Nationality: American. Born: William Clark Gable in Cadiz, Ohio, 1 February 1901. Education: Attended school in Hopedale, Ohio; Akron University in evening classes. Military Service: 1942–45—U.S. Army Air Corps: narrated several Air Corps films; discharged as major. Family: Married 1) Josephine Dillon, 1924 (divorced 1930); 2) Ria Langham, 1931 (divorced 1939); 3) the actress Carole Lombard, 1939 (died 1942); 4) Lady Sylvia Ashley, 1949 (divorced 1951);
5) Kay Speckles, 1955, son: John Clark. Career: Factory worker in Akron; 1919—callboy in Broadway theaters (for John and Lionel Barrymore in The Jest); worked in oil fields in Oklahoma for a year; 1920–22—utility man and actor with Jewell Players, a tent show repertory company; then joined theater group in Portland, Oregon; 1924—film debut in bit part in Forbidden Paradise; on Los Angeles stage in Romeo and Juliet and What Price Glory, and with a Texas stock company; 1928—Broadway debut in Machinal; then other stage work in New York; 1931—debut in sound films, The Painted Desert; 1934—MGM contract; 1945—returned to films with Adventure; 1956—co-founder, Russ-Field Gabco production company. Awards: Oscar for Best Actor, for It Happened One Night, 1934. Died: Of heart attack, 16 November 1960.
Films as Actor:
Forbidden Paradise (Lubitsch) (bit role); White Man (Gasnier)
The Merry Widow (von Stroheim) (bit role); The Pacemakers (Ruggles—serial); Declassée (The Social Exile) (Vignola) (bit role); The Plastic Age (Ruggles) (bit role); North Star (Powell)
The Johnstown Flood (The Flood) (Cummings) (bit role); The Collegians (serial)
The Painted Desert (Higgins) (as Brett); The Easiest Way (Conway) (as Nick); The Secret Six (Hill) (as Carl); The Finger Points (Dillon) (as Louis Blanco); Laughing Sinners (Beaumont) (as Carl Loomis); A Free Soul (Brown) (as Ace Wilfong); The Christmas Party (Jackie Cooper's Christmas) (Reisner—short) (as himself); Night Nurse (Wellman) (as Nick); Sporting Blood (Brabin) (as Tip Scanlon); Dance, Fools, Dance (Beaumont) (as Jake Luva); Susan Lenox, Her Fall and Rise (The Rise of Helga) (Leonard) (as Rodney Spencer); Possessed (Brown) (as Mark Whitney); Hell Divers (Hill) (as Steve)
Polly of the Circus (Santell) (as the Reverend John Hartley); Strange Interlude (Strange Interval) (Leonard) (as Ned Darrell); Red Dust (Fleming) (as Denis Carson); No Man of Her Own (Ruggles) (as Babe Stewart)
The White Sister (Fleming) (as Giovanni Severi); Hold Your Man (Wood) (as Eddie Nugent); Night Flight (Brown) (as Fabian); Dancing Lady (Leonard) (as Patch Gallegher)
It Happened One Night (Capra) (as Peter Warne); Men in White (Boleslawski) (as Dr. George Ferguson); Manhattan Melodrama (Van Dyke) (as Blackie Gallagher); Chained (Brown) (as Mike Bradley)
Forsaking All Others (Van Dyke) (as Jeff Williams); After Office Hours (Leonard) (as Jim Branch); The Call of the Wild (Wellman) (as Jake Thorton); China Seas (Garnett) (as Alan Gaskell); Mutiny on the Bounty (Lloyd) (as Fletcher Christian)
Wife versus Secretary (Brown) (as Dan Sanford); San Francisco (Van Dyke) (as Blackie Norton); Cain and Mabel (Bacon) (as Larry Cain); Love on the Run (Van Dyke) (as Michael Anthony); Parnell (Stahl) (title role)
Saratoga (Conway) (as Duke Bradley)
Test Pilot (Fleming) (as Jim Lane); Too Hot to Handle (Conway) (as Chris Hunter)
