Clark Gable (1901-1960)
- Douglas Faibanks Jr, Little Caesar, 1930. Head brother Jack Warner and his production chief Darryl F Zanuck were furious that director Mervyn LeRoy had wasted time - and money - testing some big ape with huge, floppy taxi-cab-door ears! That was Gable, that was. Up for Joe Massara, based on George Raft, when associated with the New York taxi racketeer, Owney Madden. Gable joined MGM, fixed his ears - and teeth - and became Hollywood’s King!
- Adolph Menjou, The Front Page, 1931. Lewis Milestone was the director but Howard Hughes called the shots. And he did not want Gable: “His ears are too big and his tits are too small.” Yes, but, as Joan Blondell declared : “You never heard anyone say a bad word about Gable. Hell, he was so damned nice to everybody.”
- Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan, The Ape Man, 1931.
- Paul Muni, Scarface, 1931. Now Irving Thalberg suggested his newest acquisition for Tony “Scarface” Camonte to producer Howard Hughes. His director, Howard Hawks, was unimpressed “We need a real actor, not some personality.”
- Wallace Beery, Grand Hotel, 1931. Just as the toplined Garbo said she was too old for a ballerina at 27, Gable felt too young for the amoral businessman at 30. (Gable never looked young young). Beery was 46 and only agreed to be Preysing when told he’d be the only actor to use a German accent.
- Robert Montgomery, Letty Lynton, 1932. After gelling so well in Laughing Sinners and Possessed, Joan Crawford wanted Gable again as her screen lover. On and off-screen, as usual. For years and years.
- Max Baer, The Prizefighter and the Lady, 1932. The MGM plan to cash in on the current Red Dust team of Gable and Jean Harlow was thwarted by the suicide of her husband Paul Bern. Then, Gable refused any “doubling” - making two films at once. His replacement was the current #1 contender for Primo Carnera’s heavyweight title. As Carnera played himself in the movie, Baer studied his ring craft enough to beat him in their 1934 title fight. Howard Haweks quit the film. Although he usually dealt with featuring opposites in scripts and casting, “he wouldn’t make it with Baer and Myrna Loy.
- Gary Cooper, Today We Live, 1932. Gable was not keen on the film. Nor on novelist turned scripter William Faulkner. At their first meeting, Gable asked about good writers and Faulkner nominated: “Thomas Mann, Willa Cather, John Dos Passos, Ernest Heminway and myself.” “Oh, you write, Mr Faulkner.” “Yes and what do you do, Mr Gable?” Just as Gable had never read a book, Faulkner had never seen a movie. This was his first script, the first of four for Hawks.
- Edmund Lowe, Dinner At Eight, 1933. Producer David Selznick got his way on all casting - except father-in-law, MGM boss LB Mayer, had refused Gable, feeling the role too passive for his new-found popularity.
- Wallace Beery, Viva Villa, 1933. Gable’s was the surprise name in the mix for the Mexican revolutionary leader Pancho Villa - alongside the more expected Paul Muni and Edward G Robinson. Beery had been Villa before in the 15-chapter silent serial, Patria... in 1917.
Max Baer, The Prizefighter and the Lady, 1933. Director Howard Hawks (who rapidly quit) said it was written for Gable and Jean Harlow. They became Gable and Joan Crawford - before MGM took a chance of a real prizefighter, heavyweight champion to be Max Baer. He won every round.
Franchot Tone, Straight Is The Way, 1934. First, an A-treat with Gable andy Mae Clark. Then down graded to an MGM B-flick with Tone-Gladys George.
- Robert Taylor, Times Square Lady, 1934. First off, Gable and Jean Harlow were due in this MGM pot-boiler? Exit, Harlow, enter Bruce. So now the question was: Who should romance Bruce: Gable or the new kid, Taylor? Well, Taylor, of course, since he was already romancing her off-screen since her divorce from John Gilbert. Why not on-screen, as well?
- Chester Morris, Society Doctor, 1934. Dr Morgan was first aimed at Gable, until Morris was given the lead. Well deserved, he was excellent. Film is mainly remembered as Robert Taylor’s MGM debut - weak; more pose than poise.
