Book Review: Clark Gable: Tortured Star
Author: David Brett
Publisher: Carroll & Graf 2007
David Bret casts Gable's life as a struggle with identity. Having lost his mother in infancy and dealing with a demeaning father in adolescence, Gable left home in his mid-teens and began a search for normalcy that would take a lifetime. According to Bret, his search included marrying 2 older women to advance his acting career and quell his search for a mother figure. Both women were 17+ years his senior and 'managed' Clark's life while involved with him. His search also led to several "gay for pay" relationships that helped to further his early career and Bret asserts that Gable was a closeted, yet active bisexual throughout most of his life. Relationships with fellow actors, a journalist and even trolling noted gay pick up spots in LA were all part of the double life Bret details in Clark Gable: Tortured Star. In fact, it is this dichotomy that tortured Gable throughout his life according to Bret. At once he was "The King of Hollywood" adored by women the world over, but also a bisexual man living in fear of being exposed by the many tabloids circling around the movie industry. Bret also asserts that his blatant homophobia was merely a mask for his deep concern for being found a fraud. Gable's father, who routinely called him a "fairy" for being an actor and not doing real man's work, was a torturous soul in Gable's life and the 2 never had a good relationship.
Bret also takes a good deal of effort to recall and detail Gable's many heterosexual encounters and pursuits, including his long running, on and off affair with Joan Crawford, who second only to Carole Lombard was the love of his life. Gable's accepted prowess as a lover of great repute is a central theme of the book and his out-sized libido is the driving force of the narrative for Bret Naming names of the many conquests, as well as spilling dirt on fellow actors & actresses, whether gay, straight or bisexual, is also riddled throughout the book. Bret's main thesis, in fact, is that sex and sexual conquests drove Gable, but it was also the source of great pain for him.
What, for me were the most interesting parts of the book, however, were the details about the movies Gable made, the non-sexual interactions he had with directors & co-stars, as well as his 23 year struggle with Louis B. Mayer for better parts and a fair wage. His sexuality was certainly the central part of his public persona, but the focus on the list on conquests became an overwhelming list of names. Similarly, I didn't enjoy Bret's depiction of Gable & Lombard's relationship (which is better dealt with in Warren G. Harris' Gable & Lombard), although he did take great pains to illustrate the after effects of her early death on the remainder of Gable's life. All told, not a disappointing book, but I will continue my search for a better & more comprehensive biography of the King!