Sunday 20 March 2011

Devouring Books: Clark Gable: A Biography by Warren G Harris

This is actually a first for me- the first time I've finished a book that was in a Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox post! Since I've been doing Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox for, oh, let's see, one month exactly today, that's probably not that good... But hey, I've still consistently given you great entertainment for free people! Nothing wrong with that! Update: I've just realised that this is a complete lie- I also read The Perks of Being a Wallflower! But it's the first library book I've read.... Oh, never mind!

But anyway. I really really enjoyed this biography, not least because the last one I read (What's Eating Johnny Depp) contained about the worst writing of anything that's ever existed; and also because, you know, it's Clark Gable! But apart from that, it was also well-written, well-researched, and didn't overly explain the plots of Gable's films to the detriment of all other facts about his life- a lengthy paragraph for each sufficed. I also learnt a LOT about Clark Gable, which is only to be expected having gone in basically knowing only that he was the man who was Rhett Butler, and that's about it. I was, in fact, a little bit disappointed that not all that much was said about Gone With the Wind, and that he and Vivien Leigh weren't best friends or lovers or anything like that- shatter all my illusions, why don't you?!

So, instead of being one long celebration of Gone With the Wind (which, honestly, I really wasn't expecting from this book, regardless of what I say) this biography really goes into every facet of Clark Gable's life, without being too intrusive or overly personal (I'm not sure that you can intrude on someone who has been dead for 50 years, but you can still get overly personal with a dead subject- see: Heavier than Heaven, the Kurt Cobain biography that very helpfully/ridiculously imagines his final moments for us all). His childhood is, as is pretty common, a short part of the book, and the bulk of it is concerned with his Hollywood working years, which spans from the late 1920s up until his death in 1960. In this time frame, as well as making 67 films, he had 5 wives, countless lovers (basically every woman he ever starred with) and a secret child, who, the biography makes it seem, was pretty messed up from finding out Gable was her father. I find it kind of sad that, in comparison to the amount of sex he got, Gable never had the opportunity to be a father (his son was born 5 months after he died), something which it seems he didn't necessarily want very badly, but also something that he would have excelled at.

Quite a large chunk of the book is taken up by his marriage to, and relationship with Carole Lombard, the woman who it seems was the love of his life. Now, I am deeply in love with Clark Gable, so I wouldn't ever emotionally betray him like this, but honestly, I kind of want Carole Lombard to be my wife! I mean, seriously, these are just a few of her absolute charms, and I swear I actually laughed out loud at them while I was reading:
"Sid Grauman invited Gable to officially become a Hollywood immortal by leaving his footprints in a block of concrete in the forecourt of the world-famous Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard... Carole Lombard later joked that he should have left a 'cockprint' as well."
"On the first day of production, Gable received a surprise package from Carole Lombard with a label marked 'Too Hot to Handle.' Inside were a pair of asbestos gloves and a large envelope filled with graphic photos of sex orgies."
I mean, honestly, does she not just sound completely hilarious?! I think yes! Added to that the fact that she was also perfect for Clark Gable, and that they had this perfect little life together, I was pretty distraught when she died, far too young, and too far from the end of Gable's life too. After she died, it seemed that a part of him died too- he started drinking heavily, and joined the airforce, apparently saying that he didn't care if he came back from the war or not. This didn't, however, stop him from still having sex with an immense and impressive amount of women.

When I was reading all about Lombard and Gable's romance, though, it all felt very familiar and nice, but I wasn't quite sure why. When it came to them driving away somewhere secluded to get married in peace, though, it suddenly struck me why all of the book had felt so vivid- it's almost exactly like A Star is Born, which, since it's set in Hollywood in a similar kind of time, shouldn't be that much of a surprise! Now, A Star is Born is definitely a little snapshot of Hollywood life in the golden days of Hollywood, and it struck me that this book does much the same- while it is obviously based around Clark Gable, there are also stories about many other actors, directors, producers and so on that are all connected to Gable in various ways. So, with this biography, you get not only the story of one man's life, but also the more general story of how truly awesome Hollywood used to be- not a bad deal if you ask me!

And then there were parts of the biography that disappointed me, not because they weren't well written or anything like that, but more because they made Gable seem like so much less of an idol than I had made him out to be in my mind. There were, of course, the many many women, not necessarily such a bad thing, but having sex with them while he was married, even to Lombard, makes him seem like less than the perfect man to me. Far worse than that, though, was the fact that he really, openly hated gay men- to the extent of being disgusted by them, and just completely shunning them, something which he did to so few people, it seems. Coupled together, if I didn't know better, I'd have to say that Gable was a self-hating gay man, but considering that he basically just did what/whoever he wanted, whenever he wanted, he probably wouldn't have denied himself those pleasures if they were what he really wanted. So, I guess, he was kind of just a bit of a bigot! Not cool, Clark. At all.

If I may just excuse Clark a tiny bit by saying that it was the thirties, and his father was a big strong tough guy who would have probably murdered Clark had he turned out to be gay, not that this makes his homophobia ok, but it does explain it at least a bit; then, overall, I pretty much liked the Clark Gable presented to us by the means of this book. It is, of course, impossible to know him, even with such books, but I guess you have to go with the information you've got. This assures me that we pretty much would have liked each other (him liking me because I am a woman, rather than a gay man) although I would have had to change his prejudices (well, gotten rid of them rather than just swapped them somewhere else!) for us to get along well. If you're at all interested in Clark Gable (like, if you lusted after him entirely in Gone With the Wind but know nothing else about him) then I would definitely recommend this biography that is far reaching and very revealing about, not just Gable, but all of Hollywood from the 1930s to 1960.

Don't forget to check out my guest post over at Reading Thru The Night! It deals with another Hollywood legend, and basically my favourite actor ever, the incomparable Johnny Depp- I really hope you'll go and look at it if you've got the time!


  1. Came here through Christina's blog. Old Hollywood + occasional funniness (so rare in book blogs...) means I'm totally becoming a follower.

    I've never been super-interested in Clark Gable, but if I read about movie stars in the '40s, they're usually ladies, sooo...I guess I kind of counted him out because of his gender. Boo me indeed. This book sounds really cool, though.

  2. Thanks Alice! I am deeply in love with Clark Gable, which always kind of disturbs me because he died nearly 30 years before I was born (in fact whe my parents were 2)... Now I've read this though, it's like I know him, so it's all fiiiine!

  3. I see great books here! Look forward to read your reviews! As usual, for the some weeks, I got none!

    Here is my Monday: Mailbox/What Are You Reading?/Musings post!