Clark Gable

The Manliest Man of Hollywood

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Clark Gable was the „King of Hollywood“, one of the most consistent box-office performers in the history of all of Hollywood and one of the greatest male movie stars of classic American Cinema 



Clark Gable was born William Clark Gable on February 1, 1901 in Cadiz, Ohio. His mother died when he was only ten months old and he stayed with his father William Henry Gable, an oil-well driller, and got stepmom two years later in Jennie Dunlap. Dunlap raised him like her own son, taught him to be well-dressed and well-groomed and gave him piano lessons. Later, Gable switched to brass instruments and became part of the Hopedale Men’s town band when he was only 13 years old. He also had a soft sport for Shakespeare and loved to recite his poems. But he also loved to tinkle with mechanics and repaired cars with his father. His father did insist actually that he’d do „masculine“, physically strenuous work. Well, he did that and would help his father with framework when Gable sr. moved them to Palmyra Township near Akron, Ohio, and later in Tulsa, Oklahoma, wildcatting and sludge removing the oil fields. 

Clark Gable decided to become an actor when seeing the play „The Bird of Paradise“ at the age of 17, but would wait until he was 21 to pursue his ambition. He started touring with second-class stock companies and increased his income with odd jobs. He somewhat settled in Portland, Oregon, working as a salesman for neckties at a department store. Another actor working there was Earle Larimore, who was the nephew of Laura Hope Crews – on the one hand the one who had helped Gloria Swanson write the script for her first talkie, and on the other hand, the one who would later play Auntie Pittypat in Gone with the Wind). It was Larimore who introduced Gable to Franz Dorfler – and just to be clear: Franz Dorfler was a girl, a beautiful actress, and the two started dating. They auditioned together for the stock company Astoria Player, got the parts, moved to Astoria and toured with the group until its bancrupty. They then moved back to Portland and Gable got a job with Pacific Telephone.

But, it was through Franz Dorfler that he met Josephine Dillon, theater manager and acting coach in Portland. She became his patron and manager, paid to get his teeth fixed, built up his rather undernourished body and suggested he’d only use his middle name – so William Clark Gable became Clark Gable. Dillon also trained his voice from high-pitched to a manly baritone, which also helped his facial expressions. It was only in 1924, when Gable was 23 years old that they moved to Hollywood – and got married. Gable was 23, Dillon was 40 – but on their wedding certificate, they would claim to be 24 and 34. 

Start in Hollywood

His first roles, apparently 17 of them, were uncredited roles as an extra in notable movies like „The Merry Widow“ „The Plastic Age“ or „Forbidden Paradise“, but credited roles, let alone lead roles were nowhere in sight – so Gable went back to the theatre in Hollywood, Houston and New York. He was described as „young, vigorous, and brutally masculine“ for his Broadway performance in Machinal in 1928. 

He would only start acting in movies again in 1930 in William Boyd’s western „The Painted Desert“ for Pathé which was coincidentally also Gable’s first sound picture. He would change to Warner Bros. Afterwards, but Darryl F. Zanuck was not impressed by Gable, being quotes “His ears are too big and he looks like an ape“. Instead, MGM’s Irving Thalberg signed Gable for $650/week (today roughly $11.940). As Gable just had dissolved his marriage to his manager Josephine Dillon, Minna Wallis, the sister of producer Hal Wallis, became his agent. She also represented stars like Claudette Colbert, Myrna Loy and Norma Shearer – all of whom would become frequent co-stars to Gable later on. It was actually Gable’s luck that he had come to Hollywood that moment that MGM was looking to expand its roster of male stars. And he definitely fit the description. The image they wanted to create for him was a „lumberjack-in-evening-clothes“ persona, trying to make him boyish and elegant, masculine and refined at the same time. And of course, one of the strategies to market him was to put him in pictures alongside beautiful well-established stars of the time – like Joan Crawford and Norma Shearer. A reporter for the Hollywood Reporter wrote about his 1931 performance in „A Free Soul“ opposite Norma Shearer: „A star in the making has been made, one that, to our reckoning, will outdraw every other star … Never have we seen audiences work themselves into such enthusiasm as when Clark Gable walks on the screen.“

MGM Stardom

When Gable starred in „Red Dust“ opposite Jean Harlow his „unshaven love-making“ made him the top leading man for MGM. The winning combination of Harlow and Gable continued for all in all six movies until Harlow died during the filming of their last movie, „Saratoga“. 

