clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco

This month, Clark is a hard gamblin’ hard drinkin’ woman chasin’ shyster, Spencer Tracy is his best friend the priest  and Jeanette MacDonald is the saintly opera singer who steals his heart in San Francisco.

clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco

Gable is Blackie Norton, a ruthless saloon-keeper in 1906 San Francisco, proud of his gambling ways. Despite their differences, he falls in love with Mary Blake (MacDonald), an aspiring opera singer who he hires to sing in his revue. His childhood pal, priest Tim Mullin (Tracy), objects to him putting Mary on display and stopping her from her opera aspirations. Realizing that Tim is right and that she should pursue her dreams instead of letting Blackie hold her back, Mary leaves him and becomes a successful opera star. It isn’t until the shattering earthquake that Blackie realizes his true feelings for Mary and sets out to find her among the rubble.

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This film is a favorite of many a Clark Gable fan, and it is not difficult to see why. As far as Gable fans are concerned, this one has it all:  action, romance, special effects, drama. A prestige project for MGM, San Francisco took fifty two days to shoot and costs $1.3 million, an extremely large sum in 1936.  Money well spent, however, as the film went on $5.3 million at the box office, becoming the second biggest hit of  Clark’s entire career, after Gone with the Wind.

clark gable san francisco clark gable san francisco

Clark is at his swoon-worthy best here. When we first see him, he’s a perfect dashing specimen in a top hat, tails and cape, complete with cane–rather Rhett Butler-esque!

clark gable san francisco San Fran San Fran

Truly at the peak of his heartthrob status, we are treated to many scenes of Clark smirking, winking and smooth talking with the ladies. Early on in the film, he shares a long liplock with a patron, who then points to the man next to her and says to Clark,”I want you to meet my husband.” Not many men can get away with that without getting their lights punched out!

clark gable san francisco

clark gable san francisco

We are also treated to a boxing match between Spencer and Clark, with Clark wearing nothing but what looks to be a high-waisted diaper!

clark gable san francisco clark gable san francisco clark gable san francisco clark gable san francisco

His priest pal Spencer sums up Clark quite perfectly: “He’s as unscrupulous with men as he is ruthless with women.”  Perfectly true as he tries to wiggle his way into pure and simple Jeanette’s heart–finding out she’s a virgin, he says, “I’m a sucker!” Myrna Loy, Clark’s frequent co-star, once lamented that the American public boxed her in to always be Nora Charles and Clark to always be Blackie Norton. It’s true, several of his films afterward were copies of Blackie in one way or another.

clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco

I’ll admit to, um, fast forwarding MacDonald’s opera house scenes. But one cannot help but be roused by her lively rendition of the film’s trademark song, “San Francisco” right before the earthquake. The song is, to this day, the theme song of the city. I had a friend who worked in a hotel there and once I called him and he put me on hold. What was the hold music? Jeanette belting out “San Francisco”! And yes, my friend made fun of me for being excited about hold music…

clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco

Clark apparently wasn’t a fan of Jeanette’s soprano –he was hesitant to star in the film because he thought he’d just be a prop standing there listening to her sing.  To appease him, most of Jeanette’s singing scenes were filmed separately from Clark’s reaction shots. Interesting fact:  One of MacDonald’s opera gowns was later re-used as a gown for Gilda in The Wizard of Oz (1939).

clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco

Jeanette was not one of Clark’s favorite leading ladies. He found her to be diva-like and a bit too prim and proper for his taste. He was also irritated that it was in her contract that she was given time off every month for her, ahem, “ladies days.” It is often repeated that she bothered him so much one day on the set that he purposely ate spaghetti loaded with garlic for lunch, knowing that that afternoon they were supposed to film a love scene. Jeanette was so offended by his breath she nearly fainted. Seems a bit immature for him, who knows if it’s true or not.

clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco

The earthquake scenes are really something to behold. The stunning special effects used to simulate the earthquake were created by hydraulic platforms that were pulled apart by cables with hoses underneath. They took weeks of testing to perfect.

clark gable san francisco clark gable san francisco clark gable san francisco clark gable san francisco

Legendary director D.W. Griffith was hired to direct the earthquake scenes after the producers saw the rushes of Van Dyke’s version, which they thought were rushed and fake-looking. Griffith gave them the authenticity they needed. His only direction to the mobs of extras was, “Pretend it’s an earthquake! Run for your lives! Try to help your friends!”

clark gable san francisco clark gable san francisco

A critical darling, San Francisco won the Academy Award for Best Sound Recording. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Assistant Director, Best Writing (Original Story), and Best Actor Spencer Tracy. Clark was bitter about Spencer’s nomination, especially since his role was more of a supporting part. While I do think Spencer does a good job here , I think he is rather wasted in the role. Spencer (here and also in Test Pilot) was much too talented an actor to be playing Clark’s sidekick with a conscience. Spencer and Clark were friends for decades, but Clark was always envious of Spencer’s acting chops, while Spencer was jealous of Clark’s intense popularity.

clark gable jeanette macdonald spencer tracy san francisco

 

Clark objected to the final scene in which he falls to his knees and cries while he thanks God. He found it unmanly and refused. Director Van Dyke finally convinced him to do it by promising him to film him from behind.

