Please see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.
No Man of Her Own premiered in December of 1932; New York Times film critic Mordaunt Hall found Lombard and Gable "amusing" and "competent: and termed the film "a rather usual sort of melodrama." The film neither harmed nor bolstered either actor's career.
|Weissmuller as Tarzan|
The night before filming was due to start, on June 12, Clark awoke with a raging fever and MGM's medical consultant was dispatched. The diagnosis was not a good one. Clark's always troubling teeth had caused an infection to set in his gums and the infection had spread throughout his body. He was whisked to a private hospital and after several days of antibiotics, had nearly all of his teeth extracted and was fitted for dentures.
|A gorgeous triangle|
|Carole and Bill|
Two weeks post divorce
|Outside her Hollywood Blvd. home|
|Carole and Riskin|
In November, Clark had reported to Columbia for a little film called It Happened One Night. Originally titled Night Bus, after the magazine article it was based on, the script was adapted by Carole's former date, Robert Riskin, with Frank Capra attached to direct. Producer Harry Cohn had wanted MGM's Robert Montgomery for the role of Peter, the newspaper reporter who chases after the runaway bride/heiress. However, Montgomery felt there were "too many bus pictures" and balked at being loaned out. L.B. Mayer instead offered Cohn the services of Gable, perhaps after Gable had asked for a raise and informed his boss he no longer wanted to play gigolo type roles. Regardless of how Gable was assigned, he turned up for his initial meeting with Capra drunk and angry. Despite this inauspicious start, he and Capra became firm friends and after reading the script, Gable realized that Peter was very much like himself.
The thirty-six days of filming It Happened One Night, which wrapped shortly before Christmas of 1933, turned out to be a wonderful experience for Clark. The "walls of Jericho" scene in which he appeared without benefit of an undershirt, then de rigueur fashion for men, caused the sales of undershirts to plummet; his pencil thin mustache was copied the country over. Proof positive that Clark Gable was a trendsetter and the hottest commodity in Hollywood. Recognizing this, MGM purchased their first property specifically for Gable - - Men In White, his follow up to It Happened One Night.
Meanwhile, Carole finished off 1933 by filming Bolero, a musical drama in which her leading man was George Raft - - the same George Raft that was Paramount's first choice for the role of Babe Stewart in No Man of Her Own. Miriam Hopkins - -the same Miriam Hopkins that had been assigned to the role of Connie, also in No Man of Her Own, was to star alongside Raft but again, it was not to be. Hopkins fell ill while making Design for Living and was replaced by Carole.
Bolero was a risque film for the day and just skated in before the Production Code would come into effect. Raft's character told Carole's that she needed to audition for him in her underwear - - which she did. Sally Rand performed her famous fan dance in which her nudity was disguised by two strategically placed ostrich feather fans. Raft had a run-in with the film's producer, Benjamin Glaser, during filming; he either punched him out or gave him a push. Raft would later say that he had only been involved in three fights during his career and it was this one he regretted most.
Regardless, Bolero would finish filming in January of 1934 and be released a month later. It was a box office hit, and would incite reuniting Lombard and Raft the following year.
Gable's Men In White would also begin filming in December of 1933 and was the first of what would be a run in films, and eventually television, of the hospital drama. Clark would play a doctor - - a part first considered for Joan Crawford's current amour, Franchot Tone. While Gable had proven himself with comedy and in tough guy parts, Men in White would mark a major turning point in both Clark's professional and personal lives. This was the first starring role in which he would hang his hat on dramatic ability and show a noticeably sensitive side. The film presented a marked change to his personal life as well.
|Gable and Allan, Men In White|
Their affair went on during the eighteen day production of Men In White; before the movie had wrapped, Clark demanded that MGM sign her to a long-term contract. The studio sent him on a cross-country tour to promote Men In White, which was due to be released in April; the trip coincided with his birthday in February of 1934. He was less than pleased with Ria accompanying him, as it hampered his ability to conduct his affair with Allan, who, rather conveniently, was staying in the same hotel in New York as the Gables.
1934 would prove to be a watershed year for both Carole and Clark, both professionally and personally.
All of the films Carole would make that year, with the exception of one, would be box office hits. She had generally been well received in her efforts, even if the film was not successful prior to 1934, but lightening would finally hit with her second film to be released that year.
Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur adapted their play of the same name in order to write Twentieth Century for the screen. Columbia boss Harry Cohn reportedly approached Gloria Swanson, Miriam Hopkins, Ina Claire, Tallulah Bankhead, Ruth Chatterton, Kay Francis, Constance Bennett, Ann Harding and Joan Crawford for the film's leading lady. It was director Howard Hawks, himself the third choice behind Roy Del Ruth and Lewis Milestone, that changed film history.
|Hawks, Carole and Barrymore|
Twentieth Century was a box office disappointment but a critical success for both Carole and Barrymore. As with It Happened One Night, also released in early 1934, Twentieth Century would usher in the screwball genre.
In the summer of 1934, Hollywood itself went through a major shakeup when the Production Code was enforced, officially calling halt to the sexy, thought provoking films of the previous five years, that explored immoral behavior, often without repercussions to the offenders. Fortunately for Carole and Clark, the Code had little negative impact on their careers, a fate that would befall some of their contemporaries, who would see their careers slow down or fizzle out, as the roles they had previously excelled in were done away with.
|Carole with Russ|
Carole had been staying at her Lake Arrowhead home for the Labor Day weekend. Hearing the tragic news about her boyfriend/possible fiance, she rushed back to Los Angeles, where she was mobbed by reporters in her grief-stricken state. She stated that his death shocked her beyond words and that she had been scheduled to dine with him that evening.
