Clark Gable frequently said that his fondest wish was that he'd had a child. Yet he took no interest in raising the daughter that he had with Loretta Young. She was raised as Judy Lewis by Loretta Young and her husband, Tom Lewis. In her authorized biography, "Forever Young," Loretta Young said that Gable never contributed a dime to the bank account she set up for their daughter shortly after she was born. Nor did he enwill her anything on his death.
Loretta Young reportedly never told the truth to her husband about Judy and he apparently never asked her. But one of Judy's half-brothers, Christopher, told Judy that Tom did ask Clark Gable about the rumor that he was Judy Lewis' biological father while he was at a party during the making of his second movie with Loretta, "Key to the City" in 1950. Gable denied this rumors, saying that he would love to have a child and adding, "Do you think I would let anyone else bring up my only child?". But he that is exactly what he did. Tom Lewis was bringing up his only child.
Gable even declined an invitation to Judy's wedding sent to him and Kay in 1959 by Young, long after any concern about a breach of a "morals clause" was history. Gable wasn't even under contract to MGM or any other studio by that time.
According to his son, John Clark Gable, who was born four months after his father's death, Gable denied that he ever had any children to his wife Kay to the very end. He disputes Judy Lewis' claim to be Gable's daughter to this day even though Loretta Young admitted it privately to her daugther while still alive and publicly in a posthumously published authorized biography.
A news article on John Clark Gable from 2006 and a photo taken in 2008.
(See the transcript of Larry King's interview with Judy Lewis and her other half brother, Peter Lewis: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0
A recent photograph of Judy Lewis from the Loretta Young website.
Judy Lewis turned 75 in late 2010. After being an actress she went on to complete a masters program in psychology and works as a child psycholgist. She is also a writer and a speaker. Her autobiography is entitled "Uncommon Knowledge." Her mother's authorized biography supplements Judy's book and provides another point of view. It is entitled "Forever Young."
So why did Gable never acknowledge his only daughter? Some people blame Carole Lombard for his decision. They say she felt threatened by Loretta Young and that if he acknowledged that he had a child by Loretta Young it would highlight the fact that she was barren. I don't buy that. First of all, Carole was not barren as was shown by tests at Johns Hopkins Hospital. And she had no reason to feel threatened by Loretta Young.
The Peters family, Stuart, Frederic, Elizabeth and Jane Alice Peters, (Carole), circa 1911.
Carole was extremely close to her mother and her two married brothers. She had been both a friend and stepmother to William Powell's young son while they were married and she maintained a warm relationship with Powell even after they were divorced in 1933. (Lombard help nurse him back to health when he was diagnosed with cancer in the late 1930's) She tried hard to get Gable to normalize his relations with his family throughout their six years together. She worked diligently to foster at least some sort of a relationship between Gable and his father who showed up at the gates of MGM in the mid-1930's as a penniless vagrant. (She even built a small house on the edge of their property in Encino for him and his wife to live in.) And when his uncle showed up at the Atlanta premier of "Gone With the Wind" she made sure Gable found the time to at least greet and meet with him.
Carole and Clark's uncle with Gable in Atlanta - December 1939.
I suspect the truth of his reluctance to acknowledge his only daughter and child born in his lifetime was tied to his own insecurity. He was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood but he felt that everything could disappear overnight. And then what would he do?
And that insecurity was perhaps the reason he denied to Kay to the end of his life in 1960 that he had ever fathered any children. (Kay had been married three times before she wed Gable and had two children of her own from a previous relationship so there was no particular reason for prudery between them.) For Gable, however, to acknowledge his daughter publicly meant that he had to admit that he had lied to Kay privately for years and that he had lied to the public for decades. That humble acknowledgement might jeopardize his carefully crafted and nurtured image. It was the reason Loretta Young skirted the issue with her daughter for years. But she did admit to the truth privately when confronted by her daughter. Gable took the easy way out and simply denied everything to the end.
The cost to Gable of his denial was perhaps a loss of some self-respect and the loss of the opportunity to have any relationship with his only daughter. But the cost to his daughter was far greater. It led to her feeling alienated and bitter for much of her life and directing most of her anger and bitterness at her mother, the person who had shown her love and affection and raised her, rather then at her world-famous biological father who she never knew but simply fantasized about.
As they say, "what price Hollywood?"
Fellow MGM star Judy Garland sings "Dear Mr. Gable" in 1937, in a publicist's stroke of genius.