Clark Gable (1901-1960)

clark gable
Clark Gable
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Clark Gable was an American film actor, who at one time dominated the movie industry to the extent that he was nicknamed "The King of Hollywood". His career spanned thirty years in which he made sixty-seven films.

He was nominated three times for the Best Actor Academy Award and won it once in 1934 for 'It Happened One Night'. He starred in one of the most famous movies in history, 'Gone With the Wind' and in it uttered one of the most famous put downs, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn".

The American Film Institute placed him at number 7 in their list of Greatest Screen Legends. He was a magnificent actor and a charismatic on screen presence and his name still resonates today as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood history.

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He was born on February 1, 1901 in Cadiz, Ohio with the birth name William Clark Gable . As a young man he was known as Billy Gable. After his mother died from epilepsy when he was less than one year old he was brought up by his father, Will, and, on his father's remarriage in 1903, by his stepmother, Jennie. Though not wealthy and in no circumstances to create an annuity Jennie worked hard to raise Gable as well-dressed and well-groomed. He stood out from his peers, and seemed destined for success.

As a boy Billy was musically inclined and he joined the local town band as a brass player. When he was 16 his father quit his job as an oil-rigger and moved his family to Ravenna, near Akron, Ohio where he tried his hand at farming. Billy dropped out of High School in his third year in order to work in a tyre factory in Akron, and it was in Akron when he was seventeen that Gable saw his first stage play,'The Bird of Paradise' at the local playhouse, and became hooked on the theater. He had to wait until he was 21 when he received a small inheritance from his grandfather before he was able to follow his dream and begin touring with stock companies, working in the meantime at various odd jobs such as tie salesman and horse manager.

He eventually found his way to Portland, Oregon and joined a theatre company organized by ex-Broadway actress, Josephine Dillon, who became his acting coach and who transformed the raw young man into a capable and sophisticated actor. She taught him how to improve his posture and build up his skinny body, lower the timbre of his voice, and she changed his appearance with a new hairstyle and cosmetic dental treatment.

In 1924 she accompanied him to Hollywood and as well as becoming his manager, she became his wife. She was seventeen years Gable's senior and he always claimed it was a marriage of convenience which was never consummated. It was at this time that he changed his professional name from W. C. Gable to Clark Gable.

Early Movie Career

Gable's first experience of movie acting was as a bit player in a series of shorts. He played walk-on roles in a number of silent movies such as 'The Merry Widow' and 'The Plastic Age' in 1925 and 'The Johnstown Flood' the following year, but without any success and, discouraged, he decided to return to the stage. During the 1927-28 season, Gable appeared many times with the Laskin Brothers Stock Company in Houston, learning all the time and gaining considerable experience. He and Josephine then headed for New York and Broadway.

Movie Career

A 1930 stage production of 'The Last Mile' starring Gable as the desperate villain, Killer Mears, brought his name to the attention of film studios. With the coming of Sound, producers were looking for tough-guy, masculine leading men with strong voices and Gable was ideal material. He initially failed screen tests with MGM and Warner Brothers but in 1930 was signed up to the MGM studio by Irving Thalberg. In the same year he and Josephine were divorced and within days he married Ria Franklin Prentiss Lucas Langham, a Texas socialite again his senior by seventeen years.

After a Talkies debut as a supporting actor in the Western 'The Painted Desert' in 1931 he made films regularly and during that year went from being a relative unknown playing supporting roles to becoming a well known leading man. In that one year he co-starred with all of the top leading ladies of the day, such as Norma Shearer in 'A Free Soul', Greta Garbo in 'Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise' and Joan Crawford in 'The Possessed', as well as playing heavies in 'The Secret Six', 'Sporting Blood' and 'Hell Divers'.

In 1932 he played opposite Jean Harlow in the steamy 'Red Dust' and he became MGM's most important star. After another hard-working year in 1933, with movies such as 'Night Flight', 'Hold Your Man', and 'The White Sister', he was loaned out to Columbia Pictures in 1934, with spectacular results.

Hollywood Star

The project for Columbia was Frank Capra's 'It Happened One Night', co-starring with Claudette Colbert, which unexpectedly became the first film to sweep the five major Oscars (for Best Actor for Gable, Best Actress, director, writer, and picture) and Gable returned to MGM with a new and unrivalled prominence in the industry.

In 1935 he appeared in another Oscar winning picture, 'Mutiny on the Bounty' for which he received a Best Actor nomination, and which became one of the highest grossing films in MGM's history. Prior to the release of the film, Gable went on a personal appearance tour across the country. Fans mobbed him wherever he appeared. He was by now a movie superstar and for the rest of the decade and into the early 1940's he reigned supreme, the unchallenged monarch of Hollywood. The title 'King' was actually voted on when Ed Sullivan started a poll in his newspaper column and more than 20 million fans voted Gable 'King' and Myrna Loy 'Queen' of Hollywood.

