Clark Gable in his 60th year
Source:McCall's 11/1960, Pg67,224-228
Author: Bill Davidson
More than any other player in the history of Hollywood, this man has earned the title of the King
The men who fly the big bombers of the Strategic Air Command, the first line of defense of the United States-indeed, of the entire free world-against totalitarian aggression, are mature men, carefully chosen and rigorously trained for their mission. Their average age Air Force records reveal, is thirty-five. Unlike the reckless youth we once associated with flying, SAC's pilots are more often than not family men, with double chins and graying temples. Further generalizations about a group of men so diverse are dangerous. There is only one more we would like to make, and the responsibility is ours, not the Air Force's: At some time in the life of every SAC pilot, probably around his twelfth birthday, he suffered from hero worship. His hero was Clark Gable.
It is a safe assumption, considering Gable's effect on the red blood corpuscles of the American people for more than a quarter of a century. An SAC pilot who is thirty-five today was twelve years old back in 1937, when Gable was crowned King of Hollywood, in a poll of 400 newspaper editors, conducted by Ed Sullivan. Although the size and prestige of Gable's monarchy have diminished, he is still the archetype of the rugged American hero-only more mature.
In the years of his reign, Gable was captivating movie audiences in Test Pilot, Mutiny on the Bounty, Red Dust, and San Francisco. He was the biggest thing to come down the Hollywood pike-a raspy-voiced, big-eared, broad-shouldered leading man, who grinned sardonically as he punched adversity in the nose with one massive hand and enfolded the leading lady with the other. Today, pushing sixty, he is still big. None of his recent pictures has been a really great one, and some have been genuinely bad. Yet Gable is still in high demand, and none of the younger leading men, with the possible exception of Marion Brando, looms up as a genuine successor.
Now Gable is finishing still another film, The Misfits, in which his costars are Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. The script is by Arthur Miller; the director is John Huston. Gable's presence amid such company is not a gesture toward aging royalty, but a calculated, hard-cash venture. None of his pictures in the past ten years has grossed less than $4,000,000. A careful check of box-office statistics reveals that no male star can claim the same, with the odd exception of Jerry Lewis. Frank Taylor, producer of The Misfits, is paying Gable a fee of $750,000 against eventual payment of ten per cent of the picture's gross receipts. This is for sixteen weeks' work. If the shooting, for any reason, runs over sixteen weeks, Gable gets an additional $48,000 per week.
Gable is a busy man, and he knows Miss Monroe's reputation for procrastination. If any temperament in the cast delays the picture for, say, ten weeks, Gable could make one and a
quarter million dollars before a single cent is taken in at the box office. It is generally agreed that no actor in movie history ever will have been paid so much in advance for a picture.
Taylor says: "We felt there was still only one actor in the world who expresses the essence of complete masculinity and
virility we needed for the leading role-and that was Gable."
The future SAC pilot, in the early Gable days, might have
tinkered with Dad's car (or one of his own) or built model airplanes. He also might have abhorred machines, preferring to play Bach on the bassoon. But we can be sure that, whenever he got the chance and the spending money, he went to the local Bijou or downtown to Loew's State. Even if, at the age of twelve, he avoided Gable epics and indulged his Saturday-afternoon fantasies on Ken Maynard Or even Greta Garbo, by the time Gone With the Wind was making the circuit, he would have got to see Gable, if only because his girlfriend insisted.
So the generation that is thirty-five years old or thereabouts today unquestionably accepted Gable into its pantheon of heroes as it was growing up. No matter if no human being could possibly have been all the characters he played on the screen. His legion of fans-and consistently, year after year, he has been a top box-office star in America-knew that even the bravest knight looks puny when he steps out of the armor. They didn't expect Gable to be real.
Gable would be the last man on earth to confuse his roles with reality: "I'm just a guy trying to get along. I'm not important. I stand up in front of a camera and make faces and talk some words. That's all," he told an interviewer some years ago. It was enough. Americans liked Gable's candor, his lack of side, off the screen as much as they, liked him on it when he overcame adversities like typhoons and earthquakes. A moment after they emerged, blinking, from the darkened theater, they knew, of course, that the typhoon had been whipped up in a Hollywood tank by a wind machine and that the earth had quaked only when technicians had jiggled a lever.
