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The Inside Story Behind Clark Gable’s Feuds

When you’ve been in Hollywood as long as Clark Gable has, which is almost 30 years, and you’ve been married four times, the chances are pretty good that you’re going to be involved in some hot feuds, both private and professional.

Right now, Gable’s calling a halt to what was his number one feud—with his studio. But his number two feud, no matter what you read about the uncontested divorce, is with his wife, the former Sylvia Ashley.

Clark is also not on the best speaking terms with Greer Garson and two of his previous wives, but these are minor feuds compared with the two major hassels.

A few months ago Gable was staying at the Flying ME, a swank divorce ranch in Franktown, Nevada, waiting out his divorce from Sylvia Ashley. Unfortunately for him, the Nevada divorce plans didn’t come off. They were ruled illegal.

At the time, however, Clark didn’t know that. He was busy dating the various divorcees, trap-shooting and riding, and blithely ignoring the messages written for him on the blackboard. These messages were, “Please call Howard Strickling in N. Y.” “Call Howard Strickling.” “Operator 44 in N. Y. is trying to get you. Howard Strickling calling.”

Howard Strickling is Metro’s director of publicity, and he was very anxious to get in touch with Clark back then, but Clark was all for hiding away, and having fun.

At that time Clark was really burned up about Sylvia’s supposedly extravagant financial demands, but of her, he said, “Sylvia is a very wonderful woman. We’ve had our differences, largely because we come from different backgrounds, like to do different things. But I admire her a great deal. Our lawyers are conferring, and I’m sure they’ll work out a settlement that we’ll both finally consider equitable.”

What Gable said for public consumption and what he said to his lawyer don’t bear the slightest resemblance. His lawyer inferred to reporters that Gable would carry the case to every court in the land if need be, that he was in no mood to be “taken,” that he would fight, wade through all the mud, use every means at his command before he fulfilled the demands Sylvia was making for a settlement.

It cost Clark half-a-million dollars to get free of his second wife, the social Ria Langham, and when he realized that he was in the identical position again, this time with Sylvia Ashley, he was fit to be tied.

Because Clark cooled off in February of this year and visited Sylvia at Doctor’s Hospital in New York, many people think that their financial feuding is finished, and that a reconciliation is in the offing. The financial feuding has merely simmered down, and there isn’t the slightest chance of a reconciliation between them.

By the end of April, Sylvia should have her divorce. It will be uncontested, but only if Clark has agreed to hand over a sizable chunk of currency.

Here’s the background of the Ashley-Gable financial feud:

When Clark had all the locks changed on his Encino ranch house last year, Sylvia’s vanity was hurt. There is no truer statement than “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Unless it is “Hell hath no fury like a wife scorned.”

Anyway, Sylvia vowed that Clark would pay for her humiliation. Jerry Giesler, ace Hollywood criminal and divorce lawyer, would help her see to that.

When Gable heard that-Sylvia was allegedly demanding half-a-million dollars, he blew his top. He drove to Nevada to establish residence and seek a divorce from Sylvia.

Sylvia checked that move by obtaining an injunction against his Nevada divorce action. Clark agreed to abide by that injunction. He said, however, that come April 26th, he would show up in the Santa Monica Superior Court and bitterly fight the divorce action.

Sylvia’s reply was to catch a plane to Nassau in the Bahamas where she has many friends.

Once in Nassau, Sylvia began seeing quite a bit of a certain Mr. Symington, who apparently was very attracted to her.

As for Clark, he was batting zero. His studio suspended him (for reasons to be explained); he took off for Arizona; he was almost killed in a motor accident; and he was keenly disappointed at the criticism of his two latest movies. There was also the very great possibility that because of the California community property law, any divorce settlement would call upon him to give Sylvia 50% of everything he has earned since their marriage—at least $225,000.

In February, a depressed Gable left for New York with Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Griffin. In New York, Clark appeared at an Eisenhower-for-President rally which was televised, and Metro was in an uproar, since Clark’s contract explicitly prohibits his appearance on television.

The studio, however, did nothing and finally dropped the matter.

While Clark was in New York, Sylvia Ashley was in an automobile accident in Nassau, and fractured her ankle, suffering a compound break. She flew to New York and was admitted to the very swank Doctors Hospital.

To the surprise of all, Clark called on his wife. His first visit was considered a courtesy call, chalked up to gallantry. But he showed up the second day, too, and the third and the fourth, staying several hours each time.

Whatever he said to Sylyia, she was in a pretty receptive mood. Friends say this was because she’d learned in Nassau that men still found her attractive. Why scare off a potential fifth husband by rolling the fourth over a barrel?

On his last visit to the hospital, Sylvia was most cheerful. They spent two hours together discussing the divorce. Sylvia said she would compromise on her settlement demands, and Clark said he certainly appreciated her attitude, in fact, he was determined not to contest the divorce, to make it as quick and painless as possible.

