Afterlives of the Rich and Famous

Clark Gable

Clark Gable was called the “king of Hollywood,” a title earned by his status as the biggest money-making male star in the film industry during the 1930s. He was virile, charming, a rogue, and the man you wanted on your side in a fight. He was born February 1, 1901, to William “Bill” Gable, an oil-well driller, and his wife, Adeline, in Cadiz, Ohio. His mother died of a brain tumor when Clark was ten months old, and Bill married Jennie Dunlap in 1903. Jennie taught her tall, shy stepson to play the piano and to be well-dressed, and she also encouraged his love of the written word, including Shakespeare’s sonnets, while Bill appreciated Clark’s more “manly” talents as a mechanic.

After graduating from high school, Clark began his acting career, touring in stock companies between work in the oil fields with his father, and finally found his way to Portland, Oregon, where he met acting coach Josephine Dillon. She recognized his physical, professional, and romantic potential, transforming everything from his posture, teeth, and high-pitched voice to his hairstyle, diction, and underweight body, and in 1924 she took her new and improved Clark Gable to Hollywood, became his manager, and married him, despite being seventeen years his senior.

He found some extra work and a few very minor jobs, but with no significant roles coming his way, he went back to the stage, expanding his range in a variety of parts and ending up on Broadway, where his portrayal of the intensely desperate Killer Mears in The Last Mile finally springboarded him back to Hollywood and a contract with MGM in 1930. That same year he and Josephine Dillon were divorced, and he immediately married a Texas socialite with the imposing name of Ria Franklin Prentiss Lucas Langham.

The “studio system” was firmly in place when Clark signed with MGM, with its breathless attention to its stars’ images both onscreen and off, and Clark’s popularity began to soar as his virile, he-man persona took shape. The studio wisely cast him with such established female stars as Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, and Jean Harlow. He was loaned to Columbia Pictures for It Happened One Night, won the 1934 Best Actor Oscar for his performance, and returned to MGM even more successful than before. He earned his next Academy Award nomination in 1935 for his portrayal of Fletcher Christian in
Mutiny on the Bounty.

His second marriage withered and died in the 1930s, leaving him available in 1939 to marry the undisputed love of his life, the beautiful, high-spirited, outspoken actress Carole Lombard. Legend has it that it was Carole Lombard who first suggested the idea of Clark Gable for the role of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, the breathtaking classic with which he’s always been most closely and fondly associated. His astonishing performance and the chemistry between him and his costar, Vivien Leigh, seemed enough all by themselves to cinch the 1939 Best Picture Academy Award, and Clark appropriately credited Gone With the Wind with the sought-after leading man status he enjoyed for the rest of his life.

The marriage of Gable and Lombard was, by his description, the happiest time of his personal life. Carole had a successful career in her own right, she was a great hunting and fishing companion for Clark and his friends, and she even understood him enough to put up with his infidelities (which reportedly included an on-and-off ten-year affair with Joan Crawford). The couple bought a ranch in Encino, California, and hoped to become parents, but Carole’s only pregnancy ended in a miscarriage.

It was January 16, 1942, three years into this marriage of kindred souls. Carole Lombard had just finished her film To Be or Not to Be and boarded TWA Flight 3, returning to the Burbank, California, airport from Indianapolis, where she’d been on tour selling war bonds. After an unscheduled stop in Las Vegas, the airliner crashed into a mountain, killing everyone on board. Clark flew to the crash site and tried to join the search party, but the raging fire ignited by the burning plane made it apparent that the cause was hopeless—the love of his life was dead.

A month after Carole’s death Clark managed to return to work, in Somewhere I’ll Find You with Lana Turner. He managed to give a professional performance, but his devastation was apparent to all who knew him well, and there was some concern about how heavily he began to drink in an effort to numb the pain of his grief. He lived out his life on the Encino ranch where he and the wife he adored had been so happy.

In 1942, as Carole had suggested, Clark enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force as part of the World War II effort. He was trained and served as a tail gunner, rising to the rank of major, and by the time he was discharged and returned to Hollywood, he was an even bigger star than ever for his heroism on behalf of his country.

