Clark in Command Decision

He did make one moustache-less appearance in Homecoming, during a flashback sequence. I’m not sure if the scene was shot last so he could shave off the moustache or what, but it is definitely gone.

Clark Gable Homecoming

Moustache-less in one scene of Homecoming

By the twilight of his career, his moustache was a security blanket that he knew fans expected. I don’t think any producer would have requested a bare-faced Clark at this point.

Clark Gable Teacher's Pet

Clark in Teacher's Pet

When you look at The Misfits, it would be hard to imagine Gay Langland without a moustache…it’s just something an aging Reno cowboy is expected to have.

Clark Gable The Misfits

Clark in The Misfits

Visit Bette’s Classic Film Blog to view all of the Moustache for Movember posts and visit here to donate to the cause.

Folks, as far as articles go on Clark Gable, this one is a gold mine! If you’ve perused through our Article Archive here, you know that many interviews with Clark are pure fluff. MGM protected what was published about its stars and Clark was no exception. Most interviews never asked the questions people really wanted to know, and instead of a true sit-down interview, it was a quick conversation (if any at all) that was beefed up by the writer’s own assumptions and fluffy writing.

This one is different. Of course by this time, it was the late 50’s and the “studio system” had dissapated. Clark was no longer under MGM’s protective wing, having been freelance a few years. And by this time, interviews and magazine articles were more like they were today, straight forward and informational, rather than sappy and full of sugar-coated glossiness.

 According to this article, Clark had considered hiring the author to help him write his autobiography, an idea I never thought Clark ever considered. Well, Clark did scrap that idea but agreed to a personal interview. Clark sat in a hotel room with this writer and his tape recorder and answered what he asked. Kay comes in the room too and their banter is also recorded. Unlike most interviews where you can read through what the writer claims Clark “said”, you can tell these are Clark’s words and he doesn’t mince them. I could pick through the whole article piece by piece and discuss it for hours but here are some highlights:

On It Happened One Night:

I said, “There’s a legend that the classic touches in that film—the piggyback scene, the passengers singing ‘The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze’ in the bus, Claudette Colbert thumbing a ride by lifting her skirt and adjusting her garter while passing motorists slammed on their screaming brakes—were thought up by Capra on the spur of the moment as he went along. Were they in the script,” I asked, “or were they shot off the cuff?”

“They were in the script,” Gable said. “Frank and Bob Riskin put them in. Frank was the director; Riskin was the writer. They were an unbeatable team.”

He didn’t mention another unbeatable team, the stars of the picture. Claudette Colbert and he himself won Academy Awards for the year’s best performance by an actress and actor. Gable isn’t a great one for talking in terms of awards he’s won. The picture itself won the award as the outstanding production of 1934. Capra won an Oscar for his direction. Riskin won a similar award for the year’s best screenplay.

I mentioned another legend that grew out of that film; that he had sabotaged the undershirt industry by peeling off his shirt in the picture and revealing nothing under his shirt but him.

“I didn’t know what I was doing to the undershirt people,” he told me. “That was just the way I lived. I hadn’t worn an undershirt since I’d started to school. They made me feel hemmed in and smothered. I still felt that way when I joined the Air Force in World War Two and I had to put on a t-shirt. I felt swathed in fabric, like a mummy.”

I found that interesting as the story usually told is that they decided to eliminate the undershirt from the scene because it was hard for Clark to continue his dialogue while pulling a shirt over his head.

On Gone with the Wind:

“I’ve seen Gone with the Wind three times,” I told him, “and I had the feeling you enjoyed it.”

“It was a challenge,” he said, “I enjoyed it from that point of view. But my chin was out to there. I knew what people expected of me and suppose I didn’t produce?”

“But you did produce,” I said.

“Maybe so,” he said noncommittally.

“When did you finally get it through your head you’d done all right?”

He said, “The night we opened in Atlanta, I said, ‘I guess this movie is in.’” 

“How did you figure that?” I asked. “Did you enjoy it yourself or did you gauge it by other people’s reactions?”

“Other people’s reactions,” he told me.

On a common myth about himself:

“I think the first time I saw you on the screen was as the chauffeur in Red-Headed Woman,” I said.

“I played a chauffeur in Night Nurse, with Barbara Stanwyck,” Gable told me. “You must have seen me in that. I wasn’t in Red-Headed Woman.” 

“Anyhow, it was before you had your ears pinned back,” I said.

“Speaking of myths, that’s one,” [Gable] said. “They were never pinned back.”

I looked at him and said, “They certainly don’t stand out anymore. What happened?”

“He weighed only a hundred and fifty pounds then,” Kay Gable explained. “When you’re that slim your ears can look like handles.”

“I thought maybe he’d had a small operation,” I said.

“No,” Kay told me. “Look behind his ears. No scar tissue!”

On Carole Lombard:

“You may not like my next question,” I said. “Is it true that you don’t like to talk about Carole Lombard because it reminds you of her tragic end and distresses you?”

“That isn’t true,” he said. “My feelings are under better control than that. I have great respect for Carole and the place she had in my life. I want to keep that to myself. It’s not to be kicked around. I’m the one who can control it.”

“I don’t see how you control it unless you talk about it,” I said.

“That’s how I do it,” he said. “By not talking about it.”

 That may not seem much of a comment, but I don’t think I have ever heard Clark even remotely discuss Carole in any fashion in the 1950’s, so I was surprised he said anything at all.

I think Carole was one of the main reasons he decided not to write an autobiography, as he told the would-be author:

“I don’t feel I could do an honest job for you if I leave out some of the emotions I’ve had and some of the things that have happened to me, and there are things I don’t care to have the public know. They’re extremely personal. They belong to me.”

There is so much more to this article: Clark’s feelings on television, his hesitation on playing in Mutiny on the Bounty, the details of his 1937 court case, his description of his first screentest–much more! Read this in-depth article in its entirety in the Article Archive.

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.

alg_sex_city_carrie_big

I recently saw Sex and the City 2 and imagine my surprise to see Clark on the big screen with Chris Noth and Sarah Jessica Parker–I literally almost choked on my popcorn! “Carrie” and “Big” are in bed in their hotel room trying to find something to watch on TV. Big changes the channel and, lo and behold, It Happened One Night appears– the famous hitch hiking scene. He exclaims, “Here we go!” Carrie seems uninterested but comments that Claudette Colbert is pretty. Big tells her what a classic the film is and she says, “Oh, so you saw it when it was originally released?” The scene ends with them snuggling in bed watching the movie together.

Then, towards the end of the film, Carrie puts her new classic movie knowledge to good use when she can’t hail a cab so she pulls up her skirt and sticks out a shapely leg–Ellie Andrews style. And of course, she gets her cab.

It Happened One Night seems to be popping up everywhere these days. It was featured at the end of Changeling with Angelina Jolie and characters on the teen drama “90210” watched and discussed it in a recent episode. Proof that it is indeed timeless.

 And that a well-toned leg will stop traffic in any decade.

 Lots of new pictures in the gallery