In early March 1939, Ria Gable’s divorce came through. Clark Gable was now free to marry Carole Lombard. On the day the news of the divorce broke, Hearst newspaper columnist Louella Parsons asked Lombard about the pair’s wedding plans. Lombard told her, “When Clark gets a few days off, perhaps we’ll sneak away and have the ceremony performed.”
On March 28, Gable learned that because of changes in Gone With the Wind‘s shooting schedule, he would have two days off from work. He and Lombard were overjoyed and quickly and quietly made plans for their elopement.
They did not want to alert the press, especially the reporters who had been haunting Lombard’s Bel-Air house, hoping to scoop the wedding of the year. But luck was with the lovers. The entire corps of reporters was being sent away on a junket to San Francisco to cover the world premiere of The Story of Alexander Graham Bell. It was the perfect opportunity for Gable and Lombard to slip away and be married.
Hollywood’s golden couple had a nickel-plated elopement. They packed their wedding clothes in a suitcase and dressed in ragtag shirts and scruffy dungarees. For further camouflage, Lombard wore no makeup and tied her blonde hair in pigtails. The pair, accompanied by MGM’s publicity man Otto Winkler, took off at 4:30 in the morning on March 29 in Winkler’s blue Desoto coupe and headed for Kingman, Arizona, 357 miles away.
Along the way, the trio munched on sandwiches and drank thermos bottles of coffee. Gable and Winkler shared the driving, and during stops for gas, Gable hid in the rumble seat to avoid recognition. One of the last stops before reaching Kingman was to buy wedding flowers: a corsage of pink roses and lilies of the valley for the bride and carnation boutonnieres for the groom and best man Winkler. Total cost: fifty cents.
At 4:00 that afternoon in Kingman’s town hall, Gable and Lombard completed the necessary marriage forms, then hurried to the rectory of the First Methodist-Episcopal Church. There they changed into their wedding clothes and met the minister and his wife. The quiet ceremony then began.
Gable, wearing a blue serge suit, a white shirt, and a patterned tie, nervously placed a platinum band on his bride’s finger. Dressed in a tailored, light gray, flannel suit, Lombard shed tears of joy.
After the ceremony, the newlyweds, with Winkler driving, headed back to Los Angeles. Along the way they phoned the news of their marriage to MGM and wired Louella Parsons and her boss, William Randolph Hearst.
The new Mr. and Mrs. Clark Gable arrived at Lombard’s house nearly twenty-four hours after they had left. They had only a few hours to rest up before facing reporters during a press conference scheduled for later that morning. And the most popular tongue-in-cheek question surely would be, What did you do on your day off, Clark?
Happy 75th anniversary, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Gone With the Wind!
Blog Bio: Pauline Bartel is the author of The Complete GONE WITH THE WIND Trivia Book (2nd edition), which will be published in spring 2014, and an expert on the film and its history. Visit the website (www.paulinebartel.com/resources/books/books-available) for further information. Follow her on Twitter @PaulineBartel and “like” her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheCompleteGWTWTriviaBook)