Born on February 1, 1901, in Ohio, Clark Gable initially had a hard time getting Hollywood roles, due to his big ears. After signing with MGM, he was cast with stars like Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, and his popularity soared. He hit box-office gold with such films as It Happened One Night and Gone with the Wind. His final film, The Misfits, was also Marilyn Monroe’s last film.
Early Life and Career
William Clark Gable was born 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 high school at 16 and went to work at a tire factory in Akron, Ohio. One evening he saw a play and enjoyed it so much that he decided to become an actor. He tried to work his way in by taking an unpaid job with a theater company, but his dream was temporarily derailed when his stepmother died in 1919 and he went to help his father in the oilfields of Oklahoma.
After three years there, he joined a traveling theater company, which quickly went bankrupt, leaving Gable stranded 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 his senior, took an interest in Gable. She became his acting coach and paid to have his teeth fixed and his hair and eyebrows styled. Before long they were married, and Gable and Dillon moved to Hollywood, California.
Gable worked as an extra in Hollywood before turning his attention to the theater, first in traveling productions and then in the Broadway play Machinal, for which he got good reviews. After it wrapped, he returned back to California and appeared in a stage production of The Last Mile.
Back in Hollywood, Gable was rejected at screen tests because casting agents thought his ears were too big for a leading man. He managed to land his first speaking role in a movie in The Painted Desert in 1931, and after seeing him on the big screen, MGM offered him a contract. His first leading role was in Dance, Fools, Dance, with Joan Crawford. Gable was a hit, and the studio began casting him as a roughneck villain opposite starlets including Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. By year’s end, he had made a dozen films and launched his career as a leading man. Ultimately, though, he became sick of playing the bad guy and made his displeasure known.