Happy Birthday Clark Gable! 

U.S. #2446 from the 1990 Classic Films set.

William Clark Gable was born on February 1, 1901, in Cadiz, Ohio.

Growing up, Gable played piano and brass instruments and was the only boy in the men’s town band. As a teenager, he was tall and shy, but had a loud voice. He also enjoyed Shakespeare, particularly sonnets, but would only recite them in the company of close friends.

Gable’s father eventually moved the family to farm in Ravenna, Ohio. Though his father wanted him to work on the farm, Gable left to work in a tire factory in Akron. Then when he was 17, Gable saw a production of The Bird of Paradise and realized he wanted to be an actor. Though he managed to find work with several small theater companies, he still had to take a variety of other jobs to make his way to Hollywood. These jobs included a stint as a horse manager, a necktie salesman, and a logger.

Item #M7727 – Grenada Grenadines stamp issued for Gable’s 100th birthday.

Along the way, Gable met Laura Hope Crews in Portland. A stage and film actress, she encouraged Gable to pursue his acting dreams. (20 years later they met again on the set of Gone with the Wind when she played Aunt Pittypat.) In the meantime, Gable met Josephine Dillon, a theater manager, who became his acting coach (and later first wife). Dillon helped to improve his posture, physique, and speech habits, preparing him for Hollywood. She also gave him the money he needed to get to Hollywood.

Upon arriving in Hollywood, Gable first found work as an extra. He appeared in this capacity in 13 films including The Merry Widow, The Plastic Age, Forbidden Paradise, and a series of two-reel comedies called The Pacemakers. Gable also appeared in The Johnstown Flood. Interestingly, his future wife Carole Lombard was also an extra in this film, though not in the same scene.

The lack of starring roles led Gable to return to the stage, where he befriended Lionel Barrymore. He joined an acting company in Houston, Texas, which provided him with great experience. Gable then went to New York City, where he was praised for his role in Machinal, before returning to Los Angeles. There he put on an impressive performance in The Last Mile that earned him a contract with MGM.

Gambia #2779 pictures Gable throughout his career.

Gable’s first role in a sound film was as a villain in The Painted Desert. Many of his parts during this period were in supporting roles, and often as the villain. Gable’s gritty performance in A Free Soul resonated with audiences. One review claimed, “A star in the making has been made, one that, to our reckoning, will outdraw every other star… Never have we seen audiences work themselves into such enthusiasm as when Clark Gable walks on the screen.” That was his last supporting role – for the rest of his career, Gable was a leading man.

In the coming years, Gable starred with some of the day’s top leading ladies. Among them was Joan Crawford, whom he considered his favorite actress to work with. He also appeared in eight films with Greta Garbo, seven with Myrna Loy, six with Jean Harlow, four with Lana Turner, and three with Norma Shearer and Ava Gardner. In particular, Gable’s performance with Harlow in Red Dust made him MGM’s top male star.

Grenada/Carriacou #2303 – Gable starred in more than 60 movies.

In 1934, Gable was lent out to Columbia Studios to appear in It Happened One Night. Though he wasn’t the first choice, he worked well with director Frank Capra and won the Academy Award for Best Actor. He then returned to MGM and was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in Mutiny on the Bounty. Between 1936 and 1940, Gable appeared in three films with Spencer Tracy. Each film was a box office hit, and the pairing was only split after Tracy demanded top billing.

U.S. #3185i from the 1930s Celebrate the Century sheet.

Gable’s best-known performance came in 1939’s Gone with the Wind. He wasn’t the first choice for the role of Rhett Butler but Gary Cooper turned down the role. Gable was initially hesitant to take the role, since he worried he’d disappoint all the people that wanted Cooper. But he eventually took the role, which earned him a nomination for Best Actor. He later claimed that whenever his popularity waned, there would be a rerelease of Gone with the Wind that helped him maintain his leading actor status.

In 1942 Gable joined the war effort, enlisting with the Army Air Forces. After completing his training his first assignment was to make a recruiting film for the Eighth Air Force. Then in 1943 he went to England where he flew five combat missions, earning the Air Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross.

Grenada Carriacou #2300 – Gable was nicknamed “The King of Hollywood.”

