We interrupt Carole Lombard Month to bring you this post, which is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles Blogathon.

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I’ve selected Test Pilot to talk about because, in my humble opinion, it should be the third Clark Gable movie you ever see if the first two are Gone with the Wind and It Happened One Night. Here are the reasons why:

1. It is truly a textbook example of a Clark Gable film. It’s got it all: adventure, romance, comedy, snappy dialogue and some intense drama. Clark is Jim Lane, a boozing, womanizing army test pilot who walks to the beat of his own drummer. On one trip, his plane starts leaking  gas and he lands on the field of a Kansas farm, where Ann Barton (Myrna Loy) lives with her parents. Their sparring turns to mutual attraction soon after and by the time Jim’s best friend and mechanic, Gunner Morris (Spencer Tracy) arrives to help fix the plane, they are in love. When Jim brings the plane home to New York, he has Ann in tow, as his new wife. Jim has a lot of adjustments to do to get used to being a married man and Gunner is jealous as it has always just been the two of them and now he is the third wheel.

Although Ann was at first thrilled at her husband’s exciting profession, she learns quickly how dangerous it is. She hides her true feelings from Jim and puts on a happy face with each new mission he takes on. Gunner, who has grown to admire Ann, grows more and more bitter as he watches Ann suffer behind Jim’s back.

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2. It is directed by Victor Fleming, Clark’s longtime pal and a man who had previously directed Clark to greatness in Red Dust and The White Sister. He would later also direct him in Gone with the Wind and Adventure.

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3. It co-stars the great Spencer Tracy. Tracy plays Clark’s best friend and mechanic, Gunner. They had previously been paired in San Francisco. They admired each other but ultimately had a sort of “frenemy” relationship–Clark was often jealous of Spencer’s serious acting ability (this stemming from Spencer being nominated for San Francisco and Clark being ignored). Spencer was envious of Clark’s great popularity. Their last pairing was Boom Town in 1940.

clark gable myrna loy test pilot clark gable myrna loy test pilot

4. Clark’s love interest is the divine Myrna Loy; this was the sixth of their seven films together. Clark’s pairings with Joan Crawford and Jean Harlow get more attention, but him and Myrna had this great, easy chemistry. They were never romantically involved–she claimed their relationship resembled more of a brother-sister camaraderie–but their chemistry was always evident.

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Test Pilot 5

Test Pilot 2

5. The supporting cast is no slouch, either. We have Lionel Barrymore as Clark’s grumpy boss, and Marjorie Main as his huffy landlady. Plus Clark’s future off-screen girlfriend Virginia Grey has a small part at the beginning of one of his character’s many girlfriends.

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6. It was one of Myrna’s personal favorites of all her films. “It really stands as an example of what big-studio film making could be: the writing, the directing, the photography, the technical expertise, the casting of that impeccable stock company.

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7. Clark’s technical advisor on the film was  Paul Mantz, who was a onetime copilot and navigator for Amelia Earhart. Clark was fascinated with Mantz’s work. Later, Clark took some flying lessons to pursue a pilot’s license, but never completed them–due to Carole Lombard’s death in a plane crash.

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8. The script is great. Some of Clark’s truly “Gable-esque” quotes include:

“Say, I’m just in the mood for a bull, sister. You go get him; I’m liable to pick him up and throw him right back in your lap!”

“Do all the girls around here look like you this early in the morning? Every girl I’ve ever seen this early…”

“She’s crazy, I broke all the records too! I entered high school a sophomore and came out a freshman!”

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9. Clark is handed one of his best emotional scenes and he hits it out of the park. After [SPOILER] another pilot dies, Clark gets drunk and laments, “The sky looks sweet and wears a pretty blue dress, doesn’t she? Yeah well don’t kid yourself. She lives up there, she invites you up there and when she gets you up there, she knocks you down!” Myrna Loy remembered, ” In Test Pilot, [Clark] had a moment when he talked about the girl in the blue dress–the sky. That scene terrified him, scared him to death. He got so upset when we shot it I had to keep reassuring, comforting him. Not that he couldn’t do the scene–he did it beautifully–but he was afraid it would make him appear too soft. He had this macho thing strapped on him and he couldn’t get out of it.”

