clark gable carole lombard

From April 1940:

1940 is going to be a great year for husband wife teams. Joan Blondell and Dick Powell start things going in April when they co-star in “I Want a Divorce” for Paramount. Then Metro will follow with a picture co-starring Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, and another with Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck.

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Shame that never happened!

clark gable ben lyons barbara stanwyck

This month, Clark Gable is ruthless, one-dimensional Nick the chauffeur to Barbara Stanwyck’s plucky young nurse in Night Nurse.

A quintessential pre-code, the film centers around Lora Hart (Stanwyck) as she struggles to keep her ideals while getting through nursing school. After she graduates, she is assigned to be a night nurse to two little girls suffering from malnutrition and anemia. Clark does not appear until halfway through the film and only appears for a few minutes, as Nick, the evil brute of a chauffeur. Lora becomes suspicious of the doctor treating the children and of Nick. Nick throws her around, bullies her and the children say they are scared of him. Lora soon comes to the realization that Nick and the doctor are in it together–to starve the children to death and keep their mother a drunk so they can get their hands on the family’s fortune. It really is a rather disturbing story. Two little girls who are starving and whine that they are hungry, they want to play but don’t have the strength and they are sad that their mother never comes to see them (even though she’s in the same house and has roaring parties every night, just down the hall!), and all the while are threatened by the house staff that is supposed to protect them. Heinous.

This film is all Stanwyck’s–and it should be. Stanwyck’s little pre-code dramas are some of my very favorites. Their luster lies in their grittiness and reality–something that would be completely lost just a few years later when the powers-that-be put the stop to such alarming storylines as starving innocent children for money. She is in her element, in her bobbed 20’s hair, thick lipstick and calf-length skirt, standing up to the man and telling him what’s what.

clark gable barbara stanwyck night nurse

Night Nurse is really a pre-code classic in every sense of the word. New nurse Stanwyck is undressing (pretty much a pre-code standard scene!)  and a male intern pops in the room. “Oh, don’t be embarrassed; you can’t show me a thing. I just came from the delivery room!” he chides. Ooh la la.

barbara stanwyck joan blondell night nurse

A Free Soul, Clark’s breakout film, has just been released a few months prior to Night Nurse. By the time Night Nurse premiered, Clark was a runaway hit and his days of fourth billing were behind him. But not yet during filming of this little programmer (a short, cheap film usually lumped into a double feature with a bigger, splashier movie). In fact, fledgling Clark was shuffled around, making The Finger Points, The Easiest Way and this film simultaneously, which wasn’t difficult to do since all his parts were small and he was in sporadic scenes. So, Clark was a gangster, a laundryman and a chauffeur all at once!

clark gable barbara stanwyck night nurse clark gable barbara stanwyck night nurse clark gable barbara stanwyck night nurse

The part of Nick was so small that Clark doesn’t even appear until 35 minutes in the 70 minute film and is only in about three scenes. James Cagney was originally cast in the role, but after The Public Enemy became a huge hit, he was upgraded from secondary roles so the part of Nick went to then unknown Clark. The role  didn’t exactly require a lot of homework for him. Director William Wellman, who would later direct him all of the Wild and Across the Wide Missouri, gave Clark little attention. His only direction to him was: “He’s a loathsome brute.” All Nick’s lines are things like “Why, you little..” “Aw, shut up!” and “Oh yeah?” Not exactly Shakespeare…clark gable barbara stanwyck night nurse

Clark is mostly clad in a black uniform, hair slicked back with what I am convinced is Crisco, and his eyebrows penciled in with what looks like a Sharpie. Not exactly his best look. He is young and chiseled, though…

clark gable barbara stanwyck night nurse

In his first appearance in the film, where he is introduced as a real bad guy by beating up a drunk and thrashing Stanwyck around, he is oddly dressed in the seemingly non-threatening outfit of a Japanese-looking robe and polka dot pajamas!

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It’s almost comical when Stanwyck says, “And who are you?” The camera zooms in while Clark says with dramatic pause: “I’m Nick…the chauffeur!” Dun dun dun!

