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Our Helen Salutes The King She Knew

Source: Detroit Free Press 11/18/1960
Author: Helen Bower, Free Press Movie Critic

One of the greatest of Helen Bower's many thrills as Free Press movie writer was the time she appeared in a film with Clark Gable. Today she recalls with sadness, and tells you how that "Gable charm" conquered her.

"Jim, the colonel wants to see you."

That line given me to speak in "Teacher's Pet" back in 1957 had become a running gag with producer William Perlberg and Clark Gable and me. "The colonel" was the publisher of the newspaper in the movie.

I'll never know why THE Colonel - the One who runs the show for all of us - wanted to see Clark Gable now, of all times in his life.

When Gable went into the hospital this last time, I dashed off a note to "Dear Jim Gannon." That was Gable's name as city editor of the New York Chronicle in "Teacher's Pet."

I wrote "Jim" that he had made our front page that morning, and that add would go something like "Jim, the colonel wants to see that you get lots of rest and get out of the hospital."

Adding congratulations on the news that his sweet Kay expects to become the mother of Gable's first child next March. I wrote that it would be a happy headline when the baby's birth made the front page.

Down through the years of looking at Clark Gable movies - the greatest of them, of course, "Gone with the Wind," with Vivien Leigh - I had always admired him as an actor.

Yet I never could quite understand why he had such power to charm women.

Then came May, 1957, and the chance to be one of the 67 working newspaper men and women director George Seaton assembled to have the staff in "Teacher's Pet" act like real reporters.

That Sunday of arrival in Hollywood there was a supper party at Trader Vic's in the Beverly-Hilton Hotel - and there I met Clark Gable for the first time. And I encountered the Gable charm.

No other man had a smile like Gable's. His rugged, sometimes stern face would break up and his big dark eyes seemed to crinkle when he laughed. It was a happy thing just to see him look like that.

It was Wednesday of that week that the time came for me to speak my one line. How, well I remember when Chico Day, the assistant director, called for a rehearsal.

As Gable came past me through the city room on his way to his desk, I exclaimed on one, "Clark, the colonel wants to see you."

Up came George Seaton to say,"You're supposed to say to him 'Jim,' sweetie."

What made me Gable's gal for life was what happened as he came back past me to begin the scene all over again.

His eyes were all smile-crinkled as he said under his breath, "DID you say 'Clark'!"

"Teacher's Pet" was the only movie of his for which Gable made a personal appearance tour. With Mrs. Gable he went to Washington, Cleveland and Chicago. Perlberg Seaton flew some of us "former picture actors" in the area to Cleveland.

At the dinner I got another special smile from "Jim," when Perlberg introduced me in my turn and I repeated my line.

On the Gables' Christmas card that year (1958), his wife wrote a little note of appreciation in reference to the Cleveland visit.

Now one thing is giving me a strange feeling along with the grief I share with so many.

That letter to Gable in the hospital ended with another quotation, "Goodbye, Jim! Take keer of yourself."

I didn't know it WAS going to be "Goodbye, Jim!"

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