Nonetheless, they recognized that Gable was cut from the same bolt of cloth as had been Babe Ruth, Dempsey, Lindbergh, and Henry Ford-a rugged, homespun fabric that warmed them. They wanted heroes who walloped adversity, in any shape or form, and didn't stop to negotiate with it. Even if Gable was made of celluloid, at least that made him more approachable than other heroes. You could bask in his warmth merely by entering a movie house.
He was one of them, especially if they came from small towns, as so many people did those days, looking for work. People who liked Gable also appreciated Will Rogers' brand of humor, the jibes of H. L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis about the established order of things made them uneasy. America in the thirties was seeing the end of the small town with its isolation and security; asphalt highways, buzzing with cars, and the radio amid the movies had moved every small town inescapably closer to some big city. Cities were frightening places, except when you went to a movie and saw someone you knew.
Even when Gable wore a dinner jacket and made love in a penthouse, he was still, the small-town boy; his Midwestern accent and those farm-boy shoulders gave him away. He was no sleek gigolo or city slicker. You felt comfortable with Gable up there on the screen, larger than life.
It wasn't that way with other actors. It had become hard to imagine you had gone to the high-school prom with Rudolph Valentino or played sand-lot baseball with John Gilbert.
Women didn't mind it when Gable confessed in one of his early interviews. "When I played my first love scene, I was scared to death. The director said to use a longing expression, so I did my very best. I tried to think of a big, tender, rare steak. It worked so well I've been using it for romantic scenes ever since," As for the men, they envied Gable both his big love scenes and his big, tender, rare steaks. Steaks were rare in those days, in more than one meaning of the word.
For the emergence of Clark Gable as an American hero had coincided with the emergence of the United States from the depths of the Great Depression. A villain bigger than any Gable had ever faced on the screen had struck down the entire nation in a dark, unfamiliar alley. The cockiness with which Americans had come out of World War I. having made the world safe for democracy, vanished overnight in the violence of the stock-market debacle.
In the thirties, the United States was struggling to its feet, glassy-eyed, guilty, perhaps a bit hung-over from Prohibition gin. With banks and factories shut, farms foreclosed, the unemployed shuffling in bread lines or selling apples on street corners, it seemed as though the American muscle that had so impressed Europe had lost its punch. The American grin that banished sorrow before tomorrow no longer seemed able to turn the trick.
Whenever people could afford the price of a ticket, they retreated from their anxieties into the dreamland of a darkened movie, theater. There they discovered Gable. He was fearless, anti sardonic. He exemplified virility, at a time when democracy feared it had lost its virility. Women loved the way he swept his leading ladies of their feet and carried them off; the men they knew they might have stopped en route to postpone the next installment payment on the bedroom furniture. Men liked the way he handled his problems-if nothing else worked, he gave them a punch in the nose. His message was oversimplified, but it was inspiring. In those clays, anything rambunctious was inspiring.
As a reward for the reassurance he gave them. Americans made Gable rich, famous, and a living legend. He is the only Hollywood actor to become an authentic American hero for his exploits on the screen. For want of a better description, Hollywood called him its king. It still does. Only Garbo ranks alongside him in Hollywood's hall of fame-and she isn't American. Nor does she make movies any more.
His influence has lasted longer, gone deeper, and affected more people of both sexes than that of any movie star. For thirty years now, the challenge of "Who do you think you are-Clark Gable?" has served American womanhood alternately an a mating call and as the clinching rejoinder in an argument.
His effect on women is incredible. Two years ago, a woman saw him passing by on the Paramount lot, where he was making a picture. She literally swooned. There were eyewitnesses to the occurrence, including Gable's wife, Kay. "We thought it was a gag,' Mrs. Gable says. "Clark is a gentleman, however, so he picked the woman up and carried her to the first-aid station. She came to while she was in his amts, took one look, and fainted again."