Idiot's Delight (Brown) (as Harry Van); Gone with the Wind (Fleming) (as Rhett Butler)
Strange Cargo (Borzage) (as Verne); Boomtown (Conway) (as John "Big John" McMasters); Comrade X (King Vidor) (as McKinley Thompson)
They Met in Bombay (Brown) (as Gerald Meldrick); Honky Tonk (Conway) (as Candy Johnson)
Somewhere I'll Find You (Ruggles) (as Johnny Davis); March of Dimes (Whitebeck—short)
Hollywood in Uniform (short) (as himself)
Aerial Gunner (Air Corp—short) (as narrator); Be Careful! (Air Corps—short) (as narrator); Wings Up (Air Corps—short) (as narrator); Combat America (Air Corps—short) (as narrator)
Adventure (Fleming) (as Henry Patterson)
The Hucksters (Conway) (as Vic Norman); Homecoming (LeRoy) (as Dr. Ulysses Johnson)
Command Decision (Wood) (as Brigadier General K. C. Dennis)
Any Number Can Play (LeRoy) (as Charley King)
Key to the City (Sidney) (as Steve Fisk); To Please a Lady (Brown) (as Mike Brannon)
Across the Wide Missouri (Wellman) (as Flint Mitchell); Callaway Went Thataway (The Star Said No) (Panama and Frank) (as himself)
Lone Star (Sherman) (as Devereaux Burke)
Never Let Me Go (Daves) (as Philip Sutherland)
Mogambo (John Ford) (as Victor Marswell); Betrayed (Reinhardt) (as Colonel Pieter Deventer)
Soldier of Fortune (Dmytryk) (as Hank Lee); The Tall Men (Walsh) (as Ben Allison)
King and Four Queens (Walsh) (as Dan Kehoe)
Band of Angels (Walsh) (as Hamish Bond)
Run Silent, Run Deep (Wise) (as Commander "Rich" Richardson); Teacher's Pet (Seaton) (as James Gannon)
But Not for Me (Walter Lang) (as Russel Ward)
It Started in Naples (Shavelson) (as Mike Hamilton)
The Misfits (Huston) (as Gay Langland)
On GABLE: books—
Garceau, Jean, and Inez Cooke, "Dear Mr. G"—The Biography of Clark Gable, Boston, 1961.
Samuels, Charles, The King: A Biography of Clark Gable, New York, 1961.
Gable: A Complete Gallery of His Screen Portraits, compiled by Gabe Essoe and Ray Lee, Los Angeles, 1967.
Morella, Joe, and Edward Epstein, Gable & Lombard & Powell & Harlow, London, 1971.
Behlmer, Rudy, editor, Memo from: David O. Selznick, New York, 1972.
Rosen, Marjorie, Popcorn Venus, New York, 1973.
Tornabene, Lyn, Long Live the King: A Biography of Clark Gable, New York, 1976.
Garceau, Jean, with Inez Cooke, Gable: A Pictorial Biography, New York, 1977.
Fearfar, R., Clark Gable, Paris, 1981.
Card, James, Clark Gable, London, 1986.
Wayne, Jane Ellen, Gable's Women, London, 1987.
Wayne, Jane Ellen, Clark Gable: Portrait of a Misfit, New York, 1993.
Lewis, Judy, Uncommon Knowledge, New York, 1994.
On GABLE: articles—
Current Biography 1945, New York, 1945.
Fowler, D. C., "Clark Gable," in Look (New York), 8 July 1947.
Clarens, Carlos, "Clark Gable," in Films in Review (New York), December 1960.
McVay, D., "Eternal Images. Part Two: Clark Gable," in Films and Filming (London), July 1977.
Champlin, Charles, "Clark Gable," in The Movie Star, edited by Elisabeth Weis, New York, 1981.
Stars (Mariembourg), March 1990.
Lockwood, C., "Clark Gable and Carole Lombard: A California Ranch House for the Stars of Gone With the Wind and Nothing Sacred," in Architectural Digest (Los Angeles), April 1990.
Baumbold, J., "Hammering Down Clark Gable," in Esquire, August 1994.
Campbell, V., and C. Oakley, "A Star Is Born," in Movieline (Escondido), June 1996.
