November 25th, 2009

carole lombard 03
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Gable and Lombard's bohemian rhapsody?

No, this entry has nothing to do with that pretentious mid-seventies hit from Queen...but it may put Clark Gable and Carole Lombard's romance -- or, should I say, the coverage of it -- in an entirely new light.

Much of this has to do with the release of a book last year...

..."Hollywood Bohemians: Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Movieland Dream," written by a National Archives employee named Brett L. Abrams.

Bohemianism is defined as "the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits, with few permanent ties."

Well, Clark and Carole were indeed artistic -- and unconventional in their affair. Remember, Gable was already married at the time he and Lombard became "an item." Had the two been midwest stage actors and similarly involved in the late thirties, chances are they 1) would have undergone much more negative scrutiny from their peers, and 2) been far more furtive about their romance.

In Hollywood, however, they respectively didn't (press coverage and public reaction was overwhelmingly favorable despite Clark's obvious technical adultery), and weren't (they regularly appeared in public together). What made the film capital such an accepting environment?

Abrams argues the industry wanted it that way. As the book's product description states:

"Between 1917 and 1941, Hollywood studios, gossip columnists and novelists featured an unprecedented number of homosexuals, cross-dressers, and adulterers in their depictions of the glamorous Hollywood lifestyle. ... Hollywood's image grew as a place of sexual abandon. ... This book demonstrates how studios and the media used images of these sexually adventurous characters to promote the industry and appeal to the prurient interests of their audiences."

Much of this is viewed through the LGBT lens (for what it's worth, Abrams himself is gay), but his inclusion of Gable and Lombard, as well as other adulterous heterosexual relationships, widens the perspective.

After the Mayfair Ball in early 1936 (the event popularly recognized as triggering the Gable-Lombard affair), Abrams notes, "The couple attended events together, They even traveled to other cities as a couple. ... The photograph enabled [the public] to see that the two were a couple despite the marriage status." I believe Abrams is referring to this photo, taken during a May 1937 boxing match at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles:

And despite Gable's marital status, MGM welcomed Lombard alongside Gable at the Trocadero on the Sunset Strip for a post-premiere party for the 1938 film "Marie Antoinette":

In covering the party, Life magazine commented, "Always full of fun and careless of dignity, they are one of Hollywood's delightful couples. They cannot marry because Gable's wife has refused to divorce him."

In other words, according to Abrams, "The image presented the two stars as adulterers who were respected, enjoyed, and liked in the movie world." He also noted, "A photograph taken inside a studio party by a major media entity would only have happened with studio cooperation," later adding, "The publicity about Gable and Lombard did not condemn the stars for their behavior."

I've only read the excerpt of the book based on the Gable-Lombard relationship, but based upon that, it appears to have some worthwhile observations to make. For more about the book, go to
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