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By 1938, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard were madly in love, and everyone knew it. The stories of “Will Their Romance Last?” were starting to dissapate and the “When Will Ria Gable Give Clark the Divorce so These Lovebirds Can Marry?” stories were roaring.

So, no surprise, Carole was Clark’s date to the annual MGM company picnic that year (I think I am mostly surprised Clark attended at all–maybe Carole convinced him to be a good sport?). The pictures of them from this event are some of my very favorites. Clad casually in sweaters and Carole with very little make-up and her hair pushed off her face, they look like any ordinary couple in love.

with Louis B. Mayer

clark gable carole lombard mgm picnic

with Louis B. Mayer

clark gable carole lombard mgm picnic ccarole219w  ccarole274w

It’s interesting to see what a few short years in Hollywood will do to one’s stardom!

Clark Gable burst on the scene in 1931 and literally went from a nobody to a somebody over night. His path can be traced through MGM’s magazine advertisements….

MGM ad 1931

In 1931, he was a newbie and certainly didn’t merit a picture in the stars at the top or even listed in bold among names such as Marion Davies, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford or Norma Shearer (all of which would be Clark’s leading ladies!). No, Clark is listed in the small print among names such as Dorothy Appleby, Gus Shy and Edwina Booth. But also among the names are the likes of Lionel Barrymore, Leslie Howard and Robert Young. A Free Soul, Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise and The Secret Six are all mentioned, but not with Clark’s name attached–he wasn’t a name every one knew…yet.

mgm 1932

Just one year later, Clark has been bumped way up in the order! Not only does he merit a picture right next to the grand dame Greta Garbo and among the likes of John Barrymore, Helen Hayes and Buster Keaton, but he also merits a second picture with Norma Shearer for Strange Interlude. She is, of course, billed first but still, that’s quite a bump in one year’s time! Hell Divers, Possessed and The White Sister are also listed, although Helen Hayes is the only star mentioned in the latter.

mgm 1933

By the time MGM’s Leo the Lion was celebrating his tenth birthday in 1933, Clark was cemented as one of the top elite of MGM’s sparkling roster of stars. There he is, pictured second below Queen of the Lot Norma Shearer, among the likes of Jean Harlow, Jimmy Durante and Wallace Beery. His films Night Flight and Dancing Lady are singled out as some of MGM’s “happiest hits” on the way to viewers.

Not too shabby for a boy from Cadiz, Ohio…

clark gable lana turner betrayed

Clark Gable reigned as the King of the MGM lot for 23 years. He felt safe on that big lot, protected by their scripts and directors and the familiar faces. Never very confident in his acting ability, his home playing field gave him the confidence he needed (although, ironically, two of his three Oscar nominations were for films in which he was on loan-out to other studios). Many actors free-lanced and hopped from studio to studio, but not Clark. He stayed on as MGM’s golden boy.

But times changed. Clark returned from World War II older, grayer and emotionally damaged. Newer, fresher faces were emerging on the scene and Clark had reached an age where he was too old to play youthful rogues but too young to play grandpas. Clark was not happy with any of the films he was assigned to in the first years following the war, and most of them were flops.

clark gable lana turner betrayed

Clark went overseas for 18 months starting in 1952 to make three films, a strategic financial move save money on his taxes (I’ll save the boring tax details on that).  In succession, he made Never Let Me Go in England, Mogambo in Africa and Betrayed in the Netherlands. By the time he finished filming Mogambo, Never Let Me Go had been released and flopped. This put him at a serious disadvantage in his contract negotiation.  MGM flat-out refused the profit participation that Clark wanted (the re-release of GWTW made Clark sour on the fact that he never received any part of the film’s profits) and Clark wouldn’t sign without it, so his career with MGM came to an end.

When he returned to California after filming, the very last thing he did on the MGM lot was pose for one last portrait sitting with Clarence Sinclair Bull to promote Betrayed. Afterwards, he cleaned

clark gable betrayed

out his dressing room and off he went.  After this rather sad tale of Clark’s departure was printed, MGM publicity head Howard Strickling (also a longtime friend of Clark’s) responded in true fashion: “Clark Gable is one of the most popular and best-liked personalities to ever work at MGM. this goes from the bottom up and top down. Everyone regretted seeing him leave. This was unanimous. As you know, Clark left because he wanted to. MGM made every effort to have him stay. On the last day of shooting on Betrayed, Clark worked in the morning and there was one long parade of friends and well-wishers from every department from executives to back lot. Everyone wished him well and all expressed hope he would return. I am certain Clark could be be elected mayor of MGM if ever an election were held.”

