The king of Hollywood - Clark Gable
Author: Justin Camilleri
Source: Wednesday, November 23, 2005 from The Malta Independent Online
William Clark Gable was born on 1 February 1901 in Cadiz Ohio to William H.Gable Sr and Adeline Hershelman. Everyone called him "Billy"¯.
Sadly, his mother died from epilepsy when he was only seven months old. He was brought up by his father, Will, an oil rigger who later became a farmer, and his gentle, devoted stepmother, Jennie. Clark would later say that she was a wonderful woman.
After graduating from high school, Billy was inspired to become an actor after seeing the play, The Bird of Paradise. On his 21st birthday, he inherited $300 from his grandfather and went to Kansas City to join a travelling troupe called the Jewell Players. In the meantime he sold men's ties in a department store, did odd jobs for a newspaper and later was a telephone linesman.
In 1924 Gable was introduced to Hollywood by his acting coach Josephine Dillon who eventually became both his manager and first wife. Billy's film debut came in 1924 as an extra in a silent film starring Pola Negri called Forbidden Paradise. Billy soon felt he needed a stage name that could give him that extra push into the limelight and in 1925 he decided on his new name Clark Gable.
It may be hard to believe but Gable's screen tests were initially rejected by both MGM and Warner Bros studios because his ears were deemed too big. The long wait was over when in 1931 Clark got a supporting role as a villain in the western, The Painted Desert directed by Howard Higgin.
Working for Warner Bros studios that same year, Gable moved into gangster roles in films such as The Finger Points and Night Nurse.
Rival studio MGM was quick to recognise Gable's rise to fame and his appeal, particularly to women, who were attracted by his onscreen dangerous persona. They cast him as a gangster alongside Joan Crawford in the successful Dance, Fools Dance. The film set a trend for Gable who would go on to work alongside most of MGM's female stars. From Greta Garbo in Susan Lennox:Her fall and Rise to Norma Shearer in Strange interlude. From Myra Loy in Men in White to blond bombshell Jean Harlow in Red Dust and Hold Your Man.
Star recognition came in 1934 when Gable won the Academy award for Best Actor in Frank Capra's classic It Happened one Night. It was Gable's powerful performance as a wisecracking reporter that made the film a success and defined him as the ultimate screen idol. The film caused a sensation at the time as it featured the classic scene of Gable stripping off his shirt to reveal his naked torso. As a result undershirt manufacturers reported a drop in sales of men's undershirts.
On the night of the Oscars, his humbleness outshone his stardom when Gable gave the Oscar to a child who admired it, telling him it was the winning of the statue that mattered - not owning it.
A year later, Gable was nominated once again for his role as Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty directed by Frank Lloyd. Mutiny would become one of Gable's favourite films, about which he said: "It was history, a story about the struggle of real men, without the usual load of cinema romance."
Prior to the release of this film, the Gables went on a cross-country personal appearance tour. Women rioted in every city in which he appeared. Clark lost handkerchiefs, ties, cuff links, even his watch, when fans mobbed him. Surprised by this reaction, he stated, "This power over women that I'm supposed to have, I don't know when I got it. And by God, I can't explain it."¯
Mutiny on the Bounty would become one of the highest grossing films in MGM's history.
From 1936 to 1938 Gable portrayed unforgettable characters in Wife vs Secretary (1936) Cain and Mabel (1936) Saratoga (1937) Too Hot to Handle and Test Pilot (1938). Gable's only flop during this period would be the ill fated Parnell in 1937 a biopic in which many critics stated that he was miscast as the Irish nationalist.
But it was, of course, Gone with the Wind (1939) that shot Gable into international superstardom.
And the rest as they say is history.
In one of the most famous performances in movie history Gable, who was nominated for an Oscar, played the dashing Rhett Butler, (a role which Gary Cooper very foolishly turned down) - the charismatic southern gentleman whose quick-wittedness on screen is timeless.
Based on Margaret Mitchell's best selling novel and produced by David Selznick, Gone with the Wind remains one of the most popular epic films ever made.
Set against the backdrop of the American civil war, it follows the adventures of spirited southern belle, Scarlett O'Hara, played by Vivien Leigh. Scarlett learns the harsh lessons of life and tries to choose between her unavailable love Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard) and shady war-profiteer Rhett Butler. A winner of 10 academy awards, it is forever remembered for two immortal lines: "After all tomorrow is another day"¯ and Gable's classic one liner: "Frankly, my dear. I don't give a damn."
By the time Gable achieved international fame with Gone with the Wind, he seemed content in his personal life at last. Gable had married screen star Carole Lombard whom he had known since they worked together in No Man of her Own.
Tragedy soon struck as in late 1942 Lombard died in a plane crash. Deeply devastated and wanting a break from movies, Gable joined the US Army Air Corps, even though at 41 he was past the draft age. In February 1943, Gable was under orders to go to England and make a motion picture about aerial gunners in action. Flying missions over Europe, Gable doubled as a photographer and a tail gunner, obtaining combat film footage and often taking risks that were described as "suicidal". For his heroism, Gable won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.
After a three-year absence, Gable's return to the screen was in the 1945 film, Adventure directed by Victor Fleming and co-starring Greer Carson. The film was highly publicised and eagerly-awaited (complete with the MGM's slogan: "Gable's Back and Garson's Got Him". Unfortunately, the film flopped at the box office and MGM did not renew his contract.
Despite this setback, Gable continued to have box-office successes. From 1947 through 1955 he was one of the top ten money-making stars. He was earning $520,000 a year when he left MGM in 1954 and became the most expensive freelance actor in the industry.
Gables h'umility was noted in the film industry when he would give advice to young and upcoming actors such as Robert Wagner. Wagner recalled: "Clark Gable is the man who really got me into movies, he was my idol. I worshipped him."¯
Many Gable fans consider one of his best roles to be that of Cmdr "Rich"¯ Richardson, the submarine commander who gets into conflict not just with the enemy but also his own lieutenant in the classic Run Silent, Run Deep. Released in 1958 by Gable's production company GABCO, he teamed up with Burt Lancaster to co-produce this war thriller that was a massive hit with fans of The Enemy Below (1957).
In 1960 Gable would star in The Misfits alongside Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. Directed by John Huston this would sadly be Gable's last picture. However, at 59 he could still knock audiences' socks off as his masculinity and virility were still as visible as they were in his heyday.
Many considered Gable as the only real man who could act and praised his performance in the Misfits as his best since Gone with the Wind.
Four days after completing The Misfits, in which Gable did his own stunts as an ageing cowboy, he suffered a heart attack. With a twist of irony when asked how he felt about working with Marilyn Monroe, Gable said: "Working with Marilyn Monroe nearly gave me a heart attack, I have never been happier¯". Gable died ten days later on 16 November 1960, receiving a full military funeral and was buried near Carole Lombard, in Glendale, California.
45 years later, Gable is still fondly remembered for his combination of farm-boy humbleness and wit both onscreen and off. Prior to his death, when asked what the secret of a real star is, Gable answered: "I'm just a lucky slob who happened to be in the right place at the right time."¯