clark gable san francisco clark gable san francisco

 

San Francisco is available on DVD. You can read more about the film here and see over 200 pictures from the film in the gallery.

clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco

In a Nutshell: Wife vs. Secretary (1936)

myrna loy clark gable jean harlow wife vs. secretary

Directed by: Clarence Brown

Co-stars: Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, James Stewart

Synopsis: Gable is Van, “Jake”, or “V.S.” Stanhope, a publishing executive happily married to the elegant Linda (Loy). Tongues start wagging about Van and his beautiful secretary, Helen “Whitey” Wilson (Harlow), whom he considers a close friend and confidante, but nothing more. While trying to secretly buy rights to a magazine from a rival publisher, he sneaks around town with Whitey, finalizing the deal. As his stories become inconsistent, Linda begins to suspect him and Whitey are having an affair. So does Whitey’s patient fiancé, Dave (a youthful Stewart). Dave grows irritated that Whitey refuses to quit her job, telling her that it isn’t natural for a woman not to want to stay home and be married and have children. She breaks up with him after he insinuates her relationship with Van is indecent. Linda’s suspicions finally bubble over when Van refuses to take her along on a business trip to Havana. An emergency occurs and Van calls Whitey to Havana to help him close the deal. When Whitey answers Van’s hotel room phone at 2:00am after a long night, Linda feels she needs no further evidence and begins divorce proceedings when Van returns to New York, refusing to believe his explanations.

Best Gable Quote: “You know, Linda, sometimes I just sit in the office and think about us. I try to be very fair about it and I am too. And I say to myself: who are you to think you are entitled to Linda? Are you good enough for her? And I say to myself: No. Then I say to myself: Well who is entitled to her? Is anyone good enough for her? And I say to myself: No. Then I say to myself: You’re as little entitled to her as anybody else so you hold right on. And I’m holding.”

Fun Fact: Gable and Loy became close friends on the set. She said he brought her coffee every morning and would read her Shakespeare and poetry in her trailer between takes.

My Verdict: I love this movie. The premise is silly and a common one form the 1930’s—a ridiculous stream of misunderstandings leads to marital strife—but this movie stands out because of the snappy script and the great cast. Clark Gable, Myrna Loy AND Jean Harlow! Plus throw in a young Jimmy Stewart as Harlow’s beau! Fabulous. Clark and Jean have their usual great chemistry, and Myrna and Clark’s scenes are adorably sweet. This one may not be one of his most dramatic parts or one of this pinnacle films, but it is a standout to show people in generations to come –“Hey, this is why Clark Gable was so popular.”

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in July 2010.

 

In a Nutshell: San Francisco (1936)

clark gable jeanette macdonald san francisco

Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke

Co-stars: Jeanette MacDonald, Spencer Tracy

Synopsis: Gable is Blackie Norton, a ruthless saloon-keeper in 1906 San Francisco, proud of his gambling ways. Despite their differences, he falls in love with Mary Blake (MacDonald), an aspiring opera singer who he hires to sing in his revue. His childhood pal, priest Tim Mullin (Tracy), objects to him putting Mary on display and stopping her from her opera aspirations. Realizing that Tim is right and that she should pursue her dreams instead of letting Blackie hold her back, Mary leaves him and becomes a successful opera star. It isn’t until the shattering earthquake that Blackie realizes his true feelings for Mary and sets out to find her among the rubble.

Best Gable Quote: “You know, I never tried to kid you, Mary. You take me as I am or you don’t take me. Tim doesn’t try to change me because he knows he can’t. And you can’t either. Nothing can. You know what I’ve been waiting for? I’ve been waiting to hear you say that I’m alright with you the way I am. Maybe you’re ready to say it now. Are you?”

Fun Fact: The film was one of the biggest hits of 1936, earning $5.3 million and a profit of $2.2 million. It became Gable’s highest grossing film after Gone with the Wind.

My Verdict: This is one of those films that has it all—drama, comedy, romance, action. It is difficult not to like this film! Although Gable did not like working with MacDonald, I don’t think it shows; they do have great chemistry. She may not be the sexiest of his leading ladies for sure, but she’s beautiful and her purity rubbed up against Clark’s ruggedness works. Gable and Tracy are always a great pairing and here is no exception. The special effects used for the earthquake are extremely impressive if you take in account that you are looking at a film made at a time when talkies hadn’t even been around 10 years yet. No CGI here, real effects and stunt people. The songs are great (although I must confess I always fast forward through MacDonald’s opera sequence…) and the costumes superb. An essential for sure, although I must say I think Clark should have nabbed an Oscar nomination for this one. Just sayin’.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

Ratings

clark gable

From June 1940:

Clark Gable would just as soon let the past rest in peace so far as the picture “San Francisco” is concerned. Not because he didn’t play one of his greatest roles. It was a shooting of the earthquake scene that neither he nor 500 extras will forget—even if the film that recorded it ended up on the cutting room floor. Buildings were crumbling, water-mains bursting, horses running madly, and Clark was avoiding falling wreckage. He sprang aside, and as he did so, his trousers caught on the nail of a wooden beam.

With a rip they came off. And there was Mr. Gable caught short. Extras broke into hysterical laughter. Clark ran for cover—swearing he’d never wear purple shorts again!

 

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.