Hollywood Hunks: When Gable was King

August 20, 2008 5 min read

Being an avid student of baby name trends, I've been noticing the recent tendency by celebrities to name their children after other celebrities, particular those from the Golden Age of Hollywood — as in Ava and Audrey and Harlow. Up until now, this was a purely female phenomenon — that is, until ex-"Saturday Night Live" and current "Weeds" actor Kevin Nealon stepped up to the plate and named his son Gable. A fitting tribute to the man once known — long before Elvis — as "The King," and who lives on as the star of one of the most iconic films ever made, "Gone With the Wind."

Gable was the quintessential American movie matinee idol for three decades, to the point where a woman might reject a suitor by saying "Well, you're no Clark Gable!" Rugged yet debonair and romantic, with a killer smile, seductive voice, cocky manner and sexy swagger, his appeal crossed gender lines, making him both a man's man and a ladies' man. A top money-maker for MGM, he made more than 65 movies during his long reign, assuring a wealth of material available to collectors — today, for example, there are almost 300 items listed on eBay — and that's not including videos or DVDs.

William Clark Gable was born in Cadiz, Ohio, in 1901 of German heritage. His mother died when he was 7 months old, he quite school at 16, and then spent his early years working at an Akron tire factory, in oil fields, selling neckties, and as a telephone repairman. With the help of a succession of older women, beginning with first wife Josephine Dillon, who taught him the fundamentals of acting, he began to get extra work in movies and small parts on Broadway. He finally played the lead as a hardened criminal in a California production of "The Last Mile," which, thanks to the distinguished Lionel Barrymore, led to a screen test and contract at MGM in 1930 (he had been turned down at Warner Bros. because of his big ears).

After Gable's smoldering love scenes with Jean Harlow in "Red Dust," he became a hot property, cast opposite the leading leading ladies on the Metro lot — Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Myrna Loy, Marion Davies, Jeanette MacDonald et al, playing a villain as often as a hero. But it wasn't until he was loaned out to Columbia for a small comedy called "It Happened One Night," co-starring Claudette Colbert and directed by Frank Capra, that he won his first Oscar. Among his other best remembered films are "Mutiny on the Bounty," "San Francisco," "Boom Town," "Honky Tonk," "Mogambo," and his final film, "The Misfits" co-starring Marilyn Monroe.

The most soughtafter Gable memorabilia revolves around the 1939 epic "Gone With the Wind" — both production and promotional material, and items like books, coloring books, and paper dolls published soon after the movie's debut. Two sets of now rare paper dolls were produced by the Merrill Publishing Co. in 1949, one of which includes 18 figures of the major cast members. Movie programs — especially from the Atlanta premier— are also highly collectible, as is a motion picture edition of the novel featuring scenes from the movie, a 1940 GWTW cookbook, and a Vivien Leigh doll in her white party dress. Rarest of all are any original props or costumes from the film.

Also highly desirable are the posters for the 1934 "It Happened One Night" and its 1937 re-release, some displaying extraordinary art deco graphics — one of which went for five figures at auction. Miscellaneous Gable objects abound, from his fishing license and other person ephemera to autographs, sheet music from such films as "Cain and Mable" and "San Francisco," movie stills, postcards, ads, and magazine stories and covers.

Linda Rosenkrantz has edited Auction magazine and authored 18 books, including "Cool Names for Babies" and "The Baby Name Bible" (St. Martin's Press; www.babynamebible.com). She cannot answer letters personally. To find out more about Linda Rosenkrantz and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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