Without Me, Clark Gable Would Never Be A Father
Hollywood—I was so horrified I couldn’t say a word.
There was Clark Gable, stripped to the waist, shaking our baby. Violently.
“Stop!” I yelled. “What are you doing? That’s not the way to dry an infant. You can’t shake the water off.”
At my yell, Clark almost dropped the baby. But he made a quick save and got a stranglehold on the poor little thing. “I’m not shaking the water off. I’m shaking it out,” he answered. “He has water in his ears—both of them.”
“Well that’s not the way to do it,” I said. “Why don’t you make your hand like a suction cup and pump the water out?”
“Tried that,” Clark snapped, still waving the infant vigorously back and forth. “Doesn’t work. Paint comes off on my palm. It always happens.”
“Oh,” I said. “Well, anyway, don’t shake his head off.”
“All you do is worry,” Clark argued. “He’s strong, he can take a lot of punishment.”
“Mister Gable, what are you doing?” We both wheeled around to face Miss Phillips, our instructor, immaculate in her white nurse’s uniform.
Clark propped the baby in the wash basin and grabbed up his shirt, modestly draping his front with it. “I was just practicing,” he said.
Turning his back on Miss Phillips, he put on his shirt and tucked the tails inside his pants. Then, from the pocket of his sports jacket, he pulled out a dogeared copy of the course handbook and read from it, “ ‘Future fathers are permitted to practice bathing, burping and diapering babies before and after every class session. Practice rooms will be open for this purpose, and dolls will be available for . . .’ ”
“I know what it says,” Miss Phillips cut in. “I wrote it. But I never wrote that you should shake a baby . . . even a doll.”
“But it has water in its ears.”
“Then you must have put it there,” she said. “Let me show you the right way.” She picked up the baby carefully and placed it before her on a low table close by the enamel bath basin. She rolled up her sleeve and dipped her elbow in the water.
“Much too cold,” she announced. She ran some hot water in a pitcher and poured it into the basin. Again she stuck her elbow in to check the temperature, “Just right,” she said. “Now you test it.”
Clark took off his jacket and began to undo the buttons of his shirt. “Oh, just roll up your sleeve,” Miss Phillips said. She sounded a trifle impatient; immediately he stuck his elbow in, sleeve and all. Then looking at her, helplessly, “I can’t tell anything—except it’s water,” he said.
“Try testing it with your wrist,” she advised.
Clark dipped his hand into the water.
“Not the one with your wrist watch,” the nurse said. “The other one.”
Sheepishly he switched hands. A smile creased the corners of his mouth. “Perfect,” he said, with great satisfaction. “Perfect.”
Quickly and efficiently, Miss Phillips showed him how to wash and dry the baby. Keep your arm under his head with your fingers crooked in his armpit like this,” she explained.
“That’s what I did wrong,” he admitted. “I just dunked him.”
“You did what?”
“I dunked him,” Gable repeated.
“Well, don’t . . . don’t ever do that again,” she said. “Now do just as I did.”
She pushed a white gown toward him but he refused it and took off his jacket and shirt instead “Can’t stand tight things,” he muttered. “Can’t stand undershirts, either. Had to wear T shirts during the war. Hated them.”
Everything went fine He tested the water. He held the doll correctly and slipped it carefully into the water. He washed its face with a soft cloth, then soaped and rinsed its body. Then he lifted it out gently to dry it.
“The towel,’ he said. “Towel . . towel . . . where did I put the darn thing?” He laid the doll down on the table’s very edge and held it there as he looked around for the towel. There it was, on that table way over there. He let go of the baby and ran to grab the towel. Crash! The baby fell to the ground. Clark’s face turned white.
I laughed till I cried. Clark began laughing too. Soon the two of us were hysterical.
Miss Phillips’s voice was a cold knife. She picked up the doll and thrust it at me. “If you’re so amused, Mr. Allen,” she said, “suppose you show us how to do it.”
I walked reluctantly to the bath basin. Clark said, “Take care of our baby.”
“Listen,” I said, “if I can’t take better care of him than you do . . .”
Just then the bell rang. The class was about to begin. Gratefully I put the doll down on the table. Clark covered it tenderly with a towel and whispered, “Sleep tight, baby. I’m afraid we’ll be back.”
This was the final session of the Future Fathers course given by the Home Nurses Association for all proud papas-to-be. All through the course, Clark had always come late. He’d slip into the seat next to me at the back of the lecture hall and always say the same thing, “Got caught on the set. What’s new?”
I’d answer, “How to make formula” or “How to give baby a bath” or ‘A baby can be your friend”—whatever Miss Phillips gave us that particular night. Clark would grunt, open up a loose-leaf notebook, and turn his attention to the lecturer. At the end of a session he’d always borrow my notes for a few minutes and jot down the early stuff that he’d missed. And after class, when most of us went back to the nursery to practice what we’d just learned in theory, he always said, “Can’t make it tonight. Gotta study a script.” But tonight he changed his lines. He added: But I wonder if I can ask you a big favor?”
“It says in the book we ought to make a test run to the hospital, just to see how long it’ll take us when the day actually comes.”
“Sure,” I answered. “I already did. It takes me exactly twelve minutes and twenty-two seconds from my place to the hospital.”
“I didn’t have your guts,” he admitted. “I got in the car, but I was so nervous I couldn’t even turn the ignition. I kept imagining Kay beside me in the front seat- -the real thing this time—and I froze up. Petrified. Couldn’t move. Could you . . . would you . . . make the dry run with me? I don’t know who else to ask. My friends would laugh at me. You’re a Future Father, too, and . . .”
