by Chantel Theunissen
Affectionately known as the 'King of Hollywood', Clark Gable was the most
recognized heartthrob of his day. Yet the future Tinseltown he-man had a less
than stellar entry into the world, being mistaken for a girl on his birth
William Clark Gable was born on 1 February 1901, in Cadiz, Ohio. Seven months
later his mother died, leaving her infant to the care of a father who led a
transient life as a wildcat oil driller. Still the pair survived and young Clark
managed to scrape his way through school.
Leaving high school at the age of sixteen he went to work with his father in the
Oklahoma oil fields for several years before deciding to pursue a career in
acting. Under the coaching of Josephine Dillon, whom he married in 1924, Gable
worked persistently to develop his skills as an actor. He got work as an extra
in several silent movies, but the solid roles he had hoped for failed to
materialize. After just over 5 years of frustrated marriage, he and Dillon
At this stage of the game, Clark could easily have thrown in the acting towel -
treating it as a bad decision that went hand in hand with a bad marriage. But he
didn't. Persistence began to pay off with bit parts on Broadway. Then came the
proverbial break. Relocating to Los Angeles he landed the role of a brutal
killer in the stage production of "The Last Mile". His critically acclaimed
to several screen tests. Major studios were reluctant to hire
him because of his 'big bat-like ears'. But the big wigs at MGM knew star
quality when they saw it - outfitted with a new moustache and teeth, he was on
his way to fame. His first MGM role was as a gangster in the
Joan Crawford flick
"Dance, Fools, Dance". The 1931 picture "Sporting Blood" saw Clark top-billed
for the first time. Over the next few years he worked with many MGM starlets
including Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, and
Norma Shearer. But it was his pairing
with Jean Harlow that was to prove dynamic. They combined for six films,
including the 1932 box office sensation "Red Dust" This film turned Clark Gable
into the prize stallion of the MGM stable. Overnight his popularity skyrocketed.
Men admired his action hero status while woman couldn't get enough of his
sexuality, ready charm and easy going persona.
At the height of his money making potential for MGM, top-dog Louis B. Mayer
loaned Gable to studio underdog Columbia Pictures to make "It Happened One
Night". Mayer did this to punish the unruly star, who refused to tow the Mayer
line. Gable was worried that the film might ruin his newfound image. Instead it
further defined his magnetic screen presence. The film was a major hit, and
collected 5 Oscars, including best actor for Gable.
A number of run of the mill pictures followed. Then in 1938, he was asked to
play charismatic southern
gentleman Rhett Butler in the film adaptation of
Margaret Mitchell's sweeping novel "Gone With The Wind". The production was one
slog, but by the time the final scene was in the can everyone involved knew
that they had something special. And so they did. Gone with the Wind was a
landmark picture and it earned Gable another Oscar nomination.
By now Gable had married his third wife, Carole Lombard. After 2 failed
marriages, he'd finally found someone who he thought he could spend his life
with. But tragedy soon intervened. Lombard was returning from a war bond in
1942, when she died in a plane crash. A grieving Gable enlisted in the air corps
and was absent from Hollywood for 3 years. After his comeback he was never able
to regain his super-star status. His best film of the fifties was 1953's "Mogambo"
a remake of his 1932 hit "Red Dust." This film proved that , twenty-one years
on, he still had the animal magnetism to drive women crazy.
His final film was 1961's "The Misfits". By now Gable was approaching sixty, and
his health was deteriorating. Yet he insisted on doing all of his own stunts.
The film was critically acclaimed, showing that the actor still had what it
takes. Shortly before the end of filming, Gable ecstatically announced that his
fifth wife was pregnant. Sadly, he never got to see his only child. He died of a
heart attack shortly after filming of "The Misfits" wrapped. His son, John Clark
Gable was born on 20th March 1961, only to know his father through stories and
Chantel Theunissen is a freelance writer and
film student from New Zealand. Watch for profiles like this in each issue
Movie Profiles & Premiums Newsletter.
Other Clark Gable Pages:
A Tribute to Clark
Gable For a high school dropout with big ears who flunked his first MGM
screen test, Clark Gable did pretty well for himself, becoming "The King of
Hollywood" and starring in one of the most popular films ever made.
Dancing Lady -- A mini-review of
the 1933 film right here on this site as part of Cliff's DVD Collection.
Gable Foundation -- Dedicated to keeping the memory of Cadiz, Ohio's
most famous native alive.
The House of Gable
-- A Tribute to the King of Hollywood, Clark Gable, including a biography,
filmography, photo gallery and more!
Wife vs Secretary -- A mini-review of
the 1936 film right here on this site as part of Cliff's DVD Collection.