Every now and then I like to run a vintage magazine story about Carole Lombard to provide a feel for the press coverage she received during her all-too-brief lifetime. Here's one I found recently at a Clark Gable site (http://www.geocities.com/cactus_st/article/article56.html); it ran in the October 1940 issue of Photoplay, generally considered the leading fan magazine of the time.
Called "How Clark Gable And Carole Lombard Live," it came at roughly the halfway point of their eventual star-crossed marriage. While some of the undercurrents of their relationship are ignored (their inability to have a child, Carole's wariness over some of Clark's MGM co-stars), it does paint an idyllic portrait of the film industry's most visible couple. Apparently the story had no byline; unfortunate, because it's pretty vivid and the author deserves some credit. Enjoy.
Photoplay, October 1940
"How Clark Gable And Carole Lombard Live"
It's out in the Valley, the Gable ranch, about a 40-minute drive from Beverly Hills. You turn off the Boulevard on a narrow dirt road and travel until you come to a white hanging gate. The whitewashed three trunks of a citrus orchard are luminous in the sunshine. Finally you come to the old stables, now a garage, where the driveway turns around a big tree that has flowers growing at its base. A station wagon is parked here usually. Carole gave it to Clark on his last birthday.
The house, of shingles and whitewashed brick, with white geraniums growing on its window sills, is up a few steps, a few feet away. There's a stretch of lawn before it. Beyond are fields and little green hills.
"I'll never forget the day the real-estate man called to tell me this place was for sale!" Carole screams, pulling her slacked legs up under her chin, locking her arms around them. "It was just before we were married. I called Pa at the studios right away -- even though we'd bought another place."
"'How would you like the Raoul Walsh ranch?' I asked. He got choky. I could scarcely understand him. 'How would I like it?' he said. We closed the deal that same day -- traded in the other property as part payment. It's wonderful living here!"
All Carole's conversation should be underscored for emphasis, with some words and sentences doubly underscored. Only the presses won't work that way! She flung her long legs out in front of her. "And the taxes here! They're nothing! We pay no more for these 20 acres than we'd pay for one elegant acre in town!"
Seven years ago Clark and Carole met... At that time it would have been reasonable enough to believe Clark would live on a ranch, ride a tractor, work in a citrus grove, and raise cattle. He had always been gaited that way.
But it wouldn't have been reasonable at that time to believe Carole would live on a ranch, get up at three o'clock in the morning when there was a new calf, measure chickens or a three-finger breadth before deciding whether they should be kept for eggs or killed for market.
Madeleine Fields, now married to Walter Lang, the director, and Carole's secretary and closest friend for years, says, "I wish you could have seen Lombard the day she and Clark went to look over the ranch. I thought 'Now! Now she's met her Waterloo! She can't possibly be up to this!' But she was up to it. She didn't stand in the middle of the living room and go into rhapsodies over the cute window. Not her! She investigated the plumbing. She found out all about the furnace. She instituted a thorough examination of all beams for signs of termites. And when they went into the kitchen she took a folding rule out of her bag, if you please, to measure the wall space for an ice box!
"'If we're going to raise chickens, Mr. G.,' she said, 'we've got to have a box big enough to store them until they go to market!'"
The front door of the Gable house opens into the living room. The stairs are in the living room, too. In spite of the Gables' combined income of $500,000 a year - about sixty percent of which goes to pay state and federal taxes -- their living room is far from elegant. It's better than elegant… gay and comfortable and friendly. The furniture is maple. There are chintzes at windows. The sofa is covered in bright yellow.
There are old-fashioned lamp chimneys over the electric bulbs in the chandelier that is fitted with a big brass hood. "We tried candles and silver sticks first," Carole says, "but they didn't belong here. Good old kerosene lamps seemed what were needed. And now the light they shed is so soft we wouldn't use anything else!"
The ranch isn't like any house Carole has ever lived in. A strange thing that Jane Peters of Font Wayne, Indiana, should come to the movie studios. For, a schooling over, the Peters were accustomed to placing their sons in a family firm and keeping their daughters at home until they married. But mom Elizabeth Peters, short of funds and hopeful of a brighter future, came to California one day with Frederick Jr., Stuart, and Carole, who was seven.
