“I’m NOT sick!
“I’m NOT retiring from the screen!
“Stop worrying about me!”
By: Elizabeth Wilson
The last time it happened I was fit to be tied and I swore it would never happen again. It was several years ago, before Carole Lombard became Mrs. Clark Gable and moved out to a Valley ranch practically isolated by mud, manure, and a toll telephone. In those days she still played tennis with wild racquet swingers. She won’t play with us today. She says we stink. We say we can remember when she had lead in her pants, too. But she never really did. Not that long-legged bolt of lightning.
One morning I read in a newspaper column that Carole Lombard was dreadfully ill, that a breakdown was impending, and that the doctor had ordered her to stay in bed for at least two weeks. Well I knew that the Round Robins (that was the name of our tennis club, silly, wasn’t it?) wouldn’t hold their tournament that Saturday with Madame President in bed, so I went out of town for the week-end, but before leaving I sent poor sick Carole who might die two dozen roses. Now I am not the type to send flowers, not even to a favorite corpse, so you can see how really upset I was over her illness. They were deluxe roses too. I spread myself. Poor dear Carole, I said, so fragile, so lovely, not long for this world.
Well, came Monday morning, and came me back from a dreary week-end, only to read in the social-goings-on that Carole Lombard had won in the women’s tournament, and had been so pleased with herself that she had thrown a dinner party at the Clover Club, and danced with everyone in sight. I was livid. I remembered the price of those roses, not yet paid for. I called Miss Lombard on the phone—and I didn’t call her so fragile and so lovely. I told her she had gotten flowers out of me under false pretenses. An hour later there appeared at my door by special messenger two dozen roses in the last stages of decay—and there is really nothing so depressing as a rose that has seen better days. The note accompanying them, written in the Lombard green ink, smelled too. Well, that taught me a lesson. Or so I thought.
But days passed, weeks passed, ditto months and years. Which brings us up to a few weeks ago when suddenly one night I heard over the radio that Carole Lombard, or rather Mrs. Clark Gable, was in wretched health, that she was bordering on a nervous breakdown, and that the doctors had ordered her to retire from the screen for at least a year. It sounded even worse than that. It sounded like Carole was completely shot, and might drop off any minute. Goodness, was I scared! I couldn’t live without my laughs from Lombard. I knew she had looked pale the last time I had seen her but she was playing a nurse in Vigil in the Night and I thought she was only in character. I called her immediately to console with her, but learned from her secretary that she was out of town, but would be back Friday. Nerves, I said, probably her nerves are shattered, poor dear, and Clark had to take her to some quiet place to rest. I was out at the Gable Ranch early Friday morning all prepared to hold a wan hand, stroke a fevered brow, maybe even say, while bravely choking back sobs, Carole, old girl, you look wonderful.
Her nerves were shattered, like hell! With fifty million dogs barking and chickens cackling as I got out of my car it was I who had shattered nerves. If only the Gables would teach their dogs to differentiate between guests and burglars. I, evidently, looked like a hatchet woman.
Carole, all wrapped up in a white robe, was seated at her dressing table while the ever faithful Loretta fussed with her hair. She did look a bit peaked. Poor child. My heart simply overflowed with sympathy and I fought to keep the tears out of my eyes.
“Did you have a good rest, darling?” I asked softly and solicitously.
“Rest?” screamed Carole. “Are you crazy? Did you ever shoot quail? Do you know how fast they can dart over the mountains? And with me right after them with eight pounds of gun and three pounds of shells over my shoulder? Rest? I’ll have you know I walked ten miles a day, every day. Look at the blisters on my heels.”
“But, darling,” I said, so quietly and patiently, the way one speaks to a petulant invalid, “do you think you ought to do that? So much exercise isn’t good for your health, you know.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Carole demanded indignantly. “You can talk louder than that. There’s no one sleeping around here. Unless it’s Loretta.” (Loretta gave her dome a none too gentle whack with the hair brush). “And what, may I ask, is all this hooey about my health? When we got in from Mexico this morning I found a whole stack of letters from fans saying they were so worried about me. Several of them suggested specialists I should see, and different medicines which they guaranteed would cure me. I appreciate their interest. But I’m not sick. Maybe I’m a little goofy. I’ll even admit that maybe I’m a little dopey, at time. But I certainly am not sick. Why are people worried about me? Why are you giving me the Camille business? What’s it all about?”
