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Gable before and after Lombard

Posted by cinemafan2 on 2010.06.07 at 11:52

Many people assume that Clark Gable became a different man after he became romantically involved with and subsequently married to Carole Lombard -- different from the man that had earlier met, married and then divorced both Josephine Dillon and Ria Langham, both of whom were almost twenty years older than he was.  But is that a reasonable assumption? Gable's pattern of behavior in dealing with women was fairly consistent throughout his adult life. Only his economic and social status changed. 

William Clark Gable about the time he began his relationship with Josephine Dillon in the early 1920's.

(left) Josephine Dillon Gable, a drama teacher and Wife Number 1. She paid to fix his teeth, trained him as an actor and suggested he use the name Clark Gable for the stage. (right) Clark Gable and  Ria Franklin Printiss Lucas Langham Gable, a wealthy and much married socialite and Wife Number 2.  She taught him social graces and how to dress.  She also reportedly paid for his wardrobe.


After Carole's death, Gable, deeply depressed and drinking heavily, joined the U.S. Army Air Forces. Many of his friends believed that he was seeking death.  Too old for regular active service, he trained with and accompanied the 351st Heavy Bomb Group as head of a 6-man motion picture unit making a gunnery training film.

Gable actually did fly five combat missions in B17's as an observer gunner. In one mission over Germany he was almost killed when a German 20mm shell exploded through the plane's floor and ripped the heel from one of Gable's flight boots.  Gable left the Army Air Forces with the rank of major. 

During the war the indiscriminate nature of his promiscuity amazed even his in-service colleagues. Gable, acutely aware of his less than stellar endowments and performance technique as a lover, explained to them that very plain women were "less demanding and more appreciative."  After the war, he married twice more.  

Wife Number 4, Edith Louisa Hawkes, an English model and former chorus girl known as Lady Sylvia Ashley from her first marriage to Lord Ashley.  She soon divorced Ashley but kept the name and married Douglas Fairbanks Sr.  After his death in 1939 she married and then divorced John Edward Stanley.  Subsequently she married Clark Gable in December of 1949.  They filed for divorce in May of 1951 and it was finalized in April of 1952.  After her divorce from Gable she went on to marry a race car driver.

Wife Number 5, Kathleen Williams Capps de Alzaga Spreckels, a thrice-married former fashion model and stock actress.  They married in 1955 after having an intermittent 12 year relationship.  Kay had two children by Speckles and Gable served as their stepfather.

Increasingly he drank heavily and periodically ballooned in size and weight only to loose it on killer crash diets just before he would begin filming.  

                                  Clark Gable in a still from his film But Not For Me (1959) relaxing with a drink.

Yet on the screen and to the public he still was "the king" even if his films were no longer at the very top at the box office. In his last movie, The Misfits, made in 1960, he co-starred believably with Marilyn Monroe, a remarkable achievement for a man approaching 60 years of age. 
                                     Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in 1960 during the filming of The Misfits.
In late 1960 Howard Strickling, the director of publicity for MGM guided Kay Gable, Clark's fifth wife and widow with the arrangements for his burial at Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Newsreel footage of Clark Gable's funeral shows Strickling hovering near Kay and directing it.  Kay agreed to relegate herself to the position of a consolation prize, and after her death in 1983, would be buried beneath and to the left of Gable. Clark Gable was buried alongside Carole Lombard, thus enshrining forever the legend of their perfect marriage.




diamondandruby at 2010-06-08 11:41 (UTC) (Link)
The photo you've shared of Clark relaxing at home never fails to make me smile because it reminds me of myself most evenings, sprawled in my recliner, reading glasses perched on my nose, wine glass in hand, watching something great on TCM with my husband. Thanks for including it!
(Anonymous) at 2017-05-03 03:16 (UTC) (Link)

Photo of Clark gable

That photo of Clark Gable "relaxing at home" is a scene from a movie.
(Anonymous) at 2010-06-09 20:33 (UTC) (Link)
I couldn't agree with you more, my exact same sentiments when seeing the photo of Mr. Gable relaxing at home...reminds me of my dear hubby watching a good movie on TCM. I just wonder how they managed to coax Clark into letting them snap this shot...;-))))
(Anonymous) at 2010-06-11 13:51 (UTC) (Link)
That isn't a candid photo of Gable "relaxing at home". That is a still from his film But Not For Me (1959).

Also, Kay was assured by Forest Lawn that when her time came they would make room for her in the same row as Gable but after 20+ years, they couldn't hold up their end of the bargain as all the spaces around him were filled. I have always thought that it was classy of Kay to bury him next to Carole per his wishes. A lesser woman might have shown petty jealousy and not done it. I've heard, for instance, that William Powell wanted to be buried in Jean Harlow's private room with her at Forest Lawn (which he had paid for anyway) but his wife would hear none of it and buried him in Palm Springs instead. Don't know if that's true or not.

Anyway, Kay did discuss Carole in the book she wrote after Clark's death. She said she never met her and was irritated by people thinking they looked alike. She said Clark would talk about her, like "Carole and I used to..." She said she thinks Clark appreciated that she respected their relationship and she never pryed or asked things like, "Did you love Carole more than you love me?" She said that was his business. Classy lady.

cinemafan2 at 2010-06-11 15:37 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for the clarification of the photo of Clark relaxing with a drink. Too bad that Kay Gable didn't purchase a vault alongside of Clark when he died. Or was that space already taken?
classicfilmboy.com at 2010-06-12 17:08 (UTC) (Link)

Liked this post

I really enjoyed this post -- well done and to the point. I don't know much about Kay Gable, but she sounds like a classy woman. I'll have to get her autobiography. Also enjoyed the photos of Clark with each wife, as well as the one from the early '20s, where he looks older than he did in the 1930s!
cinemafan2 at 2012-06-30 04:31 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Liked this post


Separating the facts from the glowing publicity that overlays so much of what has been written about Gable was a task. He was quite consistent throughout his life - fairly ruthless. I've researched the story further. http://cinemafan2.livejournal.com/8154.html

Interesting relationship between Howard Strickling and Gable. Without Howard there would be no "Clark Gable" as the public thinks they "know" him.

Edited at 2012-06-30 04:53 am (UTC)
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