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10. Myrna is also given a great dramatic scene, near the end of the film. Tired of constantly worrying about him when he’s in the air, she cries and yells at Clark, “Why won’t you just die already and leave me alone?” I’ve heard people say before Myrna had no dramatic chops and I wouldn’t agree!

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12. The scenes of Clark and Myrna’s day out together are adorable–they go to the movies and a ballgame–and how I’d like to imagine they would have hung out in real life!

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13. It’s one of the few times that you get to see Clark in the role of a father–albeit briefly. To be the onscreen spawn of Clark and Myrna! Lucky kid!

clark gable spencer tracy myrna loy test pilot

14. It is one of only four Clark Gable films that were nominated for Best Picture. It was also nominated for Best Film Editing and Best Writing, Original Story but walked away empty handed.

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15. It was filmed right when Clark was at his prime–in love with Carole Lombard and happy, the film started a swing of hits for Clark at the end of the 1930’s. He followed it up with Too Hot to Handle, Idiot’s Delight and Gone with the Wind.

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Clark and Myrna on the set

Clark Gable makes a great addition to this blogathon. For Planes, Hell Divers and Night Flight would qualify as well, for Automobiles To Please a Lady all the way (or you could pick It Happened One Night because of the bus scenes), and there are great Train scenes in No Man of Her Own, Saratoga, Idiot’s Delight and Honky Tonk.

You can read more about Test Pilot here, my formal review here and my nutshell review here.

You can read the rest of the blogathon’s entries here.

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clark gable myrna loy spencer tracy 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: clark gable constance bennett after office hours After Office Hours (1935) with Constance Bennett! Buy it here. clark gable wallace beery hell divers Hell Divers (1931) with Wallace Beery! Buy it here. parnell clark gable myrna loy Parnell (1937) with Myrna Loy! Buy it here.

clark gable myrna loy spencer tracy test pilot

and Test Pilot, which I have been anxiously awaiting the release of for years! Buy it here.

In a Nutshell: Saratoga (1937)

clark gable jean harlow saratoga

Directed by: Jack Conway

Co-stars: Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Frank Morgan, Walter Pidgeon, Una Merkel

Synopsis: Gable is Duke Bradley, a bookie who acquires the deed to the Brookdale horse ranch because the owner, Mr. Clayton (Jonathan Hale) owes him a lot of money. When Clayton dies, his daughter Carol (Harlow), who dislikes Bradley, is determined to get the horse ranch back in the family by winning horse races to pay Bradley back. Meanwhile, Bradley tries to bait Carol’s rich fiancée (Pidgeon) to place bets with him.

Best Gable Quote: “This is more work than I’ve done for a woman since my mother.”

Not-So-Fun Fact: Harlow collapsed into Gable’s arms during the filming of one scene and was rushed to the hospital. Diagnosed with uremic poisoning, she died of  a cerebral edema brought on by kidney failure just days later, at the age of 26. 90% of the film had been completed and MGM executives considered shelving the film altogether or reshooting it with Virginia Bruce or Jean Arthur. Harlow fans were outraged and sent thousands of letters demanding to see her last film.  They decided to finish it with a stand-in for Harlow’s part. Mary Dees was cast as Harlow’s stand-in, being viewed only from behind or beneath big hats and binoculars. Radio actress Paula Winslowe provided Harlow’s voice. Scenes that couldn’t be faked were scrapped altogether or re-written to feature one of the supporting players instead. Because the public flocked to see Harlow’s last film, Saratoga was one of the highest grossing films of 1937. Released just six weeks after Harlow’s death, it earned over $3 million at the box office

My Verdict: This film is infamous for being Jean’s last role and for the game of  “Spot the Fake Harlow!” I think it probably would have been a better film if Jean had lived to finish it. As it is, the film is thrown together in the end and does feel that well. It is one of the weakest of Clark and Jean’s pairings; their sizzle is on simmer rather than boil. Might be just me, but I just don’t find the horse-betting storyline intriguing. Take out the interest in seeing it for it being Jean’s last role and it is a rather mediocre film.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in March 2011.

