Clark Gable was born on February 1, 1901 in Cadiz, Ohio, to William H. Gable, a wildcatter in the oil-drilling business, and Adeline (Addie) Hershelman Gable, a farmer’s daughter. Sadly, Addie died nine months and thirteen days after her son’s birth. In April 1903, William married Jennie Dunlap, a milliner and dressmaker from Hopedale, Ohio.
Showing little interest in following in his father’s occupational footsteps, young Gable dropped out of Edinburgh High School at age 16 and moved to Akron, where he found jobs in the tire and rubber industry. And that’s where the story of Clark Gable’s Hollywood career begins.
Gable sat mesmerized watching the play The Bird of Paradise, a shocking melodrama performed by the Ed Clark Lilley-Pauline McLean Players at the Akron Music Hall. This transformational moment sparked his desire to become an actor. He served as an unpaid go-fer for the theatrical troupe and eventually had a brief walk-on part in one of its productions, which cemented his career aspirations. He worked his way West and joined a Portland, Oregon, stock company, the Astoria Players, in 1922. He studied acting with drama coach Josephine Dillon, whom he married in 1924. After moving to Hollywood, Gable found work as a movie extra in Forbidden Paradise (1924), The Merry Widow (1925), and The Pacemakers (1925).
His stage work as “Killer” Mears in the 1930 Los Angeles production of The Last Mile attracted the attention of filmmakers. Gable earned his first screen credit in the 1931 William Boyd Western The Painted Desert. After appearing in 1931’s The Easiest Way for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), Gable signed a short-term studio contract and had minor roles in a succession of films. He caused a sensation in 1931’s A Free Soul when, as Ace Wilfong, Gable manhandled his leading lady, Norma Shearer. The public reacted by sending Gable thousands of fan letters. The Hollywood Reporter declared: “A star in the making has been made.” Later that year, he appeared in his first starring role in Sporting Blood with Madge Evans.
MGM renewed Gable’s contract and featured him opposite many of the screen’s most desirable women, including Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Marion Davies, Myrna Loy and Carole Lombard.
In 1934, MGM lent him out to Columbia Pictures for the screwball comedy It Happened One Night. In one scene, Gable unbuttons his shirt and reveals that he is not wearing an undershirt. Taking his cue, millions of American men apparently believed it was manlier not to wear an undershirt. Within a year, sales of undershirts plummeted by seventy-five percent, and garment executives blasted Gable for causing the near ruination of the undershirt industry. The kerfuffle brought great attention to the film, which swept the top 1934 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Frank Capra), Best Screenplay (Robert Riskin), Best Actress (Claudette Colbert), and Best Actor (Gable).
In 1935, Gable was reluctant to play Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty because he feared audiences would think he looked silly in knickers and a pigtail. Surprise! The film was a success, and he was nominated for but lost the Best Actor Academy Award for Mutiny on the Bounty.
In 1937, Ed Sullivan, entertainment columnist for the Chicago Tribune-New York Daily News syndicate conducted a contest that asked the public to name “The King of Hollywood.” More than twenty million voters crowned Gable with that title, and he was known by that moniker throughout his career.
In 1938, when producer David O. Selznick was casting Gone With the Wind, members of the public sent letters to the studio, demanding that Gable be selected for the role of Rhett Butler. Gable was Selznick’s first choice, too, and the behind-the-scenes story of casting that part can be found on pages 19 to 22 in The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book (second edition). Long story short: In August 1938, Gable was signed to play Rhett Butler.
2023 Twin Year: The 2023 calendar matches the days of the 1939, making 2023 a twin year to 1939. That’s the premise of Pauline’s new book Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day. In that book, she chronicles the production, premieres and reception of GWTW from January 1, 1939 to December 31, 1939. Fans will love following the drama and intrigue of GWTW’s production on each event’s exact day and date.
Blogger Bio: Pauline Bartel is the author of Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day, The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book, and an expert on the film and its history. Follow Pauline on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Request a personally inscribed bookplate by sending a request to PaulineBartel@cs.com. Visit her Amazon.com Author Page and leave a review telling other GWTW fans why you love Gone With the Wind: 1939 Day by Day.