What happens when star crossed lovers meet? In the case of Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, stars met, crossed, loved, and then some.
The meeting took place on a job, as many complicated romances begin. The two famous actors were hired for No Man of Her Own (1932) in which con man Jerry Stewart (Gable) falls for librarian Connie Randall (Lombard).
Director of the film, Garson Kanin, later addressed the subject in his memoirs Hollywood: Stars and Starlets, Tycoons, Moviemakers, Frauds, Hopefuls, Great Lovers (1976). He recounts Lombard confiding in him, saying that despite filming several steamy love scenes together, “[she] never got any kind of tremble out of him at all.”
It’s not too surprising that this wasn’t a case of love at first sight, as both were married at the time — Gable to a Texas socialite, Maria Langham, and Lombard to actor William Powell. There was also a seven-year age gap between the two on-screen lovers.
It was then a four year gap which separated the two actors who came in contact with each other for the second time in 1936 at the Mayfair Ball, which Lombard hosted.
The party’s invite list included all of Hollywood’s finest. Lombard graced the event with a dashing date — Cesar Romero — and a separated, but not yet divorced, Gable showed up stag.
This evening was the spark that would ignite an all-consuming flame. Despite Lombard’s conspicuous date, gossip sources report that Clark Gable invited Carole Lombard back to his hotel room that night.
Gable’s divorce was finalized in 1938, after which the couple made their relationship public. The two were completely inseparable, never spending more than a week away from each other.
A year later, Gable was working with David O. Selznick on Gone With the Wind and took advantage of a filming break to elope with Lombard in Arizona. It’s worth noting that it was Selznick who, three years earlier, had convinced Carole Lombard to host that fateful Mayfair Ball.
Emotional struggles with infertility and allegations of infidelity plagued the couple’s marriage, including the day of the tragic accident that cut it short.
In January 1942, Lombard ignored numerous warning signs regarding a flight she was determined to take back home to California, presumably to reunite with Gable and assuage alleged marital issues. A psychic Lombard had seen with her mother, Elizabeth Peters, warned the actress against flights in general for the entire calendar year.
Gable’s press agent, Otto Winkler, was traveling with Lombard at the time and warned the actress against the flight home, having had a premonition of a plane crash in the days leading up to the trip. Both Winkler and Peters preferred an originally planned, but longer train journey.
A coin toss determined their fate. Lombard’s haste won and all three parties boarded TWA Flight 3 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles. The plane never got farther than Nevada, crashing into Potosi Mountain.
With the star, who had just raised around £2 million worth of bonds for the war effort, were 15 young pilots headed west, en route to serve in the war. No one survived.
In an emotionally heroic gesture, Clark Gable mounted a horse and ascended 7,800 feet up the deadly mountain, following a route that even experienced professionals struggled to surmount and warned him against. With a group of guides and officials, the search party located the ruins of the flight.
Understandably, grief struck the widower in an extreme way. Gable didn’t want to go back to an empty home. He took up drinking, smoking, reckless motorcycle driving, and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in August 1942.
Gable didn’t die of a broken heart, but he lived another 18 years without his beloved. He remarried twice during this time, but upon his death due to heart complications, he was buried next to his 3rd wife: Carole Lombard.
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