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William Clark Gable was born in Cadiz, Ohio, on February 1, 1901. His mother died when he was ten months old, and he spent the first two years of his life in the care of his father's parents. He returned to the care of his father after he married Jennie Dunlap, who accepted young William as her own son. Gable's father was an oil field worker, and he tried to groom his son to follow him into that profession. His stepmother, however, encouraged him to follow his dreams.
Gable dropped out of school in his junior year and moved to Akron, where he worked in a tire factory. It was in Akron that he discovered a love for the theater, and he began volunteering with a local theater company just to spend time at the theater. When he was 17 he learned that his stepmother was on her deathbed and rushed back to Cadiz; she died a few days after his return. After the death of his stepmother, Gable tried to get his father's approval to pursue a career in the theater, but his father instead insisted he go to Oklahoma to work in the oil fields. Gable absolutely detested the work and, when he turned 21, used a small inheritance from his grandfather to pursue his chosen career. This action resulted in a ten-year estrangement from his father.
Gable eventually made his way to Portland, Oregon, where he got a job as a tie salesman. He soon met and fell in love with aspiring actress Franz Dorfler. The couple got engaged, but she refused to follow through with the marriage because Gable didn't have any money. He then got in on the ground floor of a new theater group being created by Josephine Dillon, who considered Gable her star pupil. The two made their way to Hollywood, where she began grooming him for an acting career. Even though Dillon was 15 years older than Gable, the couple got married on December 13, 1924. She spent the next several years teaching him proper etiquette and posture, had his hair styled and teeth fixed, and suggested that he drop his first name. Although she was able to secure many small roles for him, Gable eventually decided to move to New York City in hopes of getting better jobs. The couple divorced in April 1930.
In New York City, Gable became good friends with Lionel Barrymore, who encouraged him to pursue a career on the stage. He was well received by critics and audiences for his role in Machinal, but the Depression forced many theaters to close and opportunities became increasingly scarce. About this same time he met Maria Franklin (aka Ria Langham), whom he married in 1931. Maria continued the "training" that Josephine had begun, and also used her many connections to introduce him to influential social crowds. The two subsequently made their way back to Hollywood. After a well-received performance in the play The Last Mile, Gable was signed to a contract at MGM Studios.
Gable's big break came in 1931, when he was cast in a supporting role in A Free Role. His performance was so well received by his fellow actors and actresses, and by the movie-going community, that he was never again cast in anything other than a leading role.
In 1934, a dispute with MGM bosses led to his being loaned out to Columbia Studios, which at that time was known for producing lesser quality films. The film, It Happened One Night, resulted in his receiving the first of his three Oscar nominations, and his only win, for Best Actor.
As Gable's professional career took off, his personal life suffered some downfalls. When an occasional affair with frequent co-star Joan Crawford became public, MGM head Louis B. Mayer threatened to cancel both stars' contracts if they continued the affair. Gabel and Crawford did indeed end their relationship, but he then began a relationship with Marion Davies. In 1935, after filming Mutiny on the Bounty, he had an affair with Loretta Young, who subsequently gave birth to his daughter, Judy Lewis. He and Langham finally divorced in 1939.
Soon after his divorce from Langham, Gable married Carole Lombard. It would prove to be his only marriage marked by actual love. Unfortunately, Lombard was killed in a plane crash in 1942 while returning from a war bonds tour. After her death Gable enlisted in the Army Air Force. German leader Adolf Hitler happened to be one of Gable's biggest fans, and even offered a hefty bonus for his capture, so long as he was brought back unharmed. After flying five combat missions he was discharged with the rank of Major.
Although he resumed his movie career upon returning to the United States, Gable never regained his superstar status. After briefly resuming his affair with Crawford, he married Lady Sylvia Ashley, widow of Douglas Fairbanks, in 1949. This marriage proved to be an absolute disaster, and the couple was divorced in 1952. In 1955, he married Kay Spreckles, a former fashion model and actress. Although he was a devoted stepfather to her two children from a previous marriage, he was absolutely thrilled when, in 1960, she announced that she was pregnant with his child.
On November 5, 1960, Gable went to bed early because he wasn't feeling well. He awoke the next day in excruciating pain and was rushed to a hospital. He died of coronary thrombosis on November 16, with Kay at his side. His son, John Clark Gable, was born six months later.
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This page was last updated on 11/16/2017.