The amount of the financial settlement Sylvia Gable is to receive, however, was not decided upon. Certainly, it will much less than $500,000. The chances 4 she will settle for $50,000 and legal expenses amounting perhaps to $25,000 more.

When Clark was asked directly if a property settlement had been made, he said, “We discussed it, but the details haven’t been worked out as yet. I must-say though that Sylvia seemed very willing to co-operate. She was much more cooperative than she was seven or eight months ago. We both feel that it wouldn’t be good for either of us to be involved in a drawn-out legal fight. We think the whole matter can be settled in a nice, peaceful way.”

Maybe it can. That depends on whether or not Clark will meet Sylvia’s minimum financial demands. It took him four years to work out a property settlement with Ria Langham, and he finally saw it through because he was desperately anxious to marry Carole Lombard.

This time, Clark isn’t desperately anxious to marry anyone, although Sylvia may be. . . .

In any event, after April 26th, when the divorce will probably be settled, Clark may make it his business to see that his path never again crosses Lady Sylvia’s.

From that date on, he plans to concentrate on his career. His feud with Sylvia will have been settled and the only hassel left to conquer will be the professional one with his studio.

Last November, the studio suspended him, taking him off his $7,500-a-week salary because he refused to star in Somebody Loves Me, opposite Ava Gardner.

Clark loves working with Ava—in fact would rather play opposite her than any other actress on the lot—but he didn’t love the script, and therefore turned it down.

“Next thing I know,” he says, “they put me on suspension. For four months running, I didn’t receive any scripts or anything. To be perfectly frank, I don’t see much point in working if I can’t act in some pretty good stories. I know that good scripts just don’t grow on trees, but other actors get good yarns—fellows like Cooper and Peck and Stewart. Why can’t I?”

Clark feels that if he can make one cr two outside films a year—that is, away from the studio—he not only will have a better choice of material, but he’ll be able to keep more money.

“More than half my salary,” he explains, “goes for taxes, and while I’m not griping, it would be a healthy thing to get a piece of some picture.”

Clark has reference to the system Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper have worked out, whereby they star in a film and reap a percentage of the profits. Stewart cleaned up over half a million on Winchester .73 in this manner.

Recently, Gable left his old agent, Bert Allenberg, to sign with the Music Corporation of America. MCA is Stewart’s agent, also Gregory Peck’s, and both of these boys have prospered well.

Now in all fairness to the studio, it must be said that MGM has tried to buy the best story material available for the King. Writers have been hired and paid enormous sums just to develop plot ideas for him. As one Metro spokesman pointed out, “We try to make the best motion pictures possible. Gable is a big star today because Metro made him one. We spent a fortune developing that guy. He’s made millions for the studio—no doubt about that but the way some people talk you’d think we were going out of our way to put him into a series of flops. Every film Gable has been in starts cut as a potential winner. No one ever hopes to make a bad picture or even a passable one. We want all of ours to be hits. Except that you can’t win all the time.”

Clark, who has been with MGM for 20 years, is a reasonable, kindly man. He’s profoundly grateful to Metro, but he knows that he’s more than shown his gratitude at the box office.

In the past 20 years, Clark Gable pictures have grossed close to $100,000,000.

Clark feels that he’s entitled to a percentage of the profits if he is willing to invest his own money or talent in an independent venture. He has confided to friends that unless the studio agrees to let him do that, he will not renew his contract in 1955.

He feels that since his return from the Air Force in 1945, he has acted in only two good properties, The Hucksters and Command Decision.

His first post-war film, Adventure, was a flop, and as a result of it Clark and Greer Garson, who starred opposite him, don’t feel too friendly towards each other.

When Clark reported on the set for the first day’s shooting of Adventure, he learned quickly that Greer regarded herself as Metro’s number-one star. She had won an Academy Award for Mrs. Miniver, her films were making money hand over fist, and good old Clark—well, he was the veteran come home, who had to be taken care of, Gable resented Greer’s quasi-maternal attitude, her benevolent will ness to have him as her co-star.

When Adventure was released it was so bad they couldn’t find a producer on the lot who would take credit for it. Gable was hurt. His first comeback effort had laid an egg. Miss Garson’s friends attributed the egg to Gable. Clark’s pals attributed the egg to Greer.

Today, Gable and Garson hardly talk to each other, and chances of their working together are practically nil.

If you ask Clark about his feud with Greer, however, he says, “She’s a wonderful girl, great talent. If the right story came along, I’d be honored to play opposite her.”

This is the old Gable gallantry again. It shows up in his feeling toward Metro, too. “With a little luck,” he says, “I think I can work everything out.” And it’s about time that luck broke on Clark’s side for a change. For a starter, he’s just been put off suspension and the red carpet is down for The King. Everybody at the studio is glad he’s back again.





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