Really the fact that it is the last MGM film Clark made is the only reason that Betrayed is memorable. His last film for the studio that raised and bred him for stardom is not exactly a crown jewel in his cap.

Clark Gable is Colonel Pieter Deventer of Dutch Intelligence during World War II. He trains Carla Van Oven (Lana Turner) to be the liaison between the British and the local resistance movement, led by a spunky rogue called “The Scarf” (Victor Mature).  Before she is put into position Pieter and Carla begin a romance. The team starts to suffer heavy losses after she joins them and Pieter begins to suspect she is a Nazi spy, while at the same time Carla begins to suspect The Scarf.

The film was an enormous flop, but regardless Clark was listed among the Top 10 box office attractions due to the re-release of Gone with the Wind. Upon hearing that, Clark cracked, “You know I didn’t win that for Betrayed!”

The film fails for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s slow-paced and rather plodding. We don’t have enough time to care about the characters. And while it’s hyped up as another steamy pairing of Gable and Turner, their love scenes are few and far between, seeming an afterthought. Also, by 1953, the war-weary public had tired of World War II pictures. Happy, cheerful pictures seemed to be doing well at the box office; musicals were booming again.

Despite this, Betrayed is one of Clark’s few color pictures and I actually think he looks quite handsome in it. In comparison to the following year’s The Tall Men, when his hair was dyed and extra makeup was applied to make him appear younger, in Betrayed he is graying at the temples, has a few wrinkles around his twinkling gray eyes and looks radiant in uniform and wool peacoats. It’s too bad he doesn’t have much to do other than alternatively scowl at or flirt with Lana Turner and peer suspiciously at Victor Mature.clark gable lana turner victor mature betrayed

clark gable lana turner victor mature betrayed

Filming was done in eight short weeks, as Clark was nearing the end of his “tax exile.” The exteriors were shot on location in Amsterdam and are gorgeous.

Lana Turner is sporting a different look: brunette! She was actually supposed to be a blonde in this film but had had her hair dyed for her previous film, Flame and the Flesh, and Betrayed was rushed into production before she could dye it back to blonde. Interestingly, Lana was the first choice to play flirty “Honey Bear” Kelly in Mogambo, but lost the part because her boyfriend Fernando Lamas beat her up before the trip. She was then swapped with Ava Gardner, who was originally supposed to have the role of Carla in Betrayed, to give her time to heal. So Ava went to Africa and Lana went to Holland.

clark gable lana turner betrayed

Read more about the film here and it is available on DVD through the Warner Brothers Archive Collection.

 I approached this tour rather apprehensively. Metro Goldwyn Mayer is, sadly, no more. The largest studio, the most prestigious studio, the studio that had “more stars than there are in the heavens”, Clark’s home studio for over 20 years,  is gone. By the 1970’s, its glory days were nothing but a memory. The MGM name is nothing but really a name anymore, not a place. The former studio is now Sony Pictures and Sony owns Columbia and is much more proud of that than of MGM history.
Sony Pictures

I won’t get into the long, sad story of MGM’s decline here but I highly recommend this book that came out last year, MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot. I made a point of buying it and reading it before my trip and I am so glad I did. It shows you, building by building, what the lot used to look like and how lavish and extensive the studio’s 185 acre backlot was. A must read for any classic movie fan.

Knowing the history as I did, I didn’t expect much for this tour. I was warned beforehand that Sony now is most proud of its television efforts, such as Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune, rather than history. If any history will be touched upon, it will be Columbia, not MGM.

This was mostly true. But MGM did sneak in here and there.

Here are the original MGM entrance gates, no longer used, but still standing as a monument to what used to be.

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures MGM gate

Any star who appeared in any MGM film crossed this threshold, driving down this familiar path. I couldn’t help but think as I looked at it about that lonely day for Clark when he drove off the lot for the final time, after 20 years of employment, and nobody said good-bye to him. He must have had a lump in his throat as he crossed under this and onto Washington Blvd.

Another shot of the gate, and you can see a poster of It Happened One Night nearby. Funny, after over 20 years of service to MGM, none of Clark’s MGM pictures is displayed or mentioned throughout the lot—only It Happened One Night, his lone Columbia feature.

View from the gate:

Sony Pictures

One of the first things you see on the tour is the unmistakable Irving Thalberg building. Louis B. Mayer had this massive administration building built in 1938 in memory of Thalberg. It was top of the line in every way back then, with producers having their own wings and the entire building having–gasp–air conditioning! Today it looks very much the same except, I was a bit sad to note, over the door it says “Columbia Pictures.” Imagine Louis B. Mayer’s reaction to that if he knew!

