Vivien-Leigh.com Blog

February1st

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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!

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clarkTwo 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.

7 Comments

  • Comment by Kendra — February 1, 2010 @ 7:03 pm

    Fab write-up, Meredith! Though I will watch any movie that has Clark Gable in it–yeah, I’ve seen Parnell, lol–I do agree that he played “himself” in most of his movies. I actually think his best performance was in The Misfits. He really hit some deep emotions in that film. For me, Clark wasn’t a stellar actor, but he was an amazing movie star. He excelled at a style of acting that was popular at that time, and he defined “star quality”.

    I really like Robert Donat, but I do think Clark should have won the Oscar for GWTW.

  • Comment by spqrclaudius — February 1, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

    Sorry, but I’m not so sure everything was wine and roses on the set. There is even a current news-story out that Gable made inappropriate approaches toward Leigh, with Vivien quipping “He was a method actor before they invented the method.” Whatever the truth of the story, the quote from Gable about trying to out-compete Leigh for attention in this very article is very telling.

    Gable was treated with more respect than Leigh on set. Victor Fleming certainly wasn’t calling him “fiddle-dee-f-ck” between takes, telling him to pad his assets, advising him to “ham scenes up,” and advising him to “shove the script up (his) ass” during filming, all of which he did to Leigh. Olivia De Havilland says in her Academy of Merit interview that the Bazaar scene might have been re-written at Gable’s request to make him more prominent than the interaction between Scarlett and Melanie!

    Gable was a true pro, and he nailed the part of Rhett Butler, but we shouldn’t create fairy-tales about the production. All evidence indicates it was a very tense set–with Leigh overdosing on sleeping pills at one point and Fleming having a nervous breakdown that took him out of commission for weeks.

  • Comment by Iris — February 1, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

    That article that claims Gable tried to rape Leigh is the biggest piece of trash I have ever read, if that is what you are referring to, spqr. I don’t think Leigh would be saying nice things about him the years following and sending a note to his widow if he tried to rape her. Gable wasn’t exactly hard-up, why on earth would he make advances towards Leigh. She was about the exact opposite of his type. Gable liked fast-talking, down-and-dirty blondes.

    And nobody’s saying the set was hunky dory. Everyone knows how much Selznick and Fleming yelled at everyone and how stressed everything was. Gable grew irritated with Leigh when she was running late and I am sure she had a bit of resentment over the fact that he worked not even a third of the time she did but got top billing and made over three times as much money.Guess her payback was that she got the Oscar and he didn’t!!!

    Anyway, this is a nice article on Gable. I had never heard him quoted about Leigh before. It seems he respected her as an actress.Which is more than Larry did at the time, it seems!!!

  • Comment by JD — February 1, 2010 @ 11:57 pm

    Great article! I don’t believe that Clark and vivien were best friends but I do believe that they were Both professional and had a pleasant relationship. I feel this is proved by the photographs of them on the set playing games together. Clark also visited Leigh on the set of Waterloo Bridge. In one of the letters published in the Two Letters booklet; one letter is adressed to gables widow and vivien says “Clark was so kind to me when we were working together and I always had the greatest admiration for him” if they really had such a horrible relationship, I don’t think that any of these thugs would have happened. The filming of gwtw was filled with drama and tense moments but I don’t believe they were caused by Clark and viviens relationship

  • Comment by Kendra — February 2, 2010 @ 4:10 am

    I wouldn’t discount Larry’s level of respect for Vivien at the time. Let’s not forget that he was the one who got her introduced to David Selznick to begin with. Had Larry’s American agent been anyone other than Myron Selznick, it’s doubtful Vivien even would have been tested for Scarlett, let alone got the role.

  • Comment by Morgoth — July 2, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

    What about this? :D
    http://tinypic.com/view.php?pic=208y41v&s=6

  • Comment by Westerngirl — January 21, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

    on the Dear Mr. Gable sight, Gable describes the first time he met Vivien he thought she was wrong for the part. She was dressed rather primly in a tailored dress, hair combed smooth, and the thing that concerned him the most was that she was TINY. He said, “she is even tinier in person than she is on screen”. He admits that he defered to the better judgment of casting agents. Once he saw Vivien dressed for the role and saw her in action, he came to recognize no other actress could have delivered Scarlett the way Vivien did. He seemed to enjoy the experience. He admits it challenged him. He wanted to deliver a Rhett Butler everyone would believe, and he wanted Rhett Butler to leave with everyone’s respect—and that he did phenomenally well!
    Personally, I think the physical contrast of Clark and Vivien was part of the on-screen magic. She was very feminine and delicate against his broad, masculine physique. in some pictures he looks like he could peel her and eat her up in 2 bites! I think the fact that both of them were madly in love with their respective soul mates (Carole and Larry) made the onscreen magic better and the off screen relationship easier. On of my favorite behind-the-scene photos shows Vivien, dressed in the honeymoon gown with the flaired sleeves. In the picture, she and Clark are sitting very closely and facing eachother. She is between his legs, her elbow resting on his thigh. A hair designer is standing behind Vivien fixing her hair attachments, and Clark is straighting something on Vivien’s sleeve or bodice. They are both smiling and look very comfortable, friendly and at ease with eachother. Those who worked on the set said that Clark treated her with utmost courtesy, respect and his humor was very welcome to soften the stress of long hours, Selznick’s demands and Victor’s drive.

    As for George Cuckor, he got fired because the filming under his direction was meandering and aimless. Yes, Vivien and Olivia loved George, but Victor Fleming was the right man for the film. That he happened to be Clark Gable’s friend and the move made Clark happy only proves that Mr. Gable had a good understanding of the director’s role and approach and that it can make or break or film.

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