clark gable victor fleming

From May 1940:

“Gone with the Wind” [director Victor Fleming] is now directing Clark (Rhett Butler) Gable in “Boom Town”–and thereby hangs a chucklesome anecdote. Seems that Clark, who unmercifully ribbed Fleming during the filming of “Gone” by charging him with slave-driving tactice, has been harping on the same theme during “Boom Town.” The other day, with visitors on the set, he commented loudly on the “cruelty” Fleming displayed by making him carry Vivien Leigh up a flight of stairs 22 times or “GWTW.”  “Clark,” retorted the director, “I’ll let you in on a secret–just to prove that ribbing often backfires. The third take was okay–you carried her upstairs the other 19 times for exercise!”

Photos from the set of Gone with the Wind:

gone with the wind cast

Gone with the Wind had an absolutely stellar cast, and as I have discussed with many a fellow film fan, it is a great launching pad for anyone to delve into classic films. You can start with any of the four leads–Leigh, Gable, de Havilland, Howard–and start diving into their films and you are awash with classic film fabulousness.

And for many of these players, it wasn’t their first time sharing the screen. Let’s see who Clark Gable met up with elsewhere:

Clark and Laura Hope Crews (Aunt Pittypat) also co-starred in Idiot’s Delight (1939), which they made just prior to GWTW.

clark gable laura hope crews idiots delight

Clark also previously shared the screen with Hattie McDaniel (Mammy), who played Jean Harlow’s sassy maid in both China Seas (1935) and  Saratoga (1937).

hattie mcdaniel china seas

clark gable jean harlow hattie mcdaniel

 

In A Free Soul (1931), (SPOILER ALERT) Leslie Howard (Ashley) ends up killing Clark, all for the love of Norma Shearer.

clark gable leslie howard a free soul

Ward Bond (Yankee Captain) was uncredited as a bus driver in It Happened One Night (1934).

clark gable ward bond it happened one night

Thomas Mitchell (Gerald O’Hara) and Clark were pals in real life, and he was Clark’s sidekick in Adventure (1945).

thomas mitchell clark gable adventure

Harry Davenport (Dr. Meade) also played a doctor in Adventure (1945).  (Random fact: he was yet again a doctor in the Carole Lombard film Made For Each Other (1939)!)clark gable harry davenport adventure

 

…and director Victor Fleming, one of Clark’s closest friends, also directed him in Red Dust (1932), The White Sister (1933), Test Pilot (1938) and Adventure (1945).

clark gable victor fleming jean harlow red dust

clark gable rhett butler gone with the wind

It’s no secret that Clark Gable didn’t want to be in Gone with the Wind. Despite the public’s insistence that he was the only one who could play Rhett, he had no desire to step into the shoes of the rebellious blockade runner. “The reason I didn’t want to do Gone with the Wind–here is a novel that is the top seller of all time. Now, people form opinions about characters–they formed an opinion that I was going to play it. They already had a preconcieved idea of what they were going to see. That’s why I didn’t want to play, I said too many people know this character.  My God, with Rhett Buter, if they saw one thing they didn’t like, they would have remembered back to the book. I had to be on my toes and I knew that,” he later recalled.

Through pre-production and casting, the director on the film was George Cukor. George was a gay man and was known as being a “woman’s director,” able to coach the best performances out of actresses. This made Clark uneasy right from the start, as he was not feeling very confident in the role and knew that George was focusing more on Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland than him.vivien leigh clark gable

The rumor is that Clark didn’t like George Cukor because he was gay and that George knew about a gay affair that Clark had in the 1920’s and that made Clark uncomfortable, so Clark had him fired and replaced with his buddy, Victor Fleming.

Let’s peel the orange on this one. First of all, yes, Clark was a bit of a homophobe. He was rather conservative in his thinking and, after all, this was the 1930’s, there weren’t exactly gay pride parades going on. Clark tended to be very uncomfortable around gay men. He felt the same around Charles Laughton on the set of Mutiny on the Bounty. For some reason, people pounce on this and declare that because he was so uneasy around gays that that must mean it was because he himself was gay! Ridiculous. If being a homophobe means one has gay skeletons in their closet, then we must have a lot of gay Republican politicians!