After his service, Gable returned home and rested before returning to acting. Over the next few years he appeared in a number of films including Adventure, The Hucksters, Never Let Me Go, and Mogambo. Unhappy with the quality of these films, Gable left MGM to work independently. He then formed a production company, though he only made one film – The King and Four Queens. Gable found producing and acting was detrimental to his heath, so he returned to just acting. He appeared in a number of movies in the late 50s including Band of Angels, Teacher’s Pet, Run Silent, Run Deep, But Not for Me, and It Started in Naples. Gable’s last film was The Misfits, which was also Marilyn Monroe’s last completed film. Many agreed this was one of his finest performances.

Gable suffered a heart attack in early 1960, some suspect because of the physical demands of his role in The Misfits, and died on November 16, 1960.

Click here to watch Gable’s World War II documentary, Combat America.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Interesting – he flew 5 combat missions in WWII earning the DFC and Air Medal. I flew 92 combat missions in Vietnam to earn my DFC and two Air Medals!

    1. Thanks Doc. The DFC is a very underrated medal- congrats and wish you the best life ever.
      My Dad flew t he Burma Hump and never got anything.

  2. Clark Gable is one of my favorite male actors. Today’s actors don’t come up the quality that was Gable’s.

    1. To Dr. V. Malingo, thanks for your service, my brother flew the B-29, and was leaving to drop the
      big one when he played football the night before and someone tackled him and messed his collar bone and he couldn’t fly. All were killed on the plane and it snapped his mind so he got to see the
      doctor instead of the flight. I was around nine at the time and am 81 now. Gless Bless our Military.
      My favorite picture Gone With The Wind.

  3. To Dr. V .J. Malingo — You are a greater star than Gable; thank you, Sir, for your service to our country!

  4. Very fascinating documentary. William Clark Gable “King Of Hollywood” filmed in the lead role of 90 films.

  5. I especially appreciated link the link you provided here to the WWII documentary film that Clark Gable made for the Army Air Force in Europe. It gives a good feel of what it was like for those involved with all aspects of the B-17 effort, from the flight crews and ground crews. From it, I learned a lot details more about things like the machine guns needing to be removed from the B-17s and serviced and stored between each flight and the hands-free strapped-directly-around-the-throat device that the pilot used to communicate with the crew during the flights. I assume that all other crew members had similar devices to reply. The actual combat footage (with some parts colorized in this restored version) gave a feel of the combat, the preparation work, the down time activities and the combat losses. I was born in 1943 when my dad was on a liberty ship nearing India, where he was in command of the US Army’s 153rd Quartermaster Battalion (Mobile) [an all African-American unit with a white commander as was the case in those days before the US armed forces were ordered desegregated in 1948]. That unit’s work was in Burma convoying material and supplies in the construction of the Ledo Road being built to open the land route to China. In those days, you were in for the duration of the war, so I never got to see my dad in person until I was over two years old. At the end of the war he typed a personal letter of recommendation for every man in his unit on his portable manual typewriter to help each returning soldier get a civilian job upon returning home. He also joined the NAACP and remained in touch with many of the men from his unit his entire life. In the 1998, for the 50th anniversary of President Truman’s July 26 Order 9981 which led to the desegregation of the US armed services, the US Army Corps of Engineers published a two page article sent in an newsletter to all members of the Corps on the desegregation of the US armed forces and the role the experience of Army Corps of Engineers in Burma in particular (where over half of the US troops had been African American) had played in the military review leading up to the desegregation decision. This Corp of Engineers’ article cited my dad’s well researched long prior article in the Southern California CBI [China-Burma-India] Veterans Association newsletter as one of its two sources for their own article. On March 28, 2020, on what would have been my father’s 100th birthday, my wife and I got to visit the niche and leave flowers where my parents are buried together in the Riverside (California) National Cemetery. Almost no cars were on the freeway going there that day due to the big initial shutdown for COVID-19 and no cemetery staff were present and no new burials were being scheduled at that time, but we were still able to get in to leave flowers, pay our respects and take a pictures for the family. We appreciate the sacrifices that were made by both our military and home front workers during that critical WWII effort. Thanks again for the wonderful stamp related historical background and context you continue to provide on a daily basis. My dad was also a stamp collector and helped introduce me to the hobby. Lewis B. McCammon III, APS Life Member #11829-044950.

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