- Fredric March, Anna Karenina, 1934. “I begged for Gable, but I got March,” complained producer David O Selznick. Never mind, he got Gable for The Biggie - Gone With The Wind. And Garbo got garlic - on her breath and in her her undies to ward off his notorious overtures.
- Errol Flynn, Captain Blood, 1935. Fourth choice after Robert Donat, Leslie Howard, Fredric March - it made fifth choice a new box-office star.
- Robert Taylor, His Brother's Wife, 1935. The co-stars changed as rapidly as the shooting. Gable and Jean Harlow became Harlow and Franchot Tone (not the same heat, at all!) and, finally, the first of three teamings of Barbara Stanwyck and Taylor, her 1939-1952 husband. And “One Take Woody” Van Dyke shot the 137 page script in 13½ days.
- Ronald Colman, A Tale of Two Cities, 1935. For the fourth version of the Charles Dickens classic (the others were dated 1910, 1917, 1921 producer David O Selznick searched for his heroic Sydney Carton among Gable, Warner Baxter, Leslie Howard and Robert Montgomery. Whether they were also due as Carton’s lookalike, Charles Darney, was never confirmed. Colman refused, due said DOS, to“a dread of dual roles.” Yet he doubled up the following year in MGM’s Prisoner of Zenda!
- Spencer Tracy, Riffraff, 1936. Replacing Gable was nothing new for Tracy - he’d taken over Gable’s stage role in the play Scars and took it to Broadway as Conflict in 1929. This time was more important - it was the first film of Tracy’s MGM deal. The fact that Gable was kept busy and Metro had no one else suitable for the role, underlined the importance of Irving Thalberg signing up Tracy - for him, and the studio. However here, Jean Harlow was happier with her role that poor Tracy in his. They were far better suited, a few months later, in Libeled Lady. Gable was in utter admiration of Tracy’s talent, while Tracy mocked his old pal unmercilessly. “Can’t act, doesn’t care and everybody loves him better than any actor that was ever born.”
- Leslie Howard, Romeo and Juliet, 1936.
Not always a genius. This was Irving Thalberg’s daftest notion. Gable put him right. “I don’t look Shakespeare, I don’t talk Shakespeare, I don’t like Shakespeare and I won’t do Shakespeare."
- Warner Baxter, Slave Ship, 1936. No Gable, said MGM! Allowing Fox to loan two Metro stars (Wallace Beery, Mickey Rooney) was more than enough. “While in all probability the picture will be produced on a large scale,” said head Fox Darryl F Zanuck in papers held at the UCLA Theater Arts Library, “it is unlikely that we will have a name, Gable, for instance, to cover up any of its possible weaknesses.” And he added: “Watch, too, that the British are not made to appear stupid.” Thanks for that, DFZ!
- Cary Grant, Suzy, 1937. Jean Harlow (refusing panties) and Franchot Tone were the stars and Gable was just too important to be third banana.
- Tyrone Power, In Old Chicago, 1937. This project, about the great Chicago fire of October 9, 1871, was the head Fox Darryl Zanuck’s answer to MGM’s San Francisco earthquake triumph. Zanuck even had the nerve to try to borrow MGM’s toppermost stars: Gable and Jean Harlow! Metro acually agreed about Harlow but she died on June 7, 1937. Tyrone Power then suggested Alice Faye as his co-star.
- Cary Grant, Gunga Din, 1938. Arriving at RKO, Howard Hawks was happy enough with the studios trying to win an MGM brochette - Gable, Franchot Tone, Spencer Tracy - for his three Kipling heroes. But Metro chief LB Mayer would never release Gable. Two out of three wasn’t good enough for Hawks. He made Bringing Up Baby instead - with Cary Grant. It flopped. Hawks was out, George Stevens was in. Well in, second only to Gone With The Wind in 1939 - with the ex-Archibald Leach as Archibald Cutter.
- Fredric March, The Bucaneer, 1938. For once, producer-director Cecil B DeMille did not get his own way. Gable was tied up.
- Cary Grant, Gunga Din, 1939. Howard Hawks’ RKO plan in 1938 was loaning top MGM stars: Gable, Spencer Tracy and Robert Montgomery. But Metro chief LB Mayer would never release Gable. Two out of three wasn’t good enough for Hawks. He made Bringing Up Baby instead - with Cary Grant. It flopped. Hawks was dropped as director and George Stevens made the Rudyard Kipling poem - with the ex-Archibald Leach as Archibald Cutter.