In a Nutshell: Test Pilot (1938)

clark gable myrna loy spencer tracy test pilot

Directed by: Victor Fleming

Co-stars: Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore

Synopsis: Gable is Jim Lane, a boozing, womanizing army test pilot who walks to the beat of his own drummer. On one trip, his plane starts leaking  gas and he lands on the field of a Kansas farm, where Ann Barton (Loy) lives with her parents. Their sparring turns to mutual attraction soon after and by the time Jim’s best friend and mechanic, Gunner Morris (Tracy) arrives to help fix the plane, they are in love. When Jim brings the plane home to New York, he has Ann in tow, as his new wife. Jim has a lot of adjustments to do to get used to being a married man and Gunner is jealous as it has always just been the two of them and now he is the third wheel.

Although Ann was at first thrilled at her husband’s exciting profession, she learns quickly how dangerous it is. She hides her true feelings from Jim and puts on a happy face with each new mission he takes on. Gunner, who has grown to admire Ann, grows more and more bitter as he watches Ann suffer behind Jim’s back.

Best Gable Quote: “The sky looks sweet and wears a pretty blue dress, doesn’t she? Yeah well don’t kid yourself. She lives up there, she invites you up there and when she gets you up there, she knocks you down!”

Fun Fact: Loy recalled that Gable was intimidated by the drunken “sky wears a pretty blue dress” speech and had her rehearse with him over and over; he was afraid of appearing too sensitive. In the end he did it perfect in one take.

My Verdict: This film is the first one comes to mind when people say they have seen the Clark Gable basics: It Happened One Night, Gone with the Wind, The Misfits, etc. Now what should they see? TEST PILOT. Why? Because this film is Clark Gable in his 30’s prime, all wrapped up in a pretty bow and presented to you on a platter. The witty script gives Clark plenty of wisecracks, he’s got a fair share of white-knuckles action scenes in the air, buddy brother-love scenes sparring with Spencer Tracy, and romantic scenes with the fabulous Myrna Loy. I consider it an essential.

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Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in January 2013.

 

In a Nutshell: Too Hot to Handle (1938)

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Directed by: Sam Wood

Co-stars: Myrna Loy, Walter Pidgeon, Walter Connolly

Synopsis: Gable is Chris Hunter, a newsreel cameraman who is always where the action is. Walter Pidgeon is Bill Dennis, a rival newsreel cameraman who is constantly trying to out-scoop Chris. Both of them are bored in Shanghai since they can’t get anywhere near the action of the Chinese-Japanese war. His boss (Connolly) demanding action shots of the war, Chris starts making up fake shots using toy airplanes and sending them in. This angers Bill who decides to get even by sending his girlfriend, Alma (Loy) to fly in and he tricks Chris into thinking she is delivering vaccines so he’ll get an action shot. Chris’ driver ends up accidently causing Alma’s plane to crash while trying to get the shot and Chris rescues her from the blaze. Chris and Alma soon fall for each other, much to Bill’s chagrin. The two men constantly try to outdo each other, until binding together (somewhat) to help Alma find her brother, who is held captive by voodoo bushmen in the South American jungle.

Best Gable Quote: “I didn’t distort the truth. I merely heightened the composition.”

Fun Fact: While filming the plane crash, it was reported that the fire got out of control and the director wanted to cut the shot so they could get Loy out of there in time. Gable rushed in and pulled Loy out of the plane, saving her life before the flames engulfed her. The press quickly got wind of the story and it was front page news. Loy recalled she never thought she was in any danger and speculates it was the studio just trying to get some publicity for the film.

My Verdict: Another reteam of Clark and Myrna in an action packed romance! This one includes foreign adventure and Clark gets to be the rogue reporter yet again. It’s an enjoyable romp, with Clark and Myrna showing their usual spark and Clark ruffling Walter Pidgeon’s feathers. The film loses steam for me once they set out in the jungle to rescue Myrna’s brother.

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Read more here.

