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Cadiz celebrates 100th birthday of Clark Gable

Source: THE PLAIN DEALER, Monday, February 05, 2001


Last Thursday, Feb. 1, would have been the 100th birthday of that ol' rebel rascal, Rhett Butler, also known as Clark Gable.

And frankly, my dear, quite a few people give a damn.

They're the several hundred folks who honored Gable's birthday this past weekend in the town where he was born, with festivities rivaling the Twelve Oaks barbecue in "Gone With the Wind," featuring Gable as Rhett Butler in his most famous movie role.

They toured the $160,000 newly constructed re-creation of Gable's white-frame birthplace, where museum displays include his childhood sled (not "Rosebud" but close), the doctor's bill for delivery of this nearly 11-pound baby, a "CG" monogrammed pajama top, photos (golfing with Roy Rogers) and movie posters.

In the gift shop, they could get a jar of actual dirt from the birth site ($3), or select from assorted souvenir videos, clocks, mugs, T-shirts, plates and such bumper stickers as Scarlett's famous "Gone With the Wind" procrastination pledge, "Fiddle dee dee, I'll think about it tomorrow."

At a nearby church, they signed petitions to get Gable on a U.S. postage stamp; perused vendorsí tables piled with vintage Gable memorabilia including bygone movie publicity photos, magazine articles and books; examined bits of twisted airplane wreckage taken from Table Rock Mountain, Nev., where Gableís third wife, Carole Lombard, was killed in a 1942 airline crash.

They raised more than $7,000 for the Clark Gable Foundation (which maintains the birthplace museum), through an auction of such Gable mementos as one of the original theater programs from the Atlanta premiere of "Gone With the Windí in 1939 ($240), and a copy of Gableís last will and testament ($95).

And hard-core "Windies" (as "Gone With the Windí fans call themselves) reeled in Confederate crinolines and capes til the South rose again in the annual birthday dinner-dance for this favorite son of Cadiz - even if official state markers at the town limits do recognize another historic hometowner in John "Hang íem high" Bingham (who prosecuted the assassins of President Abraham Lincoln).

Why they came

Now some of these folks may say they attended this 16th annual birthday bash as a tribute to a great actor, or because of the nostalgia of bygone Dixie or Hollywood heydays evoked by "Gone With the Wind" and Gable.

"He was a regular guy, and I think a lot of it was due to his upbringing in Ohio," said Gary Barker, foundation president.

But among women, invariably the reason for traveling to cornfield Ohio in the dead of winter is because the man once known as "The King," long before Elvis, is still quite the hunk, 41 years after his death.

"I donít know what it is, but he had it," said Ann Rossi, of Glenside, Pa., who has seen "Gone With the Wind" 181 times.

Museum volunteers Donna Haught, 68, and Virginia Vasbinder, 80, were among the local women who started holding costume birthday parties for Gable as a way of boosting town pride and tourism after EPA regulations knocked the timbers from under the areaís high-sulfur coal mining industry.

Plus, "itís just because heís so ..." Haught began, blushing.

"Handsome," Vasbinder finished. "Heís like the mark to judge other men by."

Wanda DeVore, of New London, said Gable represented a pre-MTV era when the stars "had to be moral and respectful ... and kept their clothes on."

Among survivors of this era visiting the birthday bash were former "Gone With the Wind" child actors including Cammie King Conlon, who portrayed Rhett and Scarlettís daughter, Bonnie Blue Butler ("killed" when thrown from her pony).

During an autograph session, Conlon reassured little Tara (yes, named for the movie plantation) Roush, 8, of Wichita, Kan., that her "death" was all movie pretending. "See? My neck is fine," Conlon said.

Conlon worked with Gable when she was 5, and only remembers his scratchy mustache. But even she ruefully admits, "When I see the movie and I look at him carrying me, holding me, kissing me and putting me to bed ... itís like one of lifeís cruel tricks. There was something about my timing that wasnít quite right, because he was a hunk, wasnít he?"

Gableís son makes appearance

Another special guest was ceramic artist John Clark Gable, born four months after his famous fatherís death, but without the old manís distinctive big ears. Gable brought 48 hand-crafted 100th birthday commemorative mugs with him from California, which sold at the auction for about $100 each.

Gable said his third such visit to this annual event was "a way to see all my dadís fans and keep his legacy alive. Iím honored that my father still has this many fans."

These visiting celebrities ice the celebratory birthday cake, according to Karen Miller, 40, of Mechanicsburg, Ohio, who just got a floral GWTW ("Gone With the Wind") thigh-tattoo for her 40th birthday. "You get to hear the stories only they know, that you canít get anywhere else," she said.

Plus, thereís the camaraderie of fellow fans, the comfort in knowing "Iím not the only one in the world whoís crazy about that movie," she said. That there are others who also get goosebumps when moonlight exposes post-war Tara, and Scarlett gushes, "Itís still theah.í They havenít burned it."

Itís also knowing there are others like Miller who will sew Southern belle gowns for the dinner-dance, perhaps dream of drifting in the arms of that lovable scoundrel, Rhett Butler ... And realize that although it has to end, tomorrow after all, is another day, and next year another birthday.

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