- Laurence Olivier, Pride and Prejudice, 1939. Aw c'mon, Gable knew his limitations. No Shakespeare, no Aldous Huxley dialogue and no costume films…after the rollicking he got as Parnell in 1937). Olivier was very unhappy with the result. “Difficult to make Darcy into anything more than an unattractive-looking prig, and darling Greer seemed to me all wrong as Elizabeth.”
- James Stewart, The Philadelphia Story, 1939. Katharine Hepburn owned it all! The rights to her stage hit (thanks to Howard Hughes), a demanded $100,000 pay cheque from MGM and - well, the sole stumbing block was Gable and Spencer Tracy refusing to be her ex, CK Dexter Haven, and news photographer Macauley Cooper. She got Tracy next time. For life. One Hollywood legend had Kate promising the Cooper role to her Broadway co-star, Van Helfin - in bed. Same story for Joseph Cotten in Cary Grant’s role.
- Joel McCrea, Foreign Correspondent, 1940. Alfred Hitchcock wanted Cary Grant. Of course. But he was already tied up with director Howard Hawks.
- Dennis Morgan, Captains of the Clouds, 1941. Director Michael Curtiz dream-wished for Errol Flynn, Gable, George Brent and Raymond Massey... and got James Cagney, Dennis Morgan, Alan Hale and Reginald Gardiner. For a Royal Canadian Air Force tribute since labeled the 1941 Top Gun.
- Spencer Tracy, Woman of the Year, 1942.
MGM offered Gable. Katharine Hepburn knew who she wanted, but … “I fear I maybe too tall for you, Mr Tracy?” “Don’t worry! I’ll cut you down to my size.” That is as much myth as the rest of the Kate-Spence legend The words were spoken to Hepburn by Leslie Howard when introduced for their 1931 Broadway play, The Animal Kingdom. (And Howard did cut her down, sacking her for stealing the play). The film’s producer Joseph L Mankiewicz revealed what Spence-Kate did say: “You’ve heard about my drinking. I’ve heard a few stories about you, too.” “That I’m a card-carrying lesbian...” “That’s OK.... I like the girls, too.” And so began the first of nine movies and much heart and headaches during a 27 year companionship (more than affair) rampant with their bisexual infedilities and his alcoholism.
- Gary Cooper, For Whom The Bell Tolls, 1943. An idea for cloning GWTW's Rhett and Scarlett never happened because MGM did not need any of the Paramount stars offered in exchange.
- Gregory Peck, The Keys of the Kingdom, 1944. Gone With The Wind producer David O Selznick gave up after two years and old out to Fox when he couldn’t find the perfect (all too perfect) hero, Father Francis Chisholm. He’d even tried to make another, GWTW-style deal with MGM for Gable (as a priest!). Other contenders included Dana Andrews, Joseph Cotten, Maurice Evans, Henry Fonda, Van Heflin, Dean Jagger, Gene Kelly, Franchot Tone, Spencer Tracy, Orson Welles… plus the most unlikely Catholic missionaries of all: Alan Ladd and Edward G Robinson! Auteur Joseph L Mankiewicz secured Peck in July 1943 for his second film - and first Oscar nomination.
- John Hodiak, The Harvey Girls, 1945. Welcome home from WWII... “with a %$#@& musical!” His drama with Lana Turner was musicalised by producer Arthur Freed (like who else) - a Gable would be great opposite Judy Garland after her triumph with the song, “Dear Mr. Gable/You Made Me Love You.” Gable refused to return to work until his Gone With The Wind director Victor Fleming rescued him with Adventure - ans Hodiak sporte trhe tash.
- Fred MacMurray, The Miracle of the Bells, 1947. After James Cagney passed on the Hollywood flack hero (he wanted to produce, as well), producer Jesse L Lasky chased Gable and Cary Grant. And settled for a MacMurray with “the air of an embalmer” (said the New York Times) in a truncated and limp version of Russell Janney’s book.