He made several more films for MGM in the 1940s, but was increasingly unhappy with the quality of roles he was given, and in 1953 he left the studio and began to work independently. In the meantime, he caught Hollywood by surprise when he briefly married Lady Sylvia Ashley, a British actress and socialite, on December 20, 1949. They were divorced on April 21, 1952. He then married Kay Spreckels, a former model and actress, in 1955, and she gave birth to Clark’s only “legitimate” child, John Clark Gable, on March 20, 1961, four months after Clark’s death. Clark’s first child, a daughter born in 1935, was the result of his affair with actress Loretta Young. An elaborate scheme was devised to hide the pregnancy, including Loretta Young’s pretending to adopt her own child nineteen months after her birth. The deception became more and more apparent as the little girl grew to look exactly like a combination of Loretta Young and Clark Gable, but neither of them ever publicly acknowledged the parentage of their daughter.

Clark’s films in the 1950s were occasionally successful and sometimes disastrous flops, but in 1960 he gave what many still consider to be the finest performance of his career in The Misfits, which proved to be his last film and the last film of his costar Marilyn Monroe. He was in poor health when the film started, a heavy smoker and drinker with a weakened heart, and a few short days after finishing work on The Misfits, on November 16, 1960, Clark Gable died of a heart attack at his home in Los Angeles. His body is interred in the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn in Glendale, California, at rest beside the body of Carole Lombard, where he’d yearned to be for so many years.

From Francine

The first face Clark saw when he arrived Home was that of Carole, his beloved, joyfully alive kindred soul. The second was that of his soul mate, who, it may surprise you to know, was his mother, Adeline. By their mutual agreement here on the Other Side before he was born, she stayed on earth just long enough to ensure that he would be a strong, healthy baby; then she “got out of the way,” so that Clark would have a father and stepmother who would give him the wide array of skills he would need to fully satisfy his chart. Clark was relieved to have left his tired, debilitated body, grateful that he’d found enough strength to complete
The Misfits, but more aware than anyone else that, if his life had continued, there would be no more films and nothing but continued decline to look forward to. He’s said more than once that, with no disrespect intended to those he worked with and cared for, his life essentially ended the day Carole’s did, and the rest was just “going through the hazy, stumbling motions.”

The Scanning Machine left him dazed and a bit incredulous at the dizzying ride he designed for his final incarnation.
He loved his work, he loved his many friends, he loved the lifestyle his success afforded him, and he loved how blessed he was in so many ways. But for the first time he saw an irony to his life that left him a bit shaken. He’d prided himself in being a “man’s man, always leading with my testosterone and flexing my virility every chance I got. But really, compromising my marriage to the love of my life to stroke my own ego with other women? And denying my own child? Does it get any weaker than that?”

Clark, Carole, and Adeline live communally in a modest compound of small stone bungalows with an ever changing group of actors, writers, and artists that has included everyone from John Barrymore, Truman Capote, Pablo Picasso, and Marilyn Monroe to Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. They’re a stimulating, very social crowd, actively performing as well as never missing their many friends’ performances, lectures, and exhibits. Clark is intensely devoted to his Orientation work with new arrivals who struggled with alcohol addiction, and he invests a great deal of his energy in visiting patients at earthly alcohol rehabilitation facilities, “where I belonged but, for all my false pride and lame excuses, was simply too much of a coward to check myself in.” He and Adeline have also become devout Christians and are enthralled by the sermons and Bible study they regularly attend at a magnificent open-air church among a circle of palm trees on what corresponds to your island of Kauai.

He’s never far from his daughter and his son, although he doesn’t believe they sense his presence. “They never knew me on earth. What right do I have to expect them to feel me with them now?” But he beams with joy at his certainty that his two grandchildren were well aware of his singing lullabies to them when they were very young—from time to time, he says, his granddaughter in particular began singing along with him, and he wonders if these lyrics might still sound familiar to her:

I, my loved one,

Watch am keeping,

All through the night.

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