 

In a Nutshell: Idiot’s Delight (1939)

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Directed by: Clarence Brown

Co-stars: Norma Shearer, Burgess Meredith

Synopsis: Gable is Harry Van, a World War I vet and struggling vaudeville performer when he meets Irene (Shearer), an acrobat, while performing in Omaha, Nebraska. They have a brief romance before going their separate ways. Many years pass as Harry tries different acts and odd jobs in between. Fast forward to 1939 and Harry is on a train in Europe with his current act, Les Blondes. They get stopped from getting into Geneva due to the impending war. Stranded at a mountaintop hotel, Harry notices a Russian countess who looks just a tad too familiar–could it be Irene from Omaha?

Best Gable Quote: “What’s more, it cost seventy-five cents! You know, that’s the most expensive present I ever bought for any dame!” (I had to pick that one because Carole Lombard thought it particularly hilarious and telling of Clark’s penny-pinching ways and would retort it back to him often!)

Fun Fact: Gable was very nervous about the singing and dancing required for the role. He spent over six weeks rehearsing, often at home with Lombard as his coach. On the day they shot the “Puttin’ on the Ritz” number, the set was closed to outsiders. Lombard came by to watch and gave him a bouquet of roses afterward.

My Verdict: Every Gable fan should see it. Not because it’s a spectacularly great film, but because it’s your lone chance to see Clark dance and sing and make a bit of a fool of himself. And in that aspect it’s enjoyable. It’s the whole Norma Shearer-doing-a-bad-Garbo-impression part that is lost on me. The plot of is-she-or-isn’t-she-Irene-from-Omaha thing is stale and really quite silly. Overall, it’s not a disappointing film, it’s rather enjoyable, just with a dull romance amongst the singing, dancing and war drama.

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It’s on DVD.

Read more here.

It was Movie of the Month in May 2011.

Ratings

clark gable myrna loy spencer tracy test pilot

This month, Clark Gable is a fearless flyer, Myrna Loy is his worried wife and Spencer Tracy is his brooding sidekick in Test Pilot.

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Clark is Jim Lane, a boozing, womanizing army test pilot who walks to the beat of his own drummer. On one trip, his plane starts leaking  gas and he lands on the field of a Kansas farm, where Ann Barton (Loy) lives with her parents. Their sparring turns to mutual attraction soon after and by the time Jim’s best friend and mechanic, Gunner Morris (Tracy) arrives to help fix the plane, they are in love. When Jim brings the plane home to New York, he has Ann in tow, as his new wife. Jim has a lot of adjustments to do to get used to being a married man and Gunner is jealous as it has always just been the two of them and now he is the third wheel.

Although Ann was at first thrilled at her husband’s exciting profession, she learns quickly how dangerous it is. She hides her true feelings from Jim and puts on a happy face with each new mission he takes on. Gunner, who has grown to admire Ann, grows more and more bitter as he watches Ann suffer behind Jim’s back.

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This is one of my all-time favorite Gable films. It has every element of what you would expect from a classic Gable film: action, romance, humor and drama.

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The romance between Clark and Myrna here is fantastic and their chemistry has never been better. Right when he lands on her farm and she talks back to him, he instantly becomes smitten.

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Their day in Kansas together–taking in a ballgame, making fun of a sappy movie–is sweet and fun.

clark gable myrna loy test pilot

clark gable myrna loy test pilot

clark gable myrna loy test pilot

Myrna cited this film as being her personal favorite–imagine, even over The Thin Man series or any of her other films with William Powell! The scene on the porch with Clark after he learns she is engaged to another man was her favorite in the film. I agree, it is wonderful. The two of them are playing a bit of a cat and mouse game, each baiting each other to admit their true feelings.

clark gable test pilot

clark gable myrna loy test pilot

The film can get rather sappy, with Myrna constantly walking around with either a forced smile or a pained expression, talking constantly about the “lady in the blue dress” aka the sky, who her husband loves more than her and how with every tick of the clock she hears “still living, still living.” Myrna gives a good performance though. I especially like her confrontation with Clark at the end, where she declares. “Why won’t you just die already and leave me alone?”

