Clark Gable

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Clark Gable from the cover of Clark Gable: Biography, Filmography, Bibliography by Chrystopher J. Spicer

Clark Gable (February 1, 1901November 16, 1960) was an American film actor, and the biggest box-office star of the early sound film era. He was born in Cadiz, Ohio to William H. Gable and Adeline Hershelman. Gable has German ancestry from both sides of his family tree; his maternal grandfather, John Hershelman, was German, as were Gable's paternal great-great-grandparents, Johan Philip Frankenfield and Catharine Haupt. When he was six months old, his sickly Catholic mother had him baptized Roman Catholic. She died three months later, probably as the result of a brain tumor.

His father married again and the new family settled in the neighboring Ohio town of Hopedale where Clark went to school. In his late teens, they moved to Ravenna just outside of Akron but Clark had trouble settling down and soon left school to work in Akron tire factories. After seeing a play which impressed him, he formed an ambition to be an actor but was not able to make a real start until he turned twenty-one and could inherit money that had been left to him. He started to tour with several second class theater companies and worked his way across the mid-west to Portland, Oregon, where he found work as a tie salesman in a department store. While there he met the grandson of the well-known actress Laura Hope Crews who encouraged him back onto the stage and into another theater company. His acting coach was Josephine Dillon who eventually thought him ready to attempt a film career.

In 1924, with Josephine's financial aid, they went to Hollywood where she became his manager and his first wife. Although he found work as an extra and bit player in such silent films as The Plastic Age starring Clara Bow, Gable was not offered any major roles and so returned to the stage. It was only after his impressive appearance in the lead of The Last Mile that he was offered a contract with MGM in 1930. Gable's first sound picture, The Painted Desert, made him an overnight star when it was released in January 1931. In the following years he acted in several pictures which soon made him become a megastar, earning the title of "King of Hollywood".

Gable won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his 1934 performance in the film It Happened One Night. He is, however, best-known for his performance as Rhett Butler in the 1939 classic Gone with the Wind, which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. A few years before, he had also earned an Academy Award nomination for his role as Fletcher Christian in 1935's Mutiny on the Bounty. In addition, Gable was one of the few actors to appear in three films that have won an Academy Award for Best Picture.

Gable's marriage in 1939 to his third wife, actress Carole Lombard, was reportedly the happiest episode in his personal life, but it ended with her death in a plane crash in 1942. He was deeply grieved and joined the U.S. Army Air Force. During his service, Gable, among other tasks, flew several raids over Nazi Germany, earning the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross for his efforts. He left the Army Air Force with the rank of Major. His first movie after returning from service in WWII was the 1945 production of Adventure. It was not really successful and, despite some subsequent popular successes such as Mogambo, Gable became increasingly unhappy with the mediocre roles offered him by MGM as a mature actor. He refused to renew his contract with them in 1953 and proceeded to work independantly.

His second wife had been Texas socialite Rhea Langham Davis, and his fourth was English actress Sylvia Ashley, a British divorcée who also was the widow of Douglas Fairbanks. His fifth wife, married after an on-again, off-again affair spanning 13 years, was Kathleen Williams Capps de Alzaga Spreckels, a thrice-married former fashion model and stock actress from the town of North East, Pennsylvania. She was the mother of Gable's posthumous son and only legitimate child, John Clark Gable, born in 1961; she also had two children from her third marriage, Joan and Adolph Spreckels 3rd known popularly as Bunker.

Gable also had an illegitimate daughter, Judy Lewis, from an affair with actress Loretta Young.

Gable's last film was The Misfits, which also featured Marilyn Monroe in her last screen performance. Gable died in 1960 of a massive heart attack in Los Angeles, at the age of 59. He was interred in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California, beside his beloved wife Carole Lombard.


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