Judy Lewis--love child of Clark and Loretta
Excerpt from Uncommon Knowledge by Judy Lewis---the love child of Clark Gable and Loretta Young.
Loretta with her daughter, Judy. Photo taken by Twentieth Century Fox in 1938.
That September, just after the new school year had begun, the station wagon dropped me off under the porte cochere and I walked up to the front door, planning the rest of the afternoon in my mind. I would wash my hair before my dinner date with Jack. I wanted to look especially nice because this was our last weekend together before he left for Fordham.
The front door was wide open. I walked into the entry hall and stopped in my tracks. There, standing a few feet away in my front hallway, was Clark Gable.
I couldn't believe my eyes. He was right in front of me, and he was smiling at me. His eyes were crinkled into smile lines at the corners and he was so tall that I had to look up. He was much more handsome than I remembered him from the movies. I was stunned. What is he doing here? I wondered to myself. But I could say nothing. I was speechless.
"You must be Judy." How did he know who I was? I'd never met him before.
Finally I found my voice, but somehow it didn't sound like me. "Yes, I am. And you're Mr. Gable, aren't you?"
He laughed and said, "Yes, I am." We just stood there, looking at each other for what seemed like a long time. I felt very awkward.
"Well! I see you two have introduced yourselves." My mother came around the corner from the living room, just in time.
"Yes, Mom! We have." I was relieved that she was there. He came to see her, I thought. They've worked together before; they must be friends. That would account for his presence in my front hallway. But how did he know who I was? I didn't know what else to say to him and I was beginning to feel foolish standing there staring at him like some star-struck teenage fan. Children of movie stars don't stare at other movie stars the way I was now doing; it wasn't polite.
As the three of us walked into the living room, I headed toward the front stairs. "Where are you rushing off to, Judy?" Something in my mother's tone made me turn around. It carried a vague unspoken command. The two of them were standing close together in the middle of the large living room, both looking at me.
"I thought I'd go up and wash my hair."
"You have plenty of time to do that. Stay and visit for a while."
I was right. I hadn't imagined it. It wasn't a request, it was a command. As I walked toward them I frantically thought to myself, What am I going to say? I don't know what to say.
Clark Gable sat down on the couch. "Come and sit next to me, Judy."
I followed silently and did as he requested. My mother watched us, saying nothing.
"Your mother tells me that you like ballet."
All I could manage was a smile, as his eyes looked into mine. Something about him and the way he looked at me gave me an odd feeling of discomfort.
"Are you studying with anyone?"
"I used to study with Eileen O'Kane Fegte. But now I'm taking classes with Nico Charisse. he has his own dance studio." The words came out in a rush.
"Is he a good teacher?"
"Yes, I think so. He's very strick, but I like him very much."
"Tell me about your school, Judy. That's the school uniform you are wearing, isn't it?" His voice was gentle and he seemed genuinely interested. I was surprised. usually my mother's friends paid very little attention to me. their questions were always polite, but they weren't interested in my answers; they just asked out of courtesy. But he was different. I could tell he really cared about what I was saying. I liked him, and I began to feel more at ease.
"Yes, isn't it awful?" I hated the ugly dark blue jumper and white blouse that had identified me as a student of Marymount since the first grade. I tried every device I could think of to camouflage it, to make it look less institutional, but nothing really worked. even Clark Gable knew it was a uniform.
he smiled and his eyes lit up. "No, I don't think it's awful at all. I think it's very becoming. You're a very pretty young lady."
I felt the blood rushing to my face and was embarrassed that his compliment had made me blush.
"Thank you," was all I could say.
"You mother tells me you're a sophomore at Marymount."
"yes." They must have been talking about me. why would he be interested in my life? I looked in my mother's direction. I'd forgotten about her for the moment, but she was no longer there. The two of us were alone in the living room.
"Do you like school?"
"yes, very much. I've made a lot of very close friends. I've been going there since the first grade."
"How old are you now, Judy?"
""I'm fifteen. I'll be sixteen in November." Why did Mom leave me alone with him? Is she coming back? I kept asking myself.