With his new iconic status he was able to make fewer, but better films. He made more romantic comedies with Jean Harlow, 'China Seas' in 1935, 'Wife vs. Secretary' the following year and and 'Saratoga' in 1937, and he also gave musical appearances such as 'San Francisco' and 'Cain and Mabel', both in 1936. He played comedy as in 'Idiot's Delight' in 1939, in which he sang "Puttin' on the Ritz", and action dramas such as 'The Call of the Wild' in 1935, and 'Test Pilot' in 1938.

This succession of enormously popular pictures reached its pinnacle in 1939 with the Civil War epic 'Gone with the Wind' in which Gable, co-starring as Rhett Butler with Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, gave one of the most famous performances in Hollywood history. It earned him his third Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and propelled him even higher into the stratosphere of international superstardom.

Carole Lombard

Gable and his second wife, Ria, divorced in March 1939 and a few days later he married the actress Carole Lombard with whom he had been having an affair for 3 years. They became a popular Hollywood couple and Gable always claimed that she was his one true love. It seemed that he had finally found personal contentment but his happiness was not to last. In January, 1942 Lombard, who had just finished filming 'To Be Or Not To Be' died whilst on a tour to sell war bonds, when the plane she was traveling in crashed into a mountain near Las Vegas.

Gable was devastated and began to drink heavily. He wanted a break from Hollywood and his past and he joined the US Army Air Corps, even though at 41 he was over the draft age. He was based in England and flew missions over Europe obtaining combat film footage as he doubled as a photographer and a tail gunner. For his war activities he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal.

After the war, after a three year absence, Gable resumed his career in the 1945 film, 'Adventure' directed by Victor Fleming and co-starring Greer Garson. However the film bombed at the box-office and was panned by the critics. Gable's dominant position in the industry was over and his earlier pre-eminence never returned, although he continued to be paid very large sums of money by MGM and he remained in the top ten money-earning charts from 1947 to 1955. During this time he appeared in some very successful movies such as 'The Hucksters' in 1947, a satire of post-war Madison Avenue corruption and immorality, 'Mogambo' in 1953 with Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly and the classic 'Run Silent, Run Deep' in 1958, but for the most part his post-war output was of a very average quality. He parted company with MGM in 1954 due to the mediocre scripts he was being offered and for a while ran his own production company, Russ-Field-Gabco, in partnership with Jane Russell and her husband Bob Waterfield.

Final Years

Gable was never the same man after Lombard's death. He had a short-lived and unsuccessful marriage in 1949 to Lady Sylvia Ashley, a British divorcée and the widow of Douglas Fairbanks. They divorced in 1952. In 1955 he married for the fifth time to Kay Spreckels (née Kathleen Williams), a former fashion model and actress, who had herself been married three times. In between and even during his marriages Gable never lost his roving eye and he had a long-term affair with Joan Crawford, and relationships with many starlets and young actresses. Before the war he had had a relationship with the actress Loretta Young who secretly bore his daughter Judy Lewis in 1935. Gable never publicly acknowledged her as his daughter and Lewis herself had always believed she was adopted until she learned the truth of her parentage as an adult.

Gable's last movie was John Huston's 'The Misfits' in 1962, co-starring Eli Wallach, Montgomery Clift and Marilyn Monroe - also in her last movie. He gave a bravura performance much praised by the critics. Four days after completing the film, in which he did his own stunts as an ageing cowboy, he suffered a heart attack. His health had been deteriorating for years due to his heavy smoking and drinking.

Ten days later, on 16 November 1960 Clark Gable died in Los Angeles after a total of four heart attacks. Four months later his wife, Kay, gave birth to John Clark Gable, his son. Gable's last wishes were honored; he was buried alongside his great love, Carole Lombard.

Clark Gable Academy Awards

One Win:
Best Actor ... It Happened One Night (1934)

Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Actor ... Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Best Actor ... Gone with the Wind (1939)

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Clark Gable Filmography

Fighting Blood (uncredited)
White Man
Forbidden Paradise
The Pacemakers
Declassée (uncredited)
The Merry Kiddo (uncredited)
What Price Gloria? (uncredited)
The Merry Widow (uncredited)
The Plastic Age(uncredited)
North Star
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (uncredited)
One Minute to Play (uncredited)
The Johnstown Flood
Du Barry, Woman of Passion (uncredited)
The Painted Desert
The Easiest Way
Dance, Fools, Dance
The Front Page (uncredited) (unconfirmed)
The Finger Points
The Secret Six
Laughing Sinners
A Free Soul
Night Nurse
Sporting Blood
The Rise of Helga
Hell Divers
Polly of the Circus
Red Dust
No Man of Her Own
Strange Interlude
The White Sister
Hold Your Man
Night Flight
Dancing Lady
It Happened One Night
Men in White
Manhattan Melodrama
Forsaking All Others
After Office Hours
The Call of the Wild
China Seas
Mutiny on the Bounty
Wife vs Secretary
San Francisco
Cain and Mabel
Love on the Run
Too Hot to Handle
Test Pilot
Idiot's Delight
Gone With The Wind
Strange Cargo
Boom Town
Comrade X
They Met in Bombay
Honky Tonk
Somewhere I'll Find You