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Not to be ignored as Stanwyck’s loyal best pal is Joan Blondell, who often played the best gal pal of the main actress–in fact later would be flirty with Clark and the best gal to Greer Garson in Adventure. Blondell’s got some of my favorite lines, such as when she is teaching Stanwyck the ropes of being a nurse. “Take my tip and keep away from interns; they’re like cancer–the disease is known but not the cure! There’s only one guy in the world that can do a nurse any good and that’s a patient with dough. Just catch one of them with a high fever and a low pulse and make him think you saved his life and you’ll be getting somewhere. And doctors are no good, either. They never marry nurses. And the trouble with interns is they do! All a wife means to an intern is someone to sit in his front office when he starts practice and play nursemaid the rest of her life without pay! The thing to do is to land an appendicitis case–they’ve all got dough!” That’s all you need to know to be a nurse, ladies–that pesky medicine stuff will figure itself out!

barbara stanwyck joan blondell night nurse

I actually find the beginning part of the movie, where Stanwyck and Blondell are working in different parts of the hospital, to be more entertaining than Nick-the-evil-chauffeur-who-must-be-stopped!

Ben Lyon is Stanwyck’s love interest and he’s a bootlegger with gangster connections–tsk, tsk. But hey, being a bootlegger is a far better thing than being a devious chauffeur out to murder little children, eh?

ben lyon night nurse

Nick, poor Nick, must meet his comeuppance for being evil and is hastily killed off, making this one of only a handful of films in Clark’s long filmography in which his character dies. The ending is rather a cop-out–I’m still not sure who exactly is going to look after these children now? Their father is dead and their mother is still a ditzy drunk who couldn’t care less.

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Night Nurse is available on DVD in The Forbidden Hollywood Collection Vol. 2, along with A Free Soul and several other excellent pre-codes.

You can read more about the film here and see pictures from the film in the gallery.

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clark gable greer garson adventure

“Gable’s Back and Garson’s Got Him!”

You couldn’t tread many places without hearing MGM’s infectious tagline for Adventure. The return of Clark Gable after a three year absence from the screen was heralded high and low. Clark, now a decorated war hero and a widower, was a bit thicker around the middle, a bit grayer around the temples, a bit sadder in the eyes…but was back in the saddle.

clark gable adventure

While Clark had been overseas, British import Greer Garson had become the #1 leading lady at MGM, after such hits as Mrs. Miniver and Random Harvest.

clark gable greer garson adventure

clark gable greer garson adventure

In the beginning this film has a lot in common with Teacher’s Pet, which would follow 13 years later. In both, Clark starts out as a crusty, stubborn, ignorant man’s man, denouncing formal education and spitting in its face. Falling in love with an educated woman changes his viewpoint.

clark gable adventure

Uh oh, he's pretty mad...

In fact, I find Clark’s character downright dislikable in the beginning of this film. So arrogant and cocky, making fun of libraries and educated people, mocking religion and anything anyone else believes in.

Delightful in this film is Joan Blondell, as Greer’s roommate. More of a good-time girl than stoic Greer, Clark is attracted to her at first and they dance and cuddle and kiss.

clark gable joan blondell adventure

But then she seems to be perfectly fine when Clark and Greer, after having a big fight, drive off to Reno and get married, leaving her in the lurch. She’s instantly happy for them, despite the fact that she had her claws firmly in Clark first.

clark gable joan blondell adventure

And she’s the first to turn on him when, upon returning from their honeymoon, it is apparent he will not make an ideal husband.

I’m still not quite sure how Harry changes from not believing in marriage to running off with a woman he was yelling at just moments earlier. He claims he just did it because that is what she wanted. So…in that day and age, it seems he just married her to get her into bed? Seems that way.

clark gable greer garson adventure

Eventually it is evident we are supposed to “like” Clark as he realizes the errors of his ways, but he is such a jerk by that time, who can forgive him? He is awfully cruel to Maria (Lina Romay), a Spanish girl who is madly in love with him and waits patiently for his visits. He mocks and pushes around Mudgin (Gone with the Wind’s Thomas Mitchell) and is only sorry when he dies.