In 1934, Clark Gable was lent to Columbia to film „It happened one night“ opposite Claudette Colbert – and this movie was the first movie to win Oscars in all five of the major categories, including Best Actor and Best Actress. It was one of the first successful screwball comedies that rang in this new genre. And, the movie had two other results: First, sales for men’s undershirts went down because Clark Gable didn’t wear any in the movie (and of course every man wanted to be Clark Cable) and second, Bugs Bunny’s famous pose of nonchalantly eating carrots was inspired by Clark Gable.That is a connection I would have never made. From that movie onwards, Clark Gable would stay in the top 10 of Hollywood box-office successes and top money-makers for almost ten years until the start of WW II.

1935’s „Mutiny on the Bounty“ co-starring Charles Laughton and Franchot Tone garnered Gable his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor – funnily all three of the stars of the film were nominated. None of them one, but the movie received the Oscar for Best Picture. 

Gone With the Wind

„Gone With the Wind“ would become Gable’s most famous movie and his last line from the movie „Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn“ is one of the most memorable ever. One of the first ones ever to suggest he would be perfect for the role was his then-wife Carole Lombard who bought him a copy of Mitchell’s bestseller. 

Actually, David O. Selznick initially wanted Gary Cooper to play the role of Rhett Butler, but Cooper declined and is quoted to have said: „Gone With the Wind is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history.“ Well, was he wrong! The movie went on to become one of the biggest movies of Hollywood history and whenever a re-release happened, Clark Gable was back in the favor of audiences and executives – definitely one of the reasons that he stayed a star actor for the rest of his life. He received roughly $2.5m dollars for the movie when adjusted for inflation.


Just like James Stewart, Clark Gable enlisted in the army during WWII in 1942. It was shortly after the death of Carole Lombard, when Gable was absolutely devastated. Lombard had urged him numerous times to do so since the US had entered the war. He was commissioned to make movies for the air forces, mostly recruiting new men. But he did aerial training and spent a considerable amount of time in England with the 352st Bomb Group. He flew at least five combat missions, during one of which his aircraft was damaged, he even narrowly escaped death when flak went through his shoe and missed his head. Apparently, Adolf Hitler liked Clark Gable as an actor very much and put out a reward for those capturing him unscathed. MGM was rather afraid to lose his most profitable star in combat and pleaded to get him off combat duty and back to the states. So, he was ordered back and finished some promotional movies for the air forces. In 1944, he was finally discharged – with his papers signed by non other than Captain Ronald Reagan, the later president of the US. Gable received numerous honors for his military services, amongst them the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, the American Campaign Medal as well as the World War II Victory Medal. 

Post-War Successes

When Gable returned to Hollywood, he would make solid movies, liked by audiences and critics opposite female stars like Loretta Young, Barbara Stanwyck, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr. Greer Garson and Gene Tierney. Gable like Tierney a lot and was quite disappointed when she was swapped for Grace Kelly for 1953’s Mogambo. Mogambo actually is a rewrite of his earlier success Red Dust and the rumor about him having an affair with Grace Kelly upped the press coverage and made the movie a huge success. 

Nevertheless, Gable got unhappy with MGM believing his roles to be mediocre whilst MGM thought his salary to be too high. Gable did not renew his contract but instead made two movies for 20th Century Fox of only moderate success, a movie for Warner Bros. and one Western with his own production company. 