"And do you have a boyfriend?"
"Yes. Jack Harley. I have a date with him tonight. We're going out to dinner and a movie." I couldn't help blushing again. I liked sitting there, talking to Clark Gable. The more we talked, the more comfortable I felt. He never took his eyes off me. I didn't understand why my mother left us alone, but somehow it didn't really matter. I was enjoy our conversation, just two of us.
"Tell me about him."
"He went to Loyola U. and now he's going to Fordham University in the east. He's three years older than I am. We had a lot of un together. We laugh a lot. We go to the movies and parties and to the beach. There's a whole crowd of us that go everywhere together."
"You sound like you like him a lot."
"I do. Very much. He's special."
He nodded and smiled. He seemed to understand what I wasn't able to say. I was in love with Jack. I didn't talk about my feelings with anyone; I kept them to myself. Yet here I was sitting next to this man, this famous movie star, and instead of finding him difficult to talk to, as I had previously feared, I found myself quite comfortable and at ease.
Unlike most actors, he didn't talk about himself. I was used to listening to them talk about their work and their life. I was always the audience with my mother's friends or acquaintances. It was very unusual for me to be asked about myself, and particularly by a star as big as Clark Gable. It seemed strange for him to be interested in me at all. But I knew that he was, and I trusted what I felt from him.
We sat there on the living room couch and talked for what seemed like a long time. I have no idea how long it was, but what mattered was that I was alone with Clark Gable and that he wanted to know everything about my life. I forgot about my anxiety over my mother leaving us alone. I forgot my uncertainty about carrying on a conversation with him. I even forgot, after a while, that he was a famous moviestar.
He was warm and considerate and caring, unfamiliar qualities coming from an adult male, especially one whom I'd just met. I liked his interest in me; I didn't understand it, but I genuinely enjoyed it. I answered his questions freely because something told me that he needed to know everything I could tell him about myself. That wasn't just polite conversation on his part. He was there with me because it was something that he wanted to do, and I responded as genuinely and honestly as I could.
It never occurred to me to ask him any questions, or even to ask how he knew who I was. But as I sat there, it did occur to me that he had actually been waiting for me to walk in the front door and that he had known when I was due home.
I didn't ask him about himself because that wasn't the role I was meant to play that afternoon, and somewhere, down deep, I instinctively knew it. This was about Clark Gable getting to know me, for his own reasons, reasons that I knew nothing about then, and can only speculate about now.
When it was time for him to leave I walked with him to the front door. We stood in the entrance hall, facing each other, as we had when we met that afternoon. He looked down at me and smiled.
"Thank you for a lovely afternoon. I enjoyed our talk."
"So did I. Very much."
He bent down and, cupping my face in his two big hands, kissed me lightly on the forehead.
"Good-bye, Mr. Gable."
He walked out the front door, down the brick steps, got into his car and drove away.
I often wonder what Gable was thinking that afternoon as he sat in my mother's living room and gazed down at his fifteen-year-old daughter, looking so like him, on the brick of her adult life. When he looked at me, was I a reminder of a younger Loretta, in the days they were together and in love? What thoughts ran through his mind as he sat next to me and listened to me talk? Why did he decide then that he wanted to meet me? was he merely curious about my life, or did he want to tell me that he was my father? If so, why didn't he?
At times, when I feel the pain of that lost opportunity, I wonder whether there might have been a remote possibility that he thought I knew he was my father, that he was waiting for me to say something to him. I ask myself, if he wanted a child as much as he so often said to the press, and privately to friends, how could he see me and be with me and not tell me that I was his daughter? Did he really want a child, or was that just his actor's ego speaking? What were my father's thoughts that day? I replay the few hours that we had together over and over in my head and all I am left with is "what if?" That Day--- those few hours together---is all I have of my father. It isn't much to hold on to.
When as Rhett Butler he walks off into the fog, turning back toward Scarlett to say, " Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." I am left to wonder if my father, Clark Gable, ever gave a damn about me.