What’s Wrong With The Clark Gables?
The time has come to examine the marriage of the Clark Gables. On December 20th, 1950, Clark and Sylvia passed the one year marriage milestone. That’s not long, but already there have been some insidious whisperings of trouble in Paradise. Are they true? Are they false? And why and how do rumors like this start in the first place?
It may be presumptuous for an outside party to peer into the personal life of any individual, public or private. And what happens behind the closed doors of marriage is really no business of mine or yours. But the mating of a movie star is like the score board of the stock market. When you’re an investor, you naturally watch with great interest as the points go up and the points go down. The fans invest love and loyalty in their film favorites, and as an accredited score-board keeper, I’m going to do my best to give you an honest accounting.
Okay. Rumor number one. Sylvia sent her favorite maid back to England after five years of devoted service simply because Clark does not care for her too much. At least, that is the story I hear behind the story. The maid did go back to England. At the time, just after her mistress married Mr. Gable, it was said there was no room for her in Clark’s modest Encino ranch home. Since then there has been an extra guest house added. The maid has not returned.
Of course, if Clark really does prefer Sylvia without her maid, she is smart to keep her away. And take it from me, the new Mrs. Gable is smart. She looks like a piece of fragile china, but if she wants this marriage to last forever—and I’m sure she does—it would be easier to break a bar of iron.
When Clark drove alone in his big car to Durango, Colorado, for his picture Across The Wide Missouri, and Sylvia went solo by train in the same direction, the rumor mongers clacked busy tongues and called the columnists to say “This proves there is trouble.” But I took the trouble to check the “why” behind the brief separation. I was told that Sylvia does not like long auto drives through the heat of the desert. I also learned that she left the train at Gallup, New Mexico, where Clark met her, and drove the rest of the way with him, so they could join the others of the company together. It’s also true that when the members of the company saw the svelte Sylvia in her immaculate two-piece suit by Adrian, and five-inch high heels. They wondered how in heck she would survive the really rugged life on location. She surprised them.
Now the married life of Mr. and Mrs. Gable takes on a sweetly rustic note. They lived in a log cabin, a long drive from the nearest village. Clark has never been afraid to rough it. Neither, strangely enough, has Sylvia—as long as it isn’t too rough. First of all, she changed into some fetching shorts and fancy plaid western shirts. Then she unpacked the trunks she had thoughtfully brought with her on the train. In them, Sylvia had stashed away her best table silver and her best bed linen. So there they were—in the wilderness, with soft sheets and shining silver. To add one more touch of home, Sylvia bought up most of the grass thereabouts and surrounded the hut with greenery.
“She got up every morning to have breakfast with me,” Clark states, in a kind of awed wonder, “at 5:30 AM!” “And I was in bed nearly every night at 8:30,” adds Sylvia, the sophisticate, who hasn’t been abed by 8:30 since she was five years old. She cooked for him; she’s in heaven with hamburgers sizzling on the stove. Economical, too. The stores in Durango reported “one pound of ground round, please” purchased at a time. “I ate the lousiest hamburger,” Clark would say later in Sylvia’s presence. But with a smile.
Any woman, especially one who has already been married three times and who will never see forty again, just has to be in love with her husband to get up with him in a dark, retire with him before it’s dark, cook for him, and even—yes, she did this too—wash his shirts for him. Everyone, including Clark, would have understood absolutely if Sylvia had preferred to stay behind in comfort.
“This just has to be love,” reported this reporter emphatically at that time. “But didn’t you think it odd when Sylvia went to England without Clark?” I was then reminded. Yes, I remember thinking so for a fleeting moment. Clark was then doing his To Please A Lady picture in Indiana, and the reason I was surprised was because only a few weeks previously Sylvia had told me that when the movie was finished, she and Clark would both go to London, where Sylvia owns a house in the smartest section of Mayfair.
No one quite knows why Sylvia didn’t wait for Clark. You’d have thought she would have wanted him to meet her friends—Lord Beaverbrook, Winston Churchill, and other top drawer personalities. But apart from selling her Rolls Royce car, there is nothing too tangible to account for the British trip. Clark met her in New York, and by the time they returned to Hollywood, Sylvia was wearing a huge new diamond ring. I’m not sure whether she bought it or Clark bought it. If he did, it’s the biggest, most expensive present Gable has ever given any woman in his life. I do know for sure, however, that he gifted Sylvia with a gold, bejewelled cigarette case that she recently showed to me.
