Clark Gable: One Of Hollywood’s Great Leading Men

Earning the title of “The King of Hollywood,” Clark Gable came from modest means, knowing he was destined to become an actor after seeing Birds of Paradise when he was 17. He then began perusing acting when he was 21, starting in theater and slowly rising the ranks until finally making it to Hollywood in 1924. By the end of his life, Gable had dated countless women, been through numerous marriages, and become one of Hollywood’s biggest leading men, with some of his most notable films being It Happened One Night and Gone with the Wind. See who the man in front of the camera was and the impressive life he led.

His Gender Was Mistaken At Birth

Picture of Gable and his mother
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Clark Gable was born on February 1, 1901, in Cadiz, Ohio. He was named William after his father, but growing up, he was almost always referred to as Clark or Billy.

However, due to a doctor’s illegible handwriting, he was accidentally listed as a female in the county register. It wasn’t until the clerk went back and corrected the mistake that he was officially listed as a male. That is a mistake that Gable would never experience again.

He Is The Inspiration Behind Two Fictional Characters

Gable eating carrots
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Unsurprisingly, Clark Gable is the direct inspiration behind two popular fictional characters. One of them is the Looney Tunes character Bugs Bunny, particularly his habit of chewing on carrots while casually standing around. Furthermore, a minor character, Oscar Shapely, refers to Gable’s character throughout the series.

This is a reference to Gable’s character in It Happened One Night, when he leans against a fence, eating carrots, and talking with his mouth full. It has also been noted that Superman’s civilian name of Clark Kent is a combination of Gable’s first name and Kent Taylor.

His First Wife Was Also His Acting Coach

Picture of Josephine Dillon
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Early in his career, Gable’s acting coach was Josephine Dillon, a theater manager in Portland. She paid to have his teeth repaired, hair styled, and even helped him get into shape.

She also taught him how to control his posture and speech, lower his naturally high-pitched voice, and make his facial expressions more convincing. Once Dillon believed he was ready, in 1924, the two went to Hollywood where Dillon became his manager and wife even though she was 17 years his senior.

He Used His Good Looks To His Advantage

Photo of Gable
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

As a way of advancing his early career, Gable used his good looks and suave personality to get roles. More specifically, he had several affairs with rich, older women, whom he knew could get him parts if he played his cards right.

One of his most notable of these engagements was a two-year relationship with Pauline Frederick, who was 18 years older than him and helped him score a role in her revival of Madame X.

He Affected The Sales Of Undershirts

Clark Gable without a shirt
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures

In a scene in It Happened One Night, Clarke Gable takes off his shirt and reveals that he is bare-chested, and not wearing an undershirt. This was during a time when men wore undershirts in just about any situation, so to see Clark Gable without one was shocking to both men and women.

With women swooning and ordinary men wanting to be like Gable, enough men stopped purchasing undershirts that there was a noticeable drop in sales across the nation.

He Had A Secret Daughter

Loretta and Clark in The Call of The Wild
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images
John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

During the filming of The Call of the Wild in 1935, lead actress Loretta Young became pregnant with Gable’s child. Their daughter, Judy, was born on November 6, 1935. Loretta managed to keep her pregnancy a secret and would later go by Judy Lewis after her mother married Tom Lewis when she was four.

Gable and Loretta hid that Judy was Gable’s child despite that she bore a striking resemblance to her biological father. Gable also never publicly acknowledged that Judy was his daughter, until five years after his death when Loretta admitted that Judy was her and Gable’s daughter and the result of an affair.

Worse Than People Thought

Gable in a tuxedo
George Hurrell/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
George Hurrell/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

As it turns out, Loretta Young had a darker reason for keeping the truth about her daughter’s paternity a secret. After the death of Young and her daughter Judy Lewis, their family revealed that Judy had been a product of inappropriate behavior by Gable against Young.

Supposedly, in 1998, Young had told Lewis that Gable had forced herself upon her mother, and that’s how she was conceived. However, Lewis never told anyone, as she was afraid the news might damage her career and taint the legacy of Gable, who she saw as a friend.

He Stood Up For Hattie McDaniel

Gable and Hattie McDaniel
Loew’s Inc.
Loew’s Inc.

While Gable got along with all of his co-stars in Gone with the Wind, he was especially close with African American actress Hattie McDaniel. Unfortunately, this was a time when racism was still rampant, and even celebrities were still treated as second-class citizens.

At one point, he became so enraged that the bathrooms were segregated that he threatened to leave the film if they weren’t integrated. Then, when McDaniel was forced to miss the premiere because of her race, Gable almost boycotted the event until McDaniel begged him to go.

He Was Almost Killed In Battle

Clark Gable in uniform
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Although Gable was eager to serve his country in World War II, his production company, MGM Studios was less than thrilled with the idea of their leading man risking his life. He spent most of his time in England at RAF Polebrook with the 351st Bomb Group, flying five successful combat missions.

In the raid on Germany, one of his crewmen were killed and the other two wounded, with a bullet going through his boot and narrowly missing his head. Upon hearing this, MGM harassed the Army Air Force until Gable was reassigned to noncombat duty.