- Spencer Tracy, State of the Union, 1947. For his Liberty Films’ second movie, director Frank Capra wanted to re-unite his 1934 Oscar-winning duo from It Happened One Night. This time, however, MGM refused to loan him Gable. And Claudette Golbert suddenly evaporated (in a mass of bruises after, allegedly, having been found by her husband in bed with Tracy) and so, the new duo was Tracy and Katharine Hepburn (rumoured also to be a Colbert lover) - in the fifth of their nine films. Gable was utter admiration of Tracy’s talent, while Tracy mocked his old pal: “Can’t act, doesn’t care and everybody loves him better than any actor that was ever born.”
- Gregory Peck, Twelve O’Clock High, 1948. Gable was extremely keen on General Frank Savage - John Wayne was not. Peck passed, at first, because it seemed too similar to the play, Command Decision. Savage was Peck’s finest hour.
- Gary Cooper, The Fountainhead, 1948. The King desperately wanted to be Howard Roark, controversial novelist Ayn Rand’s hero based on architect Frank Lloyd Wright - and bitterly complained to Jack Warner for not protecting his interests by buying the novel for him. Or, so he told Rand. Who told just about everybody.
- Gregory Peck, The Gunfighter, 1949. With a stubborn John Wayne refusing a favourite script (due to grudges old and new), the (softened) life of Jimmy Ringo - killer, OK Corral gunfight survivor and eventual suicide - was aimed at Gable. It was then called The Big Gun. The King spurned the $350,000 offer from Fox as he was trying to head up George Stevens’ Giant as Bick Benedict. Peck was also on Warner’s wish-list for Bick. Instead, he sported a moustache for gunslinger Jimmy Ringo - and refused High Noon for being too close to this Western from director Henry King… which had many similarities with Wayne’s finale, The Shootist, 1975. So he got there in the end. The very end.
- Robert Taylor, Quo Vadis, 1950. Gable passed on being Marcus Vinicius. “Me in short skirts carrying a shield and wearing a helmet with plumes - you’ve gotta be kidding!”
- Paul Douglas, Angels in the Outfield, 1950. The King was first chosen by director Clarence Brown for the tyrannical, blasphemous baseball manager told by Heaven - literally - to treat his players with respect. Result: they won games. “This,” said critic Michael E Grost, “is like Brown’s own well-known respectful treatment of actors where he listens to them and encourages their input.”
- Cary Grant, Crisis, 1950. Scripter Richard Brooks’ directing debut - thanks to Grant: “If If he can write it, why not direct it?” - had first been set-up for Gable at MGM, with Mervyn Leroy directing.
- George Sanders, Ivanhoe, 1951. When first planned in the mid-30s, MGM aimed to squeeze too many contract stars into unlikely roles in Sir Walter Scott’s 12th Century, Robin Hoodish tale of chivalrous knights, warring Saxons, Normans, Christians and Jews. Such as Lionel Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Myrna Loy, Luise Rainer. And Gable for Brian de Bois-Guilbert Bois Guilbert of Normandy, head over sword in love with Rebecca.
- Stewart Granger, Soldiers Three, 1951. Finally off the shelf, an old MGM version of Rudyard Kipling intended for Gable, Spencer Tracy and Wallace Beery. Granger, David Niven, Robert Newton were fun, if not quite the same class.
- Kirk Douglas, The Bad and The Beautiful, 1952. "I only did that film," Kirk later confessed, "because Gable refused it!"
- Jack Palance, Sudden Fear, 1952.
Twenty years later, Joan Crawford was still demanding Gable as her partner. Well, their affair, between marriages, was still going on until his 1960 death. He passed on her debut as an exec producer, not keen on going totally against type as an actor out to murder his playwright wife. Crawfprd was also spurned by Brando - “I always audition the new boy in town!” - and settled for his Broadway understudy. And swore she’d never work with him again. “She accused me of copying Brando,” said Jack. “The cameras were rolling when... getting out of character, she shouted: If I had wanted Marlon Brando to do this scene with me, we would have hired him.”
- Robert Taylor, Knights of the Round Table, 1953. A decade before MGM got hold of it, Paramount planned to set a Round Table for Gable as Lancelot. Gable! He around 52 at the time! Taylor was 42.
- Marlon Brando, Guys and Dolls, 1955. Gable had “sung” once in the well titled Idiot's Delight, 1939. But a desperate producer, Samuel Goldwyn,. was offering Sky Masterson to everyone right or wrong: Bing Crosby, Kirk Douglas, Gable, Cary Grant, Gene Kelly, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum... even Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis for Sky and Nathan Detroit. To help Sam, Cary Cary called his one-time lover Marlon with the magic words: “Frank Sinatra desperately wants the role.”