Paramount & The Misfits

Gable was offered numerous roles on the ever more popular TV, but he never accepted any of the offers. Instead, in 1958, Gable went on to work for Paramount, where he was paired first with Doris Day for Teacher’s Pet and with Burt Lancaster for Run Silent, Run Deep, with Carroll Baker in „But Not for Me“ and in 1960 with Sophia Loren for „It Started in Naples“. Apparently, Gable ballooned to 230 pounds due to pasta and dolce vita and put himself on a crash diet afterwards to pass a physical for his next movie. That movie would be „The Misfits“ co-starring Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter. It was Gable’s last and he would die before the movie’s release on November 16, 1960 following two heart attacks. 

Favourite pairings

Clark Gable was often paired with the same female co-stars who promised box-office success because of their on-screen chemistry. So, he was partnered with Joan Crawford eight times, Myrna Loy  seven times, Jean Harlow six times, Lana Turner four times, Norma Shearer and Ava Gardner three times. 


Franz Dörfler – Gable and Dörfler lived together and got engaged when Gable was roughly 21 years old. They parted ways when Gable went on to have a relationship with Josephine Dillon, but remained on good terms. Dörfler would later help Gable in a court case. 

Josephine Dillon – Josephine Dillon was Gable’s first wife and they married when Gable was only 23 years old and Dillon 17 years his senior. She would promote and manage him in his early Hollywood years. Gable would ask her for divorce many times, but she never believed that he meant it until 1930 after six years of marriage. 

Maria Franklin Prentiss Lucas Langham, nicknamed „Ria” – Only two days after the divorce from Dillon, Gable married Texas socialite Maria Franklin Prentiss Lucas Langham Gable  who was nicknamed „Ria“. This marriage dissolved after nine years without children.

Carole Lombard – Only thirteen days after the divorce from Ria was finalized Gable married wife #3, Carole Lombard during a production break from Gone with Wind in March 1939. Carole Lombard probably can be called Gable’s true love. They had met seven years earlier during the filming of „No Man of Her Own“, when Lombard was still married to Hollywood star William Powell. They met again in 1936, when the affair probably started. Gable was still married to Ria because of the expensive divorce which he was able to finalize when filming Gone With the Wind and receiving the salary. They would buy a ranch from director Raoul Walsh in Encino, California, have a host of animals, raising chickens and horses and calling each other „Ma“ and „Pa“. It was a very enchanting life – until WWII started. Gable would enlist in the airfare and Lombard would help the war effort with war bond drives. Flying back from one of those, she and 21 other passengers perished when the plane crashed due to pilot error. Apparently, he was never the same although going on to make almost thirty more movies and marrying twice more as movie star Esther Williams is quoted: „He had been devastated by Carole’s death.”

Silvia Ashley – Seven years after Lombard’s passing, Gable married model, actress and socialite Sylvia Ashley who had been previously married to Douglas Fairbanks Sr. The marriage was unhappy and divorced three years later. 

Kay Spreckels – Kay Spreckels was an actress of minor successes who had already been married three times: First to Charles Capps, then to Argentinian cattle tycoon Martin the Alzaga and last to Adolph Bernard Spreckels II, heir to the Spreckels sugar empire. With the latter she had two kids, including Bunker Spreckels, who would lead a debouch celebrity surfer life style in the 1960s and 1970s, which also lead to his early death by morphine overdose at the age of 27. They were married for five years when Gable died in 1960 and only four months after his death, Kay would give birth to his only son, John Clark Gable. 

Additionally he had notable affairs with actresses Virgina Grey, Paulette Goddard, and maybe Marion Davies, his co-star in 1932’s „Polly of the Circus“. He was quite enamored and wooed her. 

Joan Crawford – Adele Rogers St Johns would later say about the Gable and Crawford relationship that it was “the affair that nearly burned Hollywood down“. Crawford was married to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Louis B. Mayer himself ordered them to stay apart. 

Loretta Young – Apparently, in 1935, when Gable was 34 and Loretta Young 22, he date-raped Young. She became pregnant, hid the pregnancy and managed to claim to have adopted her nineteen months after birth. Gable only once visited his daughter Judy Lewis, when she was around fifteen years old. Lewis would only find out about her real biological father five years after Gable’s death, when she was almost 30 years old. 


