Here is an article from early 1936, when Mrs. Gable was Ria Franklin and all of movie fandom wasn’t whipped up into a frenzy over the pairing of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard yet. I don’t think most people understood why the reigning hearthrob of Tinsel Town was married to an older, matronly, stoic socialite with two teenage children. But they were indeed married and therefore it was the press’ obligation to portray their marriage as a wonderful romance, despite evidence to the contrary. Everyone in Hollywood knew that Clark and Ria were pretty much married in name only and that Clark had many affairs. It was a surprise to no one in 1935 when Clark finally moved out of the Brentwood home he had shared with Ria and into the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. But the press was obligated to treat this parting as a sad surprise end to a love affair. And thus, out trotted articles such as this one.
Clark Gable stood at the rail of a steamship coming from South America. His dark hair caught the mist from the sea and went unnoticed. His eyes watched the emptiness of the horizon and brooded. Water and then more water; sky and then more sky—trying to meet, seeming to meet, yet never touching. Is life like that? Do we roll along—along—trying to reach for a sky?
We all have such thoughts when we stand on a ship and gaze at the endless blue above and beneath us. There was not a passenger on that liner who did not stand thus and ponder. Yet there was not one who did not wonder why Clark Gable stood at the rail and brooded.
Clark Gable! Surely he was one man whose sea and sky had met. What more could one man have—what more could he want? He was handsome, virile, a world hero. Why, in South America, no man had such adulation since Rudolph Valentino! “He makes five thousand dollars a week,” the travelers whispered to each other.
One passenger spoke for all of them when he said, “If I were Clark Gable, I don’t think I’d be brooding.”
If he had been Clark Gable! If any one of them had been! They knew what they would do!…But did they? What would they have done? What would you have done if you had been Clark Gable then? I wonder.
I wonder also how widely scattered those passengers were when they picked up their morning papers three weeks after that South American liner had docked. To each, the faces of the other travelers already were blurred, perhaps forgotten. All but one—that of Clark Gable, standing at the rail, brooding.
“So that was it,” any of them might have said. “According to this story, he and his wife were already separated. Now, I wonder what the real trouble was. Anyway, he wasn’t happy about it!”
I do not think Clark Gable’s parting from his wife is so different from the average marital separation. It does carry one extra burden. You or I could stand at a ship’s rail and brood without having our little ship-world pay is too much attention. We could go through a court action without having the whole world headline it. But what we felt—would that be so different?
Bunch of romanticized junk, huh? Well, if Clark was brooding on a ship, I sincerely doubt it was over leaving Ria. Like I said above, all of Hollywood knew that Clark and Ria were not in this great loving marriage, regardless of what the press said. I have often wondered what the fans of the day thought. Did they really believe that Clark was madly in love with Ria and that theirs was the happiest of marriages, as the press tried to lead them to believe? I think the explosion of fan excitement over the romance of Clark and Carole Lombard in the months that followed answers that question. They wanted Clark to be in an exciting romance like he had played on the screen so many times—and Carole fit the bill perfectly.
lark and Ria Langham Gable always seemed to be inspiring others. Helen Hayes, long before she left Hollywood, told me, “You know, a few friends I have found out here make Hollywood so worthwhile—friends like Ria and Clark Gable, Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg. Why, you feel better just to watch Ria and Clark enter a room together!”…Two years later, in New York City, Helen told me: “I didn’t really dislike Hollywood so much. How could I when it brought me friends like Ria and Clark Gable?”
I doubt if I have heard a finer compliment paid two people. But I have heard so many compliments for these two. I remember shopping at one of Hollywood’s exclusive stores, and discovering that all of the clerks in one department were crowded around one woman. Not one saw me until she rose to go. She was Ria Gable. When she had left, I chided the girl who waited on me, “I suppose you have to be Mrs. Gable to get attention like that!”
She was shocked. “Oh no! We are not allowed to give more attention to one customer than another. It isn’t because she’s Mrs. Gable. It’s because she’s so charming. She is so kind to us. We didn’t even know who she was when she first came here and we felt that way about her even then. She’d ask, ‘And how do you like this?’ in a way that made us feel that she really wanted our opinion. There’s something—well, it’s hard to explain, but we really forget about everyone else when she is here. She’s just that kind of person. And when Mr. Gable comes with her, he is like that, too. You know, just regular people.”
Now, although Ria is often painted as this cold villain who stood stubbornly in the way of Clark and Carole’s “true love,” I have actually never heard anyone say anything about her being a nasty person. Everyone says she was extremely friendly, polite and lady-like. Old fashioned perhaps, and definitely not a boisterous personality (opposite of Carole!) but not a mean or calculating woman.
This article provides no real answer to what the cause of the split was (Loretta Young’s pregnancy had a bit to do with it…) and doesn’t really give us a reason why we shouldn’t “misunderstand” the Gables, but it’s what can be expected–a fluff piece. It’s always been rather funny to me how, in a short period of time, the same journalists who wrote melancholy articles like this one over the sad split of Clark and Ria were writing ones about Clark and Carole’s great love exclaiming why won’t Ria divorce Clark?
You can read the article in its entirety in The Article Archive.