A Personal Story on Clark Gable
April 1944,† Photoplay†
by Adela Rogers St. Johns
This friend has found the keynote of the change that marks Gable today
It goes without saying, I suppose, that Clark Gable came back to America after combat flying over Germany a changed man.
When I saw him in Hollywood, where he was concentrating upon cutting the many reels of fighting film he brought back, I was aware first of the change in his eyes. The twinkle with which heíd always faced life until the tragic death of his wife, Carole Lombard, was back. But behind it was something I had not seen before. Something strong, steady and utterly sure.
To tell you the truth, I kept looking for the keynote of that change among Clarkís close friends in Hollywood and in my own thought for quite a long time. I kept wondering why I had such a true and enormous admiration for Captain Gable. IT couldnít be because he is a movie star. In my years in Hollywood, I have known a good many movie stars and, to be frank, have not admired all of them. I have also known a good many men who have been in battle, who have flown combat over the enemy in the face of death.
I admire all of them, naturally, but not with the same deep and solacing feeling that Gable gives all of us who know him rather well.
Then it came to me in a rush and I pass it on to you because I think there is comfort in it for all of us in these hard days.
The keynote of that change in Clark Gable is humility.
Not that Gable was ever conceited, ever high-hat, ever arrogant.
But this new look is one of a man who has pushed back many horizons, who is humbly grateful for the gift of life, who has seen men so brave and so fine that he can thank God for having created man at all.
And in that he has found the first time. I am sure, some comfort for the grief, which went deeper than most people realized, at the loss of Carole. There was a long time when he couldnít even talk about her. A long time when his friends feared the bitterness that came into his soul at her accidental death. That bitterness is all gone. In its place is a quiet and unspoken faith that fills your own mind as though somebody had turned on a light. It isnít necessary for him to say anything. You know that he knows that somewhere all is well with Carole and that has given him back peace.
Over there, in the little island which stood so firmly and so alone for so long against the enemy, Clark Gable, Captain in the USA A.F, saw a lot of men who fly and fight in this war.
They liked him. And they liked him because he was literally one of them. Clark Gable went into the Air Corps the hard way. He didnít take, more than that, he refused to accept, anything except by the hard way. He wanted combat service and nothing else.
Once in the early days when he was fighting to get in, he explained that. He wanted to do a job, he wanted to earn equality with the other men and he felt pretty sure that he could do it only by following their path. They might tolerate him if he became a major in public relations or recruiting or something like that. Fighting men are apt to be tolerant of lesser mortals; they can afford to be; they can look down and pity the men who refuse the call for greatness. You will know what I mean if you bring up strikes with Marines who have fought in the South Pacific. In their anger is a true note of pity for the blind and limited thought that rejects service, glory, patriotism.
So Gable took the hard road and when he got to England he was just another combat member of the Air Corps, ready for any combat service. He got it.
On those first raids, eh tasted fear for the first time. Years ago Captain Eddie Rickenbacker told me that real courage was the courage for the boys who went ahead and did a great job in spite of fear; he said that was courage far beyond that of the few individuals who were born fearless. In this war, there must at first be fear, as I see it. A Marine gunner who was at the battles of Midway and the Coral Sea and at Guadal canal told me once that at first you were scared silly, with a sort of paralyzing stage fright, it was all so new and so strange. But he said after a little wile you just got so darn busy you didnít have time to be afraid. Then, he said, came the great inner surge of something that made you want to fight and fight hard, because you were fighting against everything you have always been taught to hate.
Combat mess halls, which are sacred to the men who do the actual fighting and extremely exclusive, so I am told, received Captain Gable with open arms. Even the famous Polish squadron, those fliers whose memories drive them to heights of combat few other achieve, welcomed Captain Gable.
For months he saw the real thing. Saw it with eyes trained to know men, to understand drama and emotion, older eyes that knew life pretty well.
That experience gave him humility. When he talks about the men of our Air Corps Ė about the men of the RAF and the RCAF Ė he does it with a respect, with an honestly awed admiration that sends your own heart racing up to meet that tribute. You canít match it, of course, because Captain Gable has seen, he has been there, he has flown in great bomber attacked by German fighter plains, he has been ďin troubleĒ up there in the skies.
