Several days have passed since a story electrified the classic Hollywood community regarding new possible revelations on what happened between Clark Gable (shown here at a tennis tournament with Carole Lombard before they married) and Loretta Young that led to her secretly giving birth to daughter Judy Lewis in November 1935. It led to an estragement between mother and daughter for several years, although the rift was mended before Young's passing in 2000. (Lewis died 11 years later.)
For those who haven't seen the story (http://www.buzzfeed.com/annehelenpetersen/loretta-young?utm_term=.vsZ4pQadgp#.njEgkeg0D), it's alleged that after hearing the term "date rape" on CNN's "Larry King Live" in 1998, Young said, "That — that’s what happened to me." (According to Linda Lewis, Loretta's daughter-in-law, she said it without rancor towards Gable.) Moreover, the incident that led to the conception did not happen on location in rural Washington state for the film "The Call of the Wild," but on a train ride back to Los Angeles after that part of the shooting was completed.
So just what happened? The day after the Buzzfeed article, New York Post movie critic Lou Lumenick -- who writes extensively about classic Hollywood -- was somewhat skeptical (http://nypost.com/2015/07/13/well-never-really-know-if-clark-gable-actually-date-raped-loretta-young/). One of those he quoted was Robert Metzen, author of the critically acclaimed book "Fireball," about Lombard's 1942 fatal air accident, and a friend of mine (as is Linda Lewis). According to Lumenick, here are Matzen's observations:
Matzen notes that “The Call of the Wild’’ director William A. Wellman wrote in his autobiography that there was “monkey business’’ between Gable and Young and that he asked Gable to cool it. And that 15 years later, as an Oscar-winning freelance actress, Young chose to work with Gable again on a second film, “Key to the City.’’
“So this sophisticated woman has to ask for the definition of date rape?’’ Matzen says. “This new story makes her sound sort of like an idiot. Loretta was no idiot. She was a Hollywood survivor capable of engineering the whole adoption thing, and she also steadfastly denied Gable’s paternity through the course of her life.’’
In Young's defense, I'll comment that while she admitted she and Gable flirted on the set, she denied those flirtations led to any sexual encounter while on location. (The Lumenick story quoting Matzen ran on Monday; two days later, Matzen elaborated his opinion at http://robertmatzen.com/2015/07/15/what-loretta-said-or-didnt/.)
On the other hand, Lumenick quoted biographer David Stenn, whose books include "Bombshell," about Jean Harlow, and "Runnin' Wild," about Clara Bow, and he said he believes Young's claim about Judy Lewis' birth could have merit. He said in the context of Hollywood in the '30s, what Gable did “is not only conceivable, but was acceptable. Millions of women wanted to be in Loretta Young’s position. If you look at Gable’s films that preceded [‘The Call of the Wild’], there are films where he manhandled women and they love it."
Stenn calls the incident "a film historian's nightmare." At his site, Matzen concludes with, "The facts do not seem to align in this allegation against Gable. Were this a court of law, he would be innocent until proven guilty and walk for lack of evidence. No such rules seem to apply in the court of public opinion, where the charge itself constitutes a guilty verdict."
I admit I'm torn on this. In 1998, when Young first heard the term "date rape," social mores were far different from what they are both now and in 1935. "No means no" hadn't yet truly entered the public consciousness 17 years ago, while in 1935 a man "sowing his oats" sadly wasn't that big a deal; a bit caddish, perhaps, but little more. The end results of such affairs usually were found in Florence Crittenton homes, although Young used a complicated ruse to retain her baby and raise her into chlldhood and adulthood.
In the light of recent allegations against Bill Cosby and other incidents, "date rape" seems far more sinister than the allegation would have been had the term existed in 1935. And while I reiterate that Young harbored no ill will against Gable for what may (or may have not) have happened, it's a relevant topic to bring up in a time when too many women remain victims of sexual violence.