The “gay affair” that is claimed that Clark had was with William Haines, a gay silent movie actor who later turned interior designer. The rumor is that he and Clark had a fling around 1925 and that Clark was a “rent boy” and did sexual favors for pay. I am inclined not to believe this for several reasons, mainly because the only place this secret nugget has been printed is in salicious, disgusting so-called biographies that are full of lies. Also, it just doesn’t fit with whom Clark was—he was fascinated by women, always chasing women, and I just don’t think he was ever gay–even for pay. Also, if this thing with William Haines was such a well-known fact as these so-called authors claim it was, then why would Carole Lombard let Haines in her house? She and “Billy” were friends–he had decorated her famous Hollywood Blvd bacherlorette pad– and he was at the ranch from time to time. I sincerely doubt that Clark would let him in the house if the rumors were true and Carole wouldn’t have blamed him.

Clark’s preference for rough-and-tumble director Victor Fleming instead of George Cukor should come as no surprise, gay rumors or not. Vic Fleming was a long-time pal of Clark’s, having directed him in Red Dust, The White Sister and Test Pilot. But an important factor to remember is that David Selznick and George Cukor were at odds without Clark’s influence. Clark was probably a factor in Fleming being hired in George’s place, however.clark gable vivien leigh david selznick victor fleming

From Michael Sragow’s  excellent biography on Fleming,Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master:

…Gable’s preference for Fleming to direct GWTW instead of George Cukor was not only well-known; it was also reported before principal photography began. And ever since he joined the production, Gable has been out of sorts. He shot his first scenes in January 1939,  two weeks after Leigh and Olivia de Havilland. Doubtless he felt uncertain in a new studio, acting with women who already a close rapport with Cukor.

After Selznick fired Cukor, John Lee Mahin recalled, Gable made a late night visit to Fleming’s house to beg to come on to GWTW. Mahin was probably thinking of the events of the early morning hours of Sunday, February 12; a coup de theatre straight out of a screwball comedy and at odds with Selznick’s denial that he consulted with Gable about the directorial change.

In this version, Selznick, Gable, and Eddie Mannix, after viewing GWTW rushes at Selznick’s house, paid a 3:00am visit not to Louis B. Mayer but to Mervyn Leroy at his Santa Monica beach house. The ruckus stirred Leroy from slumber. He looked down from his bedroom window and demanded; “I’m in bed–what do you mean by busting in at this hour of the night?” Selznick shouted in return; “We want your director–we’ve got to have Victor Fleming!” It took a series of phone calls–including at least one to Mayer–but a few hours later Leroy at released Fleming from The Wizard of Oz. Selznick announced Fleming’s hiring two days later.

“My God, imagine picking up a project like that at this stage,” Fleming was heard to muse that week on the Oz set. “Still, if Clark’s going to sulk, I guess I better do it.” As soon as Selznick made the switch, Norman Webb of  National Box Office Digest wrote the producer that he was glad Fleming was taking over, because, unlike Cukor, “Victor Fleming has one of the very best box office records in the industry.”

So what did happen to Cukor? And why did Selznick summon Fleming? Contemporary columnists and well as latterday analysts, trying to make sense of Selznick’s decision, have often placed the onus on Gable. But several eyewitnesses contradict the notion that Gable catalyzed the crisis, no matter how central he was to the outcome. Susan Myrick, the film’s Georgia dialect coach and technical advisor, provided an intimate account in a letter to the book’s author, Margaret Mitchell. She wrote that Cukor told her he had “looked at the rushes and felt he was failing. He knew he was a good director and knew the actors were good ones; yet the thing did not click as it should.” He demanded that they return to the original script by Sidney Howard. Selznick balked and offered his own ultimatium: “OK, get out.”  In 1954, Ed Sullivan wrote that Cukor reached the point of no return when he clashed with Selznick on how to film a scene of Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) walking down the stairs to meet Scarlett: “I think Ashley, at that moment, would be scared to meet her,” Selznick said. “I disagree wholeheartedly,” Cukor replied.

Cukor was never specific in his own recollections. “David talks generally,” he said in 1968, recalling the day he was summouned to Selznick’s office. “He said something like, ‘It’s not coming along the way I want it to, I’ve taken complete responsibility and it has to be my way.'”

