Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Ready, Willing and Gable!

Relax, pumpkins... This isn't going to be one of my long-winded tributes to the long and legendary career of a Hollywood icon. It's mostly a photo essay celebrating the comparatively unheralded younger years (primarily pre-stache!) of "The King," movie superstar Clark Gable.
If you only know Gable from Gone with the Wind (1939), in which he was half of one of the cinema's all-time most famous romantic pairings opposite Vivien Leigh, you're only getting part of the story. Certainly, he was magnetic in the part (and the public would hear of no one else in the role, practically demanding en masse that he take it!), but by that time he was already an established, Oscar-winning leading man. (His statuette came for It Happened One Night, 1934.)

Today, we're going to take a peek at him in his earlier years, when his unique features (which drove young exec Darryl F. Zanuck to describe him as "an ape" with "floppy, taxi cab ears!" and pass him over for work at Warner Brothers) had not yet settled into the familiar lined granite with that signature, pencil-thin mustache above his lip.

Some of his earliest studio portraits reveal a lack of confidence in his posture, an almost round-shouldered, stooped aspect that, fortunately, he would soon overcome.

His home studio of MGM began to fabricate a rugged, outdoorsy image of riding, hunting and fishing which, incredibly enough, eventually came true when he realized he actually enjoyed each of those things.

Never one known for his imposing physique, he nonetheless caused a nationwide sensation during It Happened One Night when he removed his shirt and revealed no undershirt beneath. Male audience members figured that if Clark Gable could do without a t-shirt, then so could they and allegedly sales dipped remarkably for a time.

He did play some shirtless scenes in the classic Mutiny on the Bounty (1935), seen here with Movita...
...and here with costar Franchot Tone.
He also played a boxer in Cain and Mabel (1936) opposite Marion Davies, in which he was probably at or near his most fit.
This later portrait (during 1935's San Francisco?) shows quite a flash of thigh/glute!
On his way to the top of the MGM heap, Gable was paired with most of the roster of leading ladies. Surely the most unusual was in 1931's Susan Lenox, with Greta Garbo. She had chosen him herself for the honor, but the two unlikely costars didn't hit it off at all.
He costarred three times with Norma Shearer (seen here in 1932's Strange Interlude.) I'm not a huge fan of Shearer's but I do like her beguiling expression in this portrait.
A frequent costar (and lover) of his was Joan Crawford. They worked opposite each other no less than eight times including 1931's Laughing Sinners depicted here.
And here they are in Dancing Lady (1933), though some of their other teamings are more famous such as Possessed (1931) and Strange Cargo (1940.)
Probably my favorite Clark Gable film is 1932's Red Dust, which placed him with both Mary Astor and Jean Harlow (the first of five costarring roles for them.) In it, he is strong, capable and, for my money, at his all-time most handsome.
The combination of the closely-trimmed hair (unusual for him at any time), which was often mussed into the way some men wear theirs now, and five o'clock shadow combined to give him a devastating handsomeness.
Even his "floppy taxi cab ears" can be forgiven when they are separated by eyes such as these!
I love the sweaty, dewy, steamy setting and his safari clothing.
This being Poseidon's Underworld, you know I have to include a shot of his bulge while assisting Mary Astor through the jungle. His third wife Carole Lombard once flippantly remarked, "If Clark had one inch less, he'd be 'The Queen' of Hollywood instead of 'The King!'" Indeed his package seems to contain more berries than twig, so to speak.
Twenty-one years later, Gable remade Red Dust as Mogambo, this time with Grace Kelly and a sultry Ava Gardner (who gleaned her sole Oscar nomination for the movie, losing to Audrey Hepburn for Roman Holiday.)
Gable preferred black and white films versus color ones because he felt that monochromatic film helped to disguise the effects of age, though this one and many of his late-career movies were in color. One could argue that a tan reads better in color than in black and white, though by 1960, the year of his death from a heart attack, nothing could truly disguise the many years of drinking and a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit. He's seen below on the set of The Misfits (1961), released posthumously. He was but fifty-nine years old...
Regarding the aforementioned Lombard, she was unquestionably the love of Gable's life and he gave up most of the money he had in the world (in a prickly divorce settlement) in order to be free to marry her in 1939. Not that there wasn't more dough to come since he was still a major box office attraction.

Their idyllic happiness was short-lived, however, when she - a tireless war bond promoter - was killed in a plane crash on the way home from a bond drive in January 1942 at only age thirty-three. (She was, in fact, awarded a posthumous Medal of Freedom by FDR and was considered the first U.S. female killed in the line of duty during WWII due to her extensive efforts.) Though he would marry twice more after her passing, most agreed that the light went out of his life the day she died.

And now some more early publicity shots of Mr. G., many of which point up his handsomeness and studio-influenced style.
These next four are my own personal favorites!
We hope you liked this glimpse of Mr. Gable and heartily encourage you to watch Red Dust the next time it pops up on TCM!
You will note in the comments section of this post that a few of my readers pointed out a similarity between Mr. Gable and one George Clooney. Looking into this further, I did a little doctoring of a George Clooney photo and realized that there is indeed a surprising similarity! With a little bit of makeup, I think Mr. C. could do a credible recreation of Mr. G. Look below and see what you think!


Dave in Alamitos Beach said...

Wait, I thought you said it was going to be short! :-) I really quite like Clark Gable as an actor and he has been in at least a handful of "classic" movies that I watch over and over like It Happened One Night, San Francisco, GWTW, and Mutiny On The Bounty.

