vp19 (vp19) wrote in carole_and_co,

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Gable gets his Irish up

Clark Gable's decades of stardom resulted in far more many high points than low ones. But one of the "downs" was so severe it nearly prevented Gable from pursuing his signature role.

If you're a Gable fan you know, of course, we are referring to his worst-received pictures, the 1937 biopic "Parnell."

The subject was one Charles Stewart Parnell, a 19th-century statesman who helped Ireland in its fight for independence from Great Britain despite an affair with a married woman which led to his downfall. (Yep, since it's St. Patrick's Day, we decided to go with an Irish-related entry.)

Here's what the real Parnell (1846-1891) looked like, in an 1870s picture taken by Mathew Brady's fabled studio:

However, director John Stahl, after "an avalanche of protests" from fans, decided to restrict Gable to sideburns rather than wear a beard on screen. So instead, here's how you see him, with co-star Myrna Loy as Mrs. Kitty O'Shea:

Parnell's story had been a Broadway play earlier in the decade, and MGM probably believed it would make a successful conversion to film...especially considering the millions of Americans of Irish descent. Moreover, Parnell's mother was American and her father had been a commodore in the U.S. Navy.

So what went wrong?

More than anything else, this wasn't the Gable the public wanted. They wanted someone dashing and devil-may-care, not brooding and introspective. In addition, while Gable thankfully doesn't try to speak in an Irish accent, he's just so typically...American that no matter how hard he tries, the audience simply doesn't accept him.

"Come back in roles that let you be your cheerful dashing self," one preview fan wrote. "We want the Clark of 'It Happened One Night' and 'San Francisco.'"

Stahl, whose best films were weepies such as "Back Street" and "Imitation Of Life," isn't a good match for Gable's style. (Stahl's presence led Joan Crawford, who had originally been cast as Katie, to swap films with good friend Loy before shooting began, and Joan did "The Last Of Mrs. Cheyney" instead.)

During shooting, Carole Lombard played a practical joke on Gable and Loy. Stahl tried to get them in the mood for a dramatic love scene by playing sad music for several days...but one morning, the phonograph instead played the comic jazz number "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You."

The film lost several hundred thousand dollars for MGM, one of the few misfires in Gable's career -- and Lombard never let him forget it. Legend has it she printed some "Parnell" leaflets and stickers just to playfully get at Clark.

Because it was such a flop, Gable swore off historical roles -- but he finally relented, if only because the public demand for him to play Rhett Butler in "Gone With The Wind" was so overwhelming.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

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