Bottom line is, that even though Clark was the biggest star of the film, he didn’t have some inflated ego that caused him to demand that Cukor be shoved out and his buddy Fleming be brought in. Selznick and Cukor were butting heads already and Clark’s displeasure was just icing on the cake. Clark didn’t get Cukor fired, but once the decision was made that Cukor was out, he certainly was 100% behind the idea of bringing Fleming in.

And can any of us really say we are dissatisfied with the results?

clark gable vivien leigh gone with the wind

Since there is no real “starting point” so to speak for my trip, and we visited five cemeteries, I figured best to start with one of them….

Hollywood Forever

I like graveyards. My husband says that’s weird. I don’t think it is–and thankfully I brought a friend along to Los Angeles who feels the same way.There is something peaceful about visiting them, something about seeing that even though they are gone, people still have a small space on this planet. And, besides, this is the closest I will ever get to all the classic film stars!

Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood Forever, originally titled Hollywood Memorial, was founded in 1899. It is typically the cemetery that people think of when they think of Hollywood cemeteries. Many movies and TV shows have been shot on its grounds, and the cemetery itself shows movies often, and fans bring picnic baskets and sit among the graves.

Hollywood Forever

The cemetery seemed to have two different sides. One side, known as “Section 8” is around a beautiful pond filled with geese and surrounded by palm trees. While beautiful, I can’t say this section was altogether peaceful, as they were building a new mausoleum and the construction noise was loud enough to wake the dead!

Hollywood Forever

There are so many celebrities surrounding the pond that I literally would turn around and find another one…and another one. Unfortuantely, even though I found several celebrities just by happening upon them, there were a few we couldn’t find no matter how many times we circled the pond: Fay Wray, Adolphe Menjou and Nelson Eddy. We tried.  But onto who we could find, including Clark’s friends, co-stars, one of his wives and his father.

Marion Davies, buried in her own private little (locked–yes, we tried) building, under her family name of Douras. Marion, a friend (and maybe at one time fling) of Clark’s, co-starred with him in Polly of the Circus and Cain and Mabel.

Marion and Clark in Polly of the Circus

 

Marion Davies

Of Clark’s five wives, four are buried in Los Angeles. And yes, I visited all four. Here’s his fourth wife, Sylvia Ashley, although she is buried under her fifth husband’s name, Djordjadze:

Sylvia and Clark

Sylvia Ashley

Sylvia’s plot, second from right:

Sylvia Ashley

The impressive memorial for the legendary Douglas Fairbanks Sr. (who was married to Sylvia Ashley before Clark was) and his son, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (who was married to Joan Crawford while Clark was, ahem, seeing her):

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Jr.

Harry Cohn, who was the president of Columbia Pictures (as you can see, he is definitely not “resting in peace” at the moment).

Tyrone Power, a friend of Clark’s and a hearthrob in his own right:

Fashion designer Adrian and his actress wife, Janet Gaynor:

Legendary director Cecil B. DeMille:

Cecil B. DeMille

A cenotaph placed near the water for Hattie McDaniel (“Mammy” from Gone with the Wind). Hattie had wanted to be buried at Hollywood Forever but at the time she died it was a “whites only” cemetery so she was interred at Rosedale Cemetery instead. In 1999, her family and the owner of Hollywood Forever righted this wrong by erecting this cenotaph.

Hattie McDaniel

Hattie McDaniel

After strolling the grounds, we headed to the other side of the cemetery, which seemed more unkempt and cluttered. Into the mausoleum we went, which was both inside and outside, to track some people down. It was quite a challenge but we were eventually successful…

Clark’s very close friend and director of Red Dust, Test Pilot and Gone with the Wind, among other masterpieces, Victor Fleming:

Victor Fleming

Victor’s hallway:

Down some winding hallways that made us glad that at least it wasn’t night…

hallway to the room where William Henry Gable rests

…we found a small room that contained urns in gold cases all around the room. It is there we found William Henry Gable, Clark’s father. I have always thought it was strange that he was buried at Hollywood Forever. By the time he died in 1948, Carole was dead and buried at Forest Lawn Glendale, and Clark had bought the space next to her. So why did he bury his father at Hollywood Forever? But here he is:

Clark and his father

William Henry Gable

William Henry Gable

That was our visit to Hollywood Forever. We remembered it fondly, especially since it was the first–and one of the only–times we saw the Hollywood sign.

Hollywood sign from the grounds of Hollywood Forever