Lionel Barrymore – They met around 1926 in Hollywood, when Gable was returning to the stage. Barrymore apparently first didn’t like Gable’s acting style, but their friendship would last a lifetime. 

Spencer Tracy – These two met in 1936, when Gable was 35 years old and Tracy 36. They starred in three movies together, which got Tracy’s career really off the ground. Their successful collaboration stopped, when Tracy got a new star contract that stipulated top billing – as did Gable’s. Off-screen, these two were close friends and Tracy one of the few attending the funeral for Gable’s wife Carole Lombard. 

Hattie McDaniel – Gable and Hattie McDaniel worked together on Gone With the Wind, with McDaniel being Scarlett’s Mammy. Gable was a strong opponent to segregation and fought for the rights of the African Americans working on the movie. Hattie McDaniel and he formed a friendship during the movie and stayed friends for life. Gable would always show up at her Hollywood parties. 

Grace Kelly – Grace Kelly and Clark Gable had been rumored to have an affair during the filming of Mogambo as they were dining together and spending quite some time. But it actually was on all accounts a very deep friendship lacking any sexual attraction according to Grace Kelly. 

David Niven and wife Primula – Gable and Niven had been quite close friends. Primula stood by Gable’s side after Carole Lombard’s death, consoling him. Gable on the other hand supported Niven after Primula’s sudden death – she was only 28 years at that time and fractured her skull while playing hide and seek. 


During the filming of Gone With the Wind, Gable would almost walk off the set when realizing that the set and the facilities were segregated – so divided into areas for white people and black people. He demanded for all signs indicating such things to be taken down, else he would stop working on the picture. And so it was done. He also did not want to attend the Atlanta premiere of the movie as the African American actors of the movie were not permitted to attend. He only went when Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in Gone With the Wind, begged him to.

Style & Image

Gable was the manly man of Hollywood – or as Life magazine would say „All man … and then some.“ 

Doris Day said about him: “He was as masculine as any man I’ve ever known, and as much a little boy as a grown man could be —it was this combination that had such a devastating effect on women.“

Friend Joan Crawford is quoted saying: He was a king wherever he went. He earned the title. He walked like one, he behaved like one, and he was the most masculine man that I have ever met in my life. Gable had balls.“

And Marilyn Monroe’s husband Arthur Miller allegedly described Gable as „the man who did not know how to hate“. 

What a man. 

But he was very conscious of the image he portrayed, of the person the audiences would perceive him to be. For example, in „Run Silent, Run Deep“, Gable demanded alterations to the script as he would not go down with the submarine, because Gable does not sink. Also, in the Misfits he demanded a scene to be removed because it would make indicate that Gable’s character stole a woman from a friend – something a Gable character would never do. 

So, he was a great man off screen and also tried his best to be the same noble character on screen.

Stylewise, you can say that Gable is a good example for showing that style isn’t something you are born with but what you develop and cultivate throughout your life. It was also thanks to Josephine Dillon and the studios that invested in their star that Clark Gable was able to become the well-groomed, well-styled, well-mannered manly man that he is known for. 

First, he did not like undershirts and was solely responsible for dropping sales. 

Secondly, he was known for his suits. He almost always wore suits and had them tailored – as was custom back then. Two-piece and three-piece suits alike with wide lapels. Button-downed shirts, V-necks and pleated trousers were other staples that he knew worked for him. 

Essentially, Gable paired his own style and clothing with what was required in his movies and wherever he went. He is an example of adapt your styling to your surroundings and the task you have to achieve, but stay you. Always. 

But Gable’s ultimate style trick was his confidence – just the clothes wouldn’t have made him into who he was. He owned his personality, his character and the roles that he played with confidence. That’s actually the ultimate style secret – the confidence to be exactly that which you want to be and portray to the world. 

With all my love!




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