Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on August 22, 2013
One of the most notorious affairs in Hollywood history was undoubtedly the romantic liaison between Clark Gable and Joan Crawford that blossomed on the backlot of MGM. The two stars appeared in no less than eight films together and five of them (DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE; 1931, LAUGHING SINNERS; 1931, POSSESSED; 1931, CHAINED; 1934 and STRANGE CARGO; 1940) will air on TCM this coming Sunday (Aug. 25th) during the network’s ongoing Summer Under the Stars celebration. Today I thought I’d share some of Crawford’s memories of working with Gable as well as some of her personal observations about the actor who may have been the only man she ever truly loved.
There’s been a lot of speculation about Gable and Crawford’s affair and there seems to be some confusion about when and where their passionate romance was first ignited. Some have suggested that Crawford became enamored with Gable after she spotted him on an MGM set and if that’s true, it could have been during the making of Erich von Stroheim’s THE MERRY WIDOW (1925), where the two would-be stars were cast as uncredited extras. But their romance really didn’t begin to take shape until 1931 when Crawford insisted Gable play opposite her in DANCE, FOOL, DANCE. At the time Joan Crawford was blossoming into one of MGM’s most recognizable stars and she had the power to pick and choose her leading men. Both Gable and Crawford had similar rough and tumble backgrounds but his somewhat unconventional (at the time) good looks, sense of humor and easygoing attitude must have also held a lot of appeal. Before filming began Crawford admitted to being nervous about working with Gable due to his previous stage experience but that nervousness soon melted away when sparks started to fly between the two actors.
At the time that Gable and Crawford met he was married to his second wife, Maria ‘Ria’ Franklin, and Crawford was married to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. who was considered Hollywood royalty. Both marriages were troubled but no one could have guessed how serious Gable and Crawford’s affair would become. Following the success of DANCE, FOOLS, DANCE (1931), Crawford and Gable appeared in LAUGHING SINNERS (1931) together. The film got mixed reviews but what was happening behind the scenes may have been more interesting than what was on screen.
The third film that Gable and Crawford appeared in was the career defining POSSESSED and by this time their affair had become explosive. Both actors were now big box office draws and movie audiences loved seeing them on screen together. But much to studio executives’ dismay, the romance didn’t just stay on screen and in-between takes Gable and Crawford would sneak away to a nearby beach house for romantic rendezvous.
During the making of POSSESSED Gable and Crawford’s relationship reportedly became public knowledge and MGM studio heads were not happy about it. According to journalist Adela Rogers St. Johns, their affair “nearly burned Hollywood down” thanks to the many people it implicated, including the studio itself which seemed complacent and almost encouraging. Louis B. Mayer is said to have finally demanded that the two stars end their relationship and even threatened to destroy their careers if they didn’t comply with his wishes. Gable and Crawford did separate and were later happily (by most accounts) married to other spouses but they never lost touch. It’s been suggested that their on-again/off-again romance lasted for nearly 30 years but we’ll probably never know the true extent of their steamy affair. The only real evidence we have are the movies they made together but there’s no denying that these two Hollywood giants made magic on screen.
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