“Clark Gable’s Haunted Love Life” (Silver Screen, August 1955)

Between every woman and The King stands the spirit of Carole Lombard. Will lovely Kay Spreckels be able to cope with her phantom rival?

By: Bill Tusher

Can Kay Spreckels compete with the ghost of Carole Lombard? This is the key to the current riddle in Clark Gable’s love life.

If the attractive blonde sugar heiress should marry The King—provided she hasn’t already secretly done so—in the normal course of events, she would be expected to move into Gable’s beloved 20-acre ranch in Encino, some 20 to 25 miles northwest of Hollywood as the knife flies.

In that estate, under the pitiless valley sun, are locked not only the secrets of Gable’s past, but the corridors of his future. That sanctuary holds Gable’s measure of happiness, and it is the yardstick against which Kay Spreckels or any other claimant to Gable’s heart must pit her reach as a woman.

For within those quiet walls is entombed the memory of Carole Lombard. A beautiful blonde ghost walks its floors, uttering no catastrophic imprecations, pitting no restraining skeletal hand on the shoulder of the master, but filling the home with gay laughter, ribald humor and disarming impertinence. The merry ghost of Carole Lombard—who brings warm smiles of nostalgia to the lips of Gable, and chills of insecurity to the women who would succeed her in his life!

It is here where Gable is most a peace, here where he can kick off his shoes and relax, where he leisurely catches up on his reading, where he spends time fondly going over the vast collection of antique and modern bullet-spitters in his gun room, where he sinks into a chair and watches sporting events in his television den, where he loads his station wagon for hunting trips, where he sees that the paddocks are kept up and the alfalfa is planted, where he works on fences, and where he shuts out the rude tensions of the hassle-ridden world in which he earns his living. And, above all, it is here where he can bathe in the recollections of his brief, but treasured years with his third wife, vivacious Carole Lombard.

Far from doing anything to push Carole from his thoughts, Gable has tenderly preserved every vestige of her influence and presence. Just as one would not violate sacred religious objects, Gable has not tampered with any of the things or people in that household that were part of his life with Carole.

The rooms of his ranch still are inhabited by the early American and antique furniture with which he and Carole happily filled them when they bought the home from Raoul Walsh. He still lovingly feeds the doves which, in a sense, are the only living issue of his great love with Carole Lombard. He still has, as his trusted secretary and business manager, Jean Garceau, who was Carole’s secretary when they married, and who doubled in secretarial brass for both of them after the wedding. Martin, the butler, the same devoted man who saw to his wants when he carried Carole over the threshold, still is his venerable man Friday.
It was into this almost sanctified atmosphere that Lady Sylvia Ashley walked and faltered. It is into this atmosphere that a fifth Mrs. Clark Gable would have to walk—and in which she would have to keep her wits about her.

Who can tell what memories surge up within Gable as he feeds those doves? There are about 35 of the lovely white birds now. They have been loved and cherished throughout the years. Gable treats them with almost poignant solicitude. They have no sense of confinement, for he keeps them in a vast cage with a 50-foot runway, with a tree growing right up the center, so that they feel as free as if they flew unfettered in the forest.

The full meaning of this ritual can be appreciated only against the knowledge that these doves all are descendants of the doves Carole sent to Clark when they were courting.

And if the doves are living reminders haunting Gable’s Encino ranch, certainly no less so is gay, friendly Jean Garceau, who perhaps spends more time inside that house than Gable himself. Mrs. Garceau, no less than the doves, is the embodiment of many memories of Gable’s life with Carole. She knew and understood both of them, and both were fond of her. Upon Carole’s tragic death in a Nevada plane crash, the bond between Jean and Clark—a bond that connected the two to Carole—deepened.

Mrs. Garceau was a link with the last in which Gable was happiest, and intimates are convinced that is why Lady Ashley felt threatened in her presence, and why her insecurity impelled her to invite Gable’s displeasure by insisting that Jean leave the hose to which she had been welcomed by Carole, at about the same time Sylvia made the other mistake of insisting on redecorating the valley shrine furnished by Carole.
It would seem that any woman who hoped to get along with Gable would have to make up her mind to get along with his doves and with Mrs. Garceau.

Clark’s relationship with Mrs. Garceau is utterly beyond reproach, has never been anything but platonic—but devoid of personal feeling though it is, it is warm and rich. It would take a woman who was a sure of Gable and of herself as Carole Lombard, a woman of Carole’s wit and grace to abide Jean Garceau in her home without resentment.

