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by Chantel Theunissen

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1935 Clark Gable Dixie Premium PhotoEarly 1932 Clark Gable MagazineAffectionately 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 certificate.

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 separated.

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 performance led

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 Real 1940 Silver Gelatin Photo of Clark Gable clowning with Hedy Lamarrgentleman Rhett Butler in the film adaptation of Margaret Mitchell's sweeping novel "Gone With The Wind". The production was one hard 1936 Myrna Loy, Clark Gable & Jean Harlow MGM/Watkins 4x5 Photoslog, 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 celluloid images.
Chantel Theunissen is a freelance writer and film student from New Zealand.  Watch for profiles like this in each issue of The 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.
The Clark 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.