Surprisingly. Gable has always been as popular with men as with women. When he decided to grow a mustache, it automatically became no longer sissyish for other men to do so. And the story has been told often that when Gable stripped off his shirt in
one of the key scenes of It Happened One Night, his only Academy Award winning performance and revealed that his manly chest was bare, haberdashers were stuck with immovable piles of undershirt.. Frank Capra, who directed the picture, recalls: "I had no idea what an effect this would have on American men: I simply wanted to show off Gable's torso, but it created a panic in the underwear industry. No one wanted to wear undershirts any more." A reverse effect was caused by Gable in the men's-suit industry. A top manufacturer declared: "For nearly twenty years, we had to put the shoulders of men's jackets. They all wanted to look like that ox, Gable."
Gable's influence on American manhood is, in sonic ways. Incalculable. Small boys saw hint in Test Pilot and, full of hero worship, got interested in aviation. Some of them grew up to become pilots in the Strategic Air. Others, fortunately or not, imitated his swashbuckling approach to danger when they went into combat in World War II. "Who do you think you are-Clark Gable?" served occasionally as a warning to GIs to keep their heads clown.
Oddly enough, Hollywood couldn't see Gable as a hero when he strode into sight in 1930. When MGM decided to give the husky young man a two-year contract, on time strength of bit parts he had played at other studios (MGM had turned him down a year before, after a screen test in which he appeared as a Polynesian.) Gable only as a heavy. Thalberg correctly divined Gables ruthless, overpowering masculinity; but the public promptly proved him wrong in his conclusion. It wanted toughs guys as heroes. Buffeted by the Depression, Americans were yearning for a hero with a broad streak of aggression, even if It meant applauding a man who was ruthless with women.
In Gable's first sizable role, in The Free Soul, he played a gangster who, to emphasize his brutal nature, at one point shoved the flirtatious society girl, played by the delicate star Norma Shearer, into a chair. Audiences were delighted by his un-gallantry. Perhaps their applause was directed as much against Miss Shearer's role as it wan for Gable: it could have been America's Puritan heritage reasserting itself and putting the flappers in their plate. Those were restive years in the United States.
Audiences' sympathies were so clearly with Gable that when Leslie Howard, the ostensible hero, shot him near the film's end, the audience booed. The most villainous thing Gable did in that movie was steal it from Miss Shearer who happened to be the wife of his boss. Graciously, Thalberg forgave him and admitted his error. From then on, Gable was a pleasantly villainous hero.
The Hollywood in which Clark Gable set out to make his mark in 1930 was struggling with two problems. One was the Depression, which unaccountably had affected the movie Industry as early as 1928. The other was the advent of sound. Contrary to popular impression, the Hollywood tycoons were not overjoyed when technicians perfected the talkies. They had large investments in silent equipment and in stars whose voices were unknown quantities. When business had been good, a studio like MGM had been delighted with silent hits like The MerryWidow, The Big
Parade, and Ben-Hur. Now, with business in the doldrums, the enormous investment required to install sound facilities an studios and theaters and to develop players whose speaking voices matched their acting loomed like a millstone around Hollywood's neck. An industry built on people's daydreams could be strangled if talkies turned out to be a temporary fad.
They weren't. Movies surged to a new height of popularity as the economy improved and people found in them low-cost surcease front their cares. If anything, sound only improved their daydreams. Studios, like M-G-M headed by the imperious Louis B. Mayer, increased their production of films. More theaters were built. In those clays, the big flint companies controlled the studios, the distribution channels, and the theaters, so they were assured of markets for their products. Given a star like Gable, a production wizard like Irving Thalberg could fill his company's theaters with salable merchandise. Under Mayer's aegis, M-G.M became the studio with "more stars than there are in heaven," employing players like Gable, Joan Crawford, Nelson Eddy, Jeanette MacDonald, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Jeans Harlow, Spencer Tracy, and Mickey Rooney. Another was Judy Garland, who got her first big break after a studio party, at which she sang a winsome number called "Dear Mister Gable,"
Actors, producers, directors, and writers were given lush, long-term contracts, to ensure a steady output for the busy theaters. Gable's salary rose to $5.500 a week. Stars' astronomical salaries enabled them to live like royalty-even more so, since they didn't have Hitler threatening their borders. M-G.M grew into a vast factory, covering a hundred and seventy-two acres, manufacturing movies on Thirty sound stages, and Gable was the kingpin among its leading men.
