Over show business history, one comes upon some intersections you wouldn't believe would have happened. One of them involved a pair of legends who made thir marks at different times, in different places and in different milieus. We're referring to Clark Gable, film idol for nearly three decades (and second husband of Carole Lombard), and Broadway titan George M. Cohan, already a star on the Great White Way when Clark was a toddler.
But meet they did -- in fact, Gable worked for Cohan. It came in early 1929, when Clark was a New York stage actor , gradually gaining recognition but a long way from his cinematic breakthrough two years later. Gable obtained the lead in a Cohan play, a production Gable biographer Lyn Tornabene wrote "in retrospect, should have been the making of him."
The play was called "Gambling," and in it, Gable was cast as a good guy playing a bad guy to solve a murder. It sounds tailor made for the thirties Gable, and one could imagine him making it his own on the big screen or on Broadway.
But Gable and "Gambling" never made it to New York. The play opened in Philadelphia, then moved to Atlantic City a few weeks later. There, for some reason, Cohan fired Gable, rewrote the play and cast himself in the lead.
A disappointment for Clark? Sure. But he kept plugging and in 1930 won the part of Killer Means in the West Coast production of "The Last Mile" -- the same role Spencer Tracy had played on Broadway (and a part Gable didn't feel worthy of playing after seeing Tracy in the role). He soon received screen work, eventually signed a contract with MGM and never looked back.
Cohan? Hollywood beckoned him in 1932 with a film, "The Phantom President," co-starring Claudette Colbert. He found it wasn't his up of tea, and returned east. Cohan would be portrayed by one of Gable's contemporaries, James Cagney, in the 1942 film "Yankee Doodle Dandy."
One wonders how Gable's life might have changed had "Gambling" succeeded. But to borrow the title of one of Cohan's most famous songs, life's a very funny proposition after all.