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Spencer Tracy is too good for his part. They really could have gotten a lesser actor to play his role and probably saved some money and Spencer the sake of being Clark’s sidekick again. Not that Spencer is bad–no,no, he is quite good. But the role demands little of him other than pacing around with an ugly look on his face, chastising Clark yet kissing his ass at the same time, all the while worried sick about Myrna and the “three roads” that their lives are all on. His character seems perfectly fine living in the extra bedroom of Clark and Myrna’s apartment, worrying about their marriage and being Clark’s sidekick. He doesn’t seem to have any life of his own.

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Not to be ignored is Lionel Barrymore, who plays Clark’s boss and also, at times, his conscience. Majorie Main is her usual spunky self as the landlady, and Clark’s future paramour Virginia Grey has a brief scene as a girl he jilts at the beginning.

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Test Pilot was nominated for Best Picture, Best Film Editing and Best Writing–Original Story at the 1939 Academy Awards, but walked away empty handed.

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You can see over 100 pictures from the film in the gallery and read more about the film here.

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Myrna Loy and Clark Gable

Myrna Loy and Clark Gable

I have a crush on Myrna Loy. That wasn’t hard to admit. Miss Loy (nee Williams) was one of the biggest stars of the studio era, largely due to the hugely successful Thin Man series, in which she was Nora to William Powell’s Nick. In 1938, she was elected the Queen of Hollywood along with the King–Clark, of course. After their crowning, from then on he affectionately called Myrna “Queenie.” Sadly, as Clark carried the King title to the end of his life (and beyond!), the Queen title slipped off Myrna quickly and unfortunately most non-classic movie lovers have no idea who she is. She has over 100 films in her filmography and played opposite pretty much every male star you can think of:  Gable, Powell, Cary Grant, Charles Boyer, Melvyn Douglas, Frederic March, Franchot Tone, Walter Pidgeon, Tyrone Power, even Paul Newman. She was overlooked for Oscars several times, for The Thin Man and, most notably, for The Best Years of Our Lives, arguably one the greatest movies ever made. In fact, she was never nominated for an Oscar. She was awarded the “booby prize” Lifetime Achievement Oscar in 1993. Her acceptance via satellite was her last public appearance before her death on December 14, 1993.

Myrna and Clark were very close friends.  And nope, there was no romance. They starred in six films together: Men in White, Manhattan Melodrama, Wife vs. Secretary, Parnell,  Too Hot to Handle and Test Pilot. (They also both appeared in the ensemble piece Night Flight but have no scenes together.) Surprisingly, Myrna was quoted late in her life saying her favorite film of her own was Test Pilot, not one of “The Thin Mens” as one would suspect.

Clark & Myrna square off in Test Pilot

Clark & Myrna square off in Test Pilot

Although they became close friends, Clark and Myrna’s initial meeting was anything but friendly. They were introduced by Clark’s agent Minna Wallis at the annual Mayfair Ball in 1933. Myrna recalled:

Whenever I hear “Dancing in the Dark” I think of him, because we danced to it that night and he was vibrant and warm, a marvelous dancer. It was divine

Coming home, we dropped Minna off first, leaving the three of us, the Gables and me, in the backseat of the limousine. Clark’s second wife, Rhea, who had been charming all evening, was much older than he and somewhat matronly. As we drove toward my mother’s house, I could see that Clark was beginning to feel a bit amorous. He started edging toward me–with his wife sitting right there beside him. Of course, he was probably loaded by that time. We all were, to a certain extent.

Clark escorted me to the door. As I turned to unlock it, he bent down and gave me a “monkey bite.”(It left a scar on my neck for days.)  I turned around and gave him a shove, sending him backward two or three steps off the porch and into the hedge. As he stumbled back, I remember, he laughed a little, which infuriated me all the more. It was just the idea of his wife sitting out in the car. I’d had quite a few beaus, but this was different, you see, this was not right. I wanted no part of it.

Soon afterwards she was informed Clark would be her costar in Men in White. He ignored her on set, only paying attention to her when the cameras were rolling. (He was, after all, more interested in another costar, a certain Miss Elizabeth Allan).

