By: James Street
Clark Gable, Esq., the mule, mutt and musket man, was standing there in a tub of bon-a-fide Hollywood mud which was just like any other mud until he sloshed his feet in it. Then it became royal mud, as sacred to the Gable subjects as the Ganges is to the Hindus. For Clark Gable, the kid from Cadiz, is the crown prince of the fantastic kingdom of Graustark, where producers are kings and where mud often is used to throw at folks as well as to stand in.
The crown prince was ankle deep in the mud for a scene in “Boom Town,” MGM’s current chore for its most valuable star. Mr. Gable and Miss Claudette Colbert, his running-mate in the mud of “Boom Town,” were all set to go before the camera when someone remarked that Mr. Gable should have mud on his boots on accountant of he was supposed to have been wading in it. It was a good suggestion. Everybody agreed that if a fellow had been wading in mud he would have mud on his boots. So a hired hand fetched a tub of good old juicy California mud and stooped before the crown prince and began dabbing the mess on Mr. Gable’s tootsies.
The squire suddenly realized that it’s a dirty job rubbing mud on a man’s feet, so he leaned over quickly and told the hired hand, “Here, I’ve got a better way.” He poked his boots into the mud and scrouged them around. The hired hand was grateful. The yes-hands were flabbergasted. Every hair on the squire’s head is worth a fortune to his studio, and yet there he was sloshing his feet in mud to save a fellow man an unpleasant job.
The crown prince is as democratic as hash.
He could not be otherwise and hold the respect of his wife, Miss Carole Lombard, the firecracker girl and the jester of the realm. And if all the signs are right he has the love, respect and loyalty of his wife, which, after all, is the maximum any man, even a crown prince, can expect from life.
If the Gables are not happy people, then this investigator and nose-poker is willing to concede what many people contend—that Hollywood is froth. But so long as there are Gables in Hollywood, so long as there is one pair of reasonably dignified and completely honest people in the den, then I am holding to the premise that it is entirely possible for glamour boys and girls to set up housekeeping and make a go of it.
I saw Mr. Gable first on the “Boom Town” set, and after a few words of byplay we found our common denominators for conversation—dogs and guns and mules. Mr. Gable loves horses, but he is a respecter of mules.
“We’ve got a good mule on our farm at Encino,” he said enthusiastically. “Name of Judy. I like mules. They know how to work. There’s an affinity between a mule and the land.”
Your correspondent was surprised and skeptical. What knew this grease-paint-and-glamour man of land and mules? A few days later I was to learn that Mr. Gable not only loves and understands the land but that he can make a mule gee and haw and run a middlebuster down a furrow; that he can make things grow and that he can build things with his hands and repair such unglamorous things as plumbing.
They have tried to build Mr. Gable up as a man’s man. We hazard the suggestion that that is trite and superfluous. That’s one way of coating a man with Hollywood glamour. Mr. Gable is the kind of fellow who likes old shoes and old sweaters, good tobacco, a good gun and good conversation.
He walked off of the set and sat on a trunk, refused a cigarette and began smoking his own brand.
“I thought you smoked a pipe,” I suggested.
“I do, sometimes. But hate to carry them around. Too bulky.”
A visiting fireman from the East approached Mr. Gable and presented a rather wild-eyed young lady to him. The crown prince got to his feet and bowed. The young lady took his hand and seemed to freeze. She held to his hand until Mr. Gable rather adroitly and inoffensively withdrew his big mitt. Now, gentlemen, that’s my idea of a job. Here most of us go through life trying to hold pretty girls’ hands, but this Gable’s biggest problem is to keep girls from holding his hands too long!
Anyway, the crown prince grinned at his entranced subject and said, “I’ve met you before.”
The girl almost collapsed. So did I. Frankly, I didn’t believe it. It was a gag, I thought. And then I got the surprise of my life, When the girl regained his senses, she spluttered, “”Oh, Clark, do you remember that?”
“Sure, I remember,” he said. “It was about three years ago. In New York.”
The fellow can remember faces like a G-man. He’s a glamorous edition of Jim Farley when it comes to names and faces.
He came back and sat on the trunk again and got to talking about dogs, particularly bird dogs. “Haven’t had time to do much shooting lately. Been too busy with this picture. Know what I’d like to do one of these days? Get down to south Georgia and shoot birds. Those birds are game down there. These out here run too much. They won’t get up. I naturally like that Georgia, anyway.”
Then he launched into one of the favorite conversations of the Gable family—their treatment in Atlanta at the premiere of “Gone with the Wind.”
Your correspondent next suggested that perhaps it was not wise for Mr. Gable to discuss politics.
“Why can’t I discuss politics?” he demanded. “I’m an American citizen and have the right to say and think what I please.”
Here, indeed, was something to write home about. Your correspondent had been in Hollywood for several days and not once had he heard such trivial matters as the war, politics and unemployment mentioned. He had got his bait of glamour and goo and had despaired of hearing anything except goings-on in Graustark. But the crown prince of the kingdom not only was willing but anxious to discuss world events and forget the movies.
“I believe F.D.R. will be nominated for a third term,” Mr. Gable said.
“Will he be elected?”
“That depends on many things that can happen between now and fall. But only a fool will sell that man short.”
They called Mr. Gable back to work and it was then that he poked his feet in the mud to save a fellow man an unpleasant task.