During World War II, Hollywood enjoyed its greatest boom, as war workers with money to spend, but little to buy, attended the movies in round-time-clock shifts. More than eighty million movie admissions were bought every week in those years. Gable was earning $7,500 a week when he decided to join the Army in 1942. His salary plummeted to a tiny fraction of this.
When he came back, it was to a Hollywood that faced even greater problems than those he-had helped it surmount when he'd been starting out. This time, there were three of them. One was the government's order separating the film studios from their theater chains. The second was television. The third was inflated costs. They caused changes in Hollywood so drastic that it has not yet recovered; the movie business will never be the same again. Even Gable was affected. In 1954, after twenty-four years under contract to MGM, he left the studio to become a freelance. While in its employ, he had made fifty-four pictures, which had brought in gross receipts of $300,000,000. Soon after Gable left the lot, M-G-M announced it was closing down temporarily to take a fresh look at its business. It has since reopened, but it has never gone back to the assembly-line production it knew when Gable was there and movies were in their prime.
One reason for Gable's longevity as a Hollywood star, and as an American hero, is his remarkable single-mindedness. Both his parents came of German stock, and a friend of his says. "Clark inherited from his parents all the basic characteristics of
the Germans. He is stubborn, methodical, immaculate, a perfectionist about his work. - I've seen Clark set his jaw and balk like a mule wheat a studio asked him to waive time provision he has in all his contracts that he works only from nine to five, not a minute sooner or later. His father was like that, too. He lived in Hollywood for several years before he died in nineteen forty-eight, and he steadfastly refused to wear a tuxedo at time formal affairs Clark invited him to."
Gable says: "To the day he died, my father could never get it through his head that acting was honorable work for a man. Even when I was making seventy-five hundred dollars a week, he stubbornly kept saying. 'What kind of a job is that for a fellow six feet tall, weights a hundred and ninety-five pounds?"
The elder Gable was an oil driller when his son was born in 1901 in Cadiz, Ohio. Tje baby weighted twelve pounds at birth. His mother, a fragile and beautiful woman, had severe difficulties in bearing him. "I never knew her," Gable says. She was sick almost from the day I was born, and she went back to her parents' home outside Meadville, Pennsylvania. She died there when I was seven month old, My father then left me with my grandparents, and I lived with them for four years after that."
Gable's father remarried in 1906, after four years of knocking around the oil field alone, and five-year-old Billy, as he was then called (his full name is William Clark Gable), went to live with them in Hopedale, Ohio. His father's second wife was a milliner - a gentle, cultured person. Gable never refers to her as "my mother" or "my stepmother," but always by her maiden name, Jennie Dunlap. "Jennie Dunlap was a wonderful woman," he recalls, " though I didn't realize it until later. She must have loved me very much, because I was certainly not a very nice little boy." His neighbors in Hopedale tend to dispute this estimate of himself. They say he was a rather spoiled only child of a well-to-do family, with certain unusual luxuries, such as the only private pool table in town, but that he was never in trouble.
During these years, Gable saw little of Isis father, who was away most of the time on his wildcat oil-drilling operation. Gable says: "He always dreamed of bringing in a big one, but he never did. When he died, I inherited a trunkful of worthless oil leases, When I lacked at those leases, I remembered how much I missed him in the early years when he was away so much."
When Gable was fifteen, his stepmother became very ill, and on- her doctor's orders, his father gave up oil drilling for a while and moved to a farm near Ravenna, Ohio. For a time, Gable was a typical farm boy. He went to high school in Ohio, for a year where his grades were in the seventies, except his grade for spelling, in which he excelled. He played the slide trombone and -the French horn in the school band, and because of his size he then was six feet tall and weight a hundred and fifty pounds, he made the baseball team as a first baseman. "One day.' says Gable, "a friend of, mine, Andy Means, told me he was going to Akron, sixty miles away to work in the rubber factories there. I still had three years to go in high school, but I decided to go with him. I had a terrible fight with my father about this, but finally Jennie talked him into letting me go, and I got on a train with Andy and a straw suitcase." That was the end of Gable's schooling - but inadvertently it led to the beginning of his career as an actor.
