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Clark has Blisters on his feet

From Choice People by A.E. Hotchner, *Clark Gable has blisters on his feet*

I met Gable on a bus stop bench in Miami. It was the summer of 1942, the hottest summer in the weather annals of Miami, with daily temperatures well over a hundred degrees. Miami Beach had been sequestered by the Air Force and I was there to undergo thirteen weeks of the most grueling mental and physical hell imaginable, the theory being, I presume, that if a man could survive the classes, the parades, the obstacle course, the impromptu full-pack hikes, the firing ranges, calisthenics, night patrols which were crammed into those eighteen hour days, then he could survive anything the war might throw at him. We were kept a constant state of nervous and physical exhaustion, the purpose being to crack us if they possibly could and wash us out as potential officers.

I had entered OCS a few weeks before Gable, and I had seen him from afar on the day he arrived as he strode down the street on his way to his assigned barracks, a handsome, erect figure moving purposefully as a phalanx of reporters strove to keep up with him. But I hadn't seen him again until late one afternoon, after the daily parade, when on my way back to the Plymouth Hotel I came upon a rumpled, sweated cadet seated on a bench in a bus stop with the shoe and stocking removed from his left foot. "You wouldn't have a pin on you, would you?" the soldier asked.

It was Gable, but I recognized the voice more than the man himself; his famous moustache was gone(OCA regulation), he had a semi-crew cut(also a regulation), his khaki shirt was soaked through, and there were blisters on his foot the size of half dollars. I was surprised to see vestiges of gray in his hair. There was an angry looking pimple on his nose. He looked wilted and old(to my young eyes), and I recall my amazement at how much younger he had looked a couple of years before in GWTW. He was forty-one, almost twice my age, and it was obvious that the ordeal of trying to keep up with kids in their twenties was taking its toll on him.

I always kept a needle pinned inside my belt loop(for my own blisters), but after looking at his foot I suggested he go to the infirmary and get proper treatment.

"Well," he said, "I'd like to, but there would be such flak over my coming down with a few blisters...."

I understood. If you are Clark Gable you are not allowed to get blisters; the heroic seaman of Mutiny on the Bounty would not get blisters. I punctured the blisters with my needle and gushes of liquid ran down his foot and dripped onto the bus bench. There must have been a dozen blisters.

Afterward we went to the canteen and had a Coke(we were allowed one hour of free time each day after the parade). Looking as he did, bereft of his moustache, his crew cut giving prominence to his wide ears, his uniform sagged with perspiration, he didn't get any attention from the soldiers in the canteen. It was suffocating hot-in those days there was no air conditioning anywhere in Miami Beach. Gable said he was having a tough time. "I didn't realize I was such an old fart until I got here with you kids," he said. "I thought I was in pretty good shape...."

I assured him he'd tough it out.

"I may not. That hike today, my backpack felt like four hundred pounds. My legs were gone. They woke us up at three o'clock in the morning and gave us two minutes to fall out in the street in full uniform. I forgot my goddamn garters and got two demerits. I'll have to march an hour of penalty on Saturday. Why the shit do they make us wear garters?"

"So they can give us demerits."

"The heat's really getting to me-and I've got twelve weeks to go. I really don't know if I will make it."

"Sure you will-you are the last person they would flunk out."

"Yeah, well, maybe they want to - just to demonstrate that OCS is so tough and impartial they can even flunk Clark Gable."

I had to admit that was a possibility.

I saw Gable once more, two weeks later, at a mustering for guard duty on the beach. "You got your needle?" Gable asked.

"Always at the ready."

"My feet feel like I'm going to need it. Can you imagine having to shot this gun and hit anything? I hope one of those OTS dentist comes along-I'd like to test it."

Each time we reached the perimeter of our area, we put down our rifles and took a short break before turning around and retracing our steps. After a couple of hours of this monotomy, Gable dropped his rifle and plunked himself down on the sand.

"Pa's gotta rest his weary dogs."

I plopped down the beach beside him.

"That's what she used to call me-pa, and I called her ma," he said softly. He started to smoke a cigarette, carefully cupping his hand around the glowing end. And he started to talk about his wife, Carole Lombard. He said that for the past hour, as we silently tramped the beach, he had been reliving wonderful times with her. He told me about their first duck shoot, early in the morning, the fog too thick to see the ducks, although you could hear them. Carole asked what they could do about it-just sit here in the blind until it clears, Clark told her. She said she had just thought of something they could do while they were waiting-we made love, Clark said, which ain't easy in a duck blind.

He made a funny little sound-I thought he was chortling over the incident-but in the moonlight I could see his tears. He continued to weep as he told me about the evening that Carole, dressed in a smashing white evening gown, had jumped fully clothed into a fishpond, and he told me about the dogs they had given each other, the silly picnics Carole arranged, the Sundays business, all the while making little observations about films and Hollywood life that I didn't really understand, but what I did understand was the enormous love Gable had had for this woman. In a sense, it was unreal that Clark Gable was sitting there on the wet sand weeping over the loss of his movie star wife, but ht e pressures of OCS had pushed him close to the edge.

"They think I don't know," he said," but I do-what they have found of her-I know....decapitated, and the rest of here burned to nothing." He fished inside his shirt and brought out two chains, one that held his dog tag, the other a small locket that he opened. It contained a fragment of jeweled metal. He said that that was the only thing of hers that hadn't burned-the fragment was from a diamond and ruby clip he had given to her.

For the rest of our tour he talked about various hunting an fishing trips, but didn't mention Carole Lombard again.

That was the last time I saw him.

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