Biography of Actor Clark Gable Part 1

About the famous actor Clark Gable, history and biography of the Hollywood star and legend.


CLARK GABLE (1901-1960)

When Judy Garland sang "You Made Me Love You" to Clark Gable's photograph in Broadway Melody of 1938, there was nothing absurd about her loving tribute to the MGM star whose good-natured, heroic, aggressively sexual persona endured for three decades. Yes, he was "the King" (a title foisted on him by Ed Sullivan and one which he resented), and yes, undershirt sales plummeted when he appeared barechested in It Happened One Night (1934). Yet this grandest star of all never lost his fear of appearing ridiculous in the dubious profession of acting.

William Clark Gable was born in Cadiz, O. His father, also William, a failed wildcatter and farmer, was to die unimpressed by his son's dazzling success. The senior Gable believed no real man would monkey with makeup. That Gable (who used the manly signature Billy rather than the effete Clark) partially agreed accounted for much of his insecurity as an actor.

The pattern of Gable's life suggests that, like many strong men, he needed the guidance of a woman. Clark's mother died when he was seven months old, but stepmother Jennie Dunlap shielded him from William Gable's ham-fisted attempts to mold a man from the boy. After Clark quit school at 16, only Jennie encouraged his acting ambitions, but she did not live to see him rise higher than prop boy.

Gable's first two marriages were to women nearly 20 years his senior, matronly ex-actress Josephine Dillon (1924), who nurtured his crude acting skills through regional stock theater, Hollywood extra bits, and nondescript Broadway roles; and Ria Langham (1930), the Houston socialite who guided him through a new world of social graces in New York and Hollywood.

In 1930 he began his movie career proper with a small part in The Painted Desert, a William Boyd western. In those early days of sound, screen heroes were already shifting their image away from lounge lizards and costumed Romeos to wisecracking hustlers. The Gable type exactly. Within a year, he had co-starred with Garbo and Crawford, and in 1932 he invaded the box-office top 10. MGM's Louis B. Mayer, who immediately recognized Gable as a sensitive man wary of his own sensitivity, gave his new star opportunities to "be" rather than to "act": to be cheerful, earthy, and direct; to be intelligent in ways that had nothing to do with intellect; to be amoral yet honorable, modern, and American; and to be soldier of fortune, white hunter, gambler, pilot, racing driver, general, sea captain, escaped convict, and wildcatter.

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