I love Warner Brothers Archive Collection! Thanks to them, the majority of Clark’s films are available to us fans for our home viewing pleasure. And FINALLY they have just released a few of the missing titles: After Office Hours (1935) with Constance Bennett! Buy it here. Hell Divers (1931) with Wallace Beery! Buy it here. Parnell (1937) with Myrna Loy! Buy it here.
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.
Directed by: Lloyd Bacon
Co-stars: Marion Davies
Synopsis: Gable is Larry Cain, a small time boxer, whose publicity team cooks up a fake romance with Mabel O’Dare (Davies), an aspiring musical star, for publicity. The two loathe each other but begrudgingly agree to play along to help both of their careers. Of course along the way they actually do fall in love and decide to quit boxing and show business to be together. Their publicists won’t hear of it however and set to break them up.
Best Gable Quote: “I’m supposed to be a fighter and what am I doing–playing post office all over the front page with a dame!”
Fun Fact: William Randolph Hearst (producer, publishing magnate and Davies’ paramour) spent $35,000 on the carousel for the musical number “Coney Island”. After filming was completed, the carousel was installed in the backyard of Davies’ Santa Monica home, near her pool and tennis courts.
My Verdict: This is Marion Davies’ picture and Clark is window dressing. His character is a one-dimensional brutish boxer, who softens like butter after Marion bats her eyelashes at him a few times. This film is definitely one of those that I wouldn’t say is a bad film as a whole, but it’s not a great Gable film. Marion shows she can sing and dance, and Clark shows he still looked good with his shirt off.
In a Nutshell: Love on the Run (1936)
Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke
Co-stars: Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone
Synopsis: Gable is Mike Anthony, a newspaper reporter always in competition with his college buddy, Barnabus Pell (Tone) who works for a rival paper. When Mike attends the wedding of socialite Sally Parker (Crawford) to a European prince, he becomes her confidante and helps her escape the nuptials. With Barnabus hot on their trail, Mike and Sally steal a spy’s plane and head across Europe. The spy wants his plane back (and his secret plans) and Barnabus wants his piece of the story, keeping them on the run, of course falling in love along the way.
Best Gable Quote: “You’re the only girl this side of the moon.”
Fun Fact: Gable and Franchot Tone had become friends during the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty and would play cards between takes. This irritated Crawford. Her and husband Tone spent most of their time between scenes fighting. During the course of filming, Tone moved out of their Hollywood home.
My Verdict: It is a rather silly film, full of madcap hijinks. Clark and Joan always do have chemistry, but here I find it watered down. I enjoy his competitive banter with Franchot much better. As a spy story and a sweet romance, it’s rather flat. Not Clark and Joan at their best.
In a Nutshell: Parnell (1937)
Directed by: John M. Stahl
Co-stars: Myrna Loy, Donald Crisp, Edna May Oliver, Billie Burke
Synopsis: In this historical melodrama, Gable is Charles Parnell, an 1880′s Irish politician dubbed “The Uncrowned King of Ireland” for fighting for Irish freedom from British rule. The British trump up false charges against him to try and keep his efforts down but are unsuccessful. But then Parnell falls in love with Katie O’Shea (Loy), the estranged wife of a British Parliament member. When her husband finds out, he files for divorce and names Parnell as co-respondent, resulting in political and social ruin for Parnell. Just as he begins to fight back for his position, he is taken ill with a sick heart.
Best Gable Quote: “Haven’t you ever felt that there might be someone somewhere who, if you could only find them, is the person that you were always meant to meet?” (How romantic is that line! I have always loved it)
Fun Fact: Gable’s least favorite of all his films and the biggest flop of his and Myrna Loy’s careers. It lost a total of $637,000 at the box office. Gable accepted the role of Charles Parnell because he saw an opportunity to prove himself as a versatile dramatic actor. When the film flopped so horribly, he shunned all historical dramas. The flop of this picture is the main reason he was reluctant to do Gone with the Wind; he feared another historical flop. Because of the criticism of his Irish accent in this film, he refused to do a Southern accent for GWTW.
My Verdict: I stand by my long-voiced opinion that Parnell isn’t really that bad. There are some Clark Gable films (see anything thus far voted one mustache) that if it’s on TCM I flip right past it. Not this one. Clark’s performance isn’t bad, neither is Myrna’s. The script is tedious and the plot is boring. There just isn’t enough to hold interest. The love story is very sweet (although completely different than it was in reality) and Clark has some very romantic lines. I adore Myrna Loy and their chemistry is top notch as always. A fantastic film? No. But a horrible, wretched film that should be held up as the worst of Clark’s career? Still No.
In July, for the month that celebrates the anniversary of this website, I always select an important Clark Gable film–one that is a highlight in his career for one reason or another. This year I don’t think that Clark would agree with my choice! It is his much-maligned effort to portray a soft spoken Irishman in Parnell.
