Imagine finding someone you like -- heck, love -- a great deal, only to find yourself under the scrutiny of millions. That's what faced Carole Lombard and Clark Gable in the fall of 1936, as their romance had proven to be more than a short-lived fling.
Sure, as celebrities, each was used to being put under the microscope. But with Gable arguably the most popular actor in the industry and Lombard's own star rising, said microscope was more intense than ever before.
Longtime fan magazine writer Adele Whitely Fletcher -- who had written for such publications for nearly two decades by 1936 (in fact, she supposedly was the person who gave Lucille LeSueur the new name "Joan Crawford") -- understood what they were going through, and decided to write a public note to the couple, "A Heart-To-Heart Letter To Carole Lombard and Clark Gable." Carole's modernity and Clark's lack of pretense are cited in Fletcher's column.
I don't have the entire article as it was printed, but I don't have to -- the excellent site DearMrGable.com printed it some time ago (http://dearmrgable.com/?page_id=4596). There's a little bit of Hollywood hyperbole here, but not much; most people in the entertainment community liked Gable and Lombard as people, and were rooting for them. That empathy is evident here.
By Adele Whitely Fletcher
Screen Guide magazine, November 1936
How these two found a rare friendship -— and how they can keep it
Dear Carole and Clark,
Lately I’ve been thinking about the two of you and even envying you in an impersonal sort of way. For I know you both well enough to have a pretty good idea of the splendid kind of friendship you have found together.
For years I’ve watched Hollywood couples go places and do things, their hearts shining in their eyes. For the most part I’ve never given any of them much thought. With you two it’s different. When I hear about you turning up at a premiere with berets pulled down over your heads, having arrived in Clark’s roadster; eating peanuts and laughing at the circus clowns, well, I enjoy a vicarious excitement. So do a lot of other people.
I wonder if you have any idea how incessantly and romantically Hollywood talks about you, how they tell of the way you, Carole, went to the broadcasting station with Clark and sat, patient as a lamb, while he rehearsed his program. How they pretty well go to town when they relate how every once in a while during that rehearsal Clark would turn to give you a quick look, not meant for anyone else to see. How, on a recent Sunday, even before the last match had been played on your courts, the film colony knew that Clark, tennis crazy as he is, had spent most of the afternoon as a spectator because you were playing such a swell game.
There are a dozen love stories being lived in Hollywood these days but it’s the two of you that people talk about. Even those who’ve never met either of you personally sense the fact that you have something special.
Now there’s only one way that any two people ever achieve something special and that’s by being special themselves. Which you two most definitely are. And that’s what I want to talk about.
It’s several years since I wrote the first open letters to stars that ever appeared in any motion picture magazine, and in a magazine published under the same editorship as this is. Then, almost always, those letters were written to stars who were believed to have gotten off on the wrong foot. This letter is being written for the very opposite reason, because the two of you have shown such a swell attitude to this relationship, accepting it and enjoying it like two regular human beings, not handicapping it by being surreptitious and cagey for fear of publicity or, on the other hand, warping and distorting it for the sake of publicity.
You know, Carole, for a long time now whenever a girl or a woman has come to me weeping or bitter because some love affair has ended I’ve always thought of you. And wished the girl or woman in question might have a little of the swell, healthy philosophy which marks you in these matters. So often you’ve said to me, “When I feel a love affair is drawing to close I end it—and remain friends with the guy!” And when I’ve questioned you as to how you’ve been able to tell when a love affair was about to end you’ve given me one of your square looks, laughed, and said: “We women with our sensitive antennae always can tell about such things, you know we can. It’s just that we’re romantic and that we hope against hope and -— hang on!”
And you don’t merely spout those fine sounding sentiments, you actually practice them. And you do remain friends with the guy. Even Bill Powell to whom you were married—and that’s the acid test -— would sign an affidavit that you’re One in a Million.
Another thing about you -— I hope all of this doesn’t embarrass you for I’m building up to the reason that Clark, the catch of Hollywood, sought you when a dozen charming ladies were ready and willing to have him seek them -— is that you never are possessive about men. Let a man so much as look at a gun and you say to him: “Why don’t you go off on a hunting trip? You haven’t had one in ages.” So that he either decides he doesn’t want to go off on any old hunting trip or he does go, has a fine time, and comes back grateful to you for being a good sport. Whichever way it works out it’s better than if he had wanted to go but remained resentfully at home, satisfied no trip in the world would be worth the recriminations and tears.
Besides, neither during a love affair nor following one has anyone heard you wail about the time-out-of-your-life or the affection you gave any man. Instead you manage to be healthily mindful of some of the things the man gave you, of the pleasure you had with him to have spent so much time with him, and of other things too, depending upon the man. I’ve told you, you know, that you are the inspiration for a short story I’m going to write in which a glamorous woman traces her individual development-— her interest in books, her feeling for music, her appreciation of good food and wine, her keen zest in sports, and so on -— to the different men who have been important in her life. For because of your attitude to men invariably you are enriched by your association with them and not impoverished by being made over-sentimental and depressed and maudlin.