Gable says:"Akron was a big city, compared with what I was used to, and it fascinated me. I got a job as a timekeeper at the Miller Rubber Company by faking my age. One day, I wandered down to the Music Hall on Exchange Street, where a stock company was doing a play called Bird of Paradise. IT was about the South Sea islands, and I had never seen anything so wonderful in my life. I got a job as a callboy backstage, for which I was paid a salary of zero. It was Call the actor. 'Half hour, please sir,' but I loved it."
The following year, 1917, there was a telegram from home. His stepmother was dying. After Jeannie Dunlaps's funeral, there was another row with his father, who refused to let his son return to his nothing a week job. He said," I'm selling the farm, and you're coming with me. You're big and strong, and I'll make an oil man out of you yet."
Gable and son moved on to Bigheart, Oklahoma. Young Gable became an apprentice, a tool-dresser. "It was a rough business," Gable says. "I'd get up at midnight, and in the freezing cold, I'd have to climb a rickety eighty-five-foot wooden tower in the driving wind, to oil the bearings on the rig. I also had to chop wood to keep up steam in the boilers. From time to time, I had to dress the seven-hundred-pound bit that was drilling the hole. My job was to get the fire going, and then, after the driller heated the bit to a white heat with a bellows, I'd have to swing at it with a sixteen-pound sledge hammer to sharpen the cutting edges. I worked like this seven days a week, eight or nine weeks at a time. I kept saying to myself. 'There must be a better way of making a living.' But I didn't know how to go about it."
When Gable was twenty, he decided to try to find the better way. He struck out for a nearby big city, Kansas City, Missouri. His father tried to stop him in another brief violent argument; but by this time, Gable was too big to handle. In Kansas City, he headed directly for the right lights and latched on to a touring dramatic company called the Jewel Players, as a general utility man at ten dollars a week. He set up seats, sewed costumes, and played cornet in the band.
That winter, 1921, the Jewel Players, folded, and Gable was stranded in Butte, Montana, with three dollars in his pocket. For- the next two years, he was on the bum. He worked in the copper mines, and when he had enough of that, he hopped a freight train to Oregon. He became an itinerant farm laborer in the hop fields, a mule skinner, a surveyor's assistant, a lumberjack.. The hard labor developed the magnificent- Gable physique.
When he had saved enough money, he once more headed for the bright lights. This time it was Portland, Oregon. The only job he -could find was in the Meier & Frank department store. "They put me to work demonstrating rubber-lined neckties. All day, I rolled the neckties up in a ball in my hands and then showed that there were no wrinkles. It was a pretty good break for me though, because I met a salesman there, Earle Larimore, who was directing an amateur production of Nothing but the Truth, He gave me a small part in it, Later, he organized a stock company in Astoria,, Oregon, and let me come along, I played parts like a baby in a crib and a colored cook. I was billed as Billy Gable."
When the Astoria company became bankrupt. Larimore headed for New York, where he eventually became a heading actor, and Gable went back to Portland. He was sold on acting, although be had yet to make more ten dollars a week at it, He worked as a timekeeper for the telephone company and spent his evenings within the Little theater.
Moving to Hollywood, he got extra parts in movies and played a servant in Romeo and Juliet, starring Jane Cowl. Another Los Angeles play production Copperhead, was directed by Lionel Barrymore, who also was its star. Gable played time juvenile lead. "Barrymore petrified me," Gable recalls. "He bawled me out like I've never been bawled out before or since. On opening night, I accidentally dropped my straw hat into what was supposed to be a deep well. Instead of leaving it there, I reached in and plucked it out. The audience howled. I'll never understand why Barrymore didn't fire me right then and there,"
Banymore didn't fire him because, as he later told a reporter, "under my direction and training, that young clod was beginning to become an actor, Gable's single mindedness stood him in good stead. He played Anna Christie in Houston for thirty-seven weeks and moved on to New York for twelve weeks in a play called Machinal. One critic wrote: "We liked young Clark Gable as the adventurer. He is young, vigorous, and brutally masculine" He next got parts in three Broadway productions, all flops, and then was asked to play the brutal Killer Mears in the Los Angeles production of the Last Mile.