Clark and Myrna in Men in White

Clark and Myrna in Men in White

By the time that they started filming Manhattan Melodrama in 1934, his chill toward her had melted and a friendship began. Manhattan Melodrama is best remembered as being the first time Myrna was paired with William Powell, and their excellent chemistry led to them being cast in The Thin Man.

Not a bad place to be: Myrna sandwiched between Clark and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama

Not a bad place to be: Myrna sandwiched between Clark and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama

Myrna recalled that Wife vs. Secretary was a fun set, as she, Clark and Jeah Harlow were all friends (not to mention, Jean was dating William Powell at the time). Myrna was also Clark’s leading lady in his biggest flop (and hers, too): the much maligned Parnell. It was Clark’s least favorite film of his own and he would have just as soon forgotten it. Myrna recalled that despite it’s failure, she didn’t dislike the film and she pointed out this sad truth:

Clark never again challenged his public after Parnell, even Rhett Butler was an extension of the kind of character everybody expected from him.  He finally believed that was all he could do, and maintaining that macho image plagued him to the end. It finally killed him, roping and being dragged by all those horses in The Misfits when he was way past the age to be doing such things. You know the only thing that bothered us about Clark playing Parnell? The fact that nobody would believe he could die of a heart attack in the role. Ironically, that’s just what happened in real life.

Clark and Myrna flopping in Parnell

Clark and Myrna flopping in Parnell

Clark and Myrna’s next two ventures, Too Hot to Handle and Test Pilot, were very successful.I have always found it surprising that MGM didn’t think to re-cast them in the late 40’s/early ‘50’s. They would have been superb in a Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House-type vehicle. But unfortuantely, the last time they were cast together was 1938. I suppose Myrna grew “too old” for Clark, as his co-stars in the 50’s were the likes of Jane Russell, Carroll Baker, Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day…Myrna could have been their mother.

Clark and Myrna get steamy in Too Hot to Handle

Clark and Myrna get steamy in Too Hot to Handle

In her autobiography, “Being and Becoming”, she was quite nostalgic about Clark:

[Clark] happened to be an actor, a damned good one, and nobody knew it–least of all Clark. Oh, he wanted to be an actor, but he always deprecated his ability, pretended it didn’t matter. He was a really shy man with a terrible inferiority in there somewhere. Something was missing that kept him from doing the things he could have done.

 When I think about [my relationship with Clark Gable] now, considering the way it started it was curious. We became devoted to each other. We weren’t lovers–he was in love with Carole Lombard by that time. In fact, after I repelled his initial attack, we eventually became more like siblings. Nobody believes that…but our relationship was unique. Oh, he sometimes gave me the macho routine when people were watching, but he changed when we were alone.

We always used to celebrate together at the end of a picture. Clark insisted on it. Maybe we’d include the director, maybe not. It was just a kind of ritual that the two of us had. We would share a bottle of champagne while he read poetry to me, usually the sonnets of Shakespeare. He loved poetry, and read beautifully, with great sensitivity, but he wouldn’t dare let anyone else know it. He was afraid people would think him weak or effeminite and not the tough guy who liked to fish and hunt. I was the only one he trusted. He never wanted me to tell about this, and here I am giving him away, but I never mentioned it while he was alive.

Around the time her biography was released though, she was the subject of a People magazine article in which she changed her tune:

Today she likes to recall romancing Gable on a farmhouse porch in Test Pilot—an especially charged love scene, she says, because they never touch. Still, Loy doesn’t mind admitting the king’s shortcomings.

“Oh, Clark was a terrible actor,” she says. “He couldn’t act his way out of a bag.”

Rather contradictory, wouldn’t you say? I’ll chalk that up to old age…

Myrna is carried away by Clark in Wife vs. Secretary

Myrna is carried away by Clark in Wife vs. Secretary

 Myrna is one of the few ladies of the Golden era who kept a low profile; she was not about the limos and furs and scandulous affairs.  Her autobiography is one of my absolute favorites; it is brutally honest and very engrossing. She was plagued by the title  “The Perfect Wife” assigned to her by the media. “Some perfect wife I am,” she said. “I’ve been married four times, divorced four times, have no children, and can’t boil an egg.”

