Clark Gable's Humanity  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries.

It was the one scene in the 1939 film “Gone With the Wind” Clark Gable dreaded playing.  It required him to break down when he learns Scarlett has suffered a miscarriage because of an accident he caused. 

Men didn’t cry in Gable’s world and he was Mr. Hollywood masculinity.  He was embarrassed and director, Victor Fleming, couldn’t change his mind about playing the scene teary-eyed. 

On the day of the shooting Fleming came up with a compromise.  They would do the scene twice, the first with tears, the second without.  Gable would decide which take to go with.  After reviewing the rushes Gable agreed the weepy scene was better.  “Print it!” he told Fleming.

I’m no actor and I never have been.  What people see on the screen is me.
— Clark Gable

Gable was busy reviewing scripts and filming when he first heard about the book GWTW.  He didn’t have time to read Margaret Mitchell’s first novel even though everyone in Hollywood was talking about the historic epic about the Old South.  Besides, it was 1,037 pages long and people called it a woman’s book. 

Producer David Selznick bought the movie rights for $50,000.  He started running public opinion polls about casting the leading roles.  Clark Gable was consistently named number one to play Rhett Butler. 

Gable was Hollywood’s biggest star.  After Gable the polls picked Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper and Errol Flynn.  Selznick chose 25-year-old Vivien Leigh to play Scarlett O’Hara.

Gable finally read GWTW and liked it.  What he didn’t like were costume roles and David Selznick.  Despite Gable’s distaste, Selznick was able to finagle MGM into loaning Gable to him so he could play Rhett Butler.  Gable wasn’t happy about playing the character either.

“There are going to be six million eyes on me,” Gable said, “all daring me to fail.”  Playing historical figures was not his strong suit.  He agreed to do it so he would have time to marry Carole Lombard.

“Gone With the Wind” is going to be the biggest flop in Hollywood history," and, "I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper," Cooper said.

GWTW ended up being one of the highest grossing and popular films of all time.  It won an Oscar for best picture.  Gable also received his third Oscar nomination for his role as Rhett Butler.     

Gary Cooper later amended his comment about Gable and the film.

"I didn't see myself as quite that dashing, and later, when I saw Clark Gable play the role to perfection, I knew I was right," he said.

“I’m no actor and I never have been,” Gable said about his own acting ability.  “What people see on the screen is me.”

There was only one Clark Gable.  He had an “everyman” type of presence on film that made him a huge success in the movie industry.

The ruffled dress shirt and black waistcoat worn by Gable in GWTW went on the block in the April 9-11, Music & Entertainment auction at Heritage Auction Galleries.

The costume sold for $14,938.

Clark Gable

Photos; 3; black-and-white portraits taken by Clarence Bull; including one of the actor in uniform; 10 inches by 13 inches;  $175.

Photos; 3; black-and-white portraits taken by Clarence Bull; 10 inches by 13 inches;  $239.

Marriage Certificate; Gable’s certificate of marriage from first wife and acting coach Josephine Dillon;  $658.  

Divorce papers; from first wife Josephine Dillon; the first of Gable’s five marriages;  $1,076.

Costume Suit; black wool; from Gable’s gangster classic “Manhattan Melodrama” (1934); this was the movie John Dillinger saw the night he was gunned down by Federal agents;  $3,107.


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

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