Live Like a King: Clark Gable

Originally featured in issue 2 of The Rake, Christian Barker expertly delves into the golden era’s ‘King of Hollywood’, ever-rakish actor Clark Gable whose effortlessly balanced elegance and machismo got him far.

Few stars of the silver screen provide as ample a testament to the transformative powers of the suit as Clark Gable. Described in an early review as being “young, vigorous and brutally masculine,” Warner Brothers boss Darryl F. Zanuck put it another way, succinctly stating of Gable: “He looks like an ape.”

Yet it was precisely this rugged quality, offset by elegant attire and bearing, that formed the core of the actor’s appeal to the general public — in spite of his polished appearance, one could tell that beneath it all, Gable was no mincing thespian. Here was a real man — a “lumberjack in evening clothes,” as the studios’ marketing departments put it.

This dichotomy — a mix of red-blooded, outdoorsy manliness and refined sophistication — characterised Gable from his earliest years. Though, as a boy, he was encouraged by his father — an Ohio oil well driller and farmer — to engage in virile pursuits such as hunting, motor mechanics and tough manual labour, in private, Gable delighted in reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets, playing the piano and brass instruments.

Embarking on his theatrical career in his early 20s, Gable augmented sporadic income from infrequent appearances on stage not by waiting tables (as is so often the case with struggling actors), but via altogether more masculine means: working as a horse manager and labouring in the oil fields.

Published

April 2020

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