- Rock Hudson, Giant, 1955.
- James Cagney, Tribute To A Bad Man, 1956. “It’s the end of my career. I’ll never make another picture.” Spencer Tracy quickly lost interest and his health in the high altitude of Colorado. And just as no one had agreed to be The Girl (they finished with the Greek Irene Papas), no guy want to sub Spence. As if they could. Gable and Gregory Peck refused; Cagney agreed. He was a friend and huge fan... “I’m easy to imitate, but you never saw anyone imitate Spence Tracy. You can’t mimic reserve and control.”
- Alan Ladd, Boy On A Dolphin, 1957. First due for him, then to start Robert Mitchum's new Fox contract - or a new one with Brando. Sophia Loren got Gable in his penultimate movie, It Started In Naples, 1960.
- Robert Mitchum, Heaven Knows Mr. Allison, 1957. Marlon Brando was also asked but this was Bob Mitchum’s finest hour since Night of the Hunter, 1955.
- Robert Mitchum, The Hunters, 1957. Both Gable and James Stewart offered to be USAF Major Cleve Saville for what proved the fifth and final cinema film of actor-turned-director Dick Powell. He wanted a younger “Ice Man” and so Powell, the screen’s third Philip Marlowe (circa 1944), gained the eighth (circa 1975) - Mitchum.
- Laurence Harvey, The Alamo, 1960. For his dream project, a director called John Wayne wanted The King, Richard Widmark and Sonny Tufts?!! For Colonel Travis, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie. The Money Dept insisted upon Laurence Harvey (27 years Gable’s junior), Wayne, Widmark. Alas poor Tufts!
- John Wayne, The Alamo, 1960. Duke still wanted The King on board and suggested he play Davy Crockett. The two stars shared the same Republican (anti-Communist) politics, but Gable was wary of all first-time directors. Duke mortgaged home and hearth and yacht(s) to help the budget and didn’t get his money back until the first TV sale in… 1971.
- Robert Mitchum, Home From The Hill, 1960. Director Vincente Minnelli had hoped for Gable and Bette Davis as the parents of half-brothers Georges Hamilton and Peppard.
- Yul Brynner, The Magnificent Seven, 1960. Hard to believe that the Western making new generation stars out of Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, etc, was originally aimed in 1959 at old hats Gable, Glenn Ford, Stewart Granger. And just two newer guys: Anthony Franciosa, Dean Jones. All to be directed by Yul Brynner, already in a bitter dispute with Anthony Quinn and producer Lou Morheim over the rights to the source material: Japanese maestro Akira Kurosawa’s Shichinin no samurai/Seven Samurai, 1953. Brynner’s title was The Magnificent Six. Like re-making Ben-Hur as Ben-Herbie.
- Karl Malden, Parrish, 1961. And here, it was director Josh Logan losing all interest when he could not land Rhett and Scarlett as Warren Beatty's folks!
- John Wayne, Hatari! 1961. Again, Duke tried to land The King… Gable agreed to co-star in 1960 - if he had $1m, 10% of the gross. And top billing. No way, said Paramount. Howard Hawks gave the role to John Wayne (Gable died in the very month shooting began). When the dorector couldn’t get anyone strong enough for Wayne’s original role, he split it between Hardy Kruger and Gérard Blain. “Good actors, but Wayne just blew them off the screen. He just took charge; they were just barely there. It changed the storyline and everything.” Hawks tried the same trick, with slightly better results, when splitting the drunk role - between Jorge Rivero and Chris Mitchum - in the third Rio Bravo re-make, Rio Lobo... The Silver Fox’s final film in 1970.
- Edward G Robinson, Two Weeks In Another Town, 1962. Too close to home again... The Metro plan was Tracy as an alcoholic ex-actor coming out of rehab and picking up dubbing work in Rome. - opposite his great mate as his clone: a director on the skids.
- Charlton Heston, Diamond Head, 1963. Planned for Gable in the ’50s. That is why the character was called “King” Howland. Heston did not change it.
- Sean Connery, The Man Who Would Be King, 1975.