‘The King of Hollywood’ as many know him as simply ‘The King’ Clark Gable had a very humble beginning (just like many of his peers during the silent film era) when he started working as a stage actor. Later Gable got the chance to perform in silent films, but only as an extra which he didn’t particularly dislike; Gable’s silent film era lasted only a couple of years, from 1924 to 1926. The appearances in the silent films landed Gable some supporting roles after he fetched a contract with MGM in 1931.
This move proved to be highly auspicious for the struggling actor, who got his first leading role in a Hollywood production the very next year; Gable never looked back from that and mesmerized audience around the globe for the next three decades with his outstanding in some classic Hollywood blockbusters.
Soon after his first appearance as Killer Mears in 1931, a desperate and seething character, in the stage production of The Last Mile in Lost Angeles, Gable was spotted by the MGM gurus who had exclusively offered him a contract straight away.
However, Gable’s first ‘sound film’ role was as an unshaven villain in a rather small budget production by William Boyd called The Painted Desert in 1931. Despite being a very ‘out of character’ role for Gable, The Painted Dessert attracted the attention of many fans who bombarded Gable with fan mails, MGM took notice of the attention and quickly got hold of Gable for their upcoming projects.
Gable’s best-known performance came in the blockbuster and timeless production of Gone with the Wind in 1939, despite Gable’s reluctance to take on the role for reasons unknown.
One account suggests that Gable didn’t appreciate the novel when Carole Lombard offered him a copy. Lombard is thought to be also the first person who had suggested to Gable to play the character of Rhett Butler for the screen production of Gone with the Wind, which of course he initially refused but later gave in to the insistence.
Gable’s personal life wasn’t as exciting and as long lasting as was his art career; his first marriage was in 1939 to his third wife, Carole Lombard. Gable’s career with Lombard and their subsequent marriage is said to be the happiest period of Gable’s life, as suggested by Gable himself on many occasions. The pair first met on a set in 1932 while filming No Man of Her Own; Lombard was married to actor William Powell at the time.
It took another four years for the romance between Gable and Lombard to come out when they became acquainted at a private party and after that seemed inseparable.
They were seen touring together and appeared on the front pages of scores of fan magazines and tabloids who cited them as the official couple.
However, the pair didn’t get married until March 29, 1936, while on the production break for the Gone with the Wind, Gable and Lombard were pronounced husband and wife in Kingman Arizona and went for honeymoon in the mining town of Oatman.
The newlywed couple decided to buy a ranch in Encino, California which was previously owned by Raoul Walsh, and happily made it their home. Gable and Lombard were immensely happy with their life and raised horses and chickens on their farm while taking care of a menagerie of dogs and cats.
The happiness was short-lived for the pair; on 16 January 1942, Lombard was on a Transcontinental and Western Air Flight 3 along with her mother and agent Otto Winkler, the flight a DC-3 airliner, unfortunately, crashed into mountains in Las Vegas and all 22 passengers on board were killed on impact. Upon hearing the tragic news, Gable flew to Las Vegas to claim the bodies of his wife Carole Lombard, mother-in-law and Winkler; Winkler was also the best man at Gable’s wedding with Lombard.
Following the loss of the love of his life, Gable decided to enlist in the US Army Air Forces in 1942 amidst the war and chaos. Gable was so heartbroken that he desperately wanted to be dispatched to the war front. However, MGM didn’t want him to leave for war and seemingly convinced Gable to reconsider his decision. Soon after he was discharged from active duty, Gable returned to his ranch in California and rested for a while, resuming his pre-war acquaintanceship with Virginia Grey, Gable however dated other starlets as well and did not settle on one partner.
After the Second World War Gable did another film co-staring with Green Garson in Adventure (1945). The project was a commercial and critical failure despite the catchy trailer tagline saying ‘Gable’s back and Garson’s got him.’
Gable died on November 16, 1960, ten days after a heart attack from an arterial clot; Gable was 59 at the time of death.