Later that year, MGM signed him to the first contract, For years, Gable has resented the first flood of publicity stories that described him as having been discovered by M-G-M while working as either a lumberjack or a telephone lineman. "I had a dozen years' apprenticeship," Gable Bays. "When I started in this business, I had a sort of school in which to learn. They were the stock
companies all over the country. I had a medium in which to serve my apprenticeship. it's gone now…"
Gable has been married five times. He met his first wife, Josephine Dillon, a dramatic coach, when she was directing the Little Theater in Portland, Oregon. She was seventeen years his senior. They were divorced in 1930. In 1931, he married a Houston socialite, Mrs. Maria Lang-ham, whom he had met while playing in stock there. She also was older than he. They were divorced in 1939.
His third wife was Carole Lombard, a Hollywood star then at the peak of her career. Carole was known as a great wit in Hollywood. She was prone to such antics- as inviting the movie industry's top brass to a party in a drawing moons filled with hay, and once, when she attended a ball to which all the ladies were asked to wear white, she arrived in an ambulance in a white hospital gown, borne on a stretcher carried by two white-clad hospital orderlies. She was extremely profane in her speech. She set out to learn about hunting and fishing, Gable's favorite avocations.
As a Valentine Day gift, Carole gave Gable am old Ford roadster painted white with red hearts all over it. The old Ford had a brand-new, souped-up motor, however, and Gable drove it happily through the streets of Hollywood for years. Friends say, "He thought Carole was the funniest woman alive, and every time she'd say something even remotely humorous, he'd slap his thigh and roar with laughter."
There is no doubt that the Gable-Lombard marriage was a happy one, Not only did shine take over the management of the household and - his social life, but she became a hard-talking, hard-drinking companion, besides she went on hunting trips with him and slept on the ground like the men. Also, she was a perfect antidote to the pomposity into which Gable occasionally lapses.
Gable's happiness with Carole was short-lived. On January 16, 1942, less than three years after they were married, she was returning by plane from -the first war-bond tour after Pearl Harbor, and the pilot, probably using unfamiliar new wartime procedures (landmarks like Boulder Dam were blacked out), flew his plane into the side of a mountain near Las Vegas, Nevada. There were no survivors.
Adela Roger St. Johns says: "After the tragedy, Gable was almost out of his head with grief. I'd go to his house, and he'd be having dinner alone in the dining room, with Carole's dog and Siamese cats at the table. He refused to touch her room and left it just as it was when she went away."
Gable finished a picture he was making and then, at the age of forty-one, enlisted in the Army Air Force, He insisted on going in as a private though the brass suggested he accept a communion and settle down to a desk job in Washington. General Henry ("Hap") Arnold, the commanding general of the Air Force, said, "Believe me, Clark, you'll be a lot less trouble to us and do a lot more good there than it you go in through regular channels and disrupt things, You're too well known." But Gable's stubbornness came to the fore again, and off he went to the reception center.
Five days later, he was in Officer Candidate School in Miami Beach, Florida. Commissioned a second lieutenant, he was called to Washington by General Arnold and asked to go overseas to make a movie that would glamorize the work of air gunners. A
Hollywood writer, John Lee Mahin, served in the same unit as Gable. "His first mission was supposed to be an easy milk run over Antwerp. He flew up all the way, carrying a small hand camera. When the plane came back that afternoon, a twenty-millimeter shell had come through the floor, ripped off the heel of Gable's boot, just missed his ear, and made a hole in the fuselage a foot from his head. After that, Gable was accepted as one of the boys."
Gable flew four missions, on one of which his mustache froze, On another, he got a slight case of the bends. He was awarded an Air Medal and promoted to captain. Mahin adds, "He always refused to take an escape kit, with phony identification cards and the rest, with him in the event his plane was shot down and he had to bail out, He said, 'How can I hide with this face? If the plane gets hit, I'll Just go down with it.'"