I congratulated Mr. Gable on his thoughtfulness and he glared at me. “Listen, mister,” he said, “why shouldn’t I do a little thing like that? I’m a hired hand myself and I’ve battled this= business from the bottom.” There was no conceit in his tone. It was simply a statement of fact, for the crown prince has been through the mill. The studio doesn’t announce that Mr. Gable is in his fortieth year, and that he is graying a bit around the temples. The studio apparently fears that such information will deglamourize Mr. Gable. Poppycock! The fact that this man is thirty-nine years old and happily married is his biggest asset. It has taken the movies a long time to learn that the American public is sick of bunk, and such people as Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, who hate bunk more than they do anything else, partly are responsible for the new era in Hollywood, an era that shows promise of the movies telling the truth.
“Of course I’m thirty-nine,” Mr. Gable said, “So what? Sure I’ve got a few gray hairs. A lot of hard work helped make me gray. I just hope that I’ve got a little gray matter in this old head of mine. I’ve been lucky, I’ve got a good job, a good wife and a good home. What else does a man want?”
Mr. Gable was born in Cadiz, Ohio on February 1, 1901. His mother died when he was seven months old and his grandparents and a stepmother reared him. The boy loved his stepmother, and that’s a tribute to him and to her. He lived on a farm and did all of the things any other boy did. He finished high school in Claremont, Ohio, and wanted to be a doctor, but his father couldn’t afford the expense of educating him. He decided to educate himself in the pre-medical school at the University of Akron. He worked all day and studied half the night and then happened to bump into a bunch of actors and a bug bit him. He got a few bit parts in legitimate shows. He didn’t miss many meals but he postponed a heap of them. For years he bummed around the country trying to get show jobs, and between paydays he took whatever jobs he could get—a hitch in the Oklahoma oil fields, a turn with a timber gang in Oregon.
In Portland he became affiliated with a Little Theater movement, and in 1924 he went to Hollywood and into bit parts. Mr. Gable flopped in the movies at first and went to the stage. He had married Josephine Dillon, a teacher of dramatics, and without doubt she must be given much of the credit for his success. The legitimate theater was kind to the kid from Cadiz and he was on his way to stardom, and Hollywood offered him another chance. Mr. Gable flipped a penny—“heads, the movies; tails, the stage.” It came up heads. Mr. Gable still has the penny.
“So you see,” said the crown prince, “it was luck.”
Mr. Gable has a seven-year contract with MGM for $2,000,000. He has Carole Lombard! Gentlemen, if luck does that to a man, then here’s one fellow who begins today to make his troth with Lady Luck. We have an idea that ability and hard work had something to do with Mr. Gable’s success. Luck may get a man to the top, but luck can’t keep him there.
“Have you met Mrs. G?” Mr. Gable asked. “She’s not working right now. You ought to go out to the farm and see her.”
He was very serious. “I hope you understand one thing and that is that Mrs. G. and I want to live our own lives. We’re rather proud of our home. We’ve never allowed a picture to be taken inside of our house. You understand, I hope. That’s our home and we don’t care to have our personal belongings spread before the eyes of the world.”
And Mr. Gable meant it. That’s another thing I like about the family. After all, a couple has a right to privacy.
Everybody who works with Mr. Gable calls him Clark. Even the man who fetched the mud called him by his first name. Mr. Gable will lean over backwards to give an extra a break. And why shouldn’t he? He was an extra so long that they called him Ex for short. The first time he ever got any attention in the movies was as an extra. Extras are supposed never to get their faces before the camera. They might take some of the light from the stars. But many years ago, Mr. Gable almost stole a scene as an extra. He swears he didn’t intend to. He happened to have a glass in his hand, and the manner in which he handled the glass and turned his head attracted the attention of the director. He called Mr. Gable to him, and instead of getting the bawling out that he expected, the extra got a word or praise and a better job.
It was during those days when Mr. Gable was making about seven dollars a day that he took another extra home with him and fed her. They had only beans for supper, but he shared them with his fellow worker. She was Miss Janet Gaynor.
Mr. Gable is not as critical of other actors as his wife. Mrs. Gable will tell an actor that he or she was corny in a certain shot. She will argue with directors and producers. But Mr. Gable has a good word for almost everybody. It is not a question of diplomacy with him. A man with the contract that he’s got doesn’t have to be diplomatic. It’s just his nature. He and his wife sometimes argue. She will say, “You know that so and so hammed that part.” He will say, “Now, now, Carole, maybe he was doing the best he could.”
They never allow themselves to become bored.
“Boredom is the greatest sin in the world,” Mr. Gable said, “And the only cure for boredom is hard work and an understanding marriage.”
He and Mrs. Gable click because they never do the same things every day. They make life interesting. They entertain very little and have been to only two hot-spots during the first year of their marriage. They read a lot—good books.
One of Mr. Gable’s favorite books is “Captain Horatio Hornblower,” by T.S. Forester. One gathers the impression from Mr. Gable that he would like to play Hornblower, but another studio owns the rights. He never works in a story he hasn’t read. He and his wife usually get books before they are published and they really read them.
As a kid, Gable devoured tons of Alger books. It’s a shame that Mr Alger didn’t know Mr. Gable, for the neurotic, hero-loving Mr. Alger could have done a humdinger called “The Kid From Cadiz.”
“Be sure to come out to the farm,” Mr. Gable said when we left him with his feet in the mud. “I’ll show you some dogs and I’ll show you a few tricks about plowing. We hope you like the farm. We have twenty acres and our house was built to be lived in—and not to show off.”
The Gables are quite like their home. They want to live and not show off.