However, in spite of the fact that you never talk of what you have given a man, it seems to me that you give them the greatest gift there is, laughter. Take you and Clark, for instance. You began with a laugh and you’re laughing still. I remember a few years ago which you and Clark played together in “No Man of Her Own.” Clark was married then and you were interested in someone else. But it amused you to see the way some of the girls on your lot acted about them. They maneuvered to leave their cars near his in the parking space. If he lunched in the studio commissary they were there. If he went across the street to Lucey’s, famous for its spaghetti and tete-a-tete booths, they followed. Not you. You overreacted, as a matter of fact. Clark saw you on the set and on the set only. There you ribbed him. I remember the big ham you sent him with his picture on it. And before the love sequence you presented him with a large bottle of Lavoris. He used it too, before every love scene, with an absolutely dead pan. And that time he seemed a little nervous about your gags, probably wondering if they weren’t part of a game which hadn’t been tried on him before, you put him right. After which you got on handsomely.
Men trust you, you know. They consider you very much straight from the shoulder. As they should. For more than once you’ve helped a man out when he found himself in a tight spot. That’s still another reason I rate you special, even extra special, and that men, calling you a good fellow, give you their highest praise.
And now, Clark, I want to put you on the spot. Amazingly enough, considering your opportunities and the great advantages your romantic reputation gives you, you’ve never become what in the Gay Nineties they called a Lady Killer. Women are human beings to you before they are women.
Another nice thing about you, you don’t take yourself seriously. During the making of “No Man of Her Own” when Carole ribbed you you didn’t go stuffed shirt. You met her ribbing with good humor and more ribbing. You were glad to be able to be as warm and friendly as it is your nature to be without fear of being misunderstood. Which makes you pretty special, as human beings go, and no fooling.
I hope you won’t object to my saying that for personal and professional reasons it was advisable, immediately after you and Mrs. Gable separated, that you become involved with no one, not even by gossip. This demanded that you become something of a recluse. When you reached the Beverly Wilshire at night you went directly to your rooms. You didn’t even stop at the bar for a scotch and soda and the good masculine talk you enjoy. You knew better. In the first place the fans who waited outside of the hotel, aware you lived there, would have swarmed in to make any such casual camaraderie impossible. In the second place, the Hollywood grapevine being telegraphic in its speed, more than a few famous ladies soon would have taken to dropping in for a glass of sherry and a biscuit or, less elegantly, for a daiquiri or a martini.
I know how night after night during those difficult months you had dinner with Phil Berg, your agent, and Leila Berg, who used to be Leila Hyams. And when they had an engagement in the evening I know how you stayed on alone until it was time for you to drive back to your hotel and go to bed.
The catch of any town is in a tough spot. In self-defense he soon learns to be cagey or cautious at any rate. In Hollywood the difficulties of such a set-up are multiplied a hundred times. Therefore you were, for a long time, as lonely as only a celebrity can be when he closes his front door on his fame and finds himself an all-alone guy staring at four walls and memorizing the pattern in the rug.
Finally, when it was all right for you to begin going out again there were, of course, dozens of ladies eager to be sympathetic or ready to be gay on the surface and understanding underneath. All of these ladies would have humored you and flattered you, with finesse and charm, and allowed you to be a Big Shot all the time. But you remembered Carole and the good fellowship she had offered when you had worked at Paramount together. Good fellowship was what you wanted above everything else and it was Carole you sought.
The laughs started again almost at once, didn’t they?
In other words, you and Carole began with a laugh and you’re laughing still.
And so the two of you have come to other things besides good-fellowship, to the splendid friendship you share today. I dare say neither of you ever experienced anything just like this before. And you never will again. Any man and woman meet to forge their own emotion. And when two special people, like you two, meet the emotion you forge, is bound to be special too. Hang on to what you have! Don’t let the columnists with their predictions that you’re headed for the altar or about to part company influence you. Don’t turn self-conscious because the photographers snap you every time you go anywhere together. Don’t let the publicity stories you’re bound to receive get under your skins. Keep on being a couple of young human beings before you’re anything else. And keep on counting this thing you share as a couple of human beings more important than anything else. It won’t be easy to do all of this, I know. But you two can handle it -— just because you are special, both of you.
Adele Whitely Fletcher
What was Clark and Carole's reaction to this? It must have been good, because nearly four years later, when Fletcher moved to Photoplay, she wrote a story about the now-married couple's home life:
Fletcher became Photoplay editor in the late forties, by which time the magazine's influence was waning. She continued writing for magazines into the 1970s, dying at age 81 in June 1979.
The latest Lombard LiveJournal header is p1202-36, giving Carole a somewhat reverent appearance.