“Sure,” I said, “sure. We’ll go right now, get it over with before the final quiz next week.”
I followed Clark’s station wagon to his house, parked my car there and climbed in with him. We synchronized our watches and away we went, screeching along the highway that led from his San Fernando Valley home to the hospital.
A siren screamed in the distance behind us. Clark immediately pulled over to the curb. Might be an ambulance taking a woman to the hospital to have a child,” he said earnestly. “Gotta give ’em lots of room.”
It was no ambulance! A police motorcycle pulled across our path, and an officer came towards us, ticket-book in I hand. “Going to a fire, Mr. Gable?” he asked. “You were doing 80—on curves.”
“Were going to the hospital,” Clark blurted out. “We’re going to have a baby.”
The officer looked at me, then he looked at Clark, and then he grinned, “Congratulations,” he said. “Which one is the mother?”
I talked fast, telling him what we were doing and why we were speeding. At first he shook his head, he wasn’t buying any wild stories. Clark reached into his inside jacket pocket, pulled out his beat-up copy of the Future Fathers’ class brochure, and started reading out loud. ” ‘Fathers-to-be are advised to make a test run to the hospital in order to clock . . .’ ”
“Okay, okay. I got it,” the cop said. “Let’s go!”
One second later we were roaring along behind a motorcycle escort. When we pulled up in front of the hospital, Clark and I checked our watches: twenty-four minutes on the dot. “Not counting the time we’d pulled over to the side of the road,” he added.
The policeman gave Clark his name, and the phone number of the station closest to where Clark lived. “When your wife’s starting for the hospital, phone us and yell,” he said. “One of the boys will come fast and clear the way for you.”
Then he took out his ticket-book. Clark’s face sank. “I—well—I’m no autograph hound myself,” the officer said, turning to a blank page at the back. “If I don’t get it for my wife, she’ll never forgive me.”
Gable wrote: “For Mrs. Clancey, whose husband is one swell guy. Gratefully, Clark Gable.”
When the officer was gone, Clark asked, “Should we go in?”
“At this hour?” I said. “They’ll throw us out on our ears.”
“We don’t have to bother anybody,” he persisted. “Just so we get the feel of the thing for the quiz next week.” Against my better judgment I walked up the steps with him and into the hospital. I knew where the baby nursery was from visiting friends here with my wife, so we avoided the elevator and went quietly up the stairs.
But we drew a blank, like I told Clark we would. When we stood in front of the nursery window, we couldn’t see a thing; the shade was drawn all the way down.
“I warned you,” I said. ‘‘Those babies have to sleep, too, you know.”
“I’m not waking them.” He got down on both knees, scrunching himself as low as he could, and craned his neck trying to peek up between the shade and the glass.
“Clark,” I whispered hoarsely, “I hear footsteps. Let’s get out of here. . . .”
At the far end of the corridor, a white- clad figure appeared. I grabbed Clark’s hand, hauled him up off his knee, and we scuttled for the stairway. I didn’t draw a breath till we were in the car and gone.
“A fine way for a couple of grown men to act,” I said. “Suppose they caught us?”
“We had to try,” he insisted. “You warn to pass that quiz next week or don’t you?”
“Do I want to pass!” I snorted. “Hah! That’s a good one!”
Our final exam
The night of the quiz was a combination exam and social evening, and we all brought our wives. Clark came later than usual, when I’d almost finished writing my answers. Miss Phillips gave him an examination sheet; he sat down next to me and began to write. Suddenly I realized he wasn’t writing. I peeped over at him. All that he’d put down was his name. He was staring into the air. He’d blanked out—blocked completely!
I nudged him and he turned. He gave me a sickly grin. I motioned with my head towards my paper, and his eyes blinked. He looked at my first answer, and then he began to write furiously on his own sheet. After that he didn’t need help, he’d come unblocked.
We handed in our papers for Miss Phillips to correct, then we milled around and socialized. I introduced him to my missus and he introduced me to his, and soon my wife and his were on a first name basis, chatting away like they’d known each other all their lives. Kay told Helen (my missus) all about her kids Bunker, 11, and Joan, 9- Kay’d been married before. She said they’d been flipping through dozens of books trying to find a name for the baby, and that finally Clark offered the kids a prize if they found a name he and Kay both liked. “But we have a place for the baby to sleep,” she said. “We found a beautiful hand-carved cradle from the year 1810.” Kay was prettier than I thought from pictures of her—blond and green-eyed—and it didn’t take any Einstein to see why Clark’s so in love with her.
Miss Phillips called us to order and announced that we’d all passed the final quiz. Then there was a little ceremony where each of us fathers was called to the front of the room and presented with a small diploma. The first guy up said a few words of thanks to Miss Phillips, loud enough for everyone else to hear, and after that each of us did the same thing.
Clark’s turn was almost last. When Miss Phillips gave him the diploma, he sort of wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “Thanks,” he said in his low, firm voice. “Without the help of my good and best friend” . . and he came over, put his arm around me and patted me on the back. . . .
. . . My wife was patting my back, shaking me vigorously. “Wake up,” she was hollering, “wake up.” “What’samatter?” I mumbled, still asleep. “Is it time to go to the hospital?”
“Not for three months yet,” she answered, snapping on the night light “You’ve been talking in your sleep. . . . Say, you never told me you knew Clark Gable. . . .” I told her I didn’t, that it was just what I’d been reading in the papers. But she still doesn’t believe me to this day.
—as told to JIM HOFFMAN
See Clark Gable in “The Misfits” for U.A
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JANUARY 1961