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.
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