William Clark Gable (February 1, 1901 – November 16, 1960) was an American film actor, often referred to as "The King of Hollywood". He had roles in more than 60 motion pictures in multiple genres during a career that lasted 37 years, three decades of which was as a leading man. Gable died of a heart attack; his final on-screen appearance was of an aging cowboy in The Misfits, released posthumously in 1961.
Gable won the Academy Award for Best Actor for Frank Capra's It Happened One Night (1934), co-starring Claudette Colbert. He was again nominated for the award for his roles as Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), and as Rhett Butler opposite Vivien Leigh's Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).
Gable was one of the most consistent box-office performers in history, appearing on Quigley Publishing's annual Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll sixteen times. He was named the seventh-greatest male movie star of classic American cinema by the American Film Institute.
William Clark Gable was born on February 1, 1901, in Cadiz, Ohio, to William Henry Gable (1870–1948), an oil-well driller, and his wife Adeline. When he was ten months old, his mother died, and his father married again one year later.
Gable's stepmother raised the tall, shy child with a loud voice to be well-dressed and well-groomed. She played the piano and gave him lessons at home. He later took up brass instruments. Gable was mechanically inclined and loved to repair cars with his father, who insisted that he engage in masculine activities such as hunting and hard physical work. Gable also loved literature; he would recite Shakespeare among trusted company, particularly the sonnets.
Gable was inspired to become an actor after seeing the play The Bird of Paradise at age 17, but unable to make a start in acting until turning 21.
After some odd jobs, Gable moved to Portland where he obtained a day job with Pacific Telephone and started receiving dramatic lessons in the evening.
Gable's acting coach, Josephine Dillon, a theater manager in Portland, paid to have his teeth fixed and his hair styled. She guided him in building up his chronically undernourished body, and taught him better body control and posture. He slowly managed to lower his naturally high-pitched voice, his speech habits improved, and his facial expressions became more natural and convincing. After a long period of her training, Dillon considered Gable ready to attempt a film career.
Gable and Dillon traveled to Hollywood in 1924. Dillon became his manager and also his wife; she was 17 years his senior. He changed his stage name from W. C. Gable to Clark Gable. However, he was not offered any major film roles, so he returned to the stage. During the 1927–28 theater season, he became a local matinee idol. He then moved to New York City, where Dillon sought work for him on Broadway.
Gable and Dillon separated, filing for divorce in March 1929. In April 1930, a few days after Gable's divorce became final, he married Texas socialite Maria Franklin Prentiss Lucas Langham. After moving to California, they were married again in 1931, possibly due to differences in state legal requirements.
Gable auditioned for the second male lead in the Warner Bros. gangster drama Little Caesar (1931), but failed.
"His ears are too big and he looks like an ape", said the studio executive Darryl F. Zanuck about Gable.
In 1930 he was signed by MGM's Irving Thalberg for $650 per week. He hired the well-connected Minna Wallis, a sister of producer Hal Wallis, as his agent, whose clients included actresses Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy and Norma Shearer.
Gable's arrival in Hollywood occurred when MGM was looking to expand its stable of male stars, and he fit the bill. MGM's publicity manager Howard Strickling started developing Gable's studio image with Screenland magazine playing up his "lumberjack-in-evening-clothes" persona.
To increasing popularity, MGM frequently paired him with well-established female stars.
Joan Crawford asked for him as her co-star in Dance, Fools, Dance (1931). This was his first starring role.The electricity of the pair was recognized by studio executive Louis B. Mayer, who would put them in seven more films.
Gable achieved star status very quickly. After A Free Soul (1931), Gable never played any supporting role again. And his "unshaven love-making" with braless Jean Harlow in Red Dust made him MGM's most important romantic leading man.
A popular combination on-screen and off, Gable and Harlow made six films together in five years. Their final film together was Saratoga (1937), a bigger hit than their previous collaborations. Harlow died during its production.
In 1934, Gable was not Frank Capra's first choice to play the lead role of newspaper reporter Peter Warne in the romantic comedy It Happened One Night (1934) opposite Claudette Colbert playing a spoiled heiress, but Columbia wanted him and had paid handsomely for it.
