February 1, 1901 – November 16, 1960
by Tom McParland
Saying from the thirties: “Who do you think you are? Clark Gable?”
On Friday November 4th 1960 Clark Gable felt under the weather. He had just finished a Paramount studio close-up with Marilyn Monroe, wrapping up The Misfits. He then drove home up this driveway to his Encino Ranch in the San Fernando Valley. He had purchased it with Carole Lombard [wife No 3] and which he now shared with his fifth wife, Kay [Spreckels] and her two children, Bunker and Joanie.
The street name was originally Petit but eventually became Tara.
Found this in a novelty store on Hollywood Blvd.
Though he slept late on Saturday, November 5th, he felt better for his rest when he awoke. He played around the ranch with his stepchildren and his hunting dog. Clark was a big huntin’ and shootin’ freak, an image MGM designed to project to the fans what they considered a manly image. Clark, became enamored of his own publicity, becoming the disingenuous article. Automobile tinkering and motorbike riding were other tandem hobbies when he wasn’t seducing script girls, starlets, leading ladies, or getting divorced or married.
His Jeep needed a tire change. As he bent down to remove it from the vehicle he was overcome by almost unbearable chest pains that gripped him like a steel vice. He dropped to his knees, perspiring profusely and, for a seeming eternity, sweated moments of desperation until the pains subsided. This wasn’t the first time he’d experienced this kind of pain. At least once before while driving, a similar convulsion had forced him out of his car to lie prostrate until he could get his breath again. But this time was somehow different, all encompassing.
When at last the pains subsided, he staggered into the house where his wife Kay, 42, thought he looked terribly tired. [Bright diagnosis- considering Kay already had heart trouble that she would eventually die from]. She suggested Clark take an early supper and go to bed. He did, only to awake later with a splitting headache and what he believed to be indigestion. Kay gave him some seltzer and an aspirin [whose anticoagulant properties were unknown in 1960]. He slept uneasily until 7:15 the next morning, Sunday, November 6th.
When he awoke and tried to dress himself, he collapsed and cried out that he felt as though he’d been shot. The vicious pain had returned, he looked gray and doughy and again his clothes were wringing with sweat. This time he knew things were very serious. Kay called his doctor then the Encino fire department for some emergency oxygen.
Gable, the most successful box office star tinsel town had ever known had grown obese as passed into his fifties. The king’s weight by now had ballooned from 190 lbs to over 235 lbs. Now before he made a movie he had to shed 40lbs- usually in a hurry. This he achieved by unhealthy crash dieting and the over-consumption of Dexedrine pills. Often directors had to wait before shooting his close-ups because his head shook violently due to the diet pill’s effect; some even thought he had Parkinson’s disease.
Now all the years of crash dieting, drinking, daily smoking of three packs and a dozen cigars had finally caught, or in arterial terms, clogged up with him.
As Clark Gable, proclaimed king of Hollywood and MGM’s top star from 1931 to 1953 lay gasping, did his entire life pass in front of him? Did he recall his first wife, acting coach Josephine Dillon’s remark to him, “I’ll at least make an actor of you for you’ll never be a man.” Or the coded telegram he received in New York on 6th November 1935 from Loretta Young telling him that she had given birth to his illegitimate daughter, Judy Lewis, the result of their affair while shooting Call Of The Wild earlier that year? Or when exactly he and Loretta decided that Judy should discover who her father was from the kids in the schoolyard? This “king” did some un-regal things he would rather have forgotten.
While he waited for the ambulance, Gable indicated that he didn’t want his three months pregnant wife to upset herself over him. But she rode with him anyway in the ambulance to the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital. Tests conducted there confirmed Gable had had a coronary. He was given sedatives and anticoagulants and was observed by 24-hour nursing staff. His wife took a bed in an adjoining room. Bypass surgery being a thing of the future, rest was in 1960 considered the best treatment for heart attack victims. The only hint of future treatment was a large machine called a pacemaker brought into his room. When his hospitalization became known, letters poured in; everyone from the President Ike to the ordinary American Joe and Josephine sent their good wishes for his recovery.
