Ohio is known for several things, such as the birthplace of aviation, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and U.S. presidents, but did you know it’s also the birthplace of a king? No, not that kind of king. We’re talking about “The King of Hollywood”, Clark Gable. Gable starred in over 60 films that spanned almost a four decade career, he appeared with popular female actors like Joan Crawford, Vivien Leigh, and Marilyn Monroe, and even contributed to the World War II effort through film and by becoming an aerial gunner. His legacy is one filled with romance and loss, and it all started in a little town in Ohio.
Clark Gable was born in Cadiz, Ohio on February 1st, 1901 to parents William Henry Gable and Adeline Gable (nee Hershelman). His mother died before he was a year old, and his father married Jennie Dunlap in 1903. Gable was encouraged by his father to engage in traditionally masculine activities like hunting and physical work, but his step-mother encouraged his love of music and literature. His father was an oil-well driller, but after some financial difficulties, he tried his hand at farming and wanted Clark to work with him. Gable decided instead to work at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio.
At the age of 17, he was inspired to become an actor after seeing the play The Bird of Paradise. Gable began making his way to the Pacific Coast, working with travelling tent shows, lumber mills and any odd job he could find. While working as a necktie salesman, he met Earle Larimore, a local stage actor, and was encourage to pursue acting. Gable’s acting coach, Josephine Dillon, was a theater manager in Portland, Oregon. She paid to have his teeth fixed and his hair styled and guided him in building up his body, posture, speech habits, and facial expressions. After a long period of her training, Dillon considered Gable ready to attempt a film career.
After many minor roles in film and a brief stint in the theatre, Gable eventually signed with MGM, which launched his career through pairings with well-established female stars, like Joan Crawford. Perhaps his most famous role was 1939’s Gone with the Wind, and in that same year he married his third wife, Carole Lombard. Lombard and her mother died in a plane crash in early 1942, and Gable continued acting but also enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces. He was assigned to a special unit, the First Motion Picture Unit, to make movies for the war effort and recruit aerial gunners as other actors had done, including Jimmy Stewart. In January of 1943 Gable reported for training with the 351st Bomb Group and flew five combat missions before he was reassigned to noncombat duties and returned to California to edit the film footage. He was awarded several military honors for service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross and World War II Victory Medal.
In 1947 he resigned his commission with the Air Force to continue acting, since he could not fulfill his reserve officer duties at the same time. He did several more films with MGM up until 1954 when he did not renew his contract, and started to make movies with other companies like 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and Paramount. His last completed film, The Misfits (1961) was also his co-star, Marilyn Monroe’s last film. In November of 1960, Gable suffered a heart attack and was taken to the hospital, where even after improving he suffered another heart attack and died on November 16th 1960.
Clark Gable is just one of many famous people that hail from Ohio. See who you can find when browsing through the many collections available on Ohio Memory!
Thank you to Ashely Rodriguez, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!