That Clark is trying to make this marriage his last is very obvious. I nearly fainted when I saw him all dressed up with Sylvia at the first night of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. Clark doesn’t know one end of a ballet shoe from the other. He went to please Sylvia, of course. And the fashion hows! It’s fascinating to see Clark at Sylvia’s side, hob-nobbing with the elegant dress designers. He even bought a suit for her at one of the fashion flings.
Clark has never been a man for parties in his home. But Sylvia is a girl who likes to have people around, so Clark has enlarged what used to be the combination tap room and dining room. Now they have one big room, and most Saturday and Sunday nights they have quite a gang in—mostly Sylvia’s friends.
And Sylvia, if she misses the non-stop traveling to the gay playgrounds of the fashionable world—well, at least she hasn’t been heard to complain. I haven’t seen her in a night club with Clark since the Marriage. And she passes her days in the garden, fixing up the roses, or absorbed in her needlework. Sylvia has a “green thumb.” Everything she touches blooms. Her roses are all over the place and very beautiful. The 8 by 6 rug in the living room, she designed and made herself.
A week before the surprise elopement of Clark with the girl who was then Lady Sylvia Stanley—before that, as you know, she was Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks, Senior, pod before that, Lady Ashley, daughter-in-law of the Earl of Shaftesbury—a columnist printed the story that ever since the tragic death of Carole Lombard in a plane crash, Clark had kept the bedroom of the wife he adored, untouched. Every dress was in the same place. The perfume was undisturbed on the blonde colored dressing table. Clark was furious when he read the story. “It’s completely false and ridiculous,” he stormed. The dresses and personal belongings had been sent to Carole’s relatives. But the furniture and décor was left as Carole had planned it. Why not? Clark wasn’t going to marry again, so why redecorate?
No one wants to live with a ghost. The new Mrs. Gable, with Clark’s complete agreement, recently called in a top decorator to turn her bedroom into a gay green and white affair, which matches her coloring and complements her personality. The drapes and coverings are in English imported chintz with a white background. The chairs are quilted with the same expensive material. And to please his lady, Clark gave up his office and turned it into a sitting room for Sylvia. All this, plus the newly built guest house. And a barn converted into a studio for Sylvia who loves to paint. This doesn’t seem to add up to trouble in the marriage, does it?
Of course, any couple has to make an adjustment. And Clark and Sylvia aren’t kids. They are mature people and with completely different backgrounds. Clark, American to the core, outdoor, simple, without too much book stuff—unless they’re about guns or fishing. Sylvia—born on the wrong side of the tracks in London. Some say her father was a pub keeper, others that he was a footman in an aristocratic home. Sylvia says he was a retired army man. She started as a manicurist, a model, and became a show girl on the stage. But all her grown up life after that has been played against a “smart set” back-drop. So, of course, there have been some differences of opinion and outlook. But this is the fourth marriage for both, and you can lay odds that their life together would have to get completely impossible before they would ever part.
This is how the future seems to be shaping up for them. Career-wise—Sylvia is rather vague about motion pictures. At Clark’s last preview, she sat with him at the back of the theater, giggled a lot, then summed up, “It was very gay.” But she plans to be with him again on the next location trip. This will be Lone Star for his own independent company. The plan now is to shoot it in Texas. So once again Sylvia will pack the linen and the silver and go by train, probably, while Clark drives alone. And that, I suppose, will start some more “trouble” talk.
Before the picture, they will have had the trip to Nassau and New York. Clark was always dashing off to New York prior to his marriage with Sylvia. But in those days he was bored in Hollywood between pictures. The reason for the last jaunt, I am sure, was to give Sylvia a change.
It’s a surprising thing but, since the marriage, Clark has become much more ambitious. This year (1951) he will star in three pictures. Since Gone With The Wind, Clark has never made more than two a year, usually one. It can’t be that he needs the money. Clark was earning half a million dollars a year in the old easy tax days. And he has always lived modestly and saved his dollars. I’d guess today he is worth a couple of million dollars, apart from the annuities and his $25,000 a year Metro pension.
So it isn’t money that makes Clark want to work so hard. It could be a desire to re-establish himself in some good pictures. They’ve given him some pretty mediocre stuff in the past four years, and some of the new generation have been heard to question “What’s so hot about Gable?” (Brother!)
And it could be restlessness, personal restlessness. Why work at all, when you have all the fame and fortune you’ll ever need, and when not working means you can spend all your time with the woman you love?
But we have finished looking over the shoulder of the Gables, toting up the ledgers—the red columns and the black. I’d say it adds up to a pretty good marriage. And I hope it will stay that way until the accounting is closed.
—BY SHEILAH GRAHAM
It is a quote. MODERN SCREEN MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 1951