Extraordinarily in the following ten days Gable appeared to be recovering. So much so that his wife felt comfortable about leaving him for a couple of hours to return to the Encino ranch to see to a few things. It was reported that he was looking his old self again and that his color had returned. He was chatting to the nurses and sitting up in bed reading and probably smoking as well.
On the night of Friday, November 16th 1960 his wife left him around 10:30 and retired for the night to her adjoining room. At 10:50 p.m. Clark Gable was still leafing through a magazine article when he laid his head back on his pillow and slipped away. “The King Is Dead” was the unimaginative four word headline most editors decided to go with in their morning editions.
According to one report, his wife hugged his body for two hours before the doctors persuaded her to leave.
The LA Times reported:
“B. J. Caldwell, the hospital administrator, said it was assumed that another heart attack took the actor’s life. A private duty nurse was the only other person in the room when death came. Dr. Fred Cerini, Gable’s personal physician, was at the actor’s side in a matter of minutes, but it was too late to do anything, Caldwell stated. The actor’s death followed by only 11 days the deaths of actor Ward Bond and pioneer moviemaker Mack Sennett, 81. Both men also died of apparent heart attacks.”
There was the usual facile press speculation about Gable straining his heart during the shooting of strenuous lassoing scenes in The Misfits. But all the scenes were done by stunt men, and anyway the insurance companies would never have covered a major Hollywood star for such frenetic work, especially a 59-year-old. Then newspapers tried another tack: Monroe’s semi-comatose appearances and lateness on The Misfits set had caused Gable’s heart attack. But Monroe’s torpidity and unpunctuality only meant additional contractual cash for Gable- $48,000 dollars per week to be exact [make that $480,000 in today’s money]. So that one, like Gable, died the death.
On Saturday November 20th Gable’s bronze $4000.00 casket graced a private service attended by 200 mourners in the Church of the Recessional in Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Among the mourners were Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Robert Taylor, Norma Shearer, Ann Sothern and Marion Davies, Frank Capra, Robert Stack, Jack Oakie, Roy and Dale Rogers, Van Johnson, and Howard Strickling, Gable’s long time publicity man at MGM. There was no eulogy.
Earlier in his life Clarke Gable said that he would like his epitaph to read “Back to Silents” but his widow chose not to take up his suggestion, and I’m positive that the goons at Forest Lawn wouldn’t allow it.
The casket was closed, he and Carole promised each other that they would not have the circus that the Harlow funeral caused. His casket was covered with roses, including an arrangement of yellow roses shaped like a crown, befitting the King of Hollywood.
He was interred in the Sanctuary of Trust alongside the crypt of his third wife, Carole Lombard who had been killed in a 1942 air crash. Perhaps she best summed up the illusory nature of Gable’s fame when she remarked of his purported sexual prowess, “If he was one inch shorter we’d be talking about the queen of Hollywood.”
More from Findadeath pal, Author EJ Fleming:
There’s tons of good stories about Gable, most of which inspire the ire of the wacko Hollywood protectors who think anyone passing on these stories, true or not, is a despicable character trying to ruin Hollywood. There’s one bitch in particular who trashes everything I write because I’ve mentioned that Barbara Stanwyck was a lesbian and passed on a fairly well-known story about Clark Gable and Billy Haines, who was a big MGM star in the 1920’s. Woman’s crazy. But anyway, Gable literally screwed anything that moved; ugly, fat, skinny, famous, not famous, pretty, literally anything. And one man, Billy Haines.
Haines was MGM’s biggest star around 1930 and , unusual for the time, an unashamed homosexual who did not try to hide his sexuality, had never been publicly linked with a woman, and was popular enough that he ignored orders from Mayer to at least fake it. Really pissed Mayer off. He didn’t hide his decidedly feminine persona and was openly living with Jimmie Shields and frequented the really popular Hollywood gay clubs at the time. There were a bunch of them. MGM tried to force him to marry a bunch of times, first to Barbara LaMarr and later Joan Crawford but he always said no. Unfortunately his popularity began to decline in the early 1930s and Mayer jerked him around for a while and then released him.