It Happened One Night is the real Gable. He was never able to play that kind of character except in that one film. They had him playing these big, huff-and-puff -man lovers, but he was not that kind of guy. He was a down-to-earth guy, he loved everything, he got down with the common people. He didn't want to play those big lover parts; he just wanted to play Clark Gable, the way he was in It Happened One Night, and it's too bad they didn't let him keep up with that."
It Happened One Night became the first movie to sweep all five of the major Academy Awards, with Gable winning for Best Actor and Colbert for Best Actress. The movie was credited with inventing a new genre: the screwball comedy, and its leading man Gable responsible for men's underwear sales plummeting because he didn't wear an undershirt in the movie.
It Happened One Night made Gable a bigger star than ever. From 1934 until 1942, when World War II interrupted his movie career, Gable was near the top of the box office money-makers lists.
Despite his reluctance to play the role, Gable is best known for his Oscar-nominated performance in the Academy Award-winning best picture Gone with the Wind (1939). His then wife Carole Lombard may have been the first to suggest that he play Rhett Butler (and she play Scarlett) when she bought him a copy of the best-seller, which he refused to read.
Butler's last line in Gone with the Wind, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn", is one of the most famous lines in movie history.
Years later, Gable said that whenever his career would start to fade, a re-release of Gone with the Wind would soon revive his popularity, and he continued as a top leading actor for the rest of his life.
On a personal level, Gone with the Wind also means great happiness for Gable.
Gable settled his divorce from his second wife Rhea Langham with his salary from Gone with the Wind on March 7, 1939.
On March 29, during a production break of the movie, Gable married Hollywood star Carole Lombard (1908–1942)in Kingman, Arizona and honeymooned in room 1201 of the Arizona Biltmore Hotel.
They met while filming 1932's No Man of Her Own, when Lombard was still married to actor William Powell, but their romance did not take off until 1936 after they met at a party again. They were soon inseparable, with fan magazines and tabloids citing them as an official couple.
Gable thrived being around Lombard's youthful, charming, and frank personality, once stating:
"You can trust that little screwball with your life or your hopes or your weaknesses, and she wouldn't even know how to think about letting you down."
They purchased a ranch previously owned by director Raoul Walsh in Encino, California, for $50,000 making it their home. The couple, who lovingly referred to each other as "Ma and Pa", owned a menagerie of animals and raised chickens and horses there.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor many Hollywood stars joined the war effort, some such as James Stewart signing up for active duty. Carole Lombard sent a telegram to President Roosevelt on behalf of Gable expressing his interest in doing so, but F.D.R. thought the 41-year-old actor could best serve by increased patriotic roles in movies and bond drives, which Lombard herself tirelessly began.
On January 16, 1942, Lombard was a passenger on Transcontinental and Western Air Flight 3 with her mother and press agent Otto Winkler. She had just finished her 57th movie, To Be or Not to Be, and was on her way home from a successful war bond selling tour when the flight's DC-3 airliner crashed into Potosi Mountain near Las Vegas, Nevada, killing all 22 passengers aboard, including 15 servicemen en route to training in California.
Gable flew to the crash site to claim the bodies of his wife, mother-in-law, and Winkler, who had been the best man at Gable and Lombard's wedding.
Afterwards, Gable returned to their Encino ranch and carried out her funeral wishes as she had requested in her will.
A month later, he returned to the studio to work with Lana Turner in their second movie together, Somewhere I'll Find You, playing a war correspondent who travels to the Pacific theatre and get caught up in a Japanese attack.
Having lost 20 pounds since the tragedy, Gable evidently was emotionally and physically devastated, but Turner stated that Gable remained a "consummate professional" for the duration of filming.
After the death of Carole Lombard, Gable acted in 27 more films, and remarried twice more. "But he was never the same", according to Esther Williams. "He had been devastated by Carole's death."
On August 12, 1942, following Lombard's death and completion of the film Somewhere I'll Find You, Gable joined the United States Army, under the Army Air Forces.
In June 1944, Gable was promoted to major. While he hoped for another combat assignment, he had been placed on inactive duty and on June 12, 1944, his discharge papers were signed by Captain (later U.S. president) Ronald Reagan.
In 1949, Gable married Sylvia Ashley, a British model and actress previously married to Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. The relationship was profoundly unsuccessful; they divorced in 1952.