In this historical melodrama, Gable is Charles Stewart Parnell, an 1880′s Irish politician dubbed “The Uncrowned King of Ireland” for fighting for Irish freedom from British rule. The British trump up false charges against him to try and keep his efforts down but are unsuccessful. But then Parnell falls in love with Katie O’Shea (Myrna Loy), the estranged wife of a British Parliament member. When her husband finds out, he files for divorce and names Parnell as co-respondent, resulting in political and social ruin for Parnell. Just as he begins to fight back for his position, he is taken ill with a sick heart.
As is the case with most 1930’s biopics, the truth is brushed aside for what will make a better film. There are so many inaccuracies here, it would be difficult to list them all. Most glaring is the fact that while in the film Katie and Parnell love each other but keep on with a seemingly chaste love affair, stealing embraces and kisses only, in reality, Katie and Parnell were engaged in quite the scandalous affair that produced three children! Also, in reality, they were eventually married after the divorce was finalized. The film leaves them unmarried and still pining for each other. Although in both the film and reality, Parnell died in Katie’s arms.
Joan Crawford was the first choice to play Katie O’Shea. Her and Clark had had success in the past few years with light comedic fare such as Forsaking All Others and Love on the Run. Clark encouraged her to take the role; he was enthusiastic about the film and felt she would be the perfect leading lady for it. Joan found the story boring and refused the part; she was gun-shy on historical dramas after the failure of The Gorgeous Hussy. So, Myrna Loy was whisked away from the set of The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, which was to reteam her with her frequent screen partner William Powell, and into Parnell. Joan was put in Myrna’s place in Cheyney. Joan later recalled that Clark was frosty to her after the film’s failure. “I don’t think he ever forgave me for leaving him on that sinking ship,” she said.
I actually think Joan would have been a bad choice. Katie O’Shea is rather quiet and sweet, much more fitting to Myrna. Clark and Myrna always have chemistry, in my opinion anyway. And the love story here, although largely fictional like the rest of this “biopic,” is cute.
“You know, miracles happen; I have my proof of that now. I’ve seen you before today, Mrs. O’Shea. Last week at the opera. You were wearing a white dress with white roses. The lights went up and there you were. Suddenly there was no music, no opera house, nothing. Nothing but a distance between us,” Clark says to Myrna. Myrna later said she thought that speech was the most romantic of Clark’s career.
The scene where they are lost in London and wander around in the thick fog, eating hot potatoes with their hands, lightly debating which direction they could be headed, is adorable.
“What I’ve always wanted to do–eat hot potatoes with you,” he says.
“The world’s still there behind the fog, waiting for us,” she says mournfully after they share a kiss.
Edna May Oliver and Billie Burke both add a light comedic touch as Katie’s aunt and sister. Oliver is a hilarious foible to Burke’s chirpiness. “You speak like the spinster you indefinitely will become!” she hisses to her.
The significance of Parnell to Clark Gable’s career is great. The screenplay was based on a Broadway play that had had a successful run just a few years prior. Louis B. Mayer eagerly acquired the property, as he wanted his MGM to be involved in more “prestige” projects–probably licking his lips salivating over possible Academy Awards. A great deal of money was spent on the film; there were hundreds of extras to be fitted with period costumes, English snow and fog to simulate, and seventy four sets were constructed. Director John Stahl was quite the perfectionist and the shoot was one of the longest of Clark’s career–108 days.
Much of the early press concerning the film was about whether or not Clark was going to grow a beard for the role. The real Parnell had a full, rather bushy, beard. Clark balked at growing a beard and despite Stahl and Mayer’s urgings, would not budge on the issue. The compromise was that Clark grew long “mutton chop” sideburns. They were most unbecoming but I must say, it makes it easy to date candids of him. Sideburns? 1937!
For a film that is widely considered his biggest failure, a lot of notable moments in Clark Gable history took place during the production. For instance, it was while filming Parnell, at Clark’s 36th birthday party on the set, that Judy Garland first sang “Dear Mr. Gable” to him. Her performance led to her repeating the song in The Broadway Melody of 1938. And you know what? That Miss Garland went on to have quite a career…
It was also during production that sideburn-ed Clark put his feet and hands in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Parnell had the bad luck of being released three days before Jean Harlow died. Naturally, not a lot of press was given to the new films of that week. And the press it did receive wasn’t great. While for the most part fan magazines applauded it, newspapers were not as generous, and neither was the word of mouth. It ended up losing $637,000 at the box office and was officially labeled “a stinker.” Parnell is most often quoted as the worst Gable film and was always the first one out of Gable’s mouth if asked of his least favorite film of his own. It is even listed in the book The Fifty Worst Films of All Time.
