Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Clark Gable (1901-1960)

Birth name: William Clark Gable
Birthdate: February 1st, 1901
Location: Cadiz, Ohio, USA

Died: November 16th, 1960
Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
Cause of death: Coronary thrombosis

Best known for: Oscar-winning actor who was a matinee idol of both the silent and sound era, starting out in small parts in the 1920s before securing roles in classic films such as It Happened One Night (1934), Mutiny on the Bounty (1935) and Saratoga (1937). It is his iconic role as Rhett Butler in 1939's Gone with the Wind which secured his legendary status, after which he appeared in various war and Western films. He won an Oscar for Best Actor for It Happened One Night (beating Frank Morgan and William Powell) and was nominated for a further two (for Mutiny on the Bounty and Gone with the Wind). He was also nominated for two Golden Globes. He was married five times, most famously to the actress Carole Lombard, who died in an airplane crash in 1942.

In the 1950s, times were hard at Clark's home studio, MGM, thanks to the advent and success of television, and plummeting movie revenues. Many MGM execs were fired (including Louis B Mayer in 1951), and a number of stars considered to have excessive salaries were let go too, including Judy Garland and Greer Garson. Although Clark was not one of these stars, his salary was deemed excessive, and when his contract came up for renewal in 1953, he decided to go his own, independent way.

Clark on March 26th, 1958, presenting
at the Oscars at Hollywood's Pantages
Theater. He was 57 years old here.
In the final seven years of his life and career Clark made a good few films that were profitable and decent, including Soldier of Fortune and The Tall Men - both released in 1955, the year he decided to set up his own production company with the actress Jane Russell. The result was 1956's The King and Four Queens, but this became his only independent production, as he found the combination of producing and acting too taxing. He was also seen to be developing a tremor, particularly visible in long takes (there have been suggestions that he was developing Parkinson's Disease, but this is unsubstantiated).

Clark's penultimate film project was It Started in Naples, released in August 1960 and co-starring Sophia Loren. Filmed in Rome, Naples and Capri, it became the last of Clark's films to be released in his lifetime.

Clark with Marilyn Monroe, his co-star
in The Misfits (1960). The film would
be the last for them both.
On February 8th, 1960, at the age of 59, Clark received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, at 1608 Vine Street. That Autumn, Clark began filming the John Huston Western epic The Misfits, co-starring Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift. The location was the boiling hot Nevada Desert, where temperatures reached 108 (42) degrees. Clark, playing Gay Langland, insisted on doing some of his own stunts, including being dragged 400ft across a dry lake bed at over 30mph. Filming ended on November 4th, 1960 - just 12 days before Clark's last day on Earth.

On November 5th Clark suffered agonising chest pains while changing the tyre on his Jeep at home, and retired to bed early on his wife Kay's orders after the pain had subsided. He suffered further headaches and restlessness through the night, and finally got up at 7.15am the following day. When he tried to dress himself, he was wracked with pain once more.

Clark at the press conference
for The Misfits, 1960
Clark had suffered a heart attack and was sent to Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center, in Los Angeles. The following day press reports claimed the star's condition was satisfactory - he was prescribed anti-coagulants and sedatives and was under constant supervision. By the morning of November 16th (ten days after being hospitalised), medics believed he was on the mend. However, by the evening his condition took a turn for the worse. Kay went to bed in the adjoining hospital room at 10.30pm, and at 10.50pm Clark finished reading his book, put back his head, and silently passed away. Doctors did not perform CPR for fear of rupturing his heart, and Kay hugged his body for two hours until she allowed medics to attend to him.

What caused this sudden decline in Clark's health - between filming in baking heat in the desert to being hospitalised with a heart condition - is unclear. It could have been the stress of filming in such inhospitable locations, or his insistence on performing his own stunts. Or it could have been to do with the crash diet Clark went on prior to filming The Misfits, which saw him drop from 230lbs (104kg) to 195lbs (88kg), along with an over-consumption of Dexedrine pills.

Mourners outside the Church of the Recessional on November 20th
1960. Newsreel footage shows the arrival of stars such as Frank Capra,
Roy Rogers, James Stewart and Spencer Tracy. Clark's wife Kay is
pictured centre, in black.

On November 20th, Clark's bronze $4,000 casket graced a private service attended by 200 people (including Spencer Tracy, Robert Taylor, James Stewart, Norma Shearer, Robert Stack and Van Johnson) at the Church of the Recessional in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, where he was buried beside his third wife Carole Lombard, and eventually his fifth wife Kay (she died in 1983).

John Clark Gable pictured
in 2008, aged 47
The curse of The Misfits did not end there either. The filming had been the battleground for the collapse of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller's marriage, so the die was already cast on that score (they divorced in January 1961). Clark's co-stars also suffered premature deaths - Marilyn Monroe died in August 1962, and Montgomery Clift in July 1966. Supporting actor Thelma Ritter died of a heart attack in February 1969, and James Barton died in February 1962. It even stretched to behind the cameras, as film editor George Tomasini died in November 1964.

On the up side, on March 20th, 1961 - just over five months after Clark died - his wife Kay Williams gave birth to his only son, John, at the same hospital where his father had died.

No comments:

Post a comment

Please add your comments here...