clark gable adventure

This film is one of only a handful in which we get to see Clark play father, if only for a few minutes. The scenes where he is begging his baby to live are a bit melodramatic, but it is really touching and sweet. Although it has always bothered me a bit that after the baby begins to finally breathe, he doesn’t grab him up and hold him!

clark gable adventure

I can’t help but wince at Clark calling Greer his “screwball” a few times throughout the film. Considering he was recently widowed by “the Queen of Screwball,” you can’t tell me he never made the connection.

clark gable greer garson adventure

Greer was one of the few leading ladies that Clark did not get along with. She was a bit too formal, too prim for his tastes–taking afternoon breaks for tea and demanding a closed set during romatic scenes.

Greer later recalled, “Adventure was not a good experience. Clark was very taciturn and withdrawn and, I think, somewhat embarrassed at having to deal with things like wardrobe fittings and makeup after the war years. Despite his reputation, he was not really a ladies’ man. I think he was most relaxed when he was out hanging with men.”

clark gable adventure

 This film is often described as being an enormous flop, but that isn’t at all true. Crowds flocked to see the return of the King of Hollywood, and Greer was immensely popular. The film had a grand premeire at Radio City Music Hall and had a healthy gross of over $3,800,000. It was however, critically panned for its mis-matched stars, meandering plot and syrupy melodrama.

Fun fact: In addition to Thomas Mitchell in the cast, Harry Davenport, who played Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind, shows up as Dr. Ashlon.

Read more about the film here and see 212 pictures from the film in the gallery.

Adventure is new to DVD from the Warner Brothers Archive Collection.

Forest Lawn Glendale

Forest Lawn Glendale is gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous! I have heard this before, of course, but this is one of those times where words don’t do it justice. Founded in 1906, the memorial park is famous for its vast collection of sculpture and art, as well as for being one of the first cemeteries to not allow upright headstones, giving the park a smoother look and appeal.

Forest Lawn Glendale

There truly is no other cemetery like it, not that I have ever seen in my life. Of the five we visited, this was the first one (for obvious reasons) and we said later on that we shouldn’t have visited it first since it made all the other cemeteries pale in comparison!

Forest Lawn Glendale

The history here is just incredible. The people who are buried here, were married here, had their funerals here, visited here…

The front gate of Forest Lawn Glendale

The front gates on the day of Jean Harlow's funeral in 1937

It could not have been a more picturesque day when we visited. It was the kind of weather you associate with southern California–72 degrees, sunny, blue skies with few clouds. The only sounds we heard while we walked around the lawn were birds chirping. Separated into sections with names like Vesperland, Graceland (and, the saddest of all, a heart-shaped section called Babyland that was all infant graves), the grounds are pristine and well groomed.

Forest Lawn Glendale

This place is gigantic; over 300 acres and an estimated quarter of a million people are buried on the property. If you ever find yourself here, make sure you know who you are looking for and where; Forest Lawn is not a cemetery where you can just wander around and find celebrities. From the top of the hill by the Great Mausoleum it looked like the rows and rows of graves went on forever.  

Forest Lawn Glendale

Despite signs, we got lost trying to find our way out when we went to leave–it is just that massive. There are more celebrities buried here than in any one place in the world, or so I am told. So please do forgive me if I didn’t visit one of your favorite people that is buried here, as it is we spent nearly four hours roaming around!

We had to give up on finding Carole Lombard’s brother Stuart Peters. The only instruction we had was that he was on Sunrise Slope outside the Great Mausoleum and his plot number. Well, the plots aren’t numbered on the ground at all and after a very long time strolling and reading every tombstone one by one, we had to move on. But Stuart is here….somewhere.

Forest Lawn Glendale

 The one grave that stands out on Sunrise Slope is that of comedian Joe E. Brown.

Joe E Brown

Joe E Brown

Forest Lawn Glendale Joe E. Brown

Jimmy Stewart has a great view on the top of a hill, next to his beloved wife, Gloria (sunflower courtesy of yours truly). I thought her epitaph was really touching. Especially since Jimmy never got over her death and his last words were “I’m going to see Gloria now.”

