Clark Gable’s Son
The sturdy, long-bodied youngster of twenty months swayed unsteadily on his little feet. He took a flurry of pitter-patter steps and in joyful panic grabbed at his mother’s outstretched hand. He’d made it! Pretty neat stuff, this walking! Then, as he stood triumphant, his alert eyes took in the rest of the room. They came to light on something familiar next to his crib—the photo of a man who remarkably resembled the little boy. The child broke into a gleeful smile. With infant pride in his accomplishment, he addressed the picture.
“Daddy?” he said. It was as though John Clark Gable were asking, “How am I doing, Daddy—pretty good, huh?”
The answer, of course, is yes. Kay Gable can take a lot of credit for the way she’s bringing up her son without a father to help. She’s doing it with the well-wishes of millions who loved Clark Gable—and now love his son be- cause he is the flesh and blood epitome—all that is left living—of the man who was king of movie stars for generations. When the first pictures of John Clark were released, a few days after he was born on March 20, 1961, the world gasped. The infant looked so much like his famous father that many of Gable’s spiritually devout fans cried that the resemblance was a sign, it was an omen of things to come. There was no mistaking the likeness. The child even had a cowlick in his hair in the exact spot as his father’s. Friends of Kay’s who saw the baby referred to him affectionately as “Mr. Carbon Copy.” The reference became so popular that Kay even used it every now and then.
What few people realize, however, is the tremendous and somewhat unique responsibility that is carried by Kay. Normally, a young boy growing up has the guidance and counsel of both a father and a mother—and that’s none too many for any boy. When he’s the son of a famous man, it’s even harder—bringing up Junior can turn into a nightmare. The boy can suffer miserably from the relentless and merciless comparison between him and his dad, while he’s struggling desperately for an identity of his own.
And when he’s the son of a famous man who has died—when there is only his widowed mother to raise him—the pressure on that mother can be enormous. But it is nothing to the pressure that will eventually be brought to bear on the son. If he is not allowed the freedom to mature along the lines of his own personality, he grows up a tragic figure. “There goes Mr. Great Man’s son,” everyone will say. Never “There goes a boy who’s making out all right on his own.”
It is this kind of future that Kay Gable is determined will not overwhelm John Clark Gable. Clark Gable himself planned to avoid it for his son at all costs. This is why he was not christened Clark Gable, Jr. Even before he was born, his future was considered. He will be known as John C. Gable.
He is never referred to as “Junior.” Yet he will know before very long just who he is. And if Kay has her way, while young John will feel a fine, justifiable pride and admiration for his father, he will never feel that his dad was a man with whom he must compete for the rest of his life.
This will not be an easy accomplishment for Kay. It would be virtually impossible for some widows. But Kay already knows the task that lies ahead is difficult, and to attain her goal this remarkable woman is ready to make any sacrifice.
To complicate the problems of rearing young John, there is the bitter-sweet memory of his birth—a great blessing in the wake of a great tragedy.
And in so many other ways, John Clark unknowingly keeps the memory and spirit of his father bright, alive and undiminished. In her deepest bereavement, Kay found the courage to say, “I will have Clark’s baby and I will take care of Clark’s home and I will see to it that it is never anything but a house full of happiness.”
And so it is.
But to do it Kay must not allow herself to make even the simplest human mistakes.
For example, John is, of course, never treated better than Kay’s other children—Bunker, thirteen, and Joan, twelve, both the children of ex-husband Adolph Spreckles, III, recently deceased. She must take infinite pains to see to it that there is no chance of an impression that the baby is getting extra favor.
Bunker and Joan adore their baby brother, and soon after his birth practically demanded that they be allowed to play with the infant, even “take care” of him. Kay, realizing their affection was genuine, finally conceded and scheduled one hour. beginning 5 P.M.. which Joan and Bunker could spend entirely with him.
Bunker christened it the “social hour” and it soon became just that. Friends of the family dropped in at five just to watch Joan and Bunker play with the baby. John Clark loves music, he loves to have Kay pick him up and dance with him. This baby is never happier than when he is in his mother’s arms, moving in rhythm to the songs from the record-player.
Dancing with John, during her frequent visits, was one of the real joys of the late Marilyn Monroe “who used to look forward to it as much as the baby.”
And there are other warm and wonderful joys of being a baby. Kay tells her son bedtime stories just as mothers—and lathers—have been telling them for centuries. But she says. “I think he know they’re just stories—every once in a while he giggles.”
Yet, John Clark Gable is not treated like gold. Kay trains and tutors him every day. He will know how to eat his food and dress himself properly long before most boys his age. And he will be brought up in the Catholic Church—one of his father’s most fervent wishes.
One of John Clark’s favorite attractions is a mobile that hangs over his crib. A host of delicate angels are suspended from the ceiling and as they gently float above him. a music box tinkles a hymn.
The crib is an antique, more than 120 years old. four-posted and made of solid maple. Gable himself discovered it in a second-hand store. shortly before his death.
Beside the crib is a large picture of Gable as a boy, aged twelve. Next to that is the photo of Gable, a favorite of Kay’s. taken during his long and remarkable reign as “The King” at M-G-M Studios. (This is the picture to which John looked for approval when he made his first journey on his own two feet.)