There was endless razzing over the film for Clark. Spencer Tracy used to chide him with “Remember Parnell” on the set of Test Pilot. I just ran across a gossip item from 1941 that said: Just before Clark Gable and Carole Lombard took off on a hunting trip, Clark received a wire from Spencer Tracy. “I’ve just read the New York reviews on ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,’’ said Spence. “I take back everything I ever said about your ‘Parnell.’”
Carole Lombard had a boy pass out Parnell flyers all over MGM to embarrass Clark. During filming, she couldn’t resist getting a rib in. Clark had been complaining to her that while they shot the death scene, Stahl insisted on playing gloomy music for a solid week. So Carole switched the record one day and instead of doom and gloom, “I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You.”
Clark took it all in stride but vowed to never make a historical costume drama again. So that is one of the many reasons that he was not ecstatic about playing a certain Captain Rhett Butler in a certain Civil War drama.
It is rather sad that Clark was repeatedly typecast as the same character again and again. When he tried to step outside the box and do some real drama, the fans cried fowl and Clark retreated back into his little box. Clark was very insecure as an actor and he felt that the fans were right. I don’t think that they were. His performance in Parnell is not bad at all. The film itself is just boring and the script is really lacking. It’s not very interesting to American audiences to have a film center around a 19th century Irish forgery case. Clark’s Rhett Butler showed he had the dramatic chops, but again Rhett was still an extension of the rogues he was used to playing. By the time he showed he could handle real drama in The Misfits, it was too late.
Myrna Loy said later that she liked Parnell and that she didn’t understand the bad press it has received. “Some of the critics complained that we played against type. We were actors for God’s sake. We couldn’t be Blackie Norton and Nora Charles all the time.” She also said that she thought that it’s failure may have been because people couldn’t picture the great he-man Clark Gable sickly and dying of a heart attack. Ironically, she pointed out, that’s exactly what happened in real life.
From March 1937:
Parnell will always be remembered in MGM records as the picture of the battle of the beard. Because Parnell wore a beard, they wanted Clark Gable, who portrays the great Irish leader, to grow one. Gable protested. Director John M. Stahl, stickler for realism, insisted and produced bearded Parnell photos. Gable hired a research expert, unearthed Parnell pictures showing him smooth shavem. Finally they shot tests of Gable wearing a false beard, and they looked so funny and foolish that they abandoned the idea.
During shooting of the production, the MGM commissary had to strike blackberry pie off of its menu, because the extras got their beards so discolored eating it at lunch that they photographed differently in the afternoon’s takes!
From March 1937:
When it comes to sheer, downright having-fun-out-of-life, you’ve got to hand it to Carole Lombard and Clark Gable. These two have had more amusement out of their romance than most people get out of a whole lifetime. Both are inveterate practical jokers–and never does either let the oppurtunity pass to “gag” the other.
Carole’s latest and biggest chance came with all the fuss over whether or not Clark was to raise a set of whiskers to play the role of Parnell. Hardly had the discussion begun at MGM than Gable began to get the works–first, mysterious men with long whiskers would pop up in the most unexpected places and peer at Gable. He learned, finally, that “someone” had hired some bearded extras to dog his footsteps. They followed him in the street, sat next to him in restaurants, paraded before his hotel, even stopped him to ask for matches or the time.When that wore out, he was suddenly inindated with a flood of packages, by mail, express and special messenger. All of them contained false beards, moustache wax and like gags.
But the payoff came when, right on the MGM lot, a bearded sandwich man suddenly appeared and picketed Gable’s dressing room door. And the legend on his sandwich board read: WHISKERS ARE UNSANITARY!
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.
A clean shaven Clark emerged on the Hollywood scene in 1931, playing mostly gangster roles and fitting the part nicely.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The moustache is back 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.
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.
Cammie King (Bonnie Blue) famously said that one of her few memories of the set is that Clark’s moustache tickled.
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.
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.
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…
Post war, the moustache was here to stay, becoming grayer, but staying put.
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.
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.
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.
From May 1937:
Never has Clark Gable taken a role more seriously than “Parnell.” For the three days he was filming Parnell’s death, he went around looking like a ghost. He wouldn’t even ride his bike. He just gloomed. On top of that, he had a very bad cold.
Late one afternoon frantic calls from newspapers besieged MGM demanding to know the truth about a rumor that Gable was dead. Gable replied from the Beverly Wilshire that the Gable rumor was garbled.
The moment the picture was finished, Gable dashed for the Arizona mountains on a hunting trip with Ted Tetrach of the property department, to be gone two weeks.
If they thought he was gloomy then, they should have seen him after the film flopped!
Lots of new pictures in the gallery this week. I am beginning to upload the pictures from my Los Angeles trip, many more than appeared in the blog posts.
Happy Veterans Day!