But before that, it was well known among MGM’s upper crowd and Haines’ friends that Gable had had a sexual liaison with Haines when he first came to Hollywood in 1925. Gable would use anyone and do anything to advance his career; his first two wives were these really unattractive older women who basically “kept” Gable and paid all his bills. As soon as he became “Clark Gable” he dumped the second one and began screwing everything in Hollywood. His relations with Haines took place in 1925 but exactly where isn’t known; there are several stories (dressing room, bathroom at a club, or a party at the Beverly Wilshire are most often mentioned) but Haines told all of his friends about it and he was never known to brag about that stuff. Later in life (after Gable died I assume) Joan Crawford confirmed that it did happen. What makes her comments interesting is that she was both Haines’ lifelong best friend and Gable’s lifelong best friend and had no reason to lie about either man. Bill Mann writes about the affair in his great book about Haines, Wisecracker (great book, you should read it if you like to read).
Another great Gable story is the story of his relationship with Loretta Young, and the child they produced. In late 1934 they co-starred in Call of the Wild, filmed in Washington. Everyone on the set knew they were going at it all the time and the rumors were all over the papers. She ended up pregnant. Virginal MGM star and profligate womanizer Gable were a big problem for MGM, so they sent her into hiding. She finished filming The Crusades and then hid out in Europe for six months. Just before she was to give birth they brought her back and hid her in a bungalow in Redondo (had to be born in the U.S.). The baby was taken to a convent in San Francisco, and a year later MGM arranged for Loretta to adopt two children amidst much publicity. She gave back the boy and kept her own (a girl), who had huge ears just like Gable and was forbidden to be photographed without a hat, no matter the weather, until they had them fixed. Gable and Young denied the rumors, and Young didn’t even admit it until just before she died.
About the car accident, there’s much more to the car accident than the Snopes explanation, and they confuse it much like most researchers do. But if one takes a really close look at all of the accidents that Gable was in (important), a very interesting case can be made for the fact that he did indeed do it, and that MGM arranged for someone else to take the fall. But it takes way too long to explain. It’s in my Fixers book.
Findadeath pal Kevin Hassell found this info:
Anxious to prove he was still a virile leading man, Gable insisted on doing many of his own stunts for The Misfits. This included being dragged through the dust by a wild horse, which left him bloodied, bruised, and rope-burned. The scene required several retakes.
After filming was done, Gable would remark to a business associate, “Christ, I’m glad this picture’s finished! She (Monroe) damn near gave me a heart attack.”
The telegram that Eisenhower sent to him during his recovery stated, “Be a good boy, Clark, and do as the doctors tell you to do.”
Gable’s last words on-screen in The Misfits had been: “Just head for the big star straight on. The highways under it take us right home.”
He gave his Academy Award away to a young boy, who later returned it to his family after his death.
He was dyslexic.
Gable’s widow Kay died in 1983 and is in a crypt nearby.
Not even pretending to understand the issues, it apparently isn’t easy to be the son of an icon like Clark Gable, especially having never met him. This article from May of 2006 shows what has become of Clark’s only son, born after Clark’s death. Whadda nightmare, I hope he pulled his finger out and got help.
Clark’s Last Will and Testament is fascinating, complete with a posthumous lawsuit regarding someone on the flight with Carole Lombard whose widow blamed Clark for her husband’s death. Also a fascinating look at his medical expenses – 11 days in the hospital, itemized – $1700.00 (lol) this includes his wife’s room for 9 of those days! I am about sure. Acquire this fascinating document here.
From what I understand, Clark had all of his teeth extracted, and there is a famous story about him having stinky dentures. His dentist was in this building on Hollywood Boulevard.
Clark’s father is inurned on the floor just below Lana Clarkson. They’ll let anyone in.
Clark put his foot and handprints in the forecourt of the recently resold Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
This picture IS Hollywood. Talk about a group of guys that have the world by the nuts.
According to my pal EJ Fleming, Clark and Carole at one point lived in this amazing house near the Hollywood Sign, with a very Pufnstuf doorway. COOL.
Loads of Clark career information here.
Clark’s birthplace has a museum. According to my pal Ernie, there isn’t much from when Clark was there, loads of “period” antiques, things that “could have been” Clark’s. You can visit their website here.