Given that Russ' mother was hospitalized herself with a heart condition at the time of Russ' death, Carole took over the planning and organizing of his funeral. Due to Mrs. Columbo's fragile health, it was decided by Russ' siblings, and Carole, that his mother would not be told of her son's death. Instead, she was told that Russ was touring, that he and Carole had married and were traveling and even that he was making radio appearances (using his albums as subterfuge.) Unbelievably, this ruse would be kept up until Mrs. Columbo's death in 1944, after Carole herself had died.
Whatever the status of her relationship with Russ - - engaged or not - - Carole rebounded by throwing herself back into her career. She was reunited with George Raft for Rumba, a musical drama that was considered an inferior follow up to the better received Bolero.
|Carole and George Raft|
Raft had two major drawbacks. The first was that he was married, like Gable, to a woman his senior. He had married her before his film stardom and as she was devoutly Catholic, she refused to grant him a divorce. The second, and perhaps most concerning for Carole, was that he allegedly had ties to the Mafia and other underworld associations. She had no desire for that kind of life and figured correctly that an ongoing, intimate connection with Raft would harm, or destroy, her career. The two split amicably.
Gable too had gone through a lot of personal and professional changes. He was still very much involved with Elizabeth Allan, as well as his on again-off again affair with Crawford. He and Joan had settled into a true friendship with the added benefit of sex with no commitment, if either or both felt like it. They had filmed two more pictures together in 1934 - - Chained and Forsaking All Others (where they were joined by Robert Montgomery.) Both were well received and made MGM a boatload of money - - Chained over $700,000 and Forsaking All Others, released just before Christmas, netting the studio well over a million. The films allowed Crawford and Gable to end 1934 on a high note.
|Who to choose? (Duh)|
Twentieth Century Film's Call of the Wild would be the second film version of Jack London's classic novel and the first "talkie" version. Clark was cast as prospector Jack Thornton and Loretta his female lead.
The film was scheduled to be shot in the Southern Sierra Nevada but an unexpected warm front melted the snow and caused production to be moved to Washington State.
|Loretta ans Spence|
|Loretta with a young Judy|
Mutiny on the Bounty proved a good film for Gable, although he had to shave off his trademark mustache to assume the role of Fletcher Christian. He initially believed himself to be miscast as an English member of the Royal Navy but would later state that he believed it to be the best film he starred in.
|Gable and Tone|
Wallace Beery was offered the role of dastardly Captain Bligh but turned it down, supposedly due to his dislike of Gable (the two had filmed China Seas earlier that year). Irving Thalberg cast Charles Laughton in the hopes that he and Gable would dislike each other and that dislike would translate on the screen. Laughton had lost out on an Academy Award earlier that year to Gable and Gable, some said, was a homophobe; Laughton, despite being married, was a homosexual. Regardless, in an effort to break the ice, Gable took Laughton to one of Catalina Island's local whorehouses.
|Gable and Laughton|
Gable, Tone and Laughton would all be nominated for Academy Awards for their performances, something that would cause the Academy to add Best Supporting Actor/Actress to its roster of awards and the multiple nominations likely cancelled each of the actors out among voters. The picture itself would collect the prize in 1936. Mutiny on the Bounty was well received by both critics and movie audiences, being one of the biggest hits of the time and resulting in a profit of nearly a million dollars for MGM.
|Clowning around with Fred|
By 1936, Carole and Clark were on more equal career footing, unlike their 1932 film appearance where he was the greater star. He was indeed the "King of Hollywood" but she was now a well known and respected comedienne, and very well paid. The two were about to cross paths a third time.
|Carole with Cesar, Mayfair Ball|
In between her hostessing duties, Carole managed to catch Clark's eye and the two shared a dance followed by a ride in Clark's car (their respective dates were clearly very understanding.) It's reported that Clark suggested that he and Carole go upstairs with Carole retorting "Who do you think you are? Clark Gable?"
This retort exemplified the Lombard-Gable relationship and why it would ultimately work. Unlike most others, she didn't coddle him or enable him or let him slide by on his celebrity. She called him on his bullshit and he clearly liked it. She got him. Carole brought out something in Gable that no one else had before, not even Crawford. Carole was youthful, she was joyful and she was fun. She raced through life at full speed, as if she knew she wouldn't have as much time as she should, and her vigor made Clark feel not only young but alive.
|Niven and Oberon pose with |
Norma Shearer and Irving Thalberg
Mayfair Ball, January 1936
Oberon was a recent Hollywood import from Britain and involved with fellow actor (and fellow Brit) David Niven. She was reportedly in love with Niven and wanted to marry him but he had a roving eye. She attended the Mayfair Ball with Niven that January. Perhaps she saw the obvious sparks between Carole and Clark, perhaps she wanted to make Niven jealous or maybe her romance with Niven wasn't getting her on the front pages. Whatever her motives, she sent a note to Gable's suite on February 1, his birthday, telling him to stay in and wait for his present. He may have figured the note was from Carole but it was Merle that showed up with champagne and he did not turn her down.
|Sparring at the Smith party|
|Gable with his Oscar in 1935|
Things still moved slowly. Carole, like many female stars at the time, kept to a very rigorous schedule when she was working. She didn't stay out late and made sure to get plenty of sleep so she would look her best on film. She also was playing a bit hard to get with Clark, something very few other women did.
|A year later with Merle|
It would take another request by Marion Davies to put Carole and Clark together permanently.
To be continued . . .