Great Loves, Vol. VI : Clark Gable & Carole Lombard

When I first began my research of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, I found a lot of things that suggested how perfect they were as individuals, how perfect they were together and how perfectly in love they were.  Delving deeper, I came across several stories that endeared this 1930s couple to me because they were far from perfect – they were real and passionate and in love.  They were human.

And they called each other “Ma” and “Pa.”

Clark Gable to the 1930s is what Ryan Gosling is to the present day – or Brad Pitt to the late 90s.  It wasn’t uncommon to hear someone say “Who do you think you are – Clark Gable?” to a particularly confident fellow.  Lombard was the “Queen of Screwball Comedy,” and both were at the peak of their careers.

“In 1932 they starred together in the Paramount film, No Man of Her Own. A modest success, it featured Carole as a small town librarian who falls head over heels for Clark, a card cheat. Carole was married to William Powell and Clark was preoccupied with British actress Elizabeth Allan, so no sparks flew off camera, although they were cordial. At the film’s wrap party, Carole presented Clark with a ten-pound ham with his picture posted on it…

“On February 7, 1936, both attended a party at Jock Whitney’s house, to celebrate screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart’s wife’s recent release from a sanitarium, jokingly called “The Nervous Breakdown Party”. Things did not start out well as Carole, as a joke, arrived in an ambulance. Attendants carried her on a stretcher and placed it in the middle of the room. Everyone gasped and gathered around. She jumped up, howling with laughter.

Clark, there with Merle Oberon, was not amused and found the joke in poor taste. Clark and Carole got into a fight that ended with her stomping away from him, furiously proclaiming that he was a stuffed shirt. Near the end of the party, Carole challenged Clark to a game of tennis. There they played, both in evening clothes, playing tennis until it was too dark to see (Carole beat him 8-0). Merle, irritated by being ignored, had someone else take her home and Clark didn’t even notice.

“A couple months later, at the annual Mayfair Ball, Clark and Carole shared a dance. Holding her close, Clark realized she wasn’t wearing any undergarments. Taking this as a green light, he suggested they leave the party and go back to his hotel together. Carole laughed and said, “Who do you think you are, Clark Gable?” This angered him and he left the party. The next morning he awoke to the sounds of birds cooing in his bedroom. Carole had convinced a hotel worker to put them in there while he slept. Tied to one of the birds was a note that said, “How about it? Carole.”” (Dear Mr. Gable)

They were soon inseparable.  Carole even took up duck hunting, one of Clark’s favorite pass times.

Carole was madly in love with Clark and she wasn’t about to let anything get in the way of that.  Once, Carole stormed onto the set of one of Clark’s movies and demanded that the leading lady, who was rumored to have taken a liking to Gable, was fired.  “Get this bitch out of your picture or I’ll take Gable out of it!” she screamed at the director.  Gable later bragged about it.

“One-day last week, Clark Gable got into his cream-colored roadster, picked up Carole Lombard and drove 350 miles east to Kingman, Ariz. There they bought a license from an awestruck clerk named Viola Olsen and proceeded to the home of a Methodist Episcopal minister named Kenneth M. Engle. In the presence of his wife and a high-school principal named Cate, who later defined their behavior as “lovey-dovey,” Mr. Engle made Clark Gable and Carole Lombard man & wife. Gable wore blue, Lombard gray.” (Time, 1939)

They settled into a quiet life in rural Encino, California, until tragedy struck in 1942.  On a tour selling war bonds, Carole Lombard was flying over Nevada when her plane went down.

“Elaine Barrymore (wife of John) perhaps said it best, “Clark adored her. She was the light in his eyes. He admitted to me that he had always loved the company of ladies and he knew he had a reputation of being a ladies man, but with her it was different. He really was in love. To have her taken from him was like someone ripped out his soul. I saw him periodically for years afterward. The light in his eyes was gone. Even when he smiled. That light never returned.” (Dear Mr. Gable)

Upon his death in 1961, Clark Gable was buried beside the love of his life, Carole Lombard.