“It was on the radio,” I gulped. “And in all the newspapers: Your health is supposed to be completely wrecked. You’re run down, your nerves are shattered, you haven’t any red corpuscles, and you’re in the last stages of something. You’re dying, too, or something like that. Anyway, you have to retire from the screen for at least a year. You’re—“
“Oh, so I’m retiring from the screen, am I? Well that is news! You don’t think that rumor could have been started by some people who say Vigil in the Night do you? No, it can’t be that bad. In fact I think it’s rather good. If I were going to retire from the screen because of bad pictures I should have retired after Fools for Scandal. See this—“ she showed me a slip which had a message on it that Mr. Pasternak had called. “Well, that means that I am going to do a picture at Universal in a few months. As soon as Boyer is available. And maybe before that even I have to do the Norman Krasna story which David Selznick will produce. And I have just signed a new contract with RKO which calls for three pictures. So please stop worrying about me retiring from the screen. Or, maybe you aren’t.”
“But you do look a bit peaked,” I insisted. When I come to bury Caesar I don’t give up drink. “you are run-down, just a little, aren’t you?”
“If it means so much to you,” said Carole with one of those Lombard guffaws, “I’ll be big about it and admit that maybe I am just a teensy weensy bit off-color. Now—does that make you and the radio commentators and the newspaper columnists feel better? But I fey any of you to go through what I have been through for the past few months and not look a little pale. You, cutie-pie, would look bedraggled. As you know, I had an acute attack of appendicitis last August and was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Three weeks later I reported to RKO for Vigil in the Night, the Cronin story with Brian Aherne and Anne Shirley, who, by the way, is a grand actress. For seventy-eight days I worked from nine to six on that picture without one single day off, didn’t I, Loretta? And me fresh out of a hospital. The studio kept planning for me to have a collapse, but I fooled em. I didn’t miss a day.”
I ought to take time out to say that Lombard is the pride and joy of directors, producers, and her fellow workers because she never upsets the schedule of a picture. She does not go in for those hysterical “set collapses” which most of the Glamour Girls pull several times during production of a picture and which are mostly caused from temperament, not from overwork. The promptest person on the set is Star Lombard.
“After a week of retakes,” Carole continued, “I packed my bag all of a sudden and flew with Clark to the Atlanta premiere of ‘Gone with the Wind.’ (Writer’s note: If you think I gushed about Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, if you think you gushed about Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, well, you just ought to hear Miss Lombard gush about Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Honey, we’re amateurs). We had a marvelous time, I have never seen such genuine, charming people as I met in Atlanta—but it seems to me that we were shaking hands with somebody every minute we were there, and you have to admit that it is rather wearing, even when you’re having a lot of fun. As soon as we got back to Hollywood Clark had to finish up Strange Cargo and I had to rush around and do all our Christmas shopping.
“As soon as Clark had finished at the studio we jumped in the station wagon and lit out for Mexico where we have been hunting for the past few weeks. We had so much fun that we decided to call off the New York trip and return to Mexico—maybe we can stay a month or so, though I doubt metro will give Clark that much time off.”
That, I take it, is the only disadvantage to being married to Clark Gable. He’s just too much in demand.
“Do me a favor, please, and tell everybody who will listen that I’m not sick, that I’m not retiring from the screen, and for heaven’s sake, to stop worrying about me. I wish they could have seen me tramping around in those marshes, after ducks. A breakdown, fine thing—why, I looked about as fragile as Jack Dempsey.”
I knew it was coming and here it was.
“Seems to me,” Carole cooed, “that once before you read in the papers that I was practically a corpse. That time you sent roses. What, no roses this time? I must be slipping. And,” she screamed at my retreating figure, “sometime you’ll know better than to believe all you read and hear.”
Well, Clark and Carole got off the next day in the most beautifully equipped station wagon you ever saw, it fairly made your mouth water. But they had been “south of the border: only ten days when all the newspapers carried headlines that the Gables were lost in the wilds of Mexico. It seems that a boy from the studio had flown in a plane down to the ranch where they were stopping to take pictures of them (poor Clark, even on vacation, his studio never lets him alone) and they had left the ranch, and no one knew where they were. Which was just exactly what Clark and Carole wanted. But a gas station attendant, one of those amateur reporters, heard the photographer and publicity man discussing the Gables’ disappearance so immediately he phoned the San Diego newspapers that the Clark Gables were lost. And such a hullabaloo as that caused. With newspapers and broadcasts going mad. “We’re not lost,” Clark finally phoned his studio in the midst of the excitement. “And please stop worrying about us!” Carole shrieked over his shoulder. If it’s not one thing it’s another, says Carole.
Carole was right. The studio wouldn’t give Clark time off for a honeymoon but had him back soon afterwards preparing to start “Boom Town” which is going to be one of those super-colossals with Gable, Claudette Colbert, Spencer Tracy and Hedy Lamarr. And hardly had they gotten the station wagon back in the garage before Walter Winchell announced that the Gables were expecting a blessed event. Well, after my last encounter with Carole I knew better than to believe all I hear and read but—So I braved the dogs, horses and chickens again.
“Rumors that I’m going to have a baby are not true,” said Carole. “I wish they were.”