Gable's film on air gunners was used in training, but was never released to the public. In March, 1944, he was promoted from captain to major and discharged. A sincere patriot, Gable was embarrassed about being out of uniform even before D-Day, so he kept himself pretty much out of sight with long, lonely hunting and fishing trips. When the war was over, he returned to MGM with a great fanfare of trumpets. His first postwar picture was Adventure, with Greer Garson. A national advertising campaign proclaimed,"Gable's back and Garson's got him." Adventure was originally written for Freddie Bartholomew, then a child star, and in one of those inexplicable idiosyncrasies of movie thinking, it was recast with Gable as the hero. The picture was a critical disaster, but huge crowds turned out to see the king. "Richard the Lion Hearted didn't get a better reception." Says an MGM executive, "when he returned from the Crusades," Between the end of the war and his departure from MGM in 1954, Gable made a dozen movies for his studio. Only two of them Mogambo and Command Decision, were considered good.
As his career took a new turn, so did his personal life. His fourth Marriage to Lady Sylvia Ashley, who had once been the wife of Douglas Fairbanks Sr., ended in 1952.
Today, Gable is married to his fifth wife- the former Kay Willams Spreckels - and spends most of his time at his white brick, Connecticut-style farmhouse in Encino, California, with Kay and her two children, Adolph III (nickname, Bunker), ten. and Joan, eight. Gable calls Kay "Ma,' and she calls him "Pa."
Gable hasn't been fishing in two years now, and gone are the poker-playing, whisky-drinking escapades of yore. Instead, he accompanies his stepchildren to Little League baseball games (Bunker's team, the Orioles, is in last place) and to 4-H Club meetings (the Gable children are raising a lamb as their project) - "I still have fast cars," sighs Gable "but Kay won't let me drive them fast any more."
In order to keep his paunch down, Gable now plays golf (he shoots its the low eighties). At the end of each day, he works with Bunker in the back yard, throwing fly balls and grounders to the youngster to sharpen his weak baseball fielding. "That kid keeps me out there until the sweat is pouring off me and I'm ready to drop," says Gable, "but next year, by heaven, he'll be a regular on that team." Gable, who never had any children of his own, has become the complete father.
In the old days. Gable's principal companions were hard-living outdoorsmen like himself. Today, his closest friends are a judge, a millionaire real-estate developer, and a movie-studio vice-president. His social life consists mostly of sedate dinner parties and yachting trips, with occasional trapshooting at a private gun
club. Whereas his clothes once reflected the careless abandon of his roles, he now dresses in conservative gray flannels and seersuckers. His jackets display no checks larger man hound's tooth. Whereas he used to bolt a pint-size tumblerful of whisky at a time, lumberjack style, he saps tea or a cocktail made of five parts lemon juice to one part vodka. Whereas language used to bristle with the salty dialogue of the oil-field worker (which he was), he now speaks impeccably, within only an occasional grammatical error.
Spencer Tracy still refers to him as "the king," and recently a studio executive rushed up to him at a country club and called, "King, how are you? How are Kay and the kids, King?"
On the rare occasions when Gable attends a Hollywood party, all other pale into insignificance beside him. Last winter, he went to Chasen's restaurant for a party celebrating the premiere of Suddenly, Last Summer.
When he arrived, the restaurant's number-one table, directly alongside the door, was reserved for him - and not for Elizabeth Taylor, the star of the picture, who ordinarily would occupy it. As he sat there, Hollywood's nobility - Rock Hudson, Gary Cooper, Mel Ferrer, Audrey Hepburn, Jack Benny, Danny Kaye, and Miss Taylor herself - stared at him, just like fans. When he left early, Miss Taylor was saddened: "If only Mr. Gable had stayed a little longer. Everything else was an anticlimax after he left."
Gable will be sixty years old next February. It looks as if 1961 will be a triumphal year for the king of Hollywood. Gable probably will once again be the number one movie star at the box office, a position he has not held since the 1930s. This will come about because MGM will re-release GWTW in April and his current film, The Misfits, a potential blockbuster at the box office, will go into distribution next summer. Together, these picture could gross over $20,000,000, which would put Gable well above the figure with which Rock Hudson won the title this year. Long live the King!