Big ears are no obstacle: How Clark Gable became a Hollywood icon

Actor Clark Gable initially struggled to get roles in Hollywood because of his large ears. However, after signing with MGM, he began starring alongside the likes of Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, and his popularity skyrocketed.

He became a box office gold star in films such as It Happened One Night and Gone with the Wind. His last film, Rascals, was also the last film to feature Marilyn Monroe.


William Clark Gable was born on February 1, 1901, in Cadiz, Ohio. His father was an oil driller and farmer; his mother died when he was an infant.

Gable dropped out of school at age 16 and went to work at a tire factory in Akron, Ohio. One night he saw a play that made such a strong impression on him that Clark decided to become an actor. He tried to break through by taking an unpaid job with a theater company, but his dream was temporarily thwarted by the death of his stepmother in 1919, and he went to help his father in the oil fields of Oklahoma.

After three years there, he joined a traveling theater company that quickly went bankrupt, and Gable stayed in Montana. He hitchhiked to Oregon and joined another company, where he met Josephine Dillon, the theater manager.

Dillon, a former actress and respected theater teacher 17 years older than him, took an interest in Gable. She became his acting teacher, paid for his dental care, hair and eyebrow styling. They soon married, and Gable and Dillon moved to Hollywood.

Gable worked in Hollywood as an extra and then turned his attention to theater, participating first in touring productions and then in the Broadway play Machinal, which received good reviews. When the play was removed from the repertoire, the actor returned to California and starred in a production of The Last Mile.

Back in Hollywood, Gable received rejections at movie auditions, as casting agents considered his ears too big for the lead actor. In 1931, he managed to get his first movie role in The Painted Valley and was then offered a contract by MGM.

His first starring role was in the movie “Dance, Fools, Dance” with Joan Crawford. Gable became famous and studios began offering him roles as rough villains. By the end of the year, he had appeared in a dozen films and was already being considered a leading actor.

In 1933, during the filming of the movie “Dancing Lady” in Gable developed pyorrhea – gum infection, which required the immediate removal of almost all teeth. The infection spread through his body and reached his gallbladder. Due to delays in filming and necessary reshoots caused by Gable’s illness, the movie budget exceeded $150,000.

When Gable returned to work, MGM allowed low-budget Columbia Pictures to use the actor in Frank Capra’s comedy It Happened One Night. There were rumors that this was a kind of punishment for Gable’s dissatisfaction with his roles.

He eventually won an Oscar for “It Happened One Night” and after that began to star in a wider range of roles.

By this time, Gable was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, having starred in such successful films as Boomtown, San Francisco, and Mutiny on the Bounty. In 1939, he starred as Rhett Butler in his most famous film, the American Civil War epic Gone with the Wind. Nicknamed the “King of Hollywood,” he was a symbol of masculinity, admired by men and adored by women.

During the filming of the movie “Somewhere I’ll Find You” with Lana Turner in 1942, tragedy struck. Carol Lombard, Gable’s third wife and the love of his life, died in a plane crash. At the age of 41, he enlisted in the Air Force. He served as a gunner and flew five bombing missions over Germany.

After his demobilization in 1944, he returned to the big screen in the movie “Adventure”. Although the movie was not very successful, Gable’s return to the movies caught the attention of audiences.

He continued to appear in MGM films, including “Mogambo” with Ava Gardner and Grace Kelly, but his career never found its former popularity. Nevertheless, when his studio contract expired in 1954, he became the highest-paid freelance actor of his time.

Gable became a legend, and he consistently appeared in at least one movie a year, most notably Soldier of Fortune and Tall Men.

In the movie “Scoundrels” with Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift, he played, as it is considered, one of his best roles, but to enjoy its success, he never managed: two days after the end of filming Gable had a heart attack. He died on November 16, 1960.

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