Monday, February 1, 2016

Born Today February 1: Clark Gable


Born William Clark Gable in Cadiz, Ohio into an oil family; his father William Henry Gable was an oil driller.  Though he was named after his father, who went by the nickname "Will;" little William was always known by his middle name from early on in life.  At just 10 months, he lost his mother to what people now speculate was a brain tumor.  His father remarried in 1903; it would be his step-mother who introduced to the first performances, teaching him to play the piano.  He then took up brass instruments.  By 13 his was the only boy (meaning minor), in the local men's town band.  He also, reportedly, had a love of language and memorized Shakespeare sonnets, which he could recite in an impassioned tone.  By 1917, his father had hit financial hard times and decided to go into farming, moving the family to Ravenna, Ohio (which is near Akron), after settling his debts.  His father insisted that Clark work on the farm; but he soon, reportedly, left to work at tire factory in Akron itself.  Apparently, while there, he attended a performance of the play The Bird of Paradise, which inspired him to become an actor. Though he had to wait until the age of 21, when he inherited some family money, to embark on that venture.  He began touring with a theater company, which eventually landed him in Seaside, Oregon--eventually leading to various jobs in and around Portland to make ends meet.  While there, he met stage actress Laura Hope Crews, who had already made her film debut (she would later play Aunt Pittypat in Gone With The Wind).  She is responsible for his return to the stage, landing him in another theater company.  During this time, he met the manager of the Little Theater, Josephine Dillion.  She became his acting coach & patron, and later his first wife.  He was 17 when he met her, and she was 17 years his senior.  Not only did she successfully coach him all aspects of acting, she also paid to have his teeth  fixed and put onto a path of beefing up his undernourished, lanky body. After quite a long period of time, she decided that he was ready to present to the motion picture industry.  She moved to Los Angeles in 1924; he followed her a short time later.  He had been acting under the name "W. C. Gable," but she convinced him to agree to be presented by his childhood name, figuring that it had a much more appealing ring to it.  Clark's film debut actually came the year before this, in the sports serial Fighting Blood; which also saw the film debut of June Marlowe.  Both were in only very minor roles.  The film was produced by the Robertson-Cole Pictures Corporation.  His first credited role came in White Man in 1924; this is widely cited as his film debut--it wasn't.  From here on, he found steady work in films, but only in bit and/or uncredited parts; some which came in very famous films, up through 1926.  During this period of time, he was in Eric von Strohiem's  The Merry Widow (1925), Ben-Hur: A Tale Of Christ (1925), and Johnston's Flood (1926), which saw not only himself in an uncredited role, but also Gary Cooper, and, more importantly, Carole Lombard.  Frustrated with not getting bigger roles and more name recognition, he quit film acting in 1926 to return to the stage; he wouldn't return again until 1930.  This last silent film that he was in was One Minute to Play, where is was merely an extra.  It was during the late 1920's that he first met Lionel Barrymore, who despite being very unimpressed with Gable's stage acting ability, went on to encourage him to hone his stage craft--Barrymore went on to be a life-long friend.  During this time, Gable acted live in Houston at the Laskin Brothers Stock Company, where he became a local matinee idol.  From here, he moved on to New York, seeking work, with Dillion, on Broadway.  He did find some work, and at least one of his performances was written up favorably (if a little "Woody Allensy") in the press.  But the emergence of talking cinema, and the beginning of the Great Depression, caused the cancellation of many plays on Broadway.  Back to Los Angeles Gable went, finding work on the stage there for the first time.  After staring in successful production of The Last Mile, he was offered at contract at MGM.  The rest is basically well known cinema history.  Of course, the role that stands, like a giant, is his Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind (1939)!  Before this, he had stood out in the goofy Frank Capra re-marriage comedy in 1934 It Happened One Night, in which he starred opposite Claudette Colbert; this earned him the Oscar for Best Actor in a Lead Role.  He would also go on to marry Carole Lombard in 1939, his third marriage--having married a socialite between Dillion and Lombard.  Lombard famously died in a plane crash at the beginning of World War II on her way home from selling war bonds--killing all 22 on board, including her, her mother, and 15 active service members.  Gable received personal condolences from President Roosevelt himself--who declared Lombard a casualty of war.  Everyone who knew him, said he was never the same after this.  He actually joined the U.S. Army Air Force (now just the Air Force), and managed--though MGM tried at every step to turn this into a stunt--( even going so far as to have one of their own enlist with Gable); he did persevere, and wound up in England in 1943 with the 351st Bomb Group, at the rank of Lieutenant.  He flew 5 combat missions, including one into Germany.  That sortie, left one crew member dead, two other seriously wounded--and Gable himself, narrowly missed being killed as well. This earned him the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross.  MGM, finding out about this, began to pester the U.S. armed forces to reassign him to a less dangerous post.  Gable was allowed leave to return to the U.S. that same year, to finish a film.  In 1944 he was promoted to Major, and was eager to return combat.  However, after the invasion of Normandy, he was relieved of active duty.  His discharge papers were signed by one Captain Ronald Reagan.  He resigned his commission in 1947, one week after the Air Force became an independent branch of the U.S. military.  [As aside note:  apparently Gable was Adolf Hitler's favorite American actor.  After hearing that Gable was on active combat duty in Europe, he reportedly offered a sizable reward for anyone who could capture him and bring him to Berlin unscathed.]  By the end of the war, he had won a great many medals and commendations.  After the WWII, he lived another 15 years, having numerous affairs, two more marriages; and basic dissatisfaction with the roles he was playing, despite that he was the highest paid actor at MGM, probably all of Hollywood, at the time.  On November 6, 1960, Gable suffered a major heart attack.  He died 10 days later on the 16th, from an arterial blood clot at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles; leaving behind a pregnant young wife.  His son, one of two that he had, John Clark Gable, was born in the same hospital where his father died some four months after Gable's death.  Clark is interred next to his third wife, Carole Lombard Gable in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn in Glendale, CA.  Many people blamed the over taxing situation on this last movie set for The Misfits, released in 1961, for his untimely death at the age of 59.

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