Films of the Golden Age, Winter 1996/1997.
Farber, S., "Clark Gable in San Francisco," in Movieline (Escondido, California), September 1997.
* * *
Crowned King of Hollywood in 1937, Clark Gable remains unchallenged American royalty. He is remembered as the man who made the pencil mustache de rigueur and crippled the undershirt business when he bared his chest in It Happened One Night. For many, Gable still represents the ultimate in American masculinity—a man's man and a woman's ideal. The consummate product of the studio system, Gable's screen image was created by MGM publicity executive Howard Strickling who capitalized on Gable's natural assets and his actual background as a laborer. He was to become a symbol of the uncommon common man.
Gable's impressive size projected an enormous physical strength; he could challenge any man and dominate any woman. The ever present wink in his eye transmitted a roguish charm, a casual self-confidence, and an innate sense of humor. But it was what Joan Crawford described as his "sheer animal magic," his magnetic and overt virility, which separated him from the rest, even offscreen; a recent tell-all by Judy Lewis, the daughter of Loretta Young, revealed the long-kept secret of a Gable/Young love affair that spawned Lewis herself. Gable's only acknowledged child, John Clark Gable, the result of his union with Kay Speckles, was born shortly after Gable died.
Hailed as Valentino with a voice, Clark Gable embodied sex appeal. It was his "you'll take it and like it" attitude towards Norma Shearer in A Free Soul that catapulted the 30-year-old actor into stardom and kept him among the top ten box-office stars for the next 12 years (1932–43); by 1939 he was earning $5,000 per week.
Gable signed the first in a series of long-term contracts with MGM in December 1930 and worked for the studio until he began freelancing in 1954. The vast majority of his Metro assignments were star vehicles (Chained, Saratoga, Test Pilot, and Honky Tonk). These were pictures whose commercial success depended almost entirely on his name and that of the studio's top leading ladies, particularly Joan Crawford, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, and Lana Turner. In these films, Gable played the same role time and time again—a roué with a heart of gold.
During the 1930s his occasional opportunities to do something beyond formula material were more often fortuitous than calculated. His casting in a comedy on "Poverty Row" (Columbia's It Happened One Night) was designed as a punishment for uncooperative behavior; Call of the Wild was another loan-out; Mutiny on the Bounty and San Francisco were both films Gable himself resisted doing.
The undisputed pinnacle of his career was his role as Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind, another part he initially resisted. Assisted by one of his favorite directors, Victor Fleming, Gable created perhaps the most popular romantic figure of the twentieth century. Offscreen, Gable lived out the myth of the great lover by marrying actress Carole Lombard. Her unexpected death in 1942 drastically changed the actor's attitude towards his life and his work. He turned his back on Hollywood and joined the Army Air Corps. After a two-year absence from the screen, Gable returned with a new seriousness. Personal grief and depression, combined with the onset of middle age, deeply affected his on-screen persona. For many, the motion picture business seemed frivolous after the war; Gable concurred. Even the now-famous slogan for his first postwar film (Adventure), "Gable's Back and Garson's Got Him!," struck the actor as frivolous.
Despite the relative infrequency of his screen appearances, Gable reclaimed his top ten box-office status in 1947, 1948, and 1949. His enormous popularity began to wane only in the last decade of his life, although he continued to remain a star, his name well above the title in such pictures as The Tall Men, Band of Angels, and The King and Four Queens, a title obviously geared towards him.
His career culminated with an impressive tour-de-force performance as the mustanger Gay Langland in John Huston's The Misfits, which he considered the best of his career, even though he never lived to see the completed film. Three days after the picture wrapped, he died of a heart attack, which, some maintained, was brought on by the strain of doing his own stunt work at Huston's urging during the film's climactic mustang roundup. It was Gable himself who insisted on doing many of his own stunts for the required close-ups. But, contrary to rumor, the real rough-and-tumble action was carried out in long shot by Gable's double, a professional stuntman. This final performance, delivered with remarkable sensitivity and conviction, stands as a tribute, not only to a great star but to the accomplished actor Gable was not always given credit for being.
—Joanne L. Yeck, updated by John McCarty