Gable’s most popular hit since his return MGM after the war was Mogambo (1953), directed by John Ford, a somewhat sanitized and more action-oriented remake of Gable's hit pre-Code film Red Dust, with Jean Harlow. The reports of an affair between Gable and one of his co stars Grace Kelly helped ticket sales as the film finished No. 7 at the box office, grossing 8.2 million for the year.
Despite the positive critical and public response to Mogambo, Gable became increasingly unhappy with what he considered mediocre roles offered by MGM, while the studio regarded his salary as excessive. After His last film at MGM Betrayed (1954), Gable did not renew his contract.
In 1955, Gable ranked 10th at the box office, the last time he was in the top ten.
That same year, Gable married fifth wife Kay Spreckels (née Kathleen Williams). Gable became stepfather to her son Bunker Spreckels, who went on to live a notorious celebrity lifestyle in the late 1960s and early 1970s surfing scene, ultimately leading to his early death in 1977.
Gable also formed Russ-Field-Gabco in 1955, a production company with Jane Russell and her husband Bob Waterfield, and they produced The King and Four Queens (1956), Gable's only time as producer.
In the 50s, Gable started to receive television offers, but rejected them outright. At 57, His contracts began including a clause that his filming and work days ended at 5 p.m.
And his most noted film in the decade was It Started in Naples (1960) with Sophia Loren. The film was written and directed by Melville Shavelson and it mainly showed the beauty of Loren and the Italian island Capri. It was a box-office success and was nominated for an Academy Award for art direction and two Golden Globes, one for picture and Loren for actress in a leading role. Filmed mostly on location in Italy, it was Gable's last film released in color.
On February 8, 1960, Gable received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in motion pictures, located at 1608 Vine Street.
Gable's last film was The Misfits (1961), with a script by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston. Miller wrote the screenplay for his wife Marilyn Monroe who co starred with Gable together with Montgomery Clift.
He was as masculine as any man I've ever known, and as much a little boy as a grown man could be – it was this combination that had such a devastating effect on women."
On November 6, 1960, Gable was sent to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, where doctors found that he had suffered a heart attack. Newspaper reports the following day listed his condition as satisfactory. By the morning of November 16, he seemed to be improving, but he died that evening at the age of 59 from a second heart attack caused by an arterial blood clot. Medical staff did not perform CPR for fear that the procedure would rupture Gable's heart, and a defibrillator was not available.
In an interview with Louella Parsons published soon after Gable's death about speculation on his physically demanding role in The Misfits, Kay Gable said, "It wasn't the physical exertion that killed him. It was the horrible tension, the eternal waiting, waiting, waiting. He waited around forever, for everybody. He'd get so angry that he'd just go ahead and do anything to keep occupied.”
Gable is interred in the Great Mausoleum, Memorial Terrace, at Glendale's Forest Lawn Memorial Park next to Carole Lombard and her mother. An honor guard and pallbearers Spencer Tracy and James Stewart were in attendance.
On March 20, 1961, Kay Gable gave birth to Gable's only son, John Clark Gable, at the same hospital in which her husband had died four months earlier. Marilyn Monroe attended his son's baptism.
Gable was a great, great guy, and certainly one of the great stars of all times, if not the greatest. I think that I sincerely doubt that there will ever be another like Clark Gable; he was one of a kind."
Clark Gable has been married 5 times and throughout his film career, Gable had affairs with various actresses, including Joan Crawford, Marion Davies, Lana Turner, Nancy Davis (later Ronald Reagan's wife Nancy Reagan) and Loretta Young with whom he has a daughter.
During the filming of The Call of the Wild in early 1935, the film's lead actress, Loretta Young, became pregnant with Gable's child. Their daughter Judy Lewis was born on November 6, 1935 in Venice, California. Young hid her pregnancy in an elaborate scheme and nineteen months after the baby's birth she claimed to have adopted the baby. Most in Hollywood (and some in the general public) believed Gable was Lewis's father because of their strong resemblance and the timing of her birth.
Loretta Young died on August 12, 2000. Her autobiography, published posthumously, confirmed that Gable was indeed Judy Lewis's father.
He was a king wherever he went. He earned the title. He walked like one, he behaved like one, and he was the most masculine man that I have ever met in my life. Gable had balls."