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Clark Gable: Hitler, Bugs Bunny, And More Stories You've Never Heard

People | February 1, 2020

Clark Gable in a publicity photograph for his film Too Hot to Handle (1938), in which he plays a newsreel reporter. (Getty Images)

Happy birthday to Clark Gable! The uber-masculine heartthrob of the Golden Age of Hollywood was born on this day in 1901. This birthday boy lit up the silver screen as charming rogue Rhett Butler in the epic Gone With the Wind and starred in It Happened One Night and The Misfits. Gable was a complex and interesting performer. Here's some stuff about him that you didn't know. 

The delivery room doctor had such messy handwriting that Clark Gable's birth certificate said he was a girl. (military.com)

Gable Was Legally A Girl For A Minute

When William Clark Gable was born in Cadiz, Ohio on February 1, 1901, someone made a clerical error. His birth certificate listed him as a girl, much to the surprise of his parents, oiler driller William Henry "Will" Gable and Adeline Hershelman Gable. The error was later blamed on the doctor's poor handwriting, and it was eventually corrected.

Frankly, my dear, Gable caused a stir with one line. (gfycat.com)

Gable Uttered The First Swear Word In Cinema History

Clark Gable's character in 1939's Gone With the Wind was supposed a maverick of a man who played by his own rules. To emphasize this, he was given a line at the end of the epic film that caused a stir: "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn.” Although tame by today's standards, Gable's line was the first time that an actor in a major motion picture uttered a swear word. Some towns even banned the film because of it. It sparked a debate in Hollywood over freedom of expression and artistic characterization. 

Gable has rank breath in this scene. (countryliving.com)

Gable Had Some Stanky Breath

When he was 32, Clark Gable came down with a serious gum infection. As a result, he lost most of his teeth and wore dentures that didn't fit well, trapping food particles that gave Gable chronic bad breath. On the set of Gone With the Wind, Gable's co-star, Vivien Leigh, often complained about the stench when the two actors had to shoot closeups.

Gable had a thing for hygiene. (amazon.com)

Gable Was A Hygiene Freak

Perhaps to overcompensate for his halitosis, Clark Gable made sure the rest of him was fresh as a daisy. In fact, he was rather obsessive about his personal hygiene. He reportedly took several showers per day (never baths because the idea of sitting in dirty water creeped him out), changed his clothes frequently throughout the day, and put fresh sheets on his bed every morning. 

Where's the undershirt, Clark? (ourculturemag.com)

Gable Killed The Undershirt Industry

In Clark Gable's day, men always wore undershirts beneath their shirts. In one scene of the movie It Happened One Night, however, Gable's character removes his shirt and reveals to the shock and surprise of the audience that he is not wearing an undershirt. For the first time, it dawned on the men of the country that they, too, could buck tradition and go undershirtless. Almost overnight, sales of undershirts plummeted across the nation. 

The role of Tarzan almost went to Clark Gable and not Johnny Weissmuller. (britannica.com)

Gable Was Almost Tarzan

Speaking of shirtlessness, Clark Gable almost played the perpetually scantily clad protagonist of the 1932 film Tarzan of the Apes. According to Hollywood insiders, Gable made the short list to play the vine swinger, but in the end, the role was given to a new, unknown actor named Johnny Weismuller. 

Gable took voice lessons to sound more manly. (biography.com)

Gable's Voice Was Feminine

In Gone With the Wind and many of Gable's other film, the actor is the very picture of masculinity, with rugged good looks and a deep, powerful voice. That manly voice, however, didn't come naturally. Gable's normal speaking voice was quite high-pitched, so he worked extensively with a voice coach to train his voice to sound deeper and less feminine. 

The burning of Atlanta scene from Gone With the Wind. (pintrest.com)

Gable Desegregated The Set Of Gone With The Wind

Prior to the start of filming Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind, a number of groups had expressed their concern that the film would further denigrate the numerous African-American extras who were hired for the movie. Director Victor Fleming assured these groups that the black extras would be treated with respect, but on the day when the "burning of Atlanta" scene was set to be shot, the extras discovered that the portable toilets on set were designated "white only" or "colored." When Clark Gable learned of this, he confronted the director and demanded that the offensive signs be removed, or Fleming would not "have a Rhett Butler."

Clark Gable and Hattie McDaniel were close friends. (facebook.com)

Gable Was Great Friends With Hattie McDaniel

Even before the two were cast in Gone With the Wind, Clark Gable and actress Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in the movie, were good friends. They often laughed, joked, and pulled pranks on set. Gable abhorred segregation, so he was angry when he learned that McDaniel and the other African-American cast members weren't invited to the grand opening of Gone With the Wind. At first, Gable refused to go unless the whole cast was invited, but McDaniel urged him to stand down. At the Academy Awards, McDaniel earned the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, the first black performer to win the coveted award.

Gable's carrot-chomping character from It Happened One Night. (thenewtowntheatre.com)

Gable And Bugs

Clark Gable and Bugs Bunny seem like unlikely friends, but the two share a unique bond. Fans of Bugs Bunny are sure to recall that the iconic cartoon character was often shown munching on a carrot, an affectation that Bugs Bunny creator Leon Schlesinger modeled after a scene from It Happened One Night in which Clark Gable's character leans against a fence post, quickly chomping on a carrot while talking. 

Clark Kent was named after Clark Gable. (superman.fandom.com)

Clark Gable And Superman

The two-dimensional homages didn't stop there. Clark Gable even inspired the name of Superman's alter ego, Clark Kent. The DC Comics superhero was created by writer Jerry Siegel and cartoonist Joe Shuster in 1938, the year before Gone With the Wind premiered. When the two were brainstorming a name for Superman's secret identity as a mild-mannered reporter, they decided that "Clark" seemed like an appropriate choice. 

Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable in The Misfits. (learnodo-newtonic.com)

Gable And Marilyn Monroe Shared A Tragic Last

The last film that Clark Gable appeared in before he died of a heart attack in 1960 was The Misfits. Eerily, this was also Marilyn Monroe's last movie before she died in 1962 of a drug overdose. The Misfits was written by Monroe's former husband, Arthur Miller. 

Gable with his Oscar. (dearmrgable.com)

Gable Gave Away His Oscar

Clark Gable won an Academy Award for his appearance in It Happened One Night, but although he was thrilled to have won the award, he gave his Oscar trophy to a child who thought the statuette was pretty and shiny. Gable explained that winning the award was more important that keeping it. Years later, after Gable's death, the family of that small child returned the Oscar to Gable's widow. 

Gable served in the military during World War II. (americanairmuseum.com)

Gable Had One Very Unusual Fan

Clark Gable's acting career was well-established when World War II broke out, but Gable joined the Army Air Force as a private in 1942, shipping to England and eventually making second lieutenant. It turns out, however, that the guy he was fighting was a huge fan of his. When Hitler found out that the actor was serving in the war, he offered a bounty for anyone who could capture Gable and bring him to the Fuhrer. Fortunately for Gable, he made it through his service without ever meeting Hitler, but you can't say it wouldn't have made an amazing movie.

Tags: cartoons | civil rights | fashion | Hitler | hollywood | Hollywood Stars | movies

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.