If a woman loved Gable enough, she would have to learn, as Carole did, to share his fondness for hunting and fishing, and she would have to avoid at all costs the fatal error of Lady Ashley in trying to substitute her world for his. To this extent, at the very least, Clark Gable’s future is haunted by Carole Lombard.

It is against this background that Kay Spreckels’ chances for happiness with Clark Gable are measured by those who know him best. Pals of Gable have been convinced for years that at least subconsciously he has been looking for another Carole Lombard. They believe that whether he realizes it or not, he has sought in other women the qualities he loved in Carole, and that when he found them wanting by these standards he rejected them—usually before marriage.

Nor do they ascribe to Gable a morbid preoccupation with the memory of his third wife. Their view is that his attitude is healthy and honest. He liked what Carole was and what she stood for. He still admires and seeks out those qualities. He can’t forget her, and he sees no reason to forget her.

There are numerous similarities in the personalities of Kay Spreckels and Carole Lombard, but the most fundamental thing they have in common—and the most helpful—is that Kay has the courage, just as Carole had, to be herself!

It is just possible that there, in those three words—to be herself!—is locked the great secret of Gable’s frustration. It is just possible that that is the supreme quality which Gable admired in Carole that he has sought so long in vain in another woman.

Carole never wasted time figuring out the kind of a woman Clark would like her to be. She always was too busy being herself, and Gable worshipped her for it. She was full of life and impudence, and she was constantly shocking people—and delighting Gable—with an irrepressible wit that went off like a time bomb.
Carole was crazy about Gable, but she never was inhibited by him, never in awe of him. They didn’t hit it off by blueprint—they hit it off by one of the chemical miracles of nature. If Kay Spreckels is going to do battle with the ghost of Carole Lombard, with what kind of equipment does she enter the arena? It is idle to speculate on whether Kay will marry Gable, or has married him. The only thing that counts is whether she can hold Gable. Can she lick—or at least co-exist with—the ghost of Carole Lombard?

There are many factors in Kay’s favor. Like Carole, she may be wild about The King, but she is not in awe of him. She has known Clark for 12 years. There is no fencing. Neither stands on ceremony. She doesn’t hesitate to give him what-for. She speaks her mind any time she has the inclination to speak it.

Kay was furious when a syndicated interview with Gable was printed in a Los Angeles newspaper, illustrated with a picture of Gable flanked by pictures of Sylvia Ashley and Kay Spreckels. She cut out the clipping and sent it to Gable with a terse note: “Do we have to have our private life paraded?”

As far as anyone knows, Spreckels is the only woman since Lombard who’s had the salt to stand up to Gable. Probably because of the many years she has known Gable, she shows no signs of quaking in the shadow of Carole Lombard.

Nor could she by any stretch of the imagination be construed as a Jennie-come-lately in the Gable sweepstakes. More than a decade ago, when she gave up modeling for John Powers to become an MGM starlet, she and Gable were a hot duet in the gossip circles, and they were busy then, as they have been recently, denying persistent marriage rumors.

If they seemed devoted then, they are a four-alarm fire today. They have become virtually inseparable. Contrary to any fiction you may have read, Kay was the only woman who visited Gable on the set of “Soldier of Fortune” at 20th Century Fox. Night after night, she came out to see him, spent all his free time with him in his dressing room and went home with him. They dined together frequently at La Rue’s and Chasen’s. They were together constantly when the picture was finished, spent happy weekends in Palm Springs with Kay’s two children, soaking up the sun, and she was on hand to see him off when he left for Mexican location on The Tall Men, just as she had when he embarked for the Hong Kong location on Soldier of Fortune.
Whether they are headed for marriage or not, whether or not the ghost of Carole Lombard is going to have to move over to make room for Kay Spreckels, one thing is certain. There is no other woman in Gable’s life.

In addition to an apparently clear field, Kay’s position is bolstered by several formidable psychological assets. Having emerged from her turbulent marriage to Adolph Spreckels with not only his name but considerable of his sugar sticking to her, she needs Gable’s worldly possessions like she needs a crewcut. In addition, Kay has two lovely children of whom Gable is extremely fond. Gable never had children, and at 54 it would seem somewhat late to start on a family of his own. It is even conceivable that if he had these kids on his hands, he might forget to feed the doves once in a while.

If Kay Spreckels can take Clark Gable as he is and respect his devotion to the memory of Carole Lombard, if she can look upon Carole as a kindred spirit rather than a phantom rival, she may well succeed where other women have failed.

It could be that Clark is on the threshold of a new happiness in his life. And as Kay probably is wise enough to realize, nobody is apt to be more delighted by such a turn of affairs than the irrepressible apparition of Encino.