A strange that that William Clark Gable of Cadiz, Ohio, should come to the movie studios. His family had tilled the land and asked no honors save prizes at county fairs and credit in their rural communities. There wasn't even a lawyer or a preacher in his family to hand down a dramatic seed. But one day after Clark left the farm and was moulding treads for tires, he found his way into a theater. Whereupon he knew, for the first time, what he wanted to do with his life.
During Carole's youth she occasionally worked in pictures. Most of the time she went to school. She would have preferred it the other way, but her mother was adamant. So all she could do was wait and plan how one day the movies would be her whole life.
It was at the Sennett studios that Carole and Fieldsie became friends. They drove to the studios in Fieldsie's car and shared the cost of the gas. If you went to the Charleston contests held at the Ambassador on Friday nights you couldn't miss Carole. For these contests almost always ended as a private contest between Jane Peters (Carole) and Lucille Le Sueur (Joan Crawford).
At the time Carole was at Sennett's, Clark was working in a lumber mill in Oregon. He'd made his way there -- by freight -- after a traveling repertoire company had left him stranded in the Middle West. However, eager to return to the theater, he was saving every cent possible against a trip to Portland.
In 1933 Carole and Clark played together in "No Man of Her Own," had fun during the weeks they worked together, they went different ways. Carole was married to Bill Powell then. Clark was married to Ria Langham.
They met again, several years later, at a White Mayfair Ball. Carole was the hostess; Cesar Romero was her escort. Clark -- and they probably had to hogtie him to get him there at all -- arrived late and planned to leave almost immediately. But he and Carole danced…
Then, finally, came the March day in 1939 when Carole, Clark, and Otto Winkler, Clark's friend and a member of the MGM publicity department, drove to Kingman, Arizona, to be married.
Surprising how little time Carole and Clark have spent away from the ranch since that day. "We die," Carole says, "if we have to go out of an evening. When there's something important going on -- like an Academy dinner -- we have scouts who call us up and tell us what is happening."
All of which is all right with their friends. They adore going to ranch to see Carole and Clark. Clark has an easy way of making people feel at home. And Carole can make things go. On Sunday only one maid is kept on. Carole and Clark like to be alone, with no set time for anything. In the afternoon, however, they're likely to ask family and a few friends over.
Evenings when Carole and Clark alone they play backgammon, with stakes that result in one owing the other 30 or 40 cents by bedtime. Or they read. Carole likes biographies; Clark goes for mysteries. If they're working they have lines to study. Clark has a photographic mind and gets things at a glance. Carole, in spite of her mental versatility, has to figure things out. Then there's ranch business to go over, for weekends find them occupied outside. The house, the flower gardens, and the chickens are Carole's department. Clark looks after everything else.
Beyond the house are the stables, the workshop, the barns, the kennels, the chicken houses, the alfalfa field, the vineyard and more citrus groves. Ten of the twenty acres are now planted. The alfalfa they use for feed. The grapes they send to the hospital. The Farmers Association markets their citrus crop for them and the MGM commissary buys their fowl.
Fieldsie, forever being asked what she thinks attracted Clark to Carole, always answers the same way. "When other girls around town were saying, 'Tomorrow's the big premiere at Grauman's Chinese' -- unaware tomorrow had any other importance -- Carole was saying, 'Tomorrow's May Day!'"
Which is very apt indeed. Carole's never forgotten there's a world outside Hollywood. Clark would like that. And even when Carole was being elegant you only had to scratch her silken surface slightly to find her simple and salty underneath. And Clark would like that, too.
"Carole still can surprise me," Fieldsie says. "But Clark always seems to anticipate what she's going to do. She stood by while my baby was being born, completely adequate except that she turned pretty white. And when I asked Clark if this hadn't amazed him -- as it had me -- he shook his head and grinned. It was the same when the floods came. While Clark was throwing chains and blankets into the station wagon Carole was loading it with food and thermos jugs of milk and coffee. When he started off to pull out neighbors who were in trouble, there she was sitting up beside him. And he was grinning again -- the same way."
Hollywood perpetually wonders if Carole and Clark are happy and if they'll make a success of this marriage. Carole and Clark haven't stopped to think about it. They're pretty busy -- and happy.