Clark and Myrna at a Hollywood Victory Committee Meeting in December 1941

Clark and Myrna at a Hollywood Victory Committee Meeting in December 1941

She’s still perfect to me. I think Clark would agree.

Virginia Grey and Clark Gable

Virginia Grey and Clark Gable

There is certainly a number of  women who referred to Clark as “the love of her life.” No, these aren’t the laments of lovesick fans, but the wistful comments of his past girlfriends. Judy Lewis recalls her mother, Loretta Young, saying this and also stating that her biggest regret was “not getting your father to marry me.” Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford’s daughter, has mentioned that her mother called Clark the great lost love of her life as well.  I have also seen the quote attributed to Elizabeth Allan, Suzanne Dadolle and even Grace Kelly.

Clark and the blondes in "Idiot's Delight." Virginia is the last one on the right...she got his feet!

Clark and the blondes in "Idiot's Delight." Virginia is the last one on the right...she got his feet!

To me, the saddest in the line-up is Virginia Grey.

Virginia was a pretty blonde starlet who never reached her full potential as virginiagreyan actress. Her father worked for Mack Sennett in the early days of filmdom and little Virginia made her screen debut at age nine. Her film resume lists over 140 credits, but most are not memorable. She was always the best friend or sister of the main actress, left to play second fiddle. One of her most memorable roles  is that of Joan Crawford’s smart- alecky co-worker in one scene of  1939’s The Women (You can watch it here).

She had a very small role in the beginning of Test Pilot, fittingly as one of Clark’s jilted girlfriends. The following year she was cast as one of “Les Blondes”, Clark’s peppy blonde back-up dancers, in Idiot’s Delight. There is a well-circulated story that Mrs. Gable, aka Carole Lombard, caught one of the blondes flirting with Clark on the set an demanded, “Get that bitch off this picture or I’ll take Gable out of it!” I’ve kind of always doubted that story, as that doesn’t really seem like something Carole would do, even in a fit of jealousy. But if it is true, Carole should have had her eye on a different one of those blondes!

I am not sure how close Clark and Virginia were on the set, but she was one of his first dates after Carole died and before he left for the service. She wrote him letters (what would I give to get my hands on those!) while he was overseas and they were spotted out around town when he was home on leave.

Clark’s personal secretary Jean Garceau recalled that while Clark was overseas, Carole’s beloved little dachshund, Commissioner, died and Clark was very upset about it. Virginia bought him a dachshund puppy to cheer him up and he named him Rover.

Post-war Clark saw him frequenting nightclubs in both Los Angeles and New York, often in the company of socialites such as Iris Bynum, Millicent Rogers and Dolly O’Brien. But Virginia kept popping up with him and seemed to be the one constant. The press liked to make comparisons between her and Carole (“Both blonde! Both comediennes! Both excellent horsewomen!”) and decided for themselves that she would be the perfect Fourth Mrs. Gable. Their romance especially seemed to be heating up in 1948, when she was a frequent visitor to the set of Homecoming.

Nobody was more shocked than Virginia when Clark up and married Lady Sylvia Ashley in December of 1949. She was devastated. Clark attempted to contact her afterwards but she refused to speak with him. Her friends recalled her suffering and referring to  Clark’s new bride as “Lady Ashcan.”

The marriage to Sylvia being short-lived, Clark soon came knocking around Virginia’s door again. But she was too heartbroken to forgive him.

She never married.

Post-Carole, Clark seemed to go for older women; women who were independent and wealthy; women whom he didn’t have to worry about running to the press. He seemed to have a soft spot for Virginia that remained for several years. I’ve often thought of what would have happened if he had married Virginia instead of Sylvia. Would it have worked out? Would they have had children that he would have lived to see? Interesting to ponder. Out of all of his post-Carole exploits, Virginia did the seem the most like Carole. Maybe that’s what scared him off? virginia89

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Read more about Virginia here, including a 1941 interview with her, appropriately titled “The Girl Nobody Knows.”

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