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.
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.
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.