John Clark will grow up in the home his father worked hard to build. It is situated on twenty-two acres in Encino, California. The land is given over to fruit orchards, facilities for riding horses. stands of tall trees and a big patch of country meadow.
When Gable died, everyone thought Kay would sell the ranch.
“I couldn’t,” Kay explains. “Clark loved this place and was never completely relaxed anywhere else. He had turned down many offers when he was alive and once told me that he never wanted to sell the ranch at all.”
The house in which the Gable family lives is sided with great white clapboard and white stone, done in Early American. It is a house that radiates comforts, not luxuries. Excepting its great size, it looks like any other American home of that style. Yet those who visit it invariably come away speaking of “its warm, quiet atmosphere and understated elegance.”
A new wing. carefully designed by Clark and Kay, was just about to be added when Gable passed away. The wing was built— just the way Clark planned it.
For John Clark, the ranch is the whole world. It is a world that his father loved—it scorns pomp. and every nook and cranny reflects the simple dignity of the man who made it. Some day John will know every tree. every animal. He’ll climb for his apples even if it means he has to tear a hole in his blue jeans and skin his knees. And he’ll have an ally in Bunker—who already shows a keen understanding of Gable’s “no bunk” philosophy. Bunker adored his famous step-father and he has been left with a boyish but intelligent aversion to pretense—especially of material things that are so often too important in the lives of the young rich.
And so when a family friend remarked that little John certainly had a closetful of costly toys to enjoy. Bunker considered the remark for a moment, in silence, then politely said, “I guess so. But now let’s get him into blue jeans.” To this thirteen-year-old. the blue jeans were a symbol of unpretentiousness, the link with the reality of the earth and the trees and the sky that does a boy more good than the most expensive toy made.
It was Bunker. too. who in the months that followed took on the responsibility for introducing John to the world outside. So that now, at twenty months, he is already following in his father’s footsteps. This winter, at last, he will take a trip to the nearby snow covered mountains near the San Fernando Valley, ride a toboggan, build a snowman, make snowballs and perhaps even learn to ski.
“John already enjoys the things his father knew were the real pleasures of life.” Kay points out.
Last August the family took its first real vacation since Clark’s death. They flew to Honolulu. And though Kay doesn’t believe in over-exposing the baby to the public, she does realize that the many who admired her late husband couldn’t help but be curious about his son—his only child. So she took John out into the Hawaiian sun, walked with him on the beach. But her greatest joy came from the occasional total stranger who stopped to admire the lovely child without realizing who he was.
“Nothing could have made Kay happier,” reported a friend, “than to learn that John was quite acceptable as the average little boy and not only because he was Clark Gable’s son.” It was Clark’s old wish again, that “my son be known for what he is as a boy and a man. and not as Clark Gable. Jr.”
And yet—she wouldn’t be a woman if she didn’t take delight in her child’s remarkable resemblance to the man she loved. Lately John’s hair seems to have turned lighter, a fact which prompted friends to remark to Kay that he is beginning to look like her. Her answer is always a good-natured, “Oh heavens, no!”
Actually, John will always resemble his father. He has extra length in his legs to promise height, he has remarkably broad shoulders and a long. sturdy torso, a decidedly masculine tint to his complexion and a smile that just barely hints at the wonderful. lopsided grin with which his father enchanted women the world over.
In a word—John Gable is the son of Clark Gable.
And what lies ahead for him?
“I have done my best to teach Bunker and Joan to stand alone,” said Kay. “I will do as much for John. Clark wouldn’t want it any other way.”
There are those who feel that it is time for Kay to be thinking less in terms of what Clark would have wanted—and more of remarriage. She is a stunningly beautiful woman—and the whole question of eventual remarriage is of great concern to her friends.
Others insist that: “In her own way. Kay’s life has an air of classic completion as a woman—classic because she has finished one life and now looks forward with great enthusiasm to another, that of bringing up her children.”
Kay herself has said, “One of the reasons our marriage was a success was because neither Clark nor I would allow the past to determine our lives. We lived for the present. and from it we derived our strength and hope for the future.”
Kay possesses an extraordinary intelligence; she has a quick, ever-searching mind. She never wastes words, always means what she says, never retreats. has the courage of her beliefs as a woman and a parent. It is a kind of self-sufficiency, remarkable because—unlike other self-confident women-—Kay is also deeply compassionate.
One report. however. reveals that for now and for some time to come. Kay has chosen not to think of marrying again.
And Kay’s own words give credence to this view: “Nothing is more important in my life at the moment than bringing up my children. They fill my days to overflowing. I am fortunate to have them.”
If Kay Gable is fortunate, how much more blessed are her children in having such a mother! She has done a marvelous job of raising them—better than most women could do even with a husband’s help. She has reared Bunker and Joan warmly and well, after her divorce from their own father, and again after the final separation of his death.
But the most remarkable job of all is the one she is doing with John Clark. With a smile. Always with a smile! She smiles when she sprinkles her conversation with “my baby” and with detailed descriptions of his latest exploit.
But her smile is warmest of all the times she is so impressed by one of John Clark’s baby antics that she bursts out. “Oh, if only Clark were here to see his son do that!”
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JANUARY 1963