A good many honors, a lot of applause and success, have come to Clark Gable in his lifetime. I can tell you now that he is prouder of the friendship of the bomber crews with whom he flew than anything else that has ever happened to him, that he values their unexpressed in words acceptance of him more than he has valued the cheers of millions of fans, through heís always been grateful for those, too.
Those kids. Those kid who fight and win and fight and die. Those American kids, the roughest, toughest two-fisted fighting men in the world. Those kids who live in the skies, who fight in the Universe, no longer earthbound humans but part of the Army of St. Michael himself. Why Ė to have been one of them, to have flown with them, heard their careless, sure unswerving faith, seen their courage Ė Itís done something for Captain Gable and you can see it plainly enough.
There is, pilots tell me, something between a bomber crew that probably exists nowhere else in the world. A friendship, a love, an understanding that doesnít happen except up there in the sky. They belong together in a way other men know nothing about. They think as a unit, fight as a unit, face death and danger and know the measure of each otherís ability to take it in a way that is unique. Thatís an experience that will last a man a whole lifetime. Gableís had that. And when he talks about it, youíd think every member of the crew had done him a favor to accept him and approve him. Thatís what I mean by humility.
The whole story cannot be told now, we all realize that. Moreover, Captain Gable wouldnít tell it anyhow. Not yet. Someday heíll pay his tribute to his fighting brothers, but right now he doesnít want, above all things, to be an exception.
That has been the only fly in the ointment: Itís been the thing he has fought hardest against. He doesnít want to do anything any other captain in the Army Air Corps of the United States wouldnít and couldnít do.
But this much can be told:
You judge a man by the measure of his temptations. You know what manner of a man he is by how he lives when great demands have been made upon him. It is no disrespect to call attention to other men who have been in somewhat the same spot that Gable occupied before he went into the Air Corps. Valentino, Wallace Reid, Jack Gilbert Ė or even to a few of today like Errol Flynn.
But itís only fair for us to put Captain Gable where he belongs, not so much fair to him as fair to ourselves. We need to look up to somebody, we need very badly to have those we have thought well of measure up to all we hoped they were. We need to see clearly how much of a man a man can be. It helps.
When Carole Lombard went to her death in an airplane accident, Clark Gable actually hit the lowest ebb of his life.
He had found the one woman and they had found together a fine, clean life. Her loss shocked the very foundations of his being.
Yet today with all the new sadness that is in his eyes, I think he is happier than he has ever been. He has found men to look up to, he has found that at its best the human race can be great. Thatís why heís living in a new world. There has to be immortality because as he himself says, you couldnít possibly kill a spirit like he has seen in fighter pilots. You might kill the body, but nothing could kill such a spirit; it has to be deathless, immortal, everlasting. This life becomes only part of the great, vast, never-ending life of the universe.
Donít get the impression that Clark is serious or sad or solemn about all this. His tales are lusty, strong and often very merry.
The film he brought back from his missions and which heís now cutting for release is human film intended to make you and me see and know the little things, the daily, hourly, ordinary things as well as the great moments. He has the same virility and personality heís always had.
But Ė the change is there.
Gable didnít have to go into the combat service. He didnít have to go into service at all.
Lots of people didnít want him to. Certainly he didnít have to fly in actual fighting warfare. Certainly he had a great deal to lose. If position and money and fame and opportunity mean anything.
He was and is just one of those guys who quite simply saw it as his job and the only job that could content him. Saw plainly that a man in these days must offer all that he has and all that he is to preserve the rights of humanity upon this earth.
Out of his service over there, he has brought the conviction that he was right. Humanity is worth preserving, free and untrammeled.
All that he has gained makes you pity those who have hidden from service under some alibi or other. Or who have given less than their best.
It seems to me we ought to appreciate a guy like Gable. Ought maybe to make him a promise. I know I made mine, who I saw him and talked with him.
I promised myself that Iíd try to live up to him.