It's strange that after GWTW, his career just faded away mostly. I guess because of the War and Carole Lombard's death, etc.

I love how they try to minimize his ears in the early shots by making sure at least one of them is in the shadows, but audiences didn't really care. He did a very good impression of a "man's man."

joel65913 said...

I've always liked Gable pre or post moustache but I tend to agree he looked sexier without it. Either way he exudes a certain brand of rugged masculinity that jumps off the screen.

Those two pictures you posted of him looking uneasy are the only two I think I've ever seen where he didn't look completely at home in his surroundings. I think once Metro took him on and buffed up his rough edges just enough it gave him the confidence to fully relax into his natural charisma. He wore clothes extremely well, dressy or casual they never wore him. Of course he had the most fabled studio in the world customizing his clothes especially for him but tailoring only goes so far if you don't have the proper attitude they can still look like a sack.

I think I've commented elsewhere on the site how astonishingly hot I thought he was in Red Dust. It's too bad that the close cropped look he sported in it wasn't in fashion at the time because it suited him so well, the jungle sheen didn't hurt either! His blatant sexuality as well as Jean Harlow's were ideal for the pre-code era and while they were still appealing after the code because of their star quality their sensuality was muted.

That's a great collection of photos you've pulled together, love the two of Carole Lombard & he. It always strikes me how contemporary she looks in her photos. She rarely wore the elaborate hairstyles of the period and like Gable seemed to prefer simple lines in her attire so her pictures don't date like some. Veronica Lake's look has similarly weathered the passage of time well and actually the two ladies favor each other.

I've seen that Garbo/Gable costarrer Susan Lenox: Her Fall and Rise and it's like watching two magnetic forces repel each other. Individually they're riveting and great but they don't interact well at all.

Poseidon3 said...

Now Dave, you know that FOR ME this is a short post! I'm actually considering offering up more compact posts instead of the ridonkulously long ones that take so long in-between. It's difficult to re-train myself to be brief and to the point! We'll see...

Joel, Carole Lombard amazes me because she was so adept at both comedy and drama. The first time I ever saw her was in "In Name Only" as a lovely woman in love with Cary Grant, who was married to the spiteful Kay Francis, and I adored her. Never even realized then that she did comedy so successfully as well. (That was my first exposure to Francis, too, and I enjoyed her a lot as well.) I still shudder when I think of the way she was played (not portrayed!) by Jill Clayburgh in "Gable & Lombard."

And of course I thought of you when I was mentioning "Red Dust." I recalled your similar reaction to Gable in that as my own.


joel65913 said...

I'm in complete accord with you on Carole Lombard, she was so wonderfully versatile. I first saw her in My Man Godfrey and then Made for Each Other with Jimmy Stewart and the two called for such different emotions. I adore "In Name Only", it's one of my favorite movies actually even if it gets a bit soapy. All three leads are amazing. It always makes me sad that this was almost the end of Kay Francis's career and certainly one of her last quality pictures. She's so wonderfully venal, I would have thought it would have opened a whole new avenue for her as a noir villainess.

The movie "Gable & Lombard" is such a stinking pile and an insult to both stars, their memory and good film making at that. I like Jill Clayburgh but she was terrible in that, completely miscast and apparently without understanding of the character. She's still better than Brolin was as Gable. That it's sunk into obscurity is its deserved fate.

joel65913 said...

I forgot, I wanted to comment on you trying to learn to do shorter posts. I enjoy whichever you put up but I LOVE the long incredibly detailed posts that you normally do. If we have to wait a little while for them well...good things come to those who wait!

Matt said...

In some of these photographs, I suddenly struck by how much George Clooney & Clark Gable favor one another. At times it's almost eerie.

NotFelixUnger said...

I remember watching "Gone with the Wind" the first time it played [CBS, I think] in the 70s. After all the hoopla I sat my 10 year old butt down to watch and came away wondering what the big deal was. I certainly did not understand the sexy magnetism of Gable as it was described by everyone.

Boy do times [and tastes!] change. About 2 years ago I saw "Red Dust" and shortly thereafter "Mogambo." I loved Gable in both [though "Red Dust" is superior in my opinion] enough to sit my then 45 year old butt down and watch "Gone with the Wind" in its entirety once more. And, I understood. I got it. It took 35 years to appreciate that man. What a hunk. Especially with the stubble!

NotFelixUnger said...

BTW, I forgot to add: All George Clooney comparisons are quite appropriate. There are many similarities. Some pictures are downright eerie when it comes to facial features. However, GC has grown to look more like CG over time. In his younger years the resemblance was much more fleeting. Today it is uncanny.

Poseidon3 said...

Joel, Thank you for your compliments! You are a very loyal subject and I'm glad you enjoy the variety of things I put up. :-)

NotFelix, isn't it weird the way our tastes can change/mature over the years? It sometimes pays to revisit movies as we have aged a bit whereupon we appreciate people and things that went right over our heads the first time.

And Matt (and NotFelix), I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Clooney - he is from the same general area in which I live - but somehow never made the connection between him and Clark Gable. Now that it's been pointed out, I do see it! I do know that for years George has been pointed out as one who recalls "Old Hollywood Glamour" and so I was fully aware of that, just not how closely he suggests Mr. Gable. I did a little photo-experiment that I'm going to attach at the tail end of this post. You'll want to come back and see it for sure! Thanks!

NotFelixUnger said...

Wonderful job! Given a choice between the two I would still take Gable over Clooney any day.