A German Leader Took A Particular Interest In Him

Image of Adolf Hitler
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images
The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

When he wasn’t busy planning on dominating the world, Adolf Hitler enjoyed watching films. During the time of his regime, out of all of the Hollywood stars, Clark Gable was one of his favorites.

So, when he caught wind that Gable had enlisted in the United States Army Air Force, he saw an opportunity. He offered a sizable award to anyone that could capture and bring Gable to him alive and unharmed. Luckily, that never happened.

Gable Didn’t Care About Trophies

Gable with Oscar
Imagno/Getty Images
Imagno/Getty Images

In 1935, Clark Gable was awarded an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance as Peter Warne in It Happened One Night. The film itself also did well, taking home Oscars for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Writing, Adaptation.

After the awards, Gable infamously handed his trophy over to a random child who commented that the award was pretty. Gable explained that he cared more about the honor than the actual award. The Oscar was eventually returned to Gable’s family after his death.

He Never Met His Only Son

Gable and Spreckles playing golf
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1955, Gable married Kay Spreckels, a former fashion model, and actress, becoming the stepfather to her two sons. Towards the end of their six-year marriage, Spreckles became pregnant with Gable’s child.

Unfortunately, by the time she gave birth to their son, John, Gables had passed away. John went on to have two children, with his daughter Kayley becoming an actress and son Clark hosting two seasons of the show Cheaters before dying at the young age of 30.

He Almost Didn’t Do Gone with the Wind

Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind
Mondadori via Getty Images
Mondadori via Getty Images

Even though his performance as Rhett Butler in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind is one of his most revered and memorable roles, he almost didn’t take the job. When approached with the offer, he was reluctant to take it.

He called the film a “woman’s picture,” fearing that using a Southern accent and being romantic would damage his “manly” reputation. Luckily for him, he did take the role, and the film launched him into stardom, earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

He Had Some Oral Issues

Gable talking on the phone in a movie
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images
ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

By the time he was 32, Clark Gable had a full mouth of fake teeth. This was the result of gum infection in 1933, which severely damaged his gums and teeth, and led to some truly horrible smelling breath.

According to Vivien Leigh, his co-star in Gone with the Wind, his halitosis was so bad that she couldn’t stand to be so close to him in some scenes. Of course, Leigh wasn’t the only woman that had to put up with his breath.

He Said The First Curse Word In Cinematic History

Famous scene from Gone with the Wind
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Clark Gable’s character in Gone with the Wind is known as a man who plays by his own rules. To drive this notion home, he was given the now-iconic line at the end of the film: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give an [expletive].”

Although this doesn’t seem like a big deal, at the time, it caused quite a stir, and it made Gable the first person to say a curse word in a motion picture. It led to a heated debate in Hollywood, with some towns banning the film altogether for its “vulgarity.”

He Lost His Third Wife To A Plane Crash

Gable and Lombard at their wedding
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1942, Gable lost his third wife, Carole Lombard, in a plane crash. She was away in Indiana raising money for war bonds for World War II while Gable was shooting a film where he was allegedly having an affair with his co-star.

When rumors reached Lombard, she scheduled a flight back home that would crash into Potosi Mountain, killing everyone on board. It’s believed that her death inspired him to enlist into the military for a series of reasons.

He Liked To Be Clean, Really Clean

Picture of Clark Gable
George Hurrell/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images
George Hurrell/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images

Although Clark Gable wasn’t necessarily known for having the freshest breath around, it’s possible that he tried to overcompensate with his overall physical hygiene. Gable reportedly took several showers a day and never a bath because he found it repulsive to sit in a tub of dirty water.

Furthermore, he was known to change his clothes numerous times a day and would change his sheets every morning, so he never slept in a remotely dirty bed.

He Almost Played Tarzan

Weissmuller as Tarzan
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Interestingly, Clark Gable almost played the loin-cloth wearing jungle man in the 1932 film Tarzan the Ape Man. Although it certainly would have helped his macho image and provide further opportunities to show off his physique, it didn’t work out.

Instead, the role went to a new and unknown actor, Johnny Weissmuller, who was chosen over Gable for his bigger physique and superior swimming skills. Surely, Clark Gable was offended by not getting this part for that reason.

Gable And Marilyn Monroe Shared A Tragic Coincidence

Gable and Monroe
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

The final film that Clark Gable appeared in before passing away from a heart attack in 1960 was The Misfits, which was released in 1961. Oddly enough, this was also the last film that Marilyn Monroe starred in before tragically dying of a drug overdose in 1962.

Clark Gable played Gay Langland and Marilyn Monroe played Roslyn Tabor, two divorced individuals that fall in love. The film was also written by Monroe’s former husband, Arthur Miller.

He Dated Nancy Davis

Nancy Davis and Ronald Reagan
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Of the many different mistresses, wives, and girlfriends that Gable had throughout his life, one notable one was Nancy Davis. In 1948, Gable allegedly proposed marriage to the actress, although they never went through with the union.

Davis proved to be destined for greater things, such as the White House. Nancy Davis would go on to marry Ronald Reagan who would serve as the 40th President of the United States. Probably for the better, as Gable didn’t do well in marriages.