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures

Clark Gable, Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland on these very stairs, back when it said Metro Goldwyn Mayer:

Clark Gable Shirley Temple Mickey Rooney Judy Garland

Clark Gable Shirley Temple Mickey Rooney Judy Garland

We did go inside the lobby, where they house the Best Picture Oscars they have won. They were all, of course, for Columbia features. The only one of interest to me, naturally, was the one for It Happened One Night.

 Our tour guide mentioned that the Thalberg building has appeared in many TV shows and movies, standing in for schools, courthouses and various office buildings. Its beautifully manicured lawn has stood in for New York City’s Central Park numerous times.

Sony Pictures

Sony Pictures

We went inside the scoring stage, now named The Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage, which was amazing in size. We were awestruck thinking of the big names whose voices had once filled it: Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Lena Horne, Doris Day, Kathryn Grayson, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole…

Sony Pictures

Nearby is the screening room, where directors and producers would view daily rushes. In 1981 it was re-named The Cary Grant Theatre. (Cary Grant being another Columbia alum). Looking from the inside out:

Sony Pictures

One of the outside facades used for exterior shooting is known as the Frank Capra Building, Capra being a renowned Columbia director (and, of course, director of It Happened One Night.)

Frank Capra Sony Pictures

But there are some MGM names that received the honor of their name on a building as well.

Like here is The Robert Young Building, which now contains offices, used to house the studio’s camera equiptment.

Robert Young Building Sony Pictures

The Spencer Tracy building was once MGM’s on-site hospital.

Sony Pictures

The unique Joan Crawford building was once the famed MGM schoolhouse, where legends like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney were taught.

Joan Crawford building Sony Pictures

Not too far from there is the old sound department building which has been christened The Myrna Loy Building.

Myrna Loy building Sony Pictures

And just beyond that lies what was the makeup department back in the MGM days and now houses production offices. It’s name? The Clark Gable Building.

Clark Gable building Sony Pictures

Clark Gable building Sony Pictures 

Walking around the lot…

Stage 9. Interiors for Saratoga was filmed in this studio.

Sony Pictures

Stage 15 was home to interior shots of Strange Cargo. Stage 12 was used for Love on the Run.

Sony Pictures

Clark zipping around the soundstages while filming "Love on the Run" in 1935

Joan Blondell eating an ice cream cone on the side of the studio yogurt shop

Sony Pictures

One of the things I had really wanted to see was the original commissary. I don’t think I’ve read a bio on an MGM star yet who didn’t talk about the famed MGM commissary. I inquired to our tour guide when he was wrapping up the tour about the whereabouts of the commissary, which I knew was still standing. (Yes, I was that person on the tour who wanted to see an old commissary while everyone else was happily snapping photos of the set of Jeopardy.) He pointed to a very large, uninteresting concrete building. I said, “No…the original commissary.” He just said, “Oh, we passed it earlier…near the front.” I thought that was going to be all I got so I just said, “Ok. Thanks.” Well when we walked by it again on the way out he took us right in, since I asked!

Sony Pictures

It is now called the Rita Hayworth Dining Room (again, Rita was a Columbia-ite) and can be rented out for parties.

Rita Hayworth Dining Hall, former MGM commissary

At the time of our visit, it was being set up for a sweet sixteen birthday party for the low, low price of $125,000. Yikes.

Clark Gable chowing down in the commissary

Our guide stated that although the commissary remodeled and it has been downsized (the original commissary was 8,730 feet, could seat 225 and even had its own bakery in the basement), some of the original room separators and the booths still stood. And they still serve Mayer’s wife’s famous matzo ball soup. Which has gone slightly up in price from $0.10 to $13!

The commissary in the 1940's

Above the commissary used to be the famed Art Department, run by Cedric Gibbons.

I couldn’t help but be saddened by this tour, when I thought of the incredible number of Hollywood legends that had walked these grounds and the amazing films that were filmed right here, and so little of it is left.

Our tour guide pointed out that the only remnants that bear the MGM name are three original manhole covers on the streets. They had an appraiser come in and he valued them at $64,000 apiece and soon there will be little plaques over them stating this.

Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg, Clark Gable, Judy Garland, Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, Franchot Tone, Jean Harlow, Robert Taylor, Jimmy Stewart, Jeannette MacDonald, Nelson Eddy, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Hedy Lamarr,  Greer Garson, Lana Turner, John Barrymore, Lionel Barrymore,  Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra…and all that’s left is manhole covers.

Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy and costars stroll on the MGM lot to the set of San Francisco in 1936