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Cadiz, Ohio, proud of native son Clark Gable

Museum’s artifacts celebrate film star

Author: Jeff Louderback
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer, Febuary 11, 2001

Glancing at a photo that showcases the actor’s trademark smile, one male visitor says, ‘‘It’s not fair for one man to have that combination of charisma and good looks.’’

In another room, tears stream down the face of a woman, whose love for her on-screen idol best known for his role as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind remains true.

It was 1960 when William Clark Gable died of a heart attack at age 59, but his legacy lives in the hearts of devoted fans and at a museum that preserves his memory in Cadiz, a small town north of St. Clairsville in east central Ohio.

The Clark Gable Museum, stocked with relics such as the sled that a young Gable rode through the snow and plates and movie stills adorned with the actor’s face, opened in April 1999 in a replica of the home where he was born Feb. 1, 1901.

Birthplace razed

For years, nothing in Cadiz identified Gable’s ties to the community. The original building where his family lived in an upstairs apartment was torn down.

It was not until a group of residents formed the Clark Gable Foundation in 1984 that the town, also once the home of Gen. George Armstrong Custer, commemorated Gable’s local ties. Tireless fund-raising generated enough money to erect a monument on the spot where Gable once lived two years later, but that was not enough to satisfy the legion of Gable fans who converged on Cadiz each year.

‘‘Before the monument, there was nothing to indicate where Clark Gable was born,’’ said Nan Mattern, executive director of the Clark Gable Museum. ‘‘All that was on the location where his home once stood was a flower garden and a garage. Once the monument was placed there, people would stop and take photos. We knew we needed something more to recognize him and tell the story of who he was.’’

In 1991, the foundation received a sizable gift from the estate of longtime Cadiz resident Isabelle Clifford, who lived down the street from Gable’s birthplace.

The donation was invested, and eight years later an authentic reconstruction of the home where Gable entered the world during a fierce winter storm was completed.

The doctor’s receipt for delivering the 101¼2-pound baby boy at 5:30 a.m. for $10 is among the items on display. Time-Warner/Turner Entertainment, which owns the rights to most of Gable’s movies, agreed to provide still photos and films for use at the house.

The museum has attracted visitors from at least 30 states and nine countries, according to Ms. Mattern.

‘‘Men admire Clark Gable because he was charismatic — a man’s man. Women love him because he was handsome, compassionate and down-to-earth,’’ said Ms. Mattern, who was raised in Kansas, 65 miles from the nearest theater, and never met Gable or saw any of his films when they were new.

She grew captivated by the actor when she moved to his hometown.

‘‘He didn’t let wealth and fame change who he was,’’ she said. ‘‘In an interview, he said, ‘I eat and sleep and go the bathroom just like everybody else. I’m just a lucky slob from Ohio.’ ’’

Grew up in Hopedale

Gable lived in Cadiz for his first nine months. His mother, Adeline, died when he was 7 months old.

His father, William, moved to nearby Hopedale, where Gable lived in a home which remains a private residence.

At 17, Gable quit high school and moved to Akron, working in a tire factory, now owned by Firestone.

‘‘He would work half-days and then watch plays at theaters, hoping for a break,’’ Ms. Mattern said. ‘‘He had an interest in performing arts even as a child. At the museum, we have a program from when he was nine years old. He did a duet and a solo at the Patton Opera House in Hopedale.’’

Married five times

Gable toured the country as an actor for several years before gaining acclaim in Hollywood.

His mannerisms and presence commanding every scene, Gable appeared in more than 70 films, including Mutiny on the Bounty, It Happened One Night and, of course, Gone With the Wind. Gable was married five times.

The museum showcases a collection of memorabilia from one of his wives, actress Carole Lombard.

Gable’s final film, The Misfits, was also the final on-screen appearance by his co-star, Marilyn Monroe.

He died of a heart attack during the movie’s production. At the time, Gable’s fifth wife, Kay, was pregnant with his first son.

Though John Clark Gable never knew his father, he has been among the family members and celebrities who have visited the museum and participated in the annual weekend-long birthday bash every February.

Gable’s stepdaughter, Joan Spreckels, also has toured the museum, as well as several cast members from Gone With the Wind.

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