Jimmy & Gloria Stewart

Jimmy & Gloria Stewart

Forest Lawn Glendale Jimmy Stewart

Forest Lawn Glendale Gloria Stewart

Actress Merle Oberon, who briefly dated Clark right before he started dating Carole, is buried here, tucked away in a quaint little section called the Garden of Rememberance.

Clark Gable & Merle Oberon

Clark Gable and Merle Oberon

Forest Lawn Glendale Garden of Rememberance

Forest Lawn Glendale Merle Oberon

 Not too far from here is the Wee Kirk o’ Heather chapel. Many people have been married here, including Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman. Notably in Clark Gable history, Jean Harlow’s funeral was held here on June 9, 1937.  Clark and Carole attended, as well as many Hollywood luminaries. Clark served as one of the pallbearers.

Clark Gable Carole Lombard

Clark and Carole at Jean's funeral

The chapel on the day of Jean Harlow's funeral

Forest Lawn Glendale Wee Kirk o Heather Chapel

Forest Lawn Glendale Wee Kirk o Heather Chapel

Forest Lawn Glendale Wee Kirk o Heather

Forest Lawn Glendale Wee Kirk o Heather Chapel

Wee Kirk o the Heather

 A short drive to another part of the park…

Clark’s longtime friend Robert Taylor’s cremated remains are here in the Garden of Honor, very inconspicuous in the wall in a section called Columbarium of the Evening Star.

Forest Lawn Glendale Garden of Honor

Forest Lawn Glendale Columbarium of the Evening Star

Taylor was a pallbearer at Clark’s funeral. Taylor’s widow, Ursula Theiss, died last year and is reportedly in there with him, but is currently unmarked.

Clark Gable and Robert Taylor

Clark Gable and Robert Taylor

Forest Lawn Glendale Robert Taylor

 Forest Lawn Glendale Robert Taylor

Forest Lawn Glendale Robert Taylor

Clark’s sassy blonde co-star in Adventure, Joan Blondell, is here as well, with a marker so small you have to really be looking for it.

Clark Gable and Joan Blondell

Clark Gable and Joan Blondell

Forest Lawn Glendale Joan Blondell

Forest Lawn Glendale Joan Blondell

Legendary Spencer Tracy, a friend who co-starred with Clark in Test Pilot and San Francisco, is buried here in his own private garden with a marker that simply says “Tracy.” He was also a pallbearer at Clark’s funeral.

Clark Gable Spencer Tracy

Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy

Forest Lawn Glendale Spencer Tracy

Forest Lawn Glendale Spencer Tracy

Nearby is also the private garden of Walt Disney.

Walt Disney

Walt Disney

Forest Lawn Glendale Walt Disney

Forest Lawn Glendale Walt Disney

Looming just beyond these gardens is the Freedom Mausoleum– the newer, lesser-known, but still beautiful mausoleum.

Forest Lawn Glendale Freedom Mausoleum

Forest Lawn Glendale Freedom Mausoleum

Interred here is Clark’s co-star in San Francisco and a singing legend, Jeanette MacDonald, who shares her spot with her actor husband, Gene Raymond. Gene co-starred with Carole Lombard in Brief Moment and  Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

Gene Raymond Jeanette MacDonald

Gene Raymond and Jeanette MacDonald

Forest Lawn Glendale Freedom Mausoleum

Forest Lawn Glendale Nat King Cole Gene Raymond Jeanette MacDonald

Speaking of singing legends, you can see above them is the final resting place of Nat King Cole.

Nearby is the plot for George Burns and Gracie Allen, sweetly marked “Together Again.”

Clark Gable, Gracie Allen and George Burns

Clark Gable, Gracie Allen and George Burns

Forest Lawn Glendale Gracie Allen and George Burns

We struck out on the lawn with Carole’s brother Stuart, but had better luck in the mausoleum finding Carole’s other brother, Frederic:

Carole Lombard and brother Fred Peters

Forest Lawn Glendale Stuart Peters

Coming tomorrow:  The conclusion of my Hollywood blog posts brings the Great Mausoleum–final resting place of Clark and Carole, and also the Church of the Recessional, where both of their funerals were held.

Forest Lawn Glendale

The Great Mausoleum