The King Takes A Lady—Clark Gable & Sylvia Ashley
They came back to his Encino Ranch on December 21st, the morning after their wedding, Clark Gable and Sylvia Hawkes Ashley Fairbanks Stanley, who has just become Clark’s fourth wife. And as they fled through the ranch gates, surrounded by knots of curious fans, Clark called out merrily, “I have never been happier.” Then, the big white ranch gate swung shut and a couple of burly, grinning cops from the Metro Studios mounted guard beside it.
Inside the rambling white house, under the shadow of the orange trees and the avocado orchard, however, servants bustled gaily about. “There will be changes made in the ranch,” Hollywood said. “It will be a good home again—with a woman to oversee all the little things that give a house warmth. Isn’t it wonderful?” All Hollywood said it, that is, except such diverse ladies as Joan Harrison, who had been dating Gable only a week or ten days before; Paulette Goddard who, only a month before, had hoped, maybe, perhaps . . . she had the inside track; Marilyn Maxwell, Dolly O’Brien, Anita Colby, Elaine White. There was Virginia Gray, whom everybody said was the real girl in Gable’s life no matter what, and scores of others. A couple of the girls even gave out a couple of sour statements—and you really can’t blame them. Losing the King is really losing out big. The lady who captured him, however, said, charmingly, “Isn’t life wonderful?”
And she was very right. And if you want the whole truth about it, the most wonderful part of life, concerning Clark Gable and the former Sylvia Hawkes, former Lady Ashley, former Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks Senior, former Lady Stanley of Alderly, is that these two enchanting human beings got together. Because they are, honestly and truly, completely right for one another—which is what couldn’t be said for any other one of the girls whom Clark has dated since Carole Lombard’s tragic death. Clark and Sylvia are even alike in that each of them has had a great love that ended in the tragedy of death. Anyone who ever saw Clark and Carole together, and I’m among the lucky ones who frequently did, saw that blazing fire of love between them. The same was true of Sylvia and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. I remember being at a party one night at Merle Oberon’s house when the Fairbankses were there. Seeing a dynamic older man beside the slim, blonde young British woman, I thought I had never been in the presence of people who visibly were happier with one another. This was just at a time when most of Hollywood, myself included, were resenting Sylvia Ashley for coming between Doug Sr. and Mary Pickford, who had adored him.
Yet, once you encountered Doug land Sylvia together, you knew how inevitable their love for one another had to be. She was a perfect wife for a man who loved life, but who also had to be the top personality in every room he might enter. She will be the perfect wife for Clark, for those reasons and a couple of extra special ones, too.
Here is why. Underneath, she’s the same type of person Clark is. She started out in life with nothing but her own determination to make a place for herself. Like Clark, she is kind and she is very sophisticated. Yet, at the same time, she loves a home and she never has wanted a career even though she started out as a model. She loves to hunt and fish and go sailing. She has the kind of bouncy exuberant health that makes her full of laughter and she can equally adapt herself to a Paris drawing room or the luxurious simplicity of the Gable ranch. What’s more, she’s no kid. Clark has always preferred maturity in his ladies and he will be able to put no more over on her than he put over on Carole and that amuses and delights him.
She is rich in her own right, so he knows she is not after his money. She dresses in chic simplicity, which he has always gone for. They have known each other casually for more than fifteen years. She is probably smarter than Clark is, and he actually likes that, too, because he doesn’t want to have to think about how to run a house or his wardrobe or any of that domestic stuff.
The real secret of Clark’s success behind his. sex appeal and talent is his great fund of common sense that never lets him lose his head. It made him make friends with all classes of people and endowed him with the sure inspiration to go into the war as an enlisted man when he could have entered practically as a general, if he demanded it. It was that solid good Dutch common sense that made him finally choose Sylvia out of all the women who were constantly casting themselves at his head. The reason no news leaked out before their surprise marriage is because they conducted their courtship quietly at home—Sylvia’s home at the beach or Clark’s ranch. It was typical of both of them that for their marriage they chose the Alisal Ranch outside Santa Barbara and had only three friends with them. The three friends were: Sylvia’s sister as matron of honor, Howard Strickling, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer publicity and Clark’s long-time best friend, as best man; also Jeanie Garceau, Clark’s secretary since the day he married Carole.
Maybe there was one final amusing note. Clark and Strickling between them thought they had the news sewed up so that it couldn’t possibly leak out until the marriage had taken place and Clark and Sylvia were safely out in the Lurline headed for a Honolulu honeymoon. They had made up their minds to get married on Sunday and had rushed out that afternoon to San Luis Obispo, a particularly sleepy California town, to arrange about the license and the blood test that are necessary for California marriages. They stayed completely out of sight until Monday when they had to go to the San Luis Obispo town clerk’s office to sign the license. They carefully chose 12:20 noon to do this when everybody in town would be at lunch. But just as they were leaving the clerk’s office, down the street came the local Associated Press man. He’d been held up covering another story and when he spotted Gable with a license in his hand he let out one yell and started running for the nearest telegraph office.
“Now isn’t that just the one day in the last five years that character would be late for lunch?” Clark said, grinning. Only he didn’t say “character.” Mr. Gable’s language was considerably saltier. It always is.
—BY RUTH WATERBURY
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE MARCH 1950