“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” Rhett Butler snaps in the 1939 film Gone with the Wind, a line that reverberates throughout the history of American cinema and continues to give Academy voters a sensation of frisson to this very day. How much does Gone with the Wind mean to contemporary audiences? Seemingly not a lot, with the movie temporarily removed from HBO Max in 2020 due to its dated values in the wake of the death of George Floyd and the emerging Black Lives Matter movement.
Clark Gable is the actor who uttered the undoubtedly iconic line of dialogue, a superstar of Hollywood who, since his baffling rise to fame in the mid-20th century, has faded into the industry’s long-forgotten past. Much like the re-evaluated nature of Gone with the Wind, the actor must too be assessed with a new perspective, away from his celebrated success and under a new light of analysis.
Often referred to as ‘The King of Hollywood’, the actor starred in over 60 feature films during a career that lasted 37 years. Starting off in the silent film era of 1924-1926, Gable progressed to become one of the first leading men of Hollywood’s golden age, winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1934 for It Happened One Night. As one of the industry’s most influential leading men, Gable appeared alongside the likes of Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow and Lana Turner among many others.
A powerful figure of Hollywood and a popular sex symbol, Gable was an individual that hopeful actors swooned before whilst producers begged for his participation. Such granted the man extraordinary industry clout, with reports widely confirming that despite marrying five times, he would frequently cheat on his partners and sleep with his co-stars. It’s not even a personality that the actor even tried to hide, hitting and manipulating the majority of his female co-stars that he appears on-screen with.
Despite his behaviour, he never got caught, nor was he ever held accountable for such sexism and despicable attitudes, with his image remaining largely untarnished to this day and his wrongdoings reserved for mere speculation. The most significant of these stories came from Buzzfeed News in 2015, which suggested Clark Gable raped co-star Loretta Young in 1935. As the extensive investigation unveils, it is alleged that Young became pregnant at the age of 23 with Gable’s child whilst the actor was married to another woman.
“At some point in the night, Gable entered Young’s compartment. Young never spoke of the specifics of what occurred to anyone – not to her sisters, mother, husbands, or children – until decades later,’’ Anne Helen Peterson states in the article. Hiding the pregnancy and birth for over a year, Young eventually asked her daughter-in-law Linda Lewis to explain the term ‘date rape’: “I did the best I could to make her understand…You have to remember, this was a very proper lady,” Lewis explains.
Finally finishing her description, Loretta Young announced, “That’s what happened between me and Clark,” providing a damning verdict on the legacy of the famous actor. Whilst Clark Gable passed away in 1960, and Loretta Young died in 2000, it is important to consider although the aforementioned actor is remembered for his shining influence on Hollywood, he also remains a controversial totem of an industry long since embarrassed by its deep-rooted misogyny.
Though he may have been celebrated for such films as Gone with the Wind, It Happened One Night and The Misfits, his legacy in the industry should be considered as a chequered one, marred by archaic values that overshadow his acting talents. His might as one of the most influential stars in all of early Hollywood only works to exemplify his shady behaviour, using his industry clout to shoulder barge his way to enacting his desires.