...Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, then as now considered one of the nation's top medical facilities.
Official word was that the reason for the visit, near the end of 1940 and into the first few days of 1941, was for Gable to take care of some chronic pain in his shoulder, likely suffered during the filming of "San Francisco" several years before. And that nagging injury was indeed resolved. But there was another reason for the visit, one that didn't come to light until many years later: the couple was trying to determine a reason for Carole's inability to become pregnant.
Since becoming his wife in March 1939, Lombard had dearly wanted to have a child with Gable -- one he could show pride in, rather than hide from the public (as was the case when he impregnated Loretta Young on the set of "Call Of The Wild" some years earlier). Carole told close friends that she and Clark tried all sorts of lovemaking, in all sorts of places...but nothing seemed to work.
Before her affair with Gable began, Lombard -- whose sexual experience dated back to the late 1920s -- might have perceived her inability to conceive as a blessing. Now it was a curse, and she hoped to find a way to reverse the spell. (Media reports at the time said Lombard took a room at the hospital "to keep her husband company." Right.)
Unlike their one-day visit to Washington on the first leg of this eastern trip (http://community.livejournal.com/carole_and_co/73489.html), there was no time for sightseeing. (Just as well, since the Baltimore of 1940 had relatively little in the way of tourism. The Inner Harbor now known today for entertainment and dining was then a working seaport area.)
Clark and Carole duly posed for photographers upon their arrival. "Hurry up," he groused to photographers, according to Time magazine. "I'm not feeling so well."
And that was it, as far as press contact was concerned. MGM publicist Howard Strickling, who met the couple in Baltimore, kept a tight rein on things. It helped that the press was more focused on the war in Europe; the story of the Gables' arrival was buried on page 9 of the Baltimore Sun on Dec. 31, 1940. The headline read, "Clark, Ailing, And Carole, Well, Both At Hopkins," with a subhead, "Go Into Seclusion -- To See No One But Movie Publicity Director."
It goes to show how much entertainment coverage has changed over the years -- imagine if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie checked into Johns Hopkins today. (Heck, TMZ.com would open a Baltimore bureau.)
When Gable and Lombard arrived in Baltimore, Carole's film "They Knew What They Wanted" was ending its run at the Rex downtown, while Clark's new movie, "Comrade X" with co-star Hedy Lamarr, was set to open at the Century on New Year's Eve.
Strickling probably wasn't overly enthused with the Sun's review of the film. "Any hide left on the Russian Bear after 'Ninotchka' has been skinned off by 'Comrade X'...This time, however, the lampoon is heavy-handed and inept, and the slick touch of Ernst Lubitsch is sadly missed. The new picture has a Ben Hechtic plot, and frequently descends to mere buffoonery." On the other hand, the Sun said Gable was cast "as you like him, in a quizzical, devil-may-care role."
The only other Sun account of the visit was on Friday, Jan. 3, 1941, buried on page 13: "Gable Feels 'Rotten' After Dental Session." Dental? Well, as it turned out, physicians traced the root of Gable's pain to the root of a tooth, so it was removed, as was a small part of his jawbone. Lombard, according to the newspaper, "had undergone physical tests earlier in the week."
They were scheduled to leave for home on Saturday evening, but if they did so, it was very quietly, because nothing about them was in the Sun on Sunday, Jan. 5. (Clark and Carole returned to Washington for another day or two of tourism, leaving by air.)
P.S. One of the physicians who examined Gable and Lombard was Dr. Benjamin Baker, whose research helped pioneer study of the effects of cholesterol and colon cancer.
Baker, a Rhodes Scholar (at Oxford he ran track against Eric Liddell, one of the athletes immortalized in the film "Chariots Of Fire"), died in July 2003 at age 101 -- a lifespan longer than Clark and Carole's combined.