I’m currently away on vacation but I’ve arranged for some guest bloggers to keep everyone entertained in my absence. I’d like to introduce our first guest blogger. Her name is Meredith and she runs the Clark Gable website DearMrGable.com. You should check it out– its relatively new and Meredith regularly updates it! I had the opportunity to meet her last November at the GWTW 70th Aniversary RePremiere weekend in Marietta, and I was amazed at her knowledge of Mr. Gable. So, it only seems fitting that she write about Mr. Gable on the actor’s birthday. Happy 109th Birthday, Mr. Clark Gable!
Two common misconceptions about Gone with the Wind and Clark Gable: 1. That he and Vivien had either a romance or a feud on set and 2. That he sailed through the role of Rhett Butler because him and Rhett were one and the same.
It’s often said that Vivien couldn’t stand Clark because of his bad breath. Clark did suffer from some halitosis, due to the fact that he wore complete dentures. Maybe he wasn’t minty fresh, but it’s doubtful this caused a permanent rift. In fact, there are several pictures of them laughing and playing Chinese checkers behind the scenes. So, even if she found his breath offensive, Vivien wasn’t holding a grudge. The list of Clark’s leading ladies reads like a who’s who of classic Hollywood: Jean Harlow, Lana Turner, Claudette Colbert, Ava Gardner, Joan Crawford and Hedy Lamarr to name a few. And from what I gather there weren’t many complaints!
Of course, anyone with any knowledge of Clark and Vivien’s personal lives know that the romance rumors were far from true. Both were at the beginnings of the great love affairs of their lives: Clark was recently married to Carole Lombard and Vivien and Larry Olivier were hot and heavy. Clark clears this up himself:
“Hollywood goes just as much to extremes when it comes to male and female stars cast together as it does on any other subject. Get a man and a woman in a picture together and you are immediately reported as either fighting or romancing. The fact that in eighty percent of your pictures you have no emotion about the beautiful creature opposite you, other than an interest in her acting ability, is never printed. Yet that’s the truth more often than not. As for any possibility of Vivien Leigh’s falling in love with me, I knew that was out from our first glance. For never have I seen any girl more completely in love than that one is-with Laurence Olivier. It’s as visible as a neon sign that she can’t think or talk or dream about anything or anyone else on earth-except when she’s on the set. When she’s on the set, she’s what a good actress should be. She’s all business. As for my falling in love with her. I’m sure that could have been plenty pleasant except that, added to her lack of interest in me, I didn’t have any heart to give away, either. Mine was staked out to that Lombard girl who is mighty beautiful and brainy.”
It is a common misconception to label Clark Gable and Rhett Butler one and the same. Clark, throughout his thirty year-film career, often was cast as Rhett Butler types—reckless rogues who shunned society’s expectations and knew how to sweep any woman off her feet. But upon further examination, it is evident that Rhett was the kind of character the public expected from Clark, not so much who Clark was himself.
“He really wasn’t anything like what people thought.” co-star Myrna Loy recalled, “He was a deeply introverted person. He was actually quite bashful and tried to project a confidence that I don’t think he really had.” Myrna also noted that he loved Shakespeare and poetry and would read to her privately in his trailer. He was ashamed of never having much of a formal education (he dropped out of school in ninth grade) and read everything he could get his hands on. Joan Crawford “He worked very hard to be the person people wanted him to be.It’s easy to lose yourself in this town and I think he cared too much about what people thought. He had no confidence in himself, especially as an actor.”
After years of playing wise-cracking, woman-chasing pilots, cowboys and newspapermen, Clark grew tired of being typecast. He envied the varied career of his friend Spencer Tracy (who, as rumor has it, envied Clark’s popularity). To break out of the rut, he pushed to be cast as 1800′s Irish politician Charles Parnell in 1938′s Parnell. The results were disastrous. It wasn’t that Clark’s performance as the sweet-spirited, weak-hearted Parnell was terrible, it was just that it wasn’t a “Gable part”. Fans swamped MGM with letters complaining and the film flopped. Clark paid attention.
Parnell was the main reason Clark didn’t want any part of Gone with the Wind. He certainly wasn’t going to put himself out there in another costume piece–especially one that required an accent! But the public cried for him to be Rhett. As early as 1937, fan magazines declared that he was the only choice for the role.
Rhett made Clark nervous. He knew how much everyone loved the character and was afraid of letting them down. He feared he didn’t have the “chops” to pull off the dramatic scenes required.
“I discovered that Rhett was even harder to play than I had anticipated. With so much of Scarlett preceding his entrance, Rhett’s scenes were all climaxes. There was a chance to build up to Scarlett, but Rhett represented drama and action every time he appeared. He didn’t figure in any of the battle scenes, being a guy who hated war, and he wasn’t in the toughest of the siege of Atlanta shots. What I was fighting for was to hold my own in the first half of the picture-which is all Vivien’s-because I felt that after the scene with the baby, Bonnie, Rhett could control the end of the film. That scene where Bonnie dies, and the scene where I strike Scarlett and she accidentally tumbles down stairs, thus losing her unborn child, were the two that worried me most.The problem of Rhett, to me, was that although he reads like a tough guy and by his actions is frequently not admirable, actually he is a man who is practically broken by love. His scenes away from Scarlett make him a heavy and his scenes with her make him almost a weakling. My problem was to make him, despite that, a man people would respect.”
Despite Clark’s best efforts, Rhett Butler, although certainly the role that ended up defining his long career, was thrown into the heap of characters where Clark “played himself”. This was probably the main reason that Clark lost the Academy Award for Best Actor–coming in a distant third behind Robert Donat and Jimmy Stewart.
Unfortunately Clark remained stuck for his entire career. As he grew older, he was criticized for romancing young costars onscreen and not acting his age. Yet, if he tried his hand at something more dramatic and character-based, the film flopped. One wonders if The King of